What’s your plan?

I’m one of life’s planners, the kind that make lists for everything. I’ve even been known to create a spreadsheet for my shopping lists.

Why do I this? Mainly because I’m impatient, I hate to waste time and like to have some idea of where I’m heading. I’d like to be able to say that I’m working on being less of a control freak, but that would be a lie.  Luckily, these traits are actually pretty useful when it comes to facing the academic job market. In the face of cuts to HE funding and more applicants for fewer posts, treating your job hunt like a small scale military operation is no bad thing.

As someone who has recently completed a grueling two years of postgraduate education in order to refocus my career path (moving from Art History to Psychology), employment prospects have long been at the forefront of my mind. I was lucky enough to be able to combine study with a part-time post supporting mental health (MH) research in the NHS, which gave me fantastic exposure to the workings of the entire research lifecycle, and helped me to understand the academic-clinical relationship within this.

As my interest in the academic side of MH research grew, I began to think about how I could gain some work experience within a university. I decided that I would begin looking for a university research assistant post, alongside publishing my postgraduate dissertation in order to evidence my interest in academia.

Juggling an intensive job search alongside editing my dissertation was a challenge. However, my efforts were well timed as I was able to discuss the article preparation during a successful interview for a research assistant post with the University of Cumbria’s unit for Health and Social Care Evaluation. This was my first interview for an academic post, and I felt (and still feel!) very lucky that I was offered the job.

Reflecting on the past few months as I write my first blog post for ‘Just Higher-ed’, I’m reminded that even though I have now secured my first academic post, I still need to keep planning my next move. I am aiming to start a PhD next year, and am conscious that this will take a different type of planning strategy than a job search. I’ll be sharing this process as part of my blog, in the hope of generating discussion with likeminded others.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts and tips I’ve collected during the first stage of my journey into working in  higher education:

Planning and managing you career can at times feel like a full time job in itself, but for me, this is outweighed by the feeling of satisfaction in knowing that I have a clear idea of where I’m going. If at times it all feels too much, its ok to take a day off from the constant writing, reading and planning! Take a walk, stay in bed; whatever works for you.

Being able to articulate your plans to peers, colleague and potential employers will help to spread the word that you are available and interested in working in  your chosen field, and will help to establish you as a credible and interesting individual. If you can do this is a succinct and engaging way, even better.

Be flexible. This may sound contradictory to my point above about planning, but expanding your job search just a little bit more than you’re entirely comfortable with might expose you to new opportunities or theories you wouldn’t necessarily have considered to begin with. This might mean looking for posts in institutions outside your region, or in departments with an inter-disciplinary focus, instead of sticking rigidly within your own discipline.

If you’re not on Twitter, sign up for an account. If you’re already on Twitter, make sure you follow and interact with academics and writers associated with your subject area. Make sure that you include a short bio about yourself and your interests on your profile, as it’ll help you connect with others in your field. The Twitter academic community is very supportive, and you can learn a lot about career management from people like @AcademicBatgirl, @raulpacheco and @ProfessorIsIn.

So, how did you secure your first academic post, and what were your strategies in doing so? Are you looking to break into academia?

Post your comments below and let’s talk! You can also find me on Twitter: @PrcNaomi




About Naomi Pierce

Naomi is currently a Research Assistant with the University of Cumbria Health and Social Care Evaluations unit. She has previously worked in an NHS clinical research role to collect data and locally coordinate National Institute for Health Research funded studies in mental health. My research interests focus broadly on the role of the internet and user behaviour in providing peer support for mental health problems, and the associated clinical outcomes. Naomi’s postgraduate research has examined the prevalence of cognitive distortions in user communication in an online talk forum for depression, and the presence of age and gender differences in attitudes to online peer support forums for depression in a non-clinical sample.

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