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Common Career Areas for Researchers

This article and associated activities explores career areas that people with academic research experience commonly enter into.

You can find people who have been academic researchers working in diverse job roles in many different types of organisation.

While they all have their experience of academic research in common, their individual interests, values and strengths mean they have made decisions to pursue a broad range of careers. Despite this, there are some common career areas where you will find researchers. These are briefly described below.

Research career outside academia

There are many organisations outside universities where research is carried out. In some cases, the research activity may be closely linked to some of the research conducted in academia and in others the focus may be on applying research skills to a different topic. The pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology, consumer goods companies, government, charities, financial services, museums, think tanks, the media, and many more industry sectors employ people into research roles.

Academic research and / or teaching

Moving from a research degree, to a research or teaching post, applying for a fellowship or a lecturing role, leading a research group, all of these are possible next steps within an academic career. Academic researchers may move institution, change the focus of their research, choose a role with more teaching, gain funding to set up their own research group, or take many other paths to progress a career in academia. We are going to be talking about academic careers in week three of this online course so we will not be addressing them again this week.

Researchers have knowledge of the education and research environment and can use this in a non-research role. This could be in a professional support role in higher education, or in a role in an organisation linked to education and research. Roles in higher education can be in areas such as commercialisation, student recruitment, public engagement, policy, student welfare, research support and administration, careers (!), researcher development and more. Other organisations linked to research and education include funders of research, professional bodies and learned societies, higher education policy groups, and others where researchers can be employed in roles in communication, policy, research management, or education. Some examples of these type of organisations in the UK are Universities UK, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (and the other research councils who are part of UKRI, UK Research and Innovation), Office for Students, Royal Society of Chemistry, and many more.

In later activities this week we will look at how to generate a broader range of career ideas and how to gather good information on job roles that may interest you.

How far will you go?

Think about the proximity of a new role in relation to your current one. How ‘big’ of a move is it likely to be for you? For example, going from a History PhD to History teacher generally requires up to two years of additional training and education (in the UK). Depending on your experience (e.g. volunteer or paid work in a museum, experience working as a teaching assistant, volunteering as an assistant leader for Girl Guides or Beaver Scouts, etc.) going from a History PhD to Outreach Officer in a museum might be a less intensive move, as a teaching qualification isn’t usually a requirement. Consider the following broad scenarios:

  • I want an academic role focused on research in higher education.
  • I want an academic role focused on teaching in higher education.
  • I want a non-academic (‘professional’) role in higher education.
  • I want a research or similar role outside of higher education.
  • I want a teaching or related role outside of education.
  • I want a completely new type of role in any sector outside of higher education.

Reflection Point

Now think about what you learned about your values, strengths and interests in week one of this course. Reflect on the broad career areas described and consider what the positives and negatives of these career directions are for you. You may want to note down some of your reflections to look back at later in the course.

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Career Management for Early Career Academic Researchers

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