Will moving help my academic career?

Posted in: Advice, For PhDs

I've recently been reading a report carried out by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services on the qualities, achievements and experience needed in order to obatin your first lecuring job. As the report is the result of a survey of opinions of current academic staff, it's a fascinating and important read for anyone aspiring to their first lectureship. There are lots of strands in the report worthy of comment and debate, but one issue I wanted to pick up on is the question of whether moving - to another institution, another country, or another career path - would help your chances of securing a permanent academic post.

Moving to another institution

I remember being told candidly not to expect a lectureship at the institiuon where I did my PhD, or at least not immediately; once I had proved myself as an indpendent researcher elsewhere I would be able to return. I suspect that to some extent this is down to a matter of personal opinion, and that opinions may also vary across disciplines. In the survey, when asked about the importance of experience at more than one HEI, 27% of respondents selected important/very important, whilst 'neutral' and 'not important' were chosen by 23% and 22% respectively. Interestingly, 32% of respondents felt that it 'depended on the HEI'. Questions worth asking yourself in relation to moving to a different HEI might include: 'what is the balance of teaching and research at the institution? What is the research profile of the department? Who might I be able to collaborate with? What kinds of training and support are available for researchers? The reasons given in favour of moving to a different institution included the opportunity to learn new skills and demonstrate independence. A couple of months ago I heard the career story of one of our early career lecturers here at Bath. While he acknowledged that chance and luck had played a part in his career, he also recognised he had taken some strategic steps to give fate a helping hand. He had stayed at the institution where he did his PhD for postdoctoral research, but had demonstrated independence from his PI by spending brief periods of research abroad and developing international contacts. Which brings us nicely to...

Moving to another country

Again, views on the value of of doing a postdoc abroad will vary across disciplines, so do talk to academics in your field. What is undeniable is that academia is both an increasingly global and increasingly collaborative profession. There would therefore be value in spending even very brief periods at international institutions; doing so will broaden your knowledge and perspectives and give you the opportunity to develop international collaborations (which should be evidenced by joint publications). You could also bid for funding to spend a week or a couple of months researching elsewhere; this would give you the opportunity to obtain some independent research funding, which is another important way to demonstrate independence and a key criteria for academic posts. I do recognise, of course, that being able to spend a period abroad may not fit with the life circumstances of all researchers, so consider using social media as a means of connecting with international researchers (e.g. follow conference updates on Twitter). If you are thinking of pursuing an academic career outside of the UK, this website has really useful comparisons of academic career paths in countries in Europe and beyond. Our vacancies page for researchers has links for finding research and academic posts outside of the UK. See the excellent Manchester Academic Careers website for further thoughts and links on this topic, and video profiles of current academics. Jobs.ac.uk have just published a guide with detailed advice for academics considering moving to another country.

Coming back after a break

There was a mixed variety of responses on the potential impact of a career break on obtaining a long term academic career. It's important to consider your own circumstances, feelings and professional experience when deciding whether or not to take a break from academia; experiences will vary from indiviudal to individual and also across subjects and institutions. If you do take a break from academia, advice included having a pipeline of publications ready to come out while you are takling a break and maintaining subject knowledge and academic networks whilst away; advice that would also be true of other professions. If you're thinking of coming back to academia after a period in another career, experience in fields related in some way to your discipline were understandably felt to be the most helpful. Given the increasing emphasis on impact and engagement, a period in industry may be of benefit, particularly if it is combined with a strong publication record. The Wellcome Trust have produced a guide to returning to academia after a break, and Manchester have a list of schemes intended to help people return to academia after a break. This Science Careers article gives an interesting example of a female scientist who returned to academia after an eight year break. and this case study shows how a Humanities PhD graduate took a job outside of academia that still gave her space to develop her academic CV ready for a return.

Just a few thoughts and resources on a really big topic, and comments would be welcome. A final thought: staying put can help you settle and build on existing networks and research priorities, and moving can broaden both your networks and experience. If you want to stay at your current HEI, make sure academics in your department know that, and find ways to make yourself indespensable!




Posted in: Advice, For PhDs


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  • I'm a firm supporter of moving abroad while studying! I've expanded my network, gained more confidence and independence! All the experience I've gained earlier now I can put into use on different topics I come across. All the best!