Saturday, 23 March 2013

10 things I wish I knew about academia sooner...

In the second year of my undergrad degree I decided I wanted to go on into a career in higher education and research.  The only problem was I didn't really know much about how to make that happen, beyond that the next step was to get a Masters degree.  After that you did a PhD, and then after that a career magicked itself up and you were hired on as a junior lecturer and a successful career of teaching and research followed.  Right?

I remember coming to London to study for my Masters in palaeoanthropology and palaeolithic archaeology at UCL in 2008/9.  I had minored in archaeology, but still felt like a linguist crashing an archaeology club.  But I really wanted to do well, even though I barely knew what a dissertation was, beyond an extra long essay.  Most of the people on my course had done a dissertation for their undergraduate degree, so I really felt inexperienced in an alien discipline.  

Four years later, I feel I know a lot more about getting into an academic career, and the long and unstable path leading to job security and a regular paycheck.  So even though I was naieve, and I can't imagine I was alone in feeling a bit ignorant about things, it worked out ok.  

I do think though, that I could have benefited from a bit more support offered at undergraduate and Masters level when it comes to what actually goes in to building an academic career, and how best to make yourself the best candidate for acheiving that next step.  For instance, maybe I would have geared my dissertation to be a bit more empirically focussed - I feel I am at a disadvantage both for funding opportunities and later employability because I don't have any technical or analytical projects under my belt.  I've read lots of books and thought about them and that's about it...

Maybe if there was some sort of undergraduate or even graduate level module or lecture series that covered these sorts of topics, where people wanting to pursue research as a career could learn a number of things.  For instance, 
  • what the common career stages in academia?
  • what are the ways you can build up your CV as a young academic?
  • how does a research project get started?
  • what features in a project make it attractive for funding?
  • what does a funding application look like? 
  • what goes into preparing a paper to submit to a journal?
  • how does the peer review process work?
  • how do you review a paper?
  • how do funding bodies work?
  • how is a conference organised?

I still don't know anything about a lot of these questions, but thankfully it's a lot more than I did four years ago.  I imagine I'll have a lot of opportunity during my PhD to learn all of this, but I still think it would have been helpful information earlier on to know about.  I'm not sure what difference it would have made, but perhaps it would make students a bit more savvy and make better informed decisions about preparing for their highly competative and slow to get off the ground career.

What about you?  What do you wish you had known a bit earlier on, or are wondering about now?

1 comment:

  1. I know what you mean. I didn't have a clue what my career was actually going to look like until I was actually in it. It was nothing like what I had been expecting, coming out of academia, but it all worked out in the end. I'm sure yours will too!


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