UK academic sector


Students at LSE come from many different countries and PhD students are no exception. You will be familiar with the academic system in the country you studied in previously, but may not know so much about how things work in the UK. This set of slides [pdf] gives an overview of how the system works here.

Further reading:

  • The typical job titles and career path for academics in the UK are different to those in other countries. The slides linked to above give an overview of the differences.
  • The Times Higher Education supplement and Guardian Higher Education are good ways to keep in touch with sector news.
  • Most UK academic jobs are advertised on jobs.ac.uk.
  • Research Professional is a database of funding opportunities. LSE has a subscription to this funding database and so you will be able to create an account from an LSE computer and then access it off-site using your account. It includes funding at all levels including conference funding, travel funds, early-career research fellowships etc.
  • The Russell Group is a group of research-intensive universities in the UK.
  • The REF (research excellence framework) is an important measure of the research quality of departments and is run approximately every 6 years. It last ran in 2014. The submissions and results of the REF (in previous years known as the RAE) are freely available online. The next REF will be conducted in 2021 and submissions will be made 2020.
  • Increasingly the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) is influencing work in higher education. Teaching excellence is measured using a range of factors and awards of Bronze, Silver, and Gold are made to rank universities for their teaching and wider student experience.

If you are interested in an academic career then some strategic planning during your PhD will increase your chance of success.

You should consider:

Where do I want to work?

The academic job market is competitive so it helps to be geographically fairly open. Someone interested in working anywhere in the UK is going to find more opportunities than someone who will only consider working in London. If you are restricted geographically you should think about the number of institutions/departments that would be open to you in that area and how often vacancies are likely to arise. If the number is small you may want to rethink your openness to working in other places, consider careers outside academia, or attractive jobs in HE.

If you are looking at an academic career overseas, you should pay special attention to building up your networks and understanding of how the academic system works in that country. To help you network you could attend conferences in that country or have a period as a visiting student in a university there. You should also try to keep up to date with news in the academic sector in that country. We have some guidance on planning for a US academic career and an academic and research career in Germany or in France.

Research

Research productivity and quality is important for making you competitive on the academic job market. Each discipline has its own way of disseminating research and measures of quality. It is important to develop an understanding of these for your own discipline during your PhD. Your supervisors, mentors and contacts will be good sources of information on this.

Not all publications are equal! There are many ways to publish work including books/monographs, book chapters, journal articles, blog posts, news articles etc. If your discipline measures academic quality in peer-reviewed journal articles then it is better to focus on these than spend the time on producing lots of e.g. blog posts instead. If you have your journal articles sorted, then of course having blog posts too is good.

You will need to develop a publication strategy to make the most of the work from your PhD. There are different schools of thought on this. Some will advise you to focus on finishing the PhD first and then worry about publishing later. Others will advise you to get on with publishing as soon as possible. Seek advice, preferably from a number of sources, before you take your decision. There is no doubt that having something already accepted for publication will enhance your chances on the academic job market, although in some disciplines this is not feasible.

As well as producing research outputs such as publications, you will need to be networking and establishing a profile within your discipline. This is most commonly done by attending conferences. When you attend conferences, don’t be shy, talk to people and make connections. Before you go to a conference look at who will be attending and pick out people you are most interested in speaking to; maybe their research links with yours or they work in an institution you might like to work in one day. A strategy that can work well, especially for large conferences, is to email people before the conference to introduce yourself.

Conferences

Conference Alerts is a comprehensive directory of academic conferences which you can filter by subject or location. We have also listed some of the major international student and academic conferences below.

Academic conferences

Another way to meet people is to get involved with networks such as h-net or the Social Science Research Network.

As you start to get towards the end of your PhD, start thinking about where you want to take your research after the PhD. Try to develop research ideas and plans for projects you would like to in the future. These need to be more than just a routine extension of your PhD and be worthwhile in their own right. Increasingly a five year research strategy, including funding, is required by job candidates.

Teaching

See our information and advice on getting teaching experience.

Administration

After research and teaching, the third classical component of an academic career is administration. Typically in an academic context this refers to the responsibilities academic members of staff take on within their department. These include committee work, organising seminars, student recruitment, conference organising etc.

You won’t be expected to have a lot of this type of experience at the point of graduating from a PhD, but you should have something that indicates you have the capacity to contribute to a department in this way. It could be representing students on the Research Students Consultative Forum or another committee, taking on some responsibility related to your discipline such as organising a conference, or taking a role in a student society.

By itself administrative experience won’t get you an academic job and so it is important that you don’t spend too much time on it. Just enough to show that you are willing and able to do it.

Useful Information

Routes in

Getting some teaching experience is an important part of preparing for an academic career.

In universities

You first stop is to ask in your department about opportunities there. If these are limited and you don’t get a chance to teach in your own department, then you can look at other departments in LSE or other institutions. For example LSE PhD students have taught at Birkbeck, UCL, and others. It’s more difficult to find opportunities in other institutions because they are likely to look for their own PhD students first.

Networking is the best way to find out about opportunities. You can try asking your supervisor if they have contacts and making connections at conferences. You can also try looking into what courses being delivered in institutions that you would have the necessary to expertise to teach on and contacting the departments directly.

Other options

Another option to get teaching experience is Brilliant Club. This organisation places PhD students into a school part-time for a term to deliver teaching based on their research to high achieving students who might not otherwise consider university. You will be paid, will be given training on how to teach well and can do more than one term. It is also open to people who have completed their PhDs. This programme has had very positive feedback from LSE students who have taken part.

Higher education teaching qualifications

If you do get the chance to teach you might want to consider doing the PGCHE as a qualification alongside your teaching. You do need to be doing teaching while you do the PGCHE as the course involves reflecting on your teaching practice. It is offered at LSE by the Teaching and Learning Centre.

What to think about

When planning your teaching experience, think about what sort of department you might work in after your PhD, and try to get experience teaching on courses that might fit into that type of department. This can be an issue particularly for interdisciplinary researchers or researchers who have changed discipline, who may need to be strategic about the teaching experience they choose.

Teaching can be very time-consuming. It’s important to get the balance right. Teach enough to get experience but not so much that it interferes with your research.

Repeating the same teaching year on year may be useful for bringing money in but isn’t going to add substantially to your CV. You may wish to get experience teaching at different levels eg final year undergraduates if you have already taught first year undergraduates, or a different topic, to broaden your experience.

Job roles

The period directly after a PhD can be a tricky one for early-career academics to navigate. Students often wonder what the options are for them once they graduate. Looking at the job roles on LSE jobs pages explains roles here. More generally, here is a list of three main types of work that PhD students go into in the academic sector:

  • Established academic positions

Some LSE PhD students are successful in applying directly for a UK lectureship at the end of their PhD or go into a US tenure-track assistant professor position or the equivalent in another country. These are typically established permanent academic positions where you will be responsible for research and teaching.

At elite institutions the primary consideration of the selection panels for these positions will be your research track record and future potential. It is also important to have at least some teaching experience.

  • Temporary teaching-focused positions

These are found under a variety of job-titles such as temporary lecturer, fixed term lecturer, teaching fellow, adjunct (US) etc. What they have in common is that you are employed to teach on a temporary contract.

As selection for established academic positions is primarily made based on research track-record rather than teaching, it is important to maintain your research momentum through the period of your teaching contract if you want to be competitive for established academic positions.

  • Temporary/contract research positions

There are two types:

  1. Employed to research on someone else’s research project

Commonly referred to as a postdoc or research staff/research officer position. These positions are advertised on jobs.ac.uk and on subject-related forums. Sometimes you can also hear about these sorts of projects through contacts and at conferences.

      2. Postdoctoral research fellowship

Applying for funding for your own research project eg British Academy, Leverhulme. More information on postdoctoral research fellowships can be found on our website. Fellowships are more like fixed term contract jobs. Look at few ESRC post doc fellowships and LSE fellowships.

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