If you haven’t heard, we Career Girls often daydream about strutting down the organisation’s posh stairs in our power heels, ‘killa’ frill tops + painfully tailored pencil skirts and a luxurious Hermes bag loyally clinging to our forearms. In my case, add a slick Macbook 2020 version (not yet manufactured) and iPhone10 (ditto) to the power-mix – that’s more like it.
Last week Wednesday however, during a seminar organised by the career skills arm of my university, I got a serious wake-up call as to what a career in academia is really about. This wasn’t based on the fact that I underestimated how much of a serious business being a researcher is (forget the paragraph1 fantasy bubble), I just wasn’t expecting the reality that hit me. Members of staff, some with years of research experience that could tackle how long i’ve been on mother-earth, took time off their loaded schedules to deliver an undiluted exposé on academic career life and how to ensure you get the best of it. They all looked very happy by the way, so that was comforting at the outset.
Lauren does a great job of giving an overview on the Warwick PhD blog, so I am just going to give you the bits from the conversation that stuck with me.
1. The first thing to stick was this – THINK AHEAD.
I am a very pro-active person, so thinking ahead has somewhat always come as second-nature to me. What really struck me was how far ahead I was really expected to think. I mean, when you are faced with a thesis to write, it’s really tough to think about anything else as something that matters. All you want to do is COMPLETE THE THESIS and tomorrow will take care of itself. We were told people in this latter category would be headed for a long courtship with unemployment (definitely not my kind of bride, or groom as the case is for me). For a successful career in academia, you do need to think beyond even the post-doc. You don’t have to do anything about that right now, just think about it.
2. Also start thinking of what your research can do OUTSIDE the walls of Academia
If your thesis is going to be one of those to be completed, only to compound the interior decor at the British Library (or anywhere else)- think again. Your work
should has to make IMPACT for you to be properly positioned in this chosen career. If you are reading this, and considering pursuing this degree, you might want to take this into consideration in selecting your topic.
3. As you go for that teaching/research JOB INTERVIEW…
Always do your homework. Research and comb the department till the webpage threatens to fade-off your screen if you attempt to click that ‘refresh button’ one more time. Familiarise yourself with gaps in the curriculum and attach your USP to that hotspot.
We were also told not to fly off the handle and apply for everything that comes our way – you wouldn’t want your research profile to be consistently associated with the bin. Academic jobs usually offer specific details about the kind of candidate they seek, if your profile fits their description, by all means apply – if not, SCRAM!
4. You have to know how to SET PRIORITIES as an academic
On this job, pressure is going to be thrown at you from left-right and centre (like on most jobs actually) – You need to learn to say no, or deal with them all and move on. Time management is also related to this point.
5. Learn to Network, Be Collaborative and Collegial
Networking! Thesis Whisperer (my personal PhD Bible) talks about this all the time, and it can’t be overemphasised. Networking in academia is great for the following reasons – you may get useful feedback on your work (especially from advanced colleagues), unexpected doors of opportunities may open and face it, professional contacts would always come handy.
6. Build your people-management skills
You will be managing people – students, other members of your department, co-collaborators on projects etc. Besides disappearing into a corner of the library, nose-deep in research, you do need to acquire people-skills in order to secure the best out of everyone – yourself inclusive.
HARD TRUTHS IN ACADEMIA
In a teaching capacity, you hardly get enough time to do research. In fact, research is almost impossible during term-time. I have heard this from more than one academic, so I will not be so foolhardy as to deem it untrue.
Some might say “I can work weekends for research” – well the weekends are usually taken up marking scripts, filling excel columns with scores, and responding to emails. To be honest, you may only get about 3 months a year for proper research – which is less than what is available for a Masters Dissertation – go figure.
The best way to get more time for research is to secure funding, and FUNDING is not easy – I won’t say more
Getting published – this is another big hurdle in the industry. Top publishers would frown at your manuscript if you are not a somewhat accomplished academic, and little publishers will collect your meagre funds to publish you. To make it worse, your colleagues would scowl at your publication if it came off the shelves of the cheap publishers. What a terrible cycle to find oneself.
You spend your money a lot in this career – to participate in conferences alone, you may have to pay for travel, accommodation and feeding; and you cannot NOT go because you need that attendance register on your CV.
In reference to the IMPACT I mentioned above that your research needs to have, it is advisable that you are able to measure it in someway (as tough as it is to do so) – so you can glean its value and feed-off it in marketing yourself to potential employers.
There is so much more to share…but the deal is this – not every PhD holder needs to metamorphose into a researcher or tutor. There are loads of think-tanks and corporations out there to snap you up and lavish you with mouth-watering salaries.
I came to this conclusion at the end of the seminar – an academic career is only for those who genuinely have the passion to search and share knowledge.
What’s it going to be?