Posted in academia, careers

PhD – career in academia?


Whether or not to seek a job in academia is probably a question that most if not all PhD students will consider at some point. I imagine that many actually start their PhD with the motivation to work in academia (whether this motivation stays is probably another question). I’m choosing this career topic today, because I just attended a related training session at the University of Nottingham: ‘Academic careers in Higher Education’. This panel session, hosted by @UoNgradschool, featured four academics and was specifically organised for arts and social science graduates.

The course had the following objectives:

“By the end of the session you will:
1. have an understanding of possible modes of entry into academia
2. know what your next step should be if you are considering working in this sector
3. have had the opportunity to ask questions of professionals working in the sector”

The academics from across the Faculties of Arts and Social Science (Dr Sarah Davison, Dr Andrew FisherDr Cathy Johnson and Dr Andrew Mumford) all shared their interesting career paths in academia along with their top dos and don’ts for PhD students seeking an academic job. What I really liked about the event was the personal touch as it seems that there’s never the one and only way to do something. However, some patterns emerged and I have summarised the main points that I gained from the session in the diagram below.

Paths from PhD to academic career (my summary of the panels' discussion)
Typical paths from PhD into academia (my summary of the panel’s discussion, specifically inspired by Dr Mumford’s comments on the temporary lectureship vs. post-doc routes)
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Personally, as I am just about to finish my first PhD year (confirmation review is tomorrow… oO), I don’t have any clear plan yet as to which of these routes I will take. However, I am quite sure that I would like to attempt an academic career. In fact, I signed up for the panel session today because I enjoy working in an academic environment and would like to stay in this sector. Having completed my undergraduate at Hong Kong PolyU and my MA as well as the first year of my PhD at the University of Nottingham, I can say that I have felt very comfortable in both of these institutions.

I am also conscious that I am now at the first stage of the diagram, the PhD, and that means that I have to work on meeting requirements listed in ‘person specifications’ of potential future jobs. (The panelists emphasised throughout how important it is to stay on top of what’s required by the market – many of them still regularly check! That’s a habit I need to start.) So now, in the first stage, I have to do the extra stuff. Luckily, I have had the chance to be involved in organising last year’s ICAME 35 conference in Nottingham and am now in the process of co-organising the Nottingham Summer School in Corpus Linguistics as well as our Symposium ‘Corpus Linguistics beyond Boundaries’. I’m very grateful for these opportunities and feel that they help me learn more about the field, procedures of admin work and of course myself. I have just started attending conferences as a participant as well and that’s something I have to further work on. Right now I am still a bit nervous about publications and haven’t submitted anything yet, but that will hopefully change in this coming PhD year. I am also hoping for the opportunity to do part-time undergraduate teaching during the second year of my PhD, because I think teaching is an important aspect of academia. As the panelists pointed out today, the chance of getting a post-doc position though extremely attractive is rather unlikely in the current funding situation. Therefore, a teaching position (with possibly some research elements) seems the most likely job opportunity after the PhD…

What are your thoughts or experiences regarding the academic career path?

University of Nottingham Photo credits: @HunterZhou
University of Nottingham
Photo by my friend @HunterZhou


I am a research fellow on the CLiC Dickens project at the Centre for Corpus Research, University of Birmingham. My research interests focus on the use of corpus linguistic tools to identify meaning in texts. In the CLiC Dickens project we develop and use methods to study the language of literary texts, particularly in Dickens’s and other 19th century fiction. My PhD research seeks to understand connections in discourse through a corpus linguistic approach. Specifically, I study how the concept of surveillance is represented in different types of texts. This blog reflects my personal opinions and not those of my employers.

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