An academic career: tips for success

If you are a PhD student who would like to follow an academic career you are no doubt fully aware that it is a career area with stiff competition for jobs.  You will probably also be aware that to be competitive you should be trying to develop a publication record, build your academic network, and gain teaching experience during your PhD.  But what else can help you succeed – and thrive – in academia?  If you have not already seen it, you may want to read the article that was in Nature at the start of October Beating the odds to secure a permanent academic contract.  Although the researchers writing are all scientists, the advice can apply across all disciplines. I’ve summarised a few of the main points below:

  1. Design and follow a strategy: This is great advice and something we always recommend at the Careers Service. It’s important to think about what type of academic career or job role you are aiming for and the type of institution you want to work in.  Then you can focus your effort on gaining the experience that is most relevant for what you want.
  2. Work out your numbers: This is about making it easy for the academic recruiter to see the impact you have made. Whether that is stating the number of publications you have, the number of times you have been approached to give a talk, the number of followers you have on twitter (only if you use it professionally!), or anything else.  It’s not always easy to quantify what you have done, and obviously you’ll list publications and talks in your CV, but sometimes being specific in a summary can have a positive impact – and it never hurts!
  3. Ride the wave of uncertainty: The advice here is that it is important for you to acknowledge that in the early years of an academic career there will be uncertainty. This is in terms of research results (and consequently ability to publish and gain research funding), as well as job opportunities necessitating moving city or country and having to establish new social networks.  The writer encourages you to embrace this uncertainty – which may not always be easy depending on personal circumstances.  But I do think it’s important to be aware this is a common feature of the academic career and consider your approach to managing this positively.
  4. Make peace with rejection: Do I need to say more?  When I asked a Professor at Edinburgh what the main personal qualities needed for an academic career were, she said ‘being robust’.  You will get rejection in many areas: papers for publication, grant applications, fellowship applications.  It’s important to remember that rejection is the norm and it is not personal.  Share rejection with others so you can see it is normal but most importantly learn from it – how could you improve the paper or grant application?  Get feedback from peers and mentors to move forward.

For more tips, you can read the full article here.

There is advice on developing an academic career on the Careers Service website.

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