From research student to academic: thinking about and preparing for academic work
From research student to academic:
thinking about and preparing for
Dr. Joss Winn
School of Education
July 2015 Study School
Chosen texts for discussion
• Afonso, A. (2013) How academia resembles a drug gang.
• Ball, S. (2015) Accounting for a sociological life: influences and
experiences on the road from welfarism to neoliberalism.
• Berry, D. (2012) Becoming a university academic.
• Dickey, E. (2014) The impact of the poor academic job market on
PhD graduates and what we individual academics can do about it.
• European Science Foundation (2014) Career tracking of doctorate
• Gill, R. (2009) Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-
• Nuernberg and Thompson (2008) Academic Career Paths of Social
Science PhD Graduates.
How academia resembles a drug gang
• Members of drug gangs “get rich or die trying”
• ‘Dualisation’ – The divide between secure, stable
employment of insiders and precarious, fixed-
term employment of outsiders.
• Outsiders willing to forgo wages and employment
security for the prospect of insider rewards.
• More people with PhDs: +5%/year since 2000 in
• The ‘core’ (insiders) is shrinking, the ‘periphery’
(outsiders) is expanding, and the core is
increasingly dependent on the periphery.
Afonso, A. (2013) How academia resembles a drug gang – figure 4.
Academic Career Paths of Social
Science PhD Graduates
• Survey (43 UK/USA), interviews and focus groups
• Key findings
– Mismatch between skills and experience during PhD
to what was actually required in hindsight
– Teaching experience necessary but not sufficient
– Need to be pro-active during PhD and post-doc
– Difficult to identify ‘career paths’ – lots of uncertainty
– may take 5 years to obtain permanent position
– Required attributes: dedication, passion, resilience,
• Networking, publishing, and going to conferences (on
top of teaching) are crucial both in the job market and
for subsequent career development.
– Build up a network of peers, informal mentors, colleagues
– Practice and develop presentations skills
– Get yourself known via conferences
– Organise conferences, seminar papers
– Get involved with academic associations or journals
– Become a good communicator who is able to disseminate
• “working systematically on one’s professional
development” c.f. ‘performativity’
Nuernberg and Thompson (2008) Figure 1.
Impact of the ‘Research Excellent
• Increased number of posts advertised in the year
before and after the REF ??
• Publications more important as deadline
• Look at last REF data for the School you are
applying to, as well as existing structures,
research groups, centres, institutes, staff profiles.
• 30% of all survey participants started their first
job at the institution where they had completed
Recommendations for PhD students
considering an academic career in the social
1. Be clear about what you want and explore your motivations
2. If you are unsure about pursuing an academic career, consider
3. If you are clear that academia is the place where you want to
be, consider the following frustrations and pressures
4. Don’t just have a plan, have an action plan and sharpen your
5. Become savvy on the academic landscape as a job market
6. Find a way of networking that suits you
7. As you prepare for the job search, decide about your priorities
and the sacrifices you are willing or not willing to make
8. Develop patience, resilience and confidence
Nuernberg and Thompson (2008) pp.10-12
Becoming a university academic
• 40% of Reading students gain a ‘permanent’
(‘open’) academic position after a few years
• “the life of a university academic is very different
today from what it was 10, 20, or more years
ago...many academics now work under, and feel,
much more pressure than was once the case,
often finding that the boundary between work
and home life becomes increasingly blurred.”
• Fixed term research position on a grant-
funded project, led by a more senior academic
• Individual ‘fellowship’ grants
• Requires mobility, flexibility, planning due to
lack of job security and the difficulty in
predicting when and where jobs will arise.
• Gain research, publishing and grant
application experience (Co-I)
• Research and teaching or teaching only?
• Combination of research, teaching and
• ‘Probationary’ period (first 12 months, though
up to 3 years in UK)
• Need to have or have plan to gain PGCE (HE)
• Lecturer > Snr. Lecturer > Reader > Professor
A Job Description
• Lecturer duties (Grade 7)
– To work with colleagues on curriculum development
and the advancement of relevant discipline areas
within the university.
– To deliver teaching over a range of modules.
– To undertake student tutoring and support.
– To contribute to the research profile of the School.
– To carry out a limited number of additional activities
in support of the academic work of the School.
What are universities looking for?
• Demonstrate that they can work, and be
successful, as an independent researcher.
• 2-3 high quality publications
• Some experience of applying for and gaining
• Strategy for future research, including funding
• Willingness to collaborate
• Teaching experience
The impact of the poor academic job market on
PhD graduates: What can academics do about it?
• We could try to make life better for PhDs who remain in academia without
(immediately) getting permanent jobs:
– Better recognition within departments
– help develop public profile of individuals;
– discounts/free conference attendance;
• We could try to reduce the number of such people. Really substantial improvement in
their treatment and working conditions can never be effected as long as there is such
an excess of supply over demand:
– De-stigmatize non-academic career paths;
– keep in touch with alumni wherever they go to;
– offer practical advice for non-academic employment;
– talk about the reality of academic life;
– promote PhDs for related professions (teaching, publishing, etc.)
– promote the work of doctoral students – find avenues for publishing, blogging,
Career tracking of doctorate holders
• In Europe, little mobility across sectors in the
• Geographical mobility tends to be from
Southern to Northern Europe
• Those on permanent contracts are more
productive and satisfied with their working
• Job insecurity militates against research as a
desirable career and produces poorer results
Highlights from research findings…
• 499 respondents to questionnaire + focus groups
• The employment level of respondent doctorate holders is very high (99%) with the
majority in full-time employment (89%), but with a minority in tenured posts
(35%). Men were no more likely than women to be in tenured posts.
• Only 27% of those under 40 years of age had permanent full-time contracts
compared to 73% of those over 40 years of age.
• The vast majority of respondents work as researchers (88%), mainly in public
sector institutions (82%) followed by non-profit organisations (7%), the private
sector (5%) and others including public-private partnerships (5%).
• A high proportion is clearly willing to travel for career and academic progression
purposes. Few (just 10%) had not worked or studied in another country, some
50% had worked in one country besides their home country and 40% had worked
in multiple countries.
• The aspects of their working environment respondents were most satisfied with
were firstly the prestige of the organisation for which they work, followed by the
scientific environment, the contribution they feel they are making to society and,
equally, the research infrastructure of the organisation in which they work.
• The system of temporary contracts that prevails is not of benefit to science nor to
society and needs to be examined.
• The preference of doctorate holders is usually a career in academia despite the
challenges involved in securing a tenured position. This preference is not
sustainable in the context of ever-increasing numbers of doctorate holders seeking
employment in a sector that is already oversupplied.
• Address the information asymmetries about alternative career choices and the
perceived lack of attractiveness of employment in the private sector,
• Universities should ensure that mobility is not a perceived or real precondition
for funding or advancement.
• The academic career expectations of doctorate candidates need to be managed in
ways that recognise that only a tiny proportion of those who undertake PhDs will
progress into a career in academia. More should be done to develop greater
awareness of, and knowledge about, relevant careers outside of academia in
consultancy, industry, government and elsewhere.
• Universities should examine how well they prepare PhD students and post-
doctorates for employment outside academia and make necessary
improvements/adjustments to training.
Gill and Ball articles
• Rosalind Gill’s book chapter is highly cited and
helped turn attention to issues around the
emotional and psychological impact of academic
labour in the UK.
• Stephen Ball’s article is a recent reflection by a
senior academic in education. He is well known
for, among other things, writing about
‘performativity’, which he himself has not
• Both ‘auto-ethnographic’ (to different extents).
Gill - context
1. literature about the transformation of work, writing
about which shades into social theory more generally
2. literature about structural transformations in higher
education, which highlights the increasing
corporatisation and privatisation of the University,
and the impacts of this
3. scholarship concerned with the micro-politics of
power in the Academy
4. Foucaultian inspired writing about neoliberalism
represents another important source for thinking
about contemporary working life in the academy
Gill - themes
• Precarious lives
• Fast academia: the intensification (time) and extensification (space) of
– A large proportion were working hours in excess of the European Working
Time Directive, and 42% said that they regularly worked evenings and
weekends in order to cope with the demands of their job. The reason given
was very simple: the volume of work demanded of them. This is like an ‘open
– ‘Always on: academia without walls’. “Paradoxically, as University lecturers
have increasingly reported that noise, open plan offices, interruptions and
student demands mean that 'you can't work at work' everywhere else has
opened up as a potential site for academic labour!”
• Toxic shame: “I'm a fraud, I'm useless, I'm nothing. It is (of course) deeply
gendered, racialised and classed, connected to biographies that produce
very different degrees of ‘entitlement’ (or not).”
• The promise of pleasure in ‘my work’. Self-expression and self-