How to Become an Academic

Three Parts:Considering an Academic CareerGetting Education and ExperienceFinding Job Opportunities

An academic is a personal who holds an advanced degree, such as a PhD, and often works as a professor or researcher at a university or scholarly institution.[1] But you may be unsure of how to pursue this rewarding-- and often highly competitive—profession.[2] By choosing your career path, getting your education, and actively seeking out different types of job opportunities, you can become an academic and enjoy the benefits of working in a field you love.

Part 1
Considering an Academic Career

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    Learn about being an academic. Someone who pursues an academic career often works at a university or research institution in a specific discipline such as biology, history, or political science. If you like studying, writing essays, and teaching, academia might be a good choice for you.[3]
    • Investigate your job options. It’s increasingly difficult to find permanent or tenured jobs in academia.[4] Knowing that you can get an advanced degree and work for government agencies or other public and private institutions such as museums, might help you make your decision.
    • Studying, taking part in academic conferences, and teaching something about which you are passionate can be incredibly rewarding and make academic seem less like a “job.”
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    Talk to an academic. If you think you want to be an academic, consider meeting someone who is already one in the your desired field or discipline. She can tell you about the realities of academia, answer questions you have, give you tips for getting started, and guide your goals for the future.[5]
    • Inquire how she got into her academic career. Ask about her education and/ or any professional or practical experience she had. If you like studying and striving for specific goals, academia might be a great option for you.
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    Think about your goals and personality. Consider how being an academic fits into your life.[6] Factors like your goals, time, location, potential demands, and salary can inform your decision and guide your career path. You might want to ask yourself some of the following questions:
    • How deep is my commitment to this field?[7] Am I willing to potentially move often and continue applying for jobs that may only be for a year?
    • Am I able to work in an unstructured environment and self-start projects? Working on studies often requires developing your own topic and doing your own research.[8]
    • Are there emotional demands? Academia is very competitive and one can encounter a lot of rejection.[9] It can take a long time to find a permanent position in the field as well.[10] In addition, working with a university faculty can require navigating delicate personal and political situations.
    • Does being an academic fit your personality? Working with potentially competitive colleagues or navigating different types of students can be a significant part of academia. If you’re interested in working solely as an academic researcher, you may spend a lot of time by yourself in an unstructured environment.
    • Ask yourself if you’d like to teach and work with students or just with other academics in places like a think tank or government office.[11]
    • How much money will I make? How much academics earn varies according to the discipline and type of job. For example, a full professor will make considerably more than an adjunct professor or lecturer.[12] The amount can also differ according to your experience and job location.[13] You should also be aware that there is strong competition for academic positions in every discipline.[14]

Part 2
Getting Education and Experience

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    Finish your Bachelor’s degree. You have to finish your Bachelor’s degree to pursue a PhD, which is generally the education requirement for a career in academia.[15] Take classes in the discipline that you’d like to be an academic to give yourself an advantage of getting into graduate programs and make attaining your PhD somewhat easier.
    • Consider majoring in your preferred academic discipline or one closely related to it. For example, if you want to be an animal behaviorist, you could major in ethology or comparative psychology.[16] If you want to be a historian, you could consider anthropology or philosophy.
    • Take courses that complement your preferred field of specialization. For example, if want to be an archaeologist, consider classes in history and anthropology.
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    Obtain an advanced degree. Most academic positions require a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) once you’ve finished your Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree.[17] Having the right degrees ensures to you—and potential employers-- that you have mastered the required information to pursue a career in academia.
    • Pursue your PhD. Since most academics teach and do research at universities or colleges, you will need a graduate degree. Most institutions require a PhD, though some institutions and disciplines may only require an MA or MS, or even professional experience.[18]
    • Inform yourself about different programs in your specific discipline. Different universities have different disciplines and fields in which they specialize. Figuring out which universities offer the type of degree and experience you want can optimize your educational experience.[19] For example, if you want to be an animal behaviorist, you might want to find specific programs in this field or related fields. Likewise, if you want to be a historian of Europe, you’d want to figure out the best programs for that instead of for American history.[20]
    • Make sure your degree granting institution is accredited, which assures that the quality of your education meets acceptable levels. The US Department of Educations provides a list of accredited universities.[21]
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    Conduct research. Most academics conduct original research and then publish it. Starting with a dissertation and including articles, books, or other media, research is often the bread and butter of any academic.[22]
    • Be aware that the point of “scholarship” is to expand current knowledge of your particular field.
    • Make sure your research is original and that no one has used your specific topic or method of analysis before you begin. This will require that you master the scholarly literature related to your field.
    • Choose an area that hasn’t been explored in depth. For example, you could look at something like the impact of wars on the practice of humanitarian aid.[23]
    • Make sure to get any permissions or clearances you need to do your research, especially if it requires using human or animal subjects.
    • Take copious and detailed notes, as this will help you write up and publish your research.
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    Publish your findings. One of the primary components of being an academic is publishing your research findings.[24] In fact, sometimes one will hear the phrase “publish or perish.” Aim to publish your research at a rate commensurate to your field.
    • Begin publishing your research as soon as it is ready, including if you are still in graduate school.
    • Ask colleagues and friends about what general expectations for publication within your field are. If you work at a university, there may be guidelines on publication expectations.
    • Aim to publish with the most prestigious academic presses or peer-reviewed journals in your field as possible. This can help you gain exposure and may help complete your file for tenure.
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    Teach courses in your field. Many academics who work at universities conduct research and teach students. Getting teaching experience in your specific and possibly related fields can not only make you attractive to potential employers, but also help you master your field and round out your curriculum vitae.[25]
    • See if your university requires being a teaching assistant (TA) as a part of your graduate studies. Consider volunteering to be a TA in a different field than yours to show your ability to be flexible as an academic. For example, if you work on American history, offer to TA a course on African history. This may help you make connections with your own work as well.
    • Ask if you can teach independent courses in your field.
    • Volunteer to teach courses that may be less popular. The more diversified your teaching experience is, the more attractive you may be to potential employers.
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    Obtain practical experience. Depending on your chosen discipline, consider getting an internship or job that will enhance your coursework with practical experience. Ask if your university or college can help you find internships or jobs that complement your studies.
    • Be aware that many graduate programs and employers, particularly in health fields or the sciences, may require internships or practical experience to graduate or start a job.[26]
    • Consider doing an internship complementary to your field. For example, it may be difficult to find an internship as a historian or archaeologist. But you could intern in a library or archives, which would give you experience in conducting research.
    • Get different types of experience to give you sense of what work you could do and what kind of work suits you best. For example, you may want to work for your university astronomy lab during the school year and pursue an internship at a local planetarium in the summer.
    • Many internships and residencies, like universities, are also accredited. The US Department of Education also offers a list of these programs.[27]
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    Apply for funding. Whether you are a student or have finished your graduate education, apply for grants and fellowships from your university and outside institutions. Winning grants and fellowships can not only help pay for your research but also attract other organizations to fund you .
    • Look for grant and fellowship opportunities at different universities and colleges, research institutions, government agencies, or independent groups. For example, if you are a physicist, see what funding opportunities your university, the National Science Foundation, and the European Physical Society offer.[28]
    • Be aware that some institutions will require that you be a member in order to apply for funding.
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    Stay on top of current research. Inform yourself about current research in your discipline and specific field, as well as any related fields. You can do this by attending conferences and seminars, reading journals, and networking with colleagues. This knowledge may help you more effectively do your job and can also make you attractive to potential employers.[29]
    • Read journals from your specifics areas of expertise and those related to it. For example, if you work on the history of cultural heritage, you might want to read publications by historians, anthropologists, ethnographers, and archaeologists. Legal journals may also be of use.
    • Subscribe to journals related to your specific fields. This can help you stay most current on research through articles and book reviews. You may also find job listings in these journals.
    • Go to conferences for your specific discipline and field. For example, if you are a quantum physicist, you could attend the American Physical Society’s annual conference as well as that of International Quantum Structure Association.[30]
    • Be aware that staying on top of current research can also help your teaching profile.

Part 3
Finding Job Opportunities

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    Start your job search early. There can be a lot of uncertainty in academia.[31] If you wait until you finish your PhD to find a job, you may have trouble securing even a term position.[32] There is intense competition for academic jobs, so the more prepared you are to apply everywhere and often, the better chance you'll have of securing a permanent job.[33]
    • Start researching universities, agencies, institutions, and organizations with which you may be interested in working at least a year before you defend your doctoral dissertation.
    • Ask your doctoral advisor, professors, colleagues, and friends for advice on where, when, and how to apply for academic jobs.[34]
    • Search job posting on academic Internet databases or job portals, research at your university’s career center, and attend job fairs at conferences to find other opportunities.
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    Submit job applications. Most academics work at places like universities and research institutions. Because competition for academic positions is strong, apply to as many positions as you can in your field or related fields. This may increase your chances of securing a position.
    • Prepare yourself for rejection. Competition for academic jobs is very high and it’s very likely you’ll have several rejections. Remember that the decision is not personal but that you’re likely in a pool of other very qualified candidates.[35]
    • Search the websites or publications of professional academic associations every day. New jobs may appear daily.
    • Check online listserves specific to your discipline or field.
    • Talk to your advisor, professors, or colleagues if they’re aware of any job openings.
    • Submit material requested by the position ad. This often includes a cover letter, CV, writing samples, and proof of ability to obtain funding.
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    Consider professional positions. You may prefer a professional position with a business to a job at a university or may not have had any luck on the academic market. There are a multitude of options for academics at places like think tanks, government agencies, or museums.[36]
    • Look for professional positions in academic publications, newspapers, professional recruiting sites, and or by asking headhunters.
    • Submit letters of interest and ask about career opportunities at places that interest you. See if you can set up an informational interview.
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    Network with other academics. Meeting and talking with academic colleagues or professionals from your field or related disciplines can expand your ability to find a job as well as increase your knowledge. Go to conferences, establish a local seminar, and join professional organizations to network with fellow academics.
    • Join organizations in your specific discipline and field. For example, if you are a historian of modern Germany you might want to join the American Historical Association and the German Studies Association.
    • Go to conferences. Make sure to attend panels related to your work and any social events offered. These can help you meet new people who share your interests.
    • Set up regular meeting or seminar meeting for colleagues in your field and discipline or related disciplines in your local area.

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