What kind of academic do you want to be?

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While competition for academic jobs is fierce and progression even to entry level is not guaranteed to PhD graduates, once entered, a career in academia can take all sorts of twists and turns as different opportunities present themselves along the way. Academics may find themselves better suited to one aspect of their role over another and choose to focus more on research, teaching or more managerial aspects of the running of a university. They may need to relocate to another university in a different part of the country in order to start or progress their career.

Listed below are some of the more common academic roles within UK universities and a brief overview of what they are:

Postdoctoral Researcher/Research Fellow

These posts are all principally research based, although there may be teaching/ supervision duties involved. A postdoctoral research post is a common entry point into an academic career, particularly in the sciences, where candidates may take up more than one fixed-term postdoc position before acquiring a lectureship. A research fellow will spend time researching, getting work published and networking at conferences. Some teaching duties may also be required. Positions are often for a fixed term that can range from six months to three years’ duration, and a PhD is usually a must for entry.

Lecturer/Senior Lecturer/Reader

A lecturer’s role takes on a number of responsibilities, including teaching (hosting seminars, giving lectures and supervising PhD students), marking, attending conferences and completing funding applications as well as carrying out primary research and publishing their findings. Lecturers may also be required to take on tasks outside of their own research to help with the running of their department, and have some pastoral responsibilities for their undergraduate students. There is some inconsistency between certain universities regarding the ranking of lecturers – for example, post-1992 universities have a further category – principal lecturer – which equates to Senior Lecturer in pre-1992 institutions.

Teaching Fellow/Senior Teaching Fellow

A teaching fellow carries out the teaching and administrative duties that a lecturer would undertake, without necessarily carrying out research (although Teaching Fellows can undertake research as well). Experience of teaching and supervising students is usually key to securing a post. A Senior Teaching Fellowship holds more seniority.

Professor/ Head of Department/Dean

As well as their own research, Professors are responsible for the research within their deparment, which will also involve securing research funding. Leading a team of researchers, they will have made a name for themselves within their research field, having published their work extensively. Professors may be on the university’s governing board and play a part in the management of the university. Some may be Head of their Department or a Dean.

NB: At some universities, the term ‘Dean’ can refer to a head of faculty. However, at others, the role can have more of a pastoral element; at Oxbridge, each college has a Dean who is in charge of discipline.

Web links

The University and College Union publishes details of academic pay scales (click on Pay and Conditions/Salary Scales on the left hand column):


Long Term Academic Career Planning


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