Your options


Understanding the Options

There is a wealth of career information available on the internet, some of which is very good quality. Networking, talking to people and asking them about their work, their satisfactions and frustrations can help you to be better informed too.

Inside academia

"Contract work is a bit stressful but I knew it would be tough. Research jobs are very competitive. Publications count for a lot ..."
(University of Reading research staff member, 2009)

Career progression is fairly well mapped out in academia. After a period of post doc research you might apply for other research associate roles or lab management, or depending on your experience, lectureships with a view to being promoted to senior lecturer, Chair and Professor. Selection panels look at your research record (publications, conferences, etc), your teaching experience and other roles. The impact of your research will be considered, so numbers of citations and other measures will support your application. In due course you will be expected to generate research income through grants and awards.

Academic writing equations on a blackboard

Competition is fierce throughout, but to increase your chances in academia:

Know what is going on in your own discipline, department and wider university:

  • Quality assurance in teaching, research, department organisation
  • Research funding and grant proposals: who is writing them and for what projects
  • Applying for funding yourself: who can help you with this?

Know what is happening in the wider academic world:

  • Current issues in higher education in the UK and globally
  • Research development and large scale projects
  • External committees and working parties
  • Professional societies; government agencies and government funded projects
"Academic careers are increasingly challenging but still hugely rewarding. Researchers wanting to secure lectureship positions have to demonstrate a capacity for high quality independent research."
(Professor D.C. Berry, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading, on the reality of academic careers, 2010)

Good practical suggestions about finding work in academia is available on the Vitae website.

Outside academia

"Networking, personal recommendations and my reputation helped me to be headhunted by another organisation"
(University of Reading researcher, April 2009)

Institutes, think tanks, government departments, non-government organisations, charities and agencies all recruit researchers and communicators. Your skills and experience will be transferable to these types of organisations. Explaining your motivations for moving away from academia should convince your prospective employer that you really want to work for their organisation. No one wants to think that they are your second choice!

There are researcher jobs in industry which seek to improve knowledge transfer between university researchers and industry through the Technology Strategy Board's Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

Professional bodies and other organisations support careers in many areas. Their websites host information about careers in their field and often have vacancy lists too. The following examples are illustrative, there are many more: also lists opportunities in organisations in the commercial and governmental sectors with a helpful search engine.

Career change

"I sent speculative applications."
"I tendered for some freelance projects and won contracts that way."
"I used contacts and phoned them for help. Was told to apply and got the job."
"I used recruitment agencies."
(Quotes from University of Reading research staff who had recently left the University in April 2009)

Business meeting

Technical writing, patent agency, investment banking and management consultancy are all common directions after researching in higher education. There are many others. The transferable nature of your individual experience needs consideration, but others before you have successfully entered scientific writing and communications, government policy and research, public sector management, and the science and engineering industries.

Considering the tasks you want to be doing at work can help to narrow the field of opportunities. Finding themes within your personal preferences such as using communication skills, writing and presenting; using analytical abilities, applying statistics and research methods to new material; or delivering or supporting educational activities might help to focus your thinking. Moving away from your core research work and recent activities is certainly possible.

Vitae has useful links to information about doctoral careers outside higher education and includes quotes from employers who have recruited doctoral researchers. The sectors covered include:

  • Finance, business and IT
  • Health and social work
  • Public administration

At the end of each area you can find links to vacancy sources.

A broad range of career sectors is covered by the occupational profiles on the Prospects website. Each profile is well described and leads into further sources of information and related occupations. This can help to open your eyes to new ideas.

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