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.
- 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 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.
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.
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.
See our information and advice on getting teaching experience.
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.