Is an academic research career possible?

mfmpiAKHmmm, having left Manchester saying I was never going to work in a University again, never move so far north again … and after time with LICC, that I was clearly destined for secular work…

There is a “significant credibility gap” between researchers’ expectations and the likelihood of their forging long-term careers in higher education, a survey has found.

More than three-quarters of research staff responding to the Careers in Research Online Survey 2013 said they aspired to a career in higher education and around two-thirds said they expected to achieve this.

But it was “unrealistic to expect” that this number of research staff, or even half of those in the early stages of their career, would be able to secure a long-term research role in higher education, says the report, based on the survey produced by Vitae, the careers organisation for researchers.

“Anecdotally we expect that probably fewer than half are, in reality, going to make it into academic careers,” said Robin Mellors-Bourne, director of research and intelligence at Vitae and the report’s co-author.

Read full story.

Cleaning up the workplace?

Image Credit: RGB Stock

Image Credit: RGB Stock

I took on a range of roles to support my studies at all levels, an interesting piece on work to support a PhD:

James, formerly a PhD student at a Russell Group university in the North of England, also approached his institution for help to find a job while he completed his studies.

While carrying out a number of administrative roles, he said, he experienced a “deeply ingrained negative attitude towards postgraduate students working in non-academic roles”.

Read full story.

Can (women) have it all?

Interesting article re: whether women (or anyone) can have it all in a culture which is “always on”:

Last month, a predictable storm erupted in response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s confessional in Atlanticmagazine. “Women Still Can’t Have It All,” she declared, explaining why she had given up her dream job in the State Department to spend more time with her family. The gruelling demands of the Washington work culture – known, apparently, as “Obama time” – had taken their toll. “Juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys”, she’d realised, “was not possible.”

Many feminists were outraged, regarding her decision as a betrayal. A similar reaction greeted the announcement a few years ago by journalist Allison Pearson that she was giving up her Daily Mail column because conflicting responsibilities had triggered her depression. “We always suspected there would be a price for Having It All, and we were happy to pay it; but we didn’t know the cost would be our mental health,” she wrote.

 Read full story.

Academic Career or Plan B?

Story in Times Higher Education this week has attracted MANY comments already… it starts:

Universities benefit from the large pool of cheap labour provided by PhD students and postdocs, but there aren’t enough academic jobs to go around, so young scholars should prepare for the possibility of a future outside the academy, one postdoc advises

Not everyone who completes a PhD gets an academic job. I knew that. But still I thought that my prospects were good.

I have degrees from some of the best universities in the world, in the UK and the US, and currently hold a postdoctoral position. I have had no problems securing funding for my research, and am close to publishing some of the results.

This year, however, I have had some interviews but no job offers. I may be able to find an academic position next year, but it now seems unlikely.

On a good day, I feel confident about my research and believe I have something to contribute to my discipline and to wider society. But increasingly I wonder: if others do not value my research enough to pay me to do it, what else can I do to make a living?

Read full story, the editorial, and content from UCU conference.

Interesting comment:

As another commenter has said, the only reason to do a PhD is because you love your subject, and realise that this may be the last and only chance to do research in it. That, incidentally, is what gets people jobs: a true passion for the subject always shows (I speak as someone who’s been part of numerous interview panels). So please listen potential and current PhDs, this is the truth: you probabaly won’t get an academic job, so if that’s the only reason why you are doing it, give up the idea right now and go and do something else instead.

I tend to have a low boredom threshold, but I still get excited every time I see a new poster, or a variation on Keep Calm and Carry On… and I’m clearing my backlog to get around to publishing my PhD!

Academics: Needing to be Careless?

In an article largely focused on the difficulties of couples involved in academic work, and the need to live miles (sometimes continents) apart … which indicates that to truly be an ‘exceptional academic’ there may be a need to be without dependents:

In 2010, Kathleen Lynch, professor of equality studies at University College Dublin, wrote a powerful article in the Arts and Humanities in Higher Education journal, titled “Carelessness: a hidden doxa of higher education”. Although there are now global opportunities for some academics, she argued, performance expectations are likely to be so demanding that “only a care-less worker can fully satisfy [them]”.

“Given the gendered order of caring, senior managerial appointments and senior academic posts are most available to those who are ‘care-less’, those who have no primary care responsibilities, and these are likely to be very particular types of men (disproportionately) and women,” she wrote.

Lynch believes that “the carelessness of education” (and a consequent distortion of research agendas) has its origins in a “classical Cartesian” determination to keep emotion out of scholarly work, and in “positivist norms” based on “the separation between fact and value”, but thinks the trend is being greatly intensified by the “new managerialism”. Today’s “idealized worker”, as a result, is “one that is available 24/7 without ties or responsibilities that will hinder her or his productive capacities. She or he is unencumbered and on-call, even if not ‘at work’.”

Read full story, and the editorial.

Learning and Teaching Excellence Centres: Any Value?

Hmmm, I work in the Learning and Teaching Development Unit. I wonder how much impact we’ve had…. The Times Higher Education doesn’t feel much over the past few years:

Negotiations and consultations with a powerful, self-regarding sector led to a different outcome altogether. The universities lobby succeeded in transforming the idea of extra payments to excellent teaching departments into money for quasi-research units that would “recognise” teaching. They would really have liked the cash without any strings at all, but they settled for the next best thing.

So universities got funds for “research and development” in teaching rather than a reward for employing good practice and attracting the best students. “Pedagogic research” is, in my experience, work that would only rarely be admissible for the research assessment exercise or research excellence framework.

Read full story, another story, and editor’s view.

Can we take the creative industries seriously?

Working in the creative industries… where most of us work because “we love it”, but end up with long houses, poor pay, lack of benefits, ‘sacrificial ethos’ … recognising that. Here Professor Rosalind Gill calls for a more sustainable model:

Society needs to look beyond the images of “cool”, “unconventional” creative workers and find better ways for them, and for academics, to lead “liveable lives”, a speaker at the British Academy argued last week.

Rosalind Gill, professor of social and cultural analysis at King’s College London, was taking part in the second of three discussions comprising The Creative Process: A Multidisciplinary Examination. The series was organised in partnership with the Culture Capital Exchange, a network of universities that aims to forge links between higher education and the creative industries.

Beatriz Garcia, head of research at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Cultural Capital, spoke on the “cultural turn” in worldwide policymaking, with creative industries increasingly seen as a replacement for lost manufacturing activity.

Read full story.

The Power of Words (in references)

Does gender unintentionally affect reference writing, and how much affect does that have upon careers?

The 2009 work to which I am referring (by J. Madera, M. Hebl and R. Martin in the Journal of Applied Psychology) considered letters of reference written for academics, looking at common adjectives used to describe men and women, and explored how these letters – and the words used – affected the actual hiring decisions. In general, women were more likely to be described by rather passive and emotive words (described in the original paper as “communal” adjectives) such as affectionate, tactful, sensitive and helpful. These are words that may indeed correctly describe any individual, they are not negative words, but they may not be seen as central to the job an academic does. In contrast, men were more likely to be described by so-called “agentic” words – words that stress the active sense of doing, rather than merely being, and words that might be correlated with strength. Adjectives that fit into this category include assertive, dominant, ambitious and intellectual. These words convey a sense of mastery over a field, not a predilection to nurture someone else. The reported analysis demonstrated that the use of these agentic words did not appear to have a significant effect on hiring decisions, but the presence of communal words did. In other words, describing women with stereotypical female words disadvantaged the women. Interestingly, female referees were more likely to use these unhelpful, stereotypical words about women than male writers. One can speculate why this might be, but the concern is that – almost certainly unconsciously and unintentionally – many letters of reference contain words that are damaging to a woman’s case, and hence to her future career.

Read full story.

Why do women do less well in academia?

“Women produce fewer papers than men over a lifetime and are still scarce in senior positions, especially in science. Dispelling myths of innate difference between the sexes, Amanda Goodall offers advice on how they can raise their research productivity and status in the academy

I knew nothing about the subject of women’s research productivity until Grace Neville, the charismatic vice-president for teaching and learning at University College Cork, invited me to chair a seminar on the topic.

The facts are plain. Data show that men are more productive than women – male scholars publish more articles and accrue more citations over a lifetime.

Why is this? Is it the child-bearing effect leaving women less time for research? Could discrimination partly explain the difference? Or are women’s brains “wired differently”, making us less intellectually productive? Is it, instead, the way we do our research?

To try to get the complete picture, first we need to dispel the myth that women’s brains are somehow less efficient than men’s.”

Read the full story.

Great Escapes (via @timeshighered)

I like working both in and out of the academy, and I think those who have worked outside of the sector make much better workers WITHIN it too…

“Breaking out of the academy may seem daunting, but scholars’ skills transfer to many other jobs. Matthew Reisz talks to four who made it to the other side. But then there is the final move out of the world of work – plan well, recommend Caroline Lodge and Eileen Carnell

Life seems unlikely to get any easier in higher education over the next few years: contracting job markets, stagnant salaries and increased workloads are all more than distinct possibilities. Some academics may be forced out of higher education altogether; others may become increasingly disillusioned with a changing sector.

The question, of course, is how one responds to this. One can grin and bear it, and probably become ever more bitter, or one can actively plot one’s escape. Here we tell the stories of a number of academics who have left the academy and built new lives for themselves. All have essentially happy endings and reveal how many academics possess transferable skills they can fall back on, should the need arise.

Much of it comes down to a question of self-definition. As long as one pigeonholes oneself as “an expert on eels’ parasites” or something equally limiting, it may be hard to think how to excite a potential employer or recreate oneself as something quite different. Yet a slight shift of the kaleidoscope can often open a range of fresh possibilities.

But while this feature celebrates the positive achievements of academics who have remade themselves, it also raises questions about the frustrations that seem to be pushing some of the talent out. Where this involves people who are talented writers, as in a couple of case studies below, there seems to be something particularly dysfunctional about it, with the universities losing their champions of “impact”, the very people who could take their work out to a broader public and enthuse potential students and paymasters.”

Read full story.

Transferable Skills: Media Studies

Degrees in media/communications studies cover a broad range of subjects from the highly practical to the theoretical. You can develop a variety of skills that are extremely useful in many employment areas. These skills include:

  • critical analysis;
  • research;
  • a broad commercial and cultural awareness of the media and creative industries;
  • teamwork;
  • initiation and development of creative work in writing, audio-visual or other electronic media;
  • a flexible, creative and independent approach to tasks;
  • the ability to work to a brief and meet deadlines.

All courses focus on the communication of information across a variety of mediums. Graduates with the ability to communicate information clearly and effectively will be beneficial to any organisation

Taken from Prospects Careers. See also QAA Subject Benchmarks.

Transferable Skills: History

What do employers think of graduates with a history degree, a subject that is ordinarily viewed as non-vocational? Employers widely respect history graduates as having a valuable combination of skills. Broadly speaking, history skills include:

  • research skills, including the use of information and communications technology;
  • excellent communication and writing skills;
  • independent work skills of self-motivation and time-management;
  • high-level analysis and evaluation skills.

Studying history improves the depth and range of your personal transferable skills including:

  • critical reasoning and analytical skills, including the ability to solve problems and think creatively, often through doing extensive reading;
  • intellectual rigour and independence, including the ability to conduct research using different types of tools and sources, gathering, sifting, interpreting, analysing and organising information;
  • marshalling an argument, including evaluating, selecting and ordering relevant evidence and formally communicating findings in a structured, coherent, clear and persuasive manner, both orally and in writing;
  • self-motivation and self-reliance, with the ability to work without direct supervision and manage time effectively, but also the ability to discuss ideas in groups.

Taken from Prospects Careers. See also QAA History Benchmarks.

Voluntary Tour Leader, Oak Hall

I LOVED tour leading for Oak Hall. I had taken 3-4 holidays as a guest (always ski holidays, I’d never done a summer trip), and got in touch with the intention of doing a  ski season. Having visited “The Manor” for a week, I offered to stay another week, but then found myself zooming home for my passport, and the next day in Switzerland, cleaning Chalet Jungfrau (130 guests!). One of the most exhausting weeks of my life (part 2), but also exhilerating!


As my plans for my Round the World trip kept changing, I returned for some summer trips:



I am planning on taking a rest from Oak Hall for 2010 as I concentrate on finding work, combined with setting up my own business: Digital Fingerprint.

Marcus Buckingham ‘Now, Discover Your Strengths’

I found this book very helpful in focusing more on what I AM GOOD AT, and developing those skills further, rather than always trying to improve at my ‘weaknesses’.

The following are my five top strengths:


  • Has a great deal of stamina
  • Works hard
  • Takes great satisfaction from being busy and productive
  • Driven to achieve
  • MUST achieve something tangiable by the end of the day, needs to measure cumulative production.
  • “Every day” includes weekends/holidays – feels driven to achieve
  • Has to learn to live with the ‘whisper of discontent’ which accompanies the relentless need for achievement – it drives you, it gives you stamina for long hours, inspires you to start new challenges, keeps you moving.
  • Likes recognition for past achievement and the setting of new goals.


  • Fascinated by ideas, able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena
  • An idea is a a new perspective on a familiar challenge, or a concept, which offers the best explanation of MOST events. It is delightful to find below a complex surface a simple explanation for WHY things are the way they are.
  • The mind is always looking for connections, however obscure.
  • Revels in taking the world we know, turning it around and viewing it from a strange or enlightening angle.
  • Others label you as creative, original, conceptual or smart, you are particularly effective as a designer.
  • All ideas are thrilling, for whatever reason. Need these ideas to be valued.
  • Uses ideas already written within focus of the organisation to generate new insights and discoveries.
  • Enjoys words – especially when they perfectly capture a concept/idea/pattern.
  • Needs to understand how things fit togehter, and any exceptions pointed out.


  • Thrives on learning and continual self-development, this keeps the motivation going – wants to continuously improve.
  • The PROCESS of learning, rather than the outcome is exciting. Enjoys developing a growing confidence as skills are mastered.
  • Engages in adult-learning experiences. Subject matter of interest depends upon other themes (listed here) and past experiences.
  • Energised by the steady/deliberate journey from ignorance to competence.
  • Learns by teaching others, through presentations, etc.
  • Thrives in a dynamic work environment, where are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the subject matter in a short period of time, then move onto the next one. Generally not seeking to become an expert – the outcome is less significant than ‘getting there’.
  • Good to work with someone who will push you to achieve more.
  • Needs to have learning recognised through certificates, etc.
  • Needs to celebrate milestones, which have been pre-identified.
  • Needs to stay current in a fast-changing field.


  • Can organise, but this organisation is accompanied by a flexibility.
  • Likes to figure out how all the pieces/resources can be arranged for maxiumu productivity.
  • Enjoys managing the variables – aligning/re-aligning until are sure has the best configuration possible. See this as nothing special, just the best way of getting things done. Is very resourceful.
  • Effectively flexible – changes quickly for a better deal; mulling over the combination of people/resources to accomplish a project.
  • Thrives with many things going on at the same time.
  • At best in dynamic situations – the unexpected has you diving in, devising new options, looking for the path of least resistence because there MIGHT be a better way.
  • Thrives on responsibility, like to make a good manager, seeing how the team works together, especially through trust & relationships.


  • Loves the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. A good person to be the contact for the outside world, needs to refine a system for remembering names, etc.
  • Derives satisfaction from breaking the ice, making a connection with the other.
  • Strangers are not intimidating to you, you want to learn about them, ask questions, find common ground so can strike up a conversation/build a rapport.
  • Rarely at a loss for words.
  • Once the connection is made, are happy to wrap it up and move onto the next connection. Not so good at building close relationships, prefers to meet & move on.
  • In the world, there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet.
  • A good person to build good will in your community.

Still Not Sure “What to Be When You Grow Up?”

“Do you have so many different interests and passions the concept of settling into one career always felt awful to you?

If so, do you recognize yourself in these descriptions?

You are…

…Afraid you’ll either have to settle into a career and stick with it for life (boring!). Or, pursue your many, unrelated passions that will leave you penniless and unable to support your family.

…Well beyond your college years but still clueless about what you want to be when you grow up. You feel like something is wrong with you.

…Often described as a Jack-of-all-trades, master of none. You are quickly excited about many, completely unrelated topics, but you may lose interest just as quickly.

…Someone with a zest for life and a love of new experiences and learning for the sake of learning.

…Very successful in your field, but bored to death and looking to change directions – again. To the horror and disbelief of those around you.

If this sounds like you, chances are, you are frustrated. Or worse; you are desperate because you can’t seem to “get it together.” It’s even possible, in your attempt to keep your options open in order to satisfy all your different interests, you make no choices at all. You know you have all this potential but lots of it is going unused.

If you’ve ever felt as if something was wrong with you for your inability to stick with a passion, a hobby, an interest, or job, or even a career; take heart. You are completely normal!”

Read the full article by Ilona Vanderwoude, also on Twitter @careerbranches

Career Resources

Starting Monday off with a little Salsa

The Weekend

Combination of a career support event at CCW (I have so much work to do on my CV!),  and a great meal in the evening at The Forge, Otterbourne for Karen’s birthday (good company, good food, good service, good value-for-money) on the Saturday, and a shared event at Wesley Church for Wesley, St Barnabas and NWCC in the morning (including a free lunch, always good), and Christ Church in the evening on the Sunday.
Monday: Salsa y Sol
Monday evening, after working for around 8.5 hours on my web accessibility literature review, I decided I would give Salsa a try. After working out how to get into The Discovery Centre at night, had a really enjoyable evening provided by Max and Silvia of Salsa y Sol. The beginner session was well-paced, with probably around 60+ people there, the photo above is from the inter-mission (lots of free water provided!), and then I decided to give the intermediate session a go (why not!), and managed most of it… must be all that MoJive experience! By 9.30pm, the freestyle hour, I managed the first 2 dances, then headed home to be asleep for 10.30pm! Good day though!!!

You Only Have One Life: Live It Well

It’s such a pain not having a functional (internet) computer at home, can take a little while to get around to these things, and fit them around the sheer volume of work that is currently coming in! Living by my mantra of if you’re going to do something, do it on time and do it well… keeps getting me more work! Just got to keep believing it’s going to keep coming, although am putting my best foot forward for a full-time post also!

One Life Live
A great event hosted over the weekend at Kensington Olympia! I’ve been looking forward to going to this for months, having pre-purchased my ticket via Psychologies magazine (and then getting special offers from several other RSS feeds I subscribe to – hey, you win some, you lose some!) ages ago!

The event was structured into a number of zones:

  • New careers & Learning
  • Free Time
  • Be Your Own Boss
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Travel & Career Breaks
  • Sustainable Living
  • Life Change
  • Volunteering & Fundraising

I LOVE learning, so I checked out a bit of that, wandered around the ‘be your own boss’, but I’m aware (but haven’t quite read) most of that literature, and of course was checking out the ‘Life Change’ areas, but as always, I gravitate towards the travel and volunteering sections… very inspiring to see the ways in which you can combine travel with so many other things… I may return with specifics of companies, but right now I need to learn how to use WordPress!

As I said, interested in the volunteering section, so put my actions where my feet were, and signed up to do The Big Sleep Out at Winchester Cathedral on 15th May:

Careers: General Sites

So, New Year is over, companies should speed up those job adverts (although of course all those people who’ve reassessed things over Christmas will be back on the hunt too)… so let’s identify some of the good general job-hunting sites (most of these have been sending me job-search emails on a regular basis for the last couple of months, yielding some decent jobs):

Whilst travelling, I was continually asked that question “where do you come from?”… well.. that can be complicated! I grew up in Sussex, I studied/lived in Winchester for 10.5 years (and consider it my adopted home), then I lived in Manchester for 1.5 years before redundancy gave the option of travelling, where I made my official base with parents who had now moved to Suffolk. Suffolk’s too remote for me, great for a retreat, but Winchester is definitely the place I’d still choose to make my home… so places to look for local jobs:

I’m sure there’s going to be more information to add to both categories!

Careers: Not for Profit Organisations

Working has never been about earning money for me (although obviously we live in a world where things need to be paid for, and I would like to be appropriately recognised for the effort I have put into training with an appropriate wage), but more about making a difference in the world. Therefore, I am signing up with some of the following agencies:

As a Christian, I am also checking out agencies specialising in (advertising) that particular line of work, including:

I posted a new version of my personal website today: Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to spend as long on it as I’d like, but it’s more focused than the previous version.