One year on! A year in the life of…an early career academic

My thesis and other books

As of today it has been a whole year since I passed my viva for my PhD…how time flies!! I recently did an interview about my viva experiences with Nathan Ryder which will be available soon (I will update when it is available) but for now I wanted to reflect on my past year as an Early Career Academic. Trust me, getting the PhD is only the beginning if you want a career in academia!

Employment

I have three jobs since completing my PhD; two academic positions and one in the private sector. I worked for two months after my viva as a Market Researcher. There were few jobs available in academia at that time and I wanted to try something new. I quickly realised this wasn’t for me and when a teaching position came up at the institution where I got my PhD, I went for it and got it! I spent the following 8 months giving multiple tutorials and lectures, usually about other people’s work. It was time consuming and tiring work but in terms of my CV and skills it gave my teaching profile a real boost. I am now a Research associate for the Open University; a research only post which is great! I am currently writing up my thesis for publication and getting the opportunity to collaborate and develop my research interests. I have previously described my Early Career experience so far as being one where I feel very much in transition. This is still very much the case, even a year on and I think it important to make this point, especially given the nature of academic careers at present (for more discussion of this see my post and Melanie M Marshall’s excellent post).

Social Media

In the last year I have benefitted greatly from getting much more involved in using different forms of social media. I have created my own blog, I have become Managing Editor of PhD2Published having contacted Charlotte and have worked out how Twitter works! I am now a Twitter addict and love using it to share my experiences and learn from others about everything academic related! I have ‘meet’ lots of great people and have developed my networks and have even found it useful for meeting people at conferences. A highlight of my year was receiving a Tweet from one of my audience members saying they enjoyed my conference paper!

I have also ‘met’ Jeremy Segrott and together we run the #acwri live chats on Twitter which are every fortnight on Thursdays, 6pm GMT. I enjoy being part of this community and love their enthusiasm about academic writing. Again this has helped me with my own writing, especially important while writing up and getting published is my main goal.

Training and Career Development

I am also currently creating a strategy for further career development. A colleague of mine recommended that I consider my research narrative in order to develop a strategy for pursuing and creating that narrative. I am very much interested in family life and relationships, things that I relate to on a daily basis and think that this is what I would like to pursue as a narrative. While broad, this gives me the opportunity to keep my options open and continue to research what I enjoy. My plan is to help on other projects relating to families and indeed soon I will be conducting interviews on a project with Brid Featherstone concerning families going through Child Protection procedures, but also to start developing my own research bids.

So, I have had a busy, unsettled year, but it has also been exciting and I am really enjoying my new research role at Open University. Being an Early Career Academic from my experience has not been a straightforward transition into a Lectureship which is what I had expected. I have had to continue to look for employment because of the short-term nature of the posts available and continue to develop my networks and skills. Nonetheless this has given me time to reflect on my experiences and to identify what I need to do next and this has been invaluable for me. Are you an Early Career academic? How do your experiences compared to my own?

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6 thoughts on “One year on! A year in the life of…an early career academic

  1. The podcast will be up soon! I’m shooting for 6th June to launch it, and your interview will be one of the two that will be up from the start 🙂

  2. Good on you! I’m a ways away from getting my Ph.D., but I’m looking forward to where it takes me in the future.

    It’s always refreshing to hear positive opinions of the new wave of grad students and faculty regarding social media. It’s kind of unsettling how negative the sentiment for Twitter is among older acdemics – I guess when you already have an established presence in the field, it’s not so important for you to reach out to new channels to make yourself known. For those of us working hard to break into the field, it helps give us notoriety and build a support network, and that’s pretty cool.

    • Thanks for your comment. I think also, given the need for impact, it is also really useful for public engagement purposes (which I would hope older academics were thinking about as well) and wider dissemination of research. So as well as networking, it is also a great tool for getting findings ‘out there’ and to more diverse audiences.

  3. I think this is similar to my experience in many ways (I had my viva in March last year). I actually had to go back to non-academic work (in my case clinical practice) prior to submitting as the funding ran out before the PhD did! I was lucky to have the clinical skills/qualifications to fall back on. So I ended up working for a year and a bit before the viva and a year after it, before getting my postdoc post. I knew that it wasn’t really for me, but was grateful for the money coming in and bills being paid meantime. I was also doing some tutoring with the Open University so felt I was ‘keeping my hand in’ with practical academic work/teaching that way. What I did find though was that it was hard to concentrate on writing from my PhD when I was doing all those clinical hours and tutoring and coming home shattered – it felt like post-PhD publishing was pushed to the sidelines as there were so many other things that needed doing more urgently. I started my blog partly as a way of easing myself back into academic writing, and trying to raise my profile a bit while I was looking for academic work.

    I’ve just started (1 month ago) my postdoc, fieldwork is starting soon and will last several months, and the plan is for me to write both from this research and from my PhD. I will be sitting down with my boss at some point and thinking properly about a strategy for where I go from here. The postdoc-related writing will be jointly-authored which will be an interesting experience, they have said though that they want me to write as many first-authored papers as possible. My relative lack of publications was I think a factor in it taking nearly a year to get a postdoc position, so I am glad for the chance to do this in this post.

    I do though want to eventually find a position that’s not fixed-term, so I can feel a bit more stable. Even though this is a relatively long postdoc (nearly 2 years) and I know I’m lucky to have that, as many are only a year, I’m aware I’m still going to have to start looking again at some point. I’m grateful I have the chance here to develop professionally, and that I am working with people who are committed to my career development as well as to my contribution to the actual research project.

    • Thanks for your comment Jackie. I think we have had very similar experiences yes. I wonder if I am perhaps being too overly positive about the situation we have both experienced. I can’t deny that I love the job (when I’m in it) and I love the research and writing and people etc, but the continued search for the next post is draining and highly disruptive I am finding. Having nearly a year away from writing up my thesis has given me a new perspective on my research but has also made it increasingly difficult to get back into publishing and to re-acquainting myself with the data again. There is a lot of energy and time being wasted by constant job hunts and leaving academcia for short periods. That is certainly the dark side of it!

      • Yes I’d agree with that. The constant round of searching and applying for jobs is exhausting I found, and very emotionally draining. To be honest I was nearly at the point of giving up when I got my job – I was just starting to wonder if I really had what it took, as even when I was getting close to an appointment it was never close enough to actually get the job. I am finding denial is my main strategy for dealing with the thought that I’m going to have to think about it all over again in a couple of years!

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