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Where to start

While you’re a PhD student, you'll be gaining an understanding of what an academic career looks like in a research-intensive institution. You’ll be surrounded by academics, all with their own stories of getting into the profession. Use their experiences to inform your career choices.

Long-term academic roles usually combine research, teaching, and administrative responsibilities in a university lectureship position. Early-career academics typically move through a few fixed-term roles before securing a permanent lectureship. Fixed-term roles may focus on research, teaching, or a combination of both.

How to know if you’re suited to this sector

Over time, some academics come to experience a disconnect from their research and its impact. Before committing to an academic career, consider how energised you feel by your PhD work, and try to envisage your career in the long-term. Would you enjoy the teaching, the research, and the collaborative aspect of being an academic?

Academia offers a lot of autonomy and a stimulating work environment, but you’ll often be paid less than in other professions. There is also strong competition for postdocs, and you might have to move university—or even country—to take advantage of job offers.

How to get the experience to be credible

After the PhD, a postdoc (such as a JRF or BA, Leverhulme, or ESRC New Investigator Fellowship) is the usual next step on the academic pathway. To secure these positions you will need to demonstrate excellence in your research, teaching, and administrative contributions.

Research

Find out the optimal publication record of successful postdoc candidates in your field (you could discuss this with your supervisor). Consider what your first postdoc research might be, how it might link to your doctoral thesis and where the best places to publish are in your field. Developing a coherent publication plan will ensure that you spend your time strategically during the PhD.

Teaching

Ask your supervisor about getting involved in teaching students. Supervising, leading seminars, and guest lecturing will give you valuable experience. Universities are increasingly concerned with how prospective staff can contribute to their institution’s teaching profile, so if you can demonstrate strong pedagogical skills, you will increase your chances of securing a postdoc.

Administration

When reviewing your postdoc application, universities will evaluate your extracurricular engagement, and your contribution to the academic community in general. Get involved in workshop organisation, committees, admissions interviewing, peer reviewing for journals, and public outreach. Attending conferences is also a good way to build relationships with other academics in your field, and ensures that you are known outside of your own department.

Finding positions and funding

Jobs.ac.uk advertises postdocs, fixed-term teaching positions, and lectureships

Search the Cambridge University Recorder, 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 All-acad.com advertise international academic vacancies

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

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. Keep up with developments in your field, and be willing and able to explain the significance of your research.

Cultivate mentors who can help you to develop your research ideas and navigate your career in academia. Find people that you can speak to openly about your plans and concerns. Curating your online academic presence is also important.

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

Familiarise yourself with the REF and TEF, as these exert a large influence in the academic sector.