Is a career in academia a realistic option?

(45 Posts)
MovingBack Thu 22-May-14 11:51:23

For someone in their late 40s, first class UG degree, first class masters and recent PhD (Oxbridge) but no teaching experience? I've read through lots of threads here and elsewhere that would lead me to conclude that it's not at all realistic! Any insight/words of wisdom please?

OP’s posts: |
throckenholt Thu 22-May-14 12:04:10

With a recent PhD, I don't see why it shouldn't be possible - but be aware you are starting at the bottom of the pay scales.

University lectureships are bloody hard work - lots of admin, often pressure to get research money in, supervising students etc etc.

Another option would be to try and get a postdoc and build up some teaching experience as part of that and then move on to lecturing in a couple of years.

telsa Thu 22-May-14 13:21:15

are you in the arts or sciences - that might make a difference. In arts and humanities, having the prospect of publications is a pretty crucial factor, especially in the research strong universities.

traininthedistance Thu 22-May-14 14:21:15

What subject? Unfortunately it is pretty grim out there in the job market at the moment. In arts / humanities, in lots of fields at the moment, to get a bottom-rung permanent lectureship you're looking at having a completed PhD, a full slate of REFable publications / to have been REF returnable in the current assessment, 1-2 monographs (preferably 2 monographs or one monograph with a top rated or just below top rated press plus an edited book), plus some kind of teaching and lecturing experience or similar on the CV (though this matters less than publications for lots of lectureships). To get to that point people will normally have worked their socks off on their research whilst holding several short term postdoc research or teaching contracts. (However it may be different in some subjects which are more niche or have more links with industry.)

There are short term teaching fellowships and research associate posts out there that you wouldn't need that much experience for, but then you have to bear all the above in mind and use them as a stepping stone in research and CV terms.

If I had known before I started graduate work what would happen to the academic job market I would not have done it. To be completely honest, I still wish I hadn't. Others may well have different and more positive experiences, but mine is that even (perhaps especially) at elite RG/Oxbridge institutions there is systematic exploitation in the academic jobs market and, for those on lower rungs of the career ladder, in the job itself. (Bear in mind too that a lot of the perceived "perks" of academia have now been removed for early career scholars, eg. new entrants to the USS (pension scheme) are no longer allowed access to the final salary scheme but are instead placed in a much less advantageous pension scheme, etc. etc.)

traininthedistance Thu 22-May-14 14:27:40

Oh and meant to say too that in my experience the thing that matters a huge deal more than teaching experience are super-shiny references from big big names in the field, the kind where your examiner, internationally known Prof Windybags who hasn't taught an undergrad for 20 years says your PhD/book is discipline changing and you're literally the single cleverest person he's met for the last ten years and SO collegial to boot translation: knows how to pass the port confused I've seen quite a few people - and have been on appointments cttees where people with minimal teaching experience get jobs with references like that grrr envy

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 22-May-14 15:08:13

I'm applying for jobs at the moment - they do virtually all have teaching experience as essential or desirable, but if your publications are really good, I get the impression they might not mind for the really hot-shot researchy things (which are a bugger to get, though).

Can you not get some teaching? Even a bit of temping?

irregularegular Thu 22-May-14 15:16:41

More information needed! Everyone has no teaching experience to start with. Not everyone acquires it during their PhD. If you've just finished your PhD in a high demand subject and have some superstar referees willing to say you are a future superstar then it won't make any difference to you getting an excellent tenure-track position. If your PhD was a few years ago in a low demand area and you don't have the superstar references then you will probably struggle to even get a foot through the door without teaching experience. But even with teaching experience you wouldn't be looking at good tenure-track jobs I'm afraid.


Goblinchild Thu 22-May-14 15:20:44

You can have a career, but as OH found out, it's rarely a living wage at any age. So now he has a job, and tutors and publishes as an extra.
(Oxbridge double first, PhD, Yadayadayada)

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 22-May-14 15:24:08

irregular - I'm a bit surprised by that. I don't know anyone who's finished a PhD without teaching.

HolidayCriminal Thu 22-May-14 16:17:48

must depend on field, I know heaps of people with PHDs who have had nothing to do with teaching.

MovingBack Thu 22-May-14 16:47:14

Wow thanks so much for all your replies - I'll have a proper read through in a minute. I gave scant info as my situation is a bit messy really! I took a long break in the middle of my PhD for family/health reasons. I'm hoping to finish re-writing/editing my thesis next academic year but I'm on my own with it really as I over-ran and de-registered. I didn't do any teaching when I was still there (big mistake, I know!) I'm in arts and humanities. I have one old publication (book chapter), nothing recent. Even as I type this out I can see that it's looking bad isn't it??!! And maybe that's a good thing as it sounds like the academic environment might be a poisoned chalice for me - ongoing health problems.

OP’s posts: |
LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 22-May-14 17:08:11

holiday - yes, must do.

I should say, I know PhDs who didn't teach, but they were the ones who wanted to do something else with it.

moving, you're published, which is more than lots of people (including me. Wah. Must get off arse). Surely there must be some leeway given your illness?

Booboostoo Thu 22-May-14 17:52:25

I will be brutally honest with you: in my field (philosophy) entry level jobs require REF submissible publications, which means peer-reviewed journal papers (a monograph would also be great but it's something that is very unlikely for a just finished PhD to have. Papers in edited collections are so-so and book reviews pointless), at least 2 such papers accepted for publication at the time of application and promise of more work to come. For this you'd get a 9 month contract, very teaching heavy (no time for doing the research you will so desperately need for the next post), no one cares about teaching experience as long as you muddle through somehow, and it could be anywhere in the country.

The other option, if you can cope without a F/T job, is to pick up non-contractual teaching hours at Unis near you. It won't be great money but it will keep you in your field and you can use the spare time to build up your publications.

creamteas Thu 22-May-14 18:16:16

It would be very rare to be appointed in my area (social sciences) without any teaching experience.

If you can't get sessional teaching jobs within your dept, other possibilities would be to look out for posts with the Open University or for generic opportunities at a university. We recently appointed someone whose main teaching experience was in a study skills area.

PiratePanda Thu 22-May-14 20:53:10

The job market is HORRIBLE at the moment. If you want any chance you've got to start publishing journal articles now and work your way towards a monograph ASAP. Meanwhile, you need to finish your PhD. You might consider trying to go for a PhD by publication -- some institutions, including very reputable ones, will give you a PhD on the basis of 5-6 published articles instead of a thesis. Kill two birds with one stone.

Teaching is secondary, but try to get a bit of sessional or casual work, even if you have to give a couple of lectures for free.

andsmile Mon 26-May-14 19:36:42

Hi ive just read this thread with a bit of dread. I hope to consider a career in academia if not pure research.

I have 11 years teaching experience but in a seondary school - no recent refs as been a SAHM for nearly 4 years. I am due to complete a second degree and have my eye on a couple of Msc's.

I am 40 next year. I was thinking Im only half way through my life and its a long way to retirement. I spoke to someone a little older than me who said most HE lecturers are 35 plus and was encouraging.

I am worried enough about getting relevant work experience to get on the MSc when my youngest starts school (absolutely not doable at the minute) nevermind hitting a brick wall because of my age.

Im with the OU Bsc Pyschology and hope to be doing Msc with a Birmingham or Aston. I am currently leaning to neuropyschology, possibly with robotics.

callamia Mon 26-May-14 19:45:14

I didn't teach until my postdoc, there wasn't an undergrad dept in my subject, so there was no opportunity. This wasn't a problem for most places. Other places expected a PGCert in learning and teaching in HE (or whatever it's called at different institutions).

Other posters are right in saying that the most sellable attribute is your publications. Departments won't want anyone who won't be REF-able in the future, and so you'll need a track record to indicate potential. Write as much as you can - get as much out there as possible. It's pretty much the best way to be competitive.

MagratGarlik Tue 27-May-14 00:41:10

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Booboostoo Tue 27-May-14 16:05:25

MagratGarlik but few people make it to SL and even when they do it's after years of work. Recent PhDs will be lucky to get a temporary 9 month post at Lecturer A, about �23,000, which is not that much especially if you consider that you have to live off that for the whole year and deal with relocation costs as the next temporary post is likely to be at the other end of the country. In the Humanities there is an enormous reliance on temporary posts for short term cover, either to tie over departmental teaching needs without committing to a long term post or to cover research leave as cheaply as possible, but it is extremely destructive for junior academics. They get a horrendous teaching load, nobody cares about their research (which is the most important factor in finding a permanent post, so they end up working two jobs effectively to build up their CV) and the pay is not commensurate.

The best way to navigate academia at the moment, is to get one or two research fellowships right out of your PhD, publish like crazy, get a young researcher award for another 2-3 years to produce a monograph and then get a permanent post from a position of, relative, strength so as to negotiate an SL or even a readership as quickly as possible.

MagratGarlik Tue 27-May-14 16:31:31

Lecturer A pay scale starts around £30k these days. The last postdoc I hired started on the bottom of the postdoc scale at £24k, which is not high, but not what I'd call not a living wage. Yes, SL comes only after years of work, of course it does, also having a research area which happens to be "hot" at the moment helps an awful lot. I'm well aware of the relocation involved - I went abroad for my post-docs.

Salaries are nothing like in line with education and experience (I actually took a steep salary drop when I moved back to the UK for a permanent position), but I wouldn't describe them as "not a living wage".

traininthedistance Tue 27-May-14 23:36:04

Magrat it does depend on where you are in the country, but 24k ish (some research fellowship or research associate posts are as low as 18k) is around 1500 take-home (with student loan payment) per month, hardly enough to live decently on in most of the country, esp the SE (and university towns with big research universities capable of sustaining lots of postdocs tend to be expensive places to live). Lots of people have to live on less, of course, but around 1500 take-home is just at that point where it's too much to be eligible for any tax credits/help but not enough to live properly in lots of areas in the country - and for people who've spent 7-8 years training in higher education it's pretty grim. I mean, renting a 1-bed flat in my area is over 850/month - not much left for council tax, bills, food, clothes, leisure after that.....

Most entry level posts in my field have been replaced by fixed term "teaching fellowships" at well below the old Lecturer A scale.

andsmile the reason that most HE lecturers are 35 plus is because the entry level posts (which a generation ago used to go to new PhDs in their early 20s), are now going to people who did their PhDs in their early 20s, but then freelanced or were on lots of short term quite lowly teaching or research contracts for 10+ years before they managed to get a least in my field. sad What used to be first jobs for those without much teaching experience or published research are now highly prized and fought over. The salary, though, is nowhere near what you'd expect from other professions with a comparable level of qualifications and training - teaching, for example, pays a lot better. In academia, people with three or four degrees from prestigious universities and 10-15 years' publications and work experience might get a 34,000 starting salary in their late 30s - and that's if they're at the absolute top of their game! Having existed on much less than that for years moving about the place as postdocs. It's now becoming a career really for those with loads of time, not many family commitments and a private income, sadly.

andsmile Wed 28-May-14 00:03:04

train Oh this thread is making me rethink my new 'second career' to be honest sad

Ive never had trouble getting a job, ever. It naively has not occurred to me how much work I will have to put in to get a position. I am questionning whether it is worth it...Im nearly 40 with a young family BUT I am not reliant on the income as a major contribution to the family finances. BUT I cannot be chasing jobs around the UK, Im not in a RG, with OU. Its 50/50 whether I get first at the minute, but still have two modules chance to do so.

Im wondering if i should have a look at other careers in pyschology now. Im quite pragmatic, i want to work but Im not going to exhaust myself pursign opportunities at my age when they are few and far between. by the same token I can afford to bide my time and get a job I really like - this is key for me given my last place of employment.

Maybe I should go for counselling and 'cure' someone famous and then charge £100 per hour in my fancy consultant office <daydreams> I could wear hobbs everyday...and have fresh flowers twice a week on a big polished desk....<daydreamyfacefades>

Grrr what to do, what to do. Maybe I'll just finish degree first.

MagratGarlik Wed 28-May-14 00:26:27

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

andsmile Wed 28-May-14 00:35:47

Reading with interest Magrat I am midlands so I am near a clutch of unit, 3 wihin 20mins, another 4or 5 in an hoursish commutes..

But this isnt the point is it. I had read somewhere about it being male dominated..old fashioned attitudes.

Politics - these were terrible at my last place. I really want to find something related to what i am studying, as I enjoyed it very much that translates into a reasonably decent paid job that I also enjoy.

Plus Im a 40 year old in need of a work placement.

Booboostoo Wed 28-May-14 06:23:49

Magrat in my field you'd only get �23-26k for what they now call a Teaching Fellowship (sorry I mispoke with the "Lecturer A") and many of these posts are just for 9 months. Of course people can live on this wage, and many live on a lot less, but why would anyone want to? By the time you factor in the years spent studying, the student loans accumulated, the lack of job security inherent in doing 2-3 Teaching Fellowships one after the other and the need to move around the country I am not sure it's worth it. Then again I left academia, leaving a permanent post because I'd had enough of other aspects of it (pointless admin workload, reduced teaching contact with students and non-existent research time), so I am a pessimist!

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