Career Advice

Professional Jobs in HE

It’s More Than Research and Lecturing

A lot of people limit their consideration of careers in universities in lecturing or research, but universities offer opportunities for you to pursue other career paths too.

Universities are huge, complex organisations. When you are trying to find the right member of staff to help you with a particular issue, this can prove to be challenging. When you are looking for a new job though, that complexity can represent an opportunity. In the 2016/17 academic year, UK universities employed over 400,000 staff*, of whom 49% were on academic contracts, and many others were employed in Professional / Managerial / Support Services in a wide range of roles.

These professional roles aren’t the traditional university teaching or researcher roles but they are alike in many other ways. They benefit from similar pay scales, holidays and benefits packages, such as subsidised childcare. Many offer opportunities for retraining or developing different skills sets beyond research or lecturing. These roles can also include opportunities for travel, attending conferences, and sometimes even doing research in the area you are working in, so they can satisfy many of the criteria which people seek in more traditional academic discipline roles.

These jobs can often be hidden from you if you are a student or a researcher, but it’s worth seeking out the services they offer to help you make the most of your time in the university. They can often help and support you while you are a student or researcher, helping you to make a success of your time there. Often by interacting with these people and the services they provide, you can gain further insight into their activities, which can often pique your interest or open up new career ideas for you.

Think about the different departments at a university, not the schools built around different disciplines; instead, think of the other departments that support them. These include, but are not limited to, student services, research offices, employer liaison and careers and employability services. These departments are all integral to the university and essential to their success.

Let’s look at some of these departments and the types of jobs they can offer a little more closely.

Research offices. 

UK universities received nearly £8bn in research income in 2016/17*. Their research offices are crucial to securing and protecting that revenue stream. They provide support to researchers from applying and managing grants, through to helping them to exploit any intellectual property developed.

Student support.

Going away from home to university for the first time can be challenging for some students. Roles in these services can cover everything from international student liaison to student health and welfare services, and offer excellent opportunities for people wanting to work with, and help others.

Careers and employability services.

Universities are recognising more and more the importance of equipping their students with the employability skills they need to service in an ever-changing working environment. A range of roles exists to help deliver this training to students. Many universities now offer this training and support to postgraduate students and early career research staff too. These services can also offer opportunities for working directly with employers, and provide an excellent way for you to build up your professional network.

Many staff enjoy the collegiate feel of working within a university and while they are not without their challenges – change may be slow for example, many people enjoy long and rewarding careers working at universities.

They can also provide you with continuity. You might develop personal commitments in a particular location during your study or while you are on a post-doc or temporary contract after your studies. You might enjoy your time at a university so much that you want to stay in that location and develop your life and career there.

The skills and experience you can gain though from working in a large complex organisation, are highly sought after and often directly transferable to other large organisations, anything from NGOs to the civil service or local government and large corporations. If you do find yourself ready to move on a period of employment with a university can really strengthen your employment prospects.

So, if you want to establish or continue your career at a university make sure you explore all of the opportunities that they have to offer.

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