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Where to start

To work in an academic role, you need to have a PhD. If you are an undergraduate or Master’s student, more information about postgraduate study is available via the Further Study pages.

As you work on your PhD in the Cambridge environment you will have the opportunity to absorb and understand what an academic pathway looks like in a research-intensive institution and you will be surrounded by academics who will all have individual stories of their routes into academia which can inform your thinking and particularly on aspects relevant to your discipline.  

Most often, looking toward an academic position in the longer term means looking toward a role that combines research, teaching and administrative responsibilities in a university lectureship position. The balance of the focus in these areas can vary according to institution and role.  Leading up to a permanent position, you would typically move through fixed-term roles which can be research, teaching or a combination of both.

The UK academic sector is quite large with 165 higher education institutions, most of these in England and most in cities.

For further insights, invited PhD students at various stages of their PhD and various locations to film themselves over a month and share their videos 

How to know if you’re suited to this sector

Pay attention to which specific aspects of your PhD work that you enjoy.  Take notes on this and think critically if the elements which energise you.  Is it reading and researching, analysis, writing and communicating your research results, developing collaborations and engaging with other researchers, teaching students etc.?  Depending on your field, you may experience a disconnect from the research you are doing and its impact.  Can you identify what drives your passion for the subject you are working on?  

Academia is a competitive field.  Think about how much you enjoy the experience of pressure and competition.  As you are already academically successful, do you have techniques of dealing with the pressure you experience? 

Being open to a greater breadth of academic opportunities may require you to move university or even country – is this possible in your personal situation? 

Does the flexibility and autonomy and satisfaction for you of working within academia outweigh possibility that peers in other professions may be earning more?  

How to get the experience to be credible

Your goal is to demonstrate the trajectory of your academic profile post-PhD through excellence in your research; teaching and administrative contributions.  Practise articulating this as you’ll be doing it through job documents and interviews.  You will also be shaping this to fit the particular department you are applying to. 

After the PhD, a postdoc or fellowship (e.g. a JRF, BA, Leverhulme, ESRC new investigator) is the usual next step in the academic pathway in order to develop research into next project, advance your publication profile, develop some teaching experience as well as administrative and outreach experience.  Arts and Humanities do not have as many postdoc positions as other areas.  Social Sciences more.

Excellence in research activity – you will ultimately need to show you have an in-depth knowledge of your own specialism and an ability to contribute to knowledge and understanding in your field through original research.   Start to identify a strategy for your next project.  Does it connect to your PhD and add a new dimension?  Get disciplinary specific intel from supervisors and mentors such as where you should be publishing and what’s expected within your discipline.  This will help you be strategic about how you spend your time and help you to develop a publication strategy

Articulate how you are starting to fit and make contributions through your work (methodological, thematic etc) so that you can look forward to a postdoc/fellowship and carve out a space for yourself.   

Teaching experience or potential – in the longer term in academia, as teaching will be a core part of the job, you will need to think about getting some experience and ways to shows your aptitude and enthusiasm to teach.   The extent of experience needed will differ among institutions and roles.  If possible, try to gain experience of different types of teaching (supervisions, guest lecturing, seminars) as opposed to too many hours doing the same thing which may not bring value to you and may take your time and energy away from your research.  

Collect student evaluations and think about successes in your teaching as demonstrating effectiveness will be important in a lectureship application.  Universities think increasingly about how their new lecturers can contribute to their teaching profile as well as their TEF results. You can ask your supervisor about getting involved in teaching or supervising students.  

If you are interdisciplinary, plan how to position yourself disciplinarily in terms of both publishing and teaching. Think about how your interdisciplinary research fits in terms of degree programmes so you can see long term how to fit the two together and ensure you can teach the core subjects in a particular discipline.

Administrative potential - you will also be evaluated on showing your ability to engage in service to your institution and the academic community more broadly.  Develop an academic service profile (both ‘to the profession’ and ‘to the institution’) through organising seminars/workshop; getting involved in committees or admissions interviewing; peer reviewing for journals; taking part in public engagement and outreach activities.

Network - start to build relationships in order to develop your other activities (research, teaching and impact).  As your work develops, networking becomes a way of ensuring your academic profile is known outside of your immediate department.  Attend conferences if possible and speak to other academics.

Funding – looking forward to a lectureship application, you will most likely be asked about your funding plans and will need to demonstrate your ability to secure funding and your ‘grant capture’.  If you’ve already been able to gain even small amounts of funding, this will showcase your ability to do this   Gaining a fellowship after your PhD (a JRF or other post-PhD fellowship) gives you valuable protected time for you to focus on research and develop your academic profile. 

Finding positions and funding advertises postdocs, fixed-term teaching positions, and lectureships 

Search the Cambridge University Reporter, Oxford Gazette, and Oxbridge college websites for JRFs.

For academic posts in Europe, search Academic Jobs EU, The European Job Mobility Portal, and EURAXESS. The latter also offers general advice and information.

For US positions, search Higher Ed Jobs and the US Chronicle of Higher Education.

Research Gate Jobs and advertise international academic vacancies 

Academic Careers Observatory gives country-by-country advice about academic jobs and careers pathways

Funding and Fellowship opportunities: AHSS research facilitator webpages including the funding booklet designed for AHSS Early Career Researchers (ECRs) – the University subscribes to this database of funding opportunities where you can sign up to receive alerts on funding opportunities for your career stage and discipline.

Tips for success

Be strategic about how you spend your time during the PhD, prioritising activities that will help your career in the long term.  

Be actively engaged in what is going on in your field so you know who the players are and who is working o similar things.  Be able to explain why your research is important and how it fits more broadly by talking to people outside your discipline as well as within.

Think about and curate how you present your academic identity online. 

Cultivate academic mentors to help guide you in developing research ideas and navigate your career in academia. Find people you can speak to openly about your plans and concerns.

Keep an eye on lectureship job descriptions in your discipline to track the experience that is being asked for.

What Cambridge offers to help with this career

The Careers Service has several guides and resources for PhD’s and postdocs:

Consult the research funding booklet on the Cambridge AHSS research facilitator webpages for a guide to funding and fellowship opportunities

The university subscribes to the Research Professional database of funding opportunities where you can sign up to receive alerts on funding opportunities for your career stage and discipline

Other things you should know

Understand REF and TEF as drivers in the sector.  Look at various departments in your and their outputs as way of researching where they are having impact, and what their priorities are.  Follow key academics and peers in your discipline on social media.  Keep up with sector news on Wonkhe and THE.

Understanding marketisation of sector and student as consumer and effects of this on academia.

What to do next

Now you have looked at this page, think about your next steps. Everyone's journey is different. There are many ways to move forward. Here are some actions you could take now: