How can I get into academia?
Getting a lecturing job in academia is a challenge – the number of jobs is dwarfed by the number of people wanting them. So, if this is your chosen career aim you will have to be focused on it from early on in your career. Now is not too soon to start!
Physics is a competitive area, and so a certain amount of postdoctoral experience is typically required to secure an academic post. In practice, this would mean one or two periods of postdoctoral research, possibly followed by an independent Fellowship (or equivalent) and the establishment of your own research group and programme (or evidence of the potential to do this).
You will need to think about where and with whom you do your postdoctoral research – the better-known or higher-rated the department, the better. It can also be advantageous to move away from where you are doing your PhD – with the exception of those for whom Bath is one of the leading places for research in your chosen field.
You may also find that interdisciplinary research areas are important, and in some cases experience of setting up collaborations is desirable.
What are the criteria?
The two most important criteria for selection in almost all lectureship posts are:
- an excellent publication record (high ranking, international standard journals – suitable for RAE submission)
- the ability to obtain independent research funding and coherent plans for future research
These are therefore the things that you need to focus on if you want to get into academia. To find out what you need to achieve, look at current Physics lectureship adverts (including person specifications), and have a look at the profiles of new lecturers in your own and other departments.
How can I fulfil these criteria?
Explore all opportunities for publication (collaborations can be a good way to get more) – make sure, too, that your supervisor knows your aims as in general they will want to help you become excellent!
As regards obtaining research funding, it would be silly to try and get funding before you know what you want to research. You need to find your niche – something about which you are passionate, and ideally something which funders are looking to develop (look at funding websites for an idea of these areas). At the moment, interdisciplinary collaboration is a hot area but these can change.
A good first step is to register with the researchresearch.com funding website – you will be amazed at the breadth of funding opportunities available. Independent funding does not have to be full scale research grants; equally, if you write part of a grant with your supervisor and it is successful, you have been instrumental in obtaining that funding. As before, however, before doing any of this you really want to talk it over with your supervisor or another colleague as they will have plenty of advice for you.
What else is important?
Academic job specifications also require teaching experience, so take every opportunity to acquire some (it's not just good for the money - it also gives an insight into the job!). Attend any of LTEO's workshops on teaching and learning themes: some departments are now citing teaching and learning qualifications as desirable criteria for selection. For some universities, the teaching is a bigger part of the job than the research – another thing to bear in mind when you are deciding where you'd like to go.
Joining learned societies and departmental committees is also an excellent way to learn about wider HE and Physics issues and goes towards showing that you have some of the other characteristics that academics need (teamworking, negotiation, administration). Go to as many conferences as you can, and network – meet the leaders in your field and talk with them about their research, and yours.
A word of warning – do please take the time to think about what lecturers actually do. If what you want is to spend time in the lab then you may be happier pursuing a purely research career. If you have a passion for your subject, and enjoy teaching and interaction with students, then go for it – just keep an eye on the job market and ensure you have what selectors are looking for.
For further information about academic careers and finding research funding, look at the University's Researcher Development Unit web pages, and the Vitae site. Also keep an eye out for relevant courses offered by Staff Development and your department's Generic Skills training programme. You are also welcome to book a guidance interview with one of the Careers Advisers to talk about your ambitions and how to fulfil them. For other helpful websites, look at the ‘useful links' page.