Accelerating your Academic Career

Updated: May 7, 2020

Accelerating your career can mean many things to each of us. So think about what it means to you? If I were to crystallise it I would say the term explores how you can get to where you want to be by working smart but enjoying the process on the way. This week I take a look at academic career progression. How have your 2020 career goals worked out for you so far? Covid-19 has definitely thrown a spanner in the works but I do think for some us it has given us some time to take stock of our careers. I did a shout out on Twitter to get some views on how to accelerate your career. Thanks to everyone for their input! This post is slightly longer than usual but it warrants the attention - so grab a brew and i'll share some thoughts on accelerating your academic career:


Getting Organised

So when did you last sit down and have a think about your career, honestly? Can't remember? Hmm thought so. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hum drum of day-to-day work-life but imagine the possibilities if you dedicated even 5% of your working time to your career - what difference could that make? Don’t feel guilty for carving out time to think about your work-life either. It doesn’t make you a weirdo or a try-hard. It's just demonstrating that you have some intention to what you are doing. But, when should you do it? Well, i’m not talking once a year, more specifically, the night before your annual review. I’m talking at least monthly (as a minimum) check-ins. If you need a template just let me know! By doing some planning I have found that you can see a little bit better how your day-to-day role activities and work opportunities might connect to your long-term career goals.


Big Reputation?

Marketing yourself - be your biggest advocate. Now this doesn't come naturally to many of us Brits in particular but you can still be your own Chief Marketing officer without sounding like a prize idiot. What i'm saying here is you need to be your number one supporter. Here you want to think about: how can people find out about you and your skill-set? Are you communicating what you are doing/working on? This is really important. You could be the best in your field and yet no one have a clue about it. Industry shows us only too well that the best businesses are the ones that market their brand well. It might make all the difference at that next interview, it may even be the thing that opens that door to interview for you. So here are some small steps to take - are you updating your LinkedIn page regularly? When was the last time you looked at your university staff profile, 2005? Ok so time for a refresh then! Most likely someone might google you in relation to a job opening or a project so help them find the information you want them to see.


This also brings me onto the point around collegiality, which we discussed over on Twitter. Now here's the thing, no one likes a slippery pole climber who will stop at anything to meet their own ends - have a bit of integrity in what you do, how you treat people. Be yourself and be collegiate - you spend a lot of time at work make it enjoyable for you and others around you - there is a enough room for everyone to excel.

Making Moves

Are you looking at that salary spine thinking- do I really need to sit here for 8 years to get to the next level? Sometimes the tough answer is yes - there is a time and a place to earn your stripes and notch-up the experience. At other points in your career you will want to explore different routes to accelerating your progression. Don't just look to the next level - explore sideways moves to help deepen your knowledge and broaden your skill set whether that be through a committee, a new role or new level of responsibility. By doing so you will gain a better understanding of the bigger picture outside of your own work bubble which more strategic and senior roles often demand. As one experienced academic mentioned on my Twitter discussion - take an opportunity “…look around at the different types of academic you can be”. If you want to explore different types of jobs some helpful guides are here. Now you may get passed-up for promotion or not get a chance at a role you craved but there will always be other opportunities. Sometimes that may mean moving elsewhere to get to the right role and move up to the job you want as one senior academic found.


Along each of those stages identify people within your field to look up to - it gives you a more realistic idea of the trajectory you might wish to take and makes your intended career path seem a whole lot more achievable. Find people to support you along the way and also people who reflect the type of academic you want to be. As a female it is great to see that there are people in HE leadership who have managed to have a successful career without compromising on their personal goals too.


A Hewlett Packard internal report found that men apply for a job or promotion when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them (Forbes, 2018). As new roles come up remember you need to at least give yourself a chance to be in with a shout, so apply and see what happens. You don't have to say yes even if you get the interivew. You also need to have some confidence in yourself - yes you can publish all the papers in the world and smash every Higher Ed target that is put in front of you but don't work plagued by insecurity. Be confident of what you can achieve and what contribution you can bring and as Anna Wintour said, "own who you are".


Are you using all of the resources available to you ? Survey says, no.

If you are here reading this then you have probably invested in your career - whether that is through time, energy or cold hard cash. But to help you to get to where you want to be, are you exhausting all the resources available to you? Have you applied to use your staff development budget? Are there any departmental funds available for projects that you could utilise? If you are guest lecturing - are you keeping back a little of those earnings to invest in yourself ? Grant applications - are you costing-out some developmental funding within that draft budget? Ask your line manager to signpost you to sources of funding that might be available, ask your network too. Not everyone goes looking for it - so be the one who does.

End Game - What result do you want and what's motivating you ?

Your path to academia will in someway shape your journey. For me it was coming from industry. If you had said about 15 years ago - fancy academia? I would have literally laughed in your face. But having stepped into academia and continuing my marketing work I have found the right career for me - it’s the mix of the two that is the most stimulating. For you, it might be that you have been an academic right from the start. Each route creates different questions and pressures around career progression. For me it was how could I progress up the ladder in academia to where I left my full-time industry career? Consider your motivation - why should you bother with all the effort in the first place? If it’s just for the cash may I politely signpost you to McDonalds - you’ll make more money with overtime and plus you’ll get free food. So be clear on why you are bothering. You may not figure it all out now - but you will certainly be a million miles nearer just by thinking about it.


That’s it for today, as ever I hope this helps you or at least gives you a little nudge to nurture your career. Shout out to any of those who spotted the references to Taylor Swift’s latest album within the headings (sorry, not sorry). Oh yeah, did I mention you need a sense of humour for academia - consider it that an absolutely essential job requirement. Until next time...


Dr Sam


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Here's my top tips for a successful academic interview here.


Dr Sam Lynch - is a researcher in consumer decision-making and omnichannel fashion retail. You can find out more by visiting the drsamlynch.co.uk homepage or reach out via twitter @drsamlynch

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