Becoming a University Professor/Lecturer/Tutor

(37 Posts)
seisachtheia Thu 02-May-19 23:28:02

Hello all,

I have a DS at Oxford. He's studying Classics, and is hugely passionate about it. He thinks he might like to go into teaching at a university/further research or possibly go to the bar.

So what is the process these days? BA then MA then Dphil/Phd?

Is it worth it? What is they pay like?

OP’s posts: |
donajimena Thu 02-May-19 23:30:45

Following with interest

azulmariposa Thu 02-May-19 23:32:59

I was (and still am) considering it. However, according to my lecturers, the pay isn't great. But what's not great to them might be good for me!

AlwaysColdHands Thu 02-May-19 23:34:46

Try posting in Work, Academics Corner, for a good range of advice from people in various institutions 👍🏻

Lauraloop1516 Thu 02-May-19 23:38:44

No. No. No. Do not encourage this as a career path. The jobs are few and far between - even if he's exceptional he will likely be without a permanent contract five years after completing his PhD. It's a bonkers career route, largely based on luck.

bakedbeanzontoast Fri 03-May-19 00:14:20

@Lauraloop1516 Laura is right. And sometimes like with many things in life it's more about being in bed with the right folk.

Worst decision I ever made.

I know some people have better stories though.

summerflower2 Fri 03-May-19 11:18:01

DS1 is keen on this career as well, I think it is a good option for people who is really interested in the subject, and would like to do further research. It is also satisfying to interact with young people, and feel your contribution to the society. The salary is not high compare to high earning jobs, but is enough for a good life. And the working time is flexible, can be arranged by yourself as long as there is not the lecturing time. Of course, the work load is heavy at the moment, as most Universities are cutting the staff and trying to put more work on individuals.

My DS1 is quite a chatterbox as well, he likes to give out a lecture, that's probably part of the reason that he would like to choose this career.

The route is to finish a PHD first, then find a lecturer job/ or post doctor research fellow position. The starting point is around £30k. You can search the salary scale for university for this.

These first jobs are hard to get at first as mentioned in previous post, but I believe same applies to any other good jobs.You have to work hard to get it.

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summerflower2 Fri 03-May-19 11:26:19

If DS has decided on this career, then he need to work hard on publishing some papers on well recognized Journals for his subjects while doing PHD.

I am familiar with engineering side more, the cycle to get a paper published is long, starting earlier is the key.

ChiaraRimini Fri 03-May-19 11:34:36

It's very, very early days for him if he is still doing his first degree. He may change his mind completely. I would say don't go form this route unless you can't bear the idea of not doing it? There are hardly any jobs in academia and a Classics PhD is not going to be a route to a job in industry unlike a STEMM PhD.

I am at another, ahem, well known university and the jobs market is frighteningly competitive.
I work on the admin/management side and have many colleagues with PhDs/postdocs who couldn't get an academic job.

summerflower2 Fri 03-May-19 11:58:14

Maybe OP's DS can talk to his university tutor for some advice. I am not familiar with the job market for Classics. The risk factors do need to be thought about.

For engineering, a PHD can lead to positions in big company's research department, consultancy jobs etc, so it is not a risk at all if a university job can't be secured.

Needmoresleep Fri 03-May-19 14:12:47

The obvious Plan B with someone with a classics PhD is teaching at a private school. Somewhere like Elton or Westminster. Can be a nice career and in classics at least there seems to be some movement between schools and universities. Does that appeal or are there other attractive Plan Bs if academia does not work out.

corythatwas Fri 03-May-19 19:39:48

So what is the process these days? BA then MA then Dphil/Phd?

Yup. As Laura said, it's a tough job market out there. I wouldn't say "nooo!"- not seeing that I have a dd at drama school and a nephew training to be a musician- but I think that is the kind of attitude you need to go into an academic career in the Humanities these days- the same kind of drivenness and willingness to take risks and awareness that this may not work out that you would expect from an actor or a musician. Years of uncertainty, LOTS of stress, lots of paperwork, causal contracts, workloads that bear no resemblance to the hours in your contract.

There are plan B's though. I have friends and former students who are e.g. museum curators, head of libraries and archives, teachers at private schools etc.

SarahAndQuack Sat 04-May-19 09:57:20

The route is to finish a PHD first, then find a lecturer job/ or post doctor research fellow position. The starting point is around £30k. You can search the salary scale for university for this.

This is optimistic to the point of being unrealistic.

I'd suggest he applies for an MPhil (or similar). There's no harm in that and it will give him a sense of whether or not he enjoys further study. Lots of good people go on from that to train as lawyers anyway. The best person in my MPhil cohort did.

After than, if he wanted to continue, he'd apply for a PhD/DPhil. This is a longer commitment of time. Again, nothing to stop someone with a PhD changing tack and going into law afterwards.

After a PhD, he'd apply for postdocs. It is vanishingly rare to go straight into a lectureship. Postdocs do not typically start at 30k. Indeed, Oxford offers a lot of 'stipendiary' postdocs for 3k and upwards. These are designed to provide funding (and, arguably, exploitative teaching) for people who're just finishing or have just finished their PhDs. Another popular and exploitative option post-PhD is the nine-month teaching contract, where you are not funded over the summer (when you'd do research), but you are expected to be 'research active'.

You might do postdocs for five or more years. So, in your early-to-mid 30s, you might be a realistic possibility for a lectureship. That would start at 30k, these days.

The numbers of people who make it that far are very, very small. A lot of people drop away, and often money is the issue. Moving every couple of years and having lots of financial uncertainty is quite difficult.

(Incidentally, a professor is a very senior academic - it's only in the US that 'professor' is the general term for someone teaching at university level.)

I am not saying this to put him off. I'm a postdoc; my subject is fairly similar to Classics in terms of employability/career paths. I love it and I don't regret doing it at all. But a lot of people feel upset that no one really told them how hard and uncertain it would be. There's absolutely no guarantee you'd get an academic job. I know people who are excellent - first class degree, distinction at masters, excellent PhD, two books published, prestigious postdoc fellowships ... and they've still not ended up with permanent jobs in their mid 30s.

MountainEagle Sat 04-May-19 10:16:10

PhD (relocate). Post doc (relocate again). Another post doc (relocate again, starting to get fed up with leaving home and friends now. Or maybe by now you can’t realistically relocate so you go Mon-Fri and live in halls of residence with teenagers, only going back to your wife at weekends). Lectureship (if you can get one and persuade your wife and kids to move yet again). These will probably be interspersed with periods of unemployment and hourly paid temp contracts. You won’t be able to buy a house or car due to short term contracts and uncertainty. You might not even be able to develop long term relationships or friendships.

And that’s a rare example of someone who successfully gets a permanent job in the end after maybe 15 years of temp work. Many people get stuck in unemployment or hourly paid jobs and don’t get the chance to progress to the next step.

My advice: choose a different career with a decent chance of permanent employment in a permanent location, where you can buy a house and build a life.

InTheWalls Sat 04-May-19 10:29:25

Honestly, I think it really depends from person to person and luck does come into it. DH went straight from PhD to Post Doc to Lecturer at well known universities within 5 years with no periods of unemployment and no forced relocations. He is happy with his job and has a good work life balance.

Some of his friends have had similar paths. Others haven't been so lucky though and are still moving from one Post Doc post to another and struggling to put down roots. However his subject is one that it would be easy (and much better paid than academia) to move into industry from.

As a previous poster suggested, I'd suggest he think about an MA first and reflect then.

MedSchoolRat Sat 04-May-19 11:03:05

I dunno about classics, it's a narrow academic job market out there for that skillset, tbf. & tbf, the people I know who recently went straight from PhD to lectureship usually had decades of other work experience behind them (as probation officer or nurse, for instance).

Otherwise, I agree with everything summerflower2 wrote as a plausible path for many.
Example: job vacancies at Leciester Uni for research associates postdoc is the stupidest job title ever. Eg., vacancy #1002, Band6 jobs start near £30k & go up to £39k. Requires PhD but not prior years of WE.

My PhD student (politics, really) got 3 decent journal publications out from her PhD & before she submitted thesis, so don't anyone tell me that's too difficult for most to achieve.

3 yr Cambridge job starts on £32k for Res. Associate in their Languages+medieval languages dept, only requires PhD, some pubs & specific skills (but not prior WE).

Malbecfan Sat 04-May-19 14:23:37

DH did BSc then PhD at one institution in a STEM subject, post doc at another for 2 years, then post doc elsewhere for 3, but that was a rolling 3 month contract and really frustrating, but that's where we met. He applied for lots of lectureships as he had a proven research/publishing track record and finally got one so we both relocated.

He had to write & teach courses and labs for every part of the 4 year course, set and mark 4 sets of exams each year and manage 3rd/4th year projects as well as his own research. If he focussed on teaching, the research people downgraded him & complained he wasn't publishing enough or bringing enough money into the department. If he concentrated on research, the students all complained about the teaching. In the end he was listed for voluntary redundancy and took the package, although within 2 months, the uni was on the phone asking for him to come back to teach. He found a job in industry very quickly and his salary increased by 40% whilst his free time also improved as he was no longer spending every evening & weekend planning and marking. We have friends who work in my home city at a different university again and they say it's not the job it was, very similar to DH's experience.

I believe the USA has a better system once you have done your 5-7 years as you get security of tenure. It might be something for your DS to look into, but I would not recommend it in the UK.

arilla Sat 04-May-19 14:33:13

Another one saying god no.

I have so many friends who did PhDs, managed a few years of posts, and ultimately got nowhere and entered low paid jobs in the workforce in their 30s.

It's way too competitive. Even really specialist posts seem to be fought over. That's partly because there aren't many jobs. Look at a major university department (the Russell group ones are the main research ones); try to guess at how many academics they have, how many might be getting to retirement age, and how many PhD students there are. It's insane.

Universities want income though (and postgraduate researchers), so they will always encourage it.

SarahAndQuack Sat 04-May-19 17:36:13

inthewalls, it's not worth comparing the progression for someone who did it in a subject where there's considerable external demand for PhDs!

summerflower2 Sat 04-May-19 22:43:59

I might be an optimistic person anyway. I believe any other good careers will need same determination and hard work.

DH is a professor in a stem subject, he took 2 postdoc postions, then moved to lecturer at the same university of the second postdoc, so we moved city once. There was no gap between the post, but I do recall the anxiety at the end of the first post. And it is hard working, as DH seems work all the time, even during Christmas time, as he has to mark the exam papers.

I had a discuss with DS and reminded DS the uncertainty of the ealier years and the low pay compare to the ability and hard working. DH do suggest DS to keep an open mind on this, as most of his PHD student have dropped out the academic and find jobs in company, as it is hard.

DH's suggestion is to find out if he is a person with new ideas. You generally need new ideas to survive in academic road.

Deianira Sat 04-May-19 22:54:22

The most recent figures I have seen are that roughly one in ten classics PhDs are managing to stay in academia. The job market is truly awful in the UK and US. All of the short term contract issues that previous posters have raised definitely apply, and, even worse, they are often ten month contracts at the moment, so you have to take another job over the summer or desperately stretch out your income to cover the gap (often while still looking for the next job, and then having to plan your next move, without any income in advance, across the country if you are lucky and get the next job). It's rare to get a permanent job before 5-10 years of these temporary posts.

Academia has its benefits, and working on the subject you love is often great. To that end, doing a PhD can still be really good, especially with funding. But the reality of it as a career in many subject areas at the moment is really awful, and I think it's totally reasonable (if not more sensible) for people to think that maybe they'd rather have a job for a whole year at a time, not have to constantly leave friends and find new places to live, and deal with the crushing uncertainty of where your income is coming from. I certainly don't think anyone should go into this career without their eyes very firmly open, and a really serious alternative in mind.

shiveringtimber Sat 04-May-19 22:55:11

If he's passionate about it, let him!

BackforGood Sat 04-May-19 22:56:45

I'd listen to SarahAndQuack

My knowledge is Science, not Classics, but most people can't afford to stay in research, because the money is awful to start with, and - crucially - the contracts are short term, so you can't get a mortgage etc on your salary. Eventually, after some post docs, you can get a lectureship and then start to work up (whilst lecturing, doing your research, applying for grants, and going to enough conferences to get your name and work known, and publishing all at the same time.

A tiny, tiny, tiny minority of people get to be offered a Chair though.

sendsummer Sat 04-May-19 23:48:55

It is great that he is so enthusiastic.
Firstly does he love to write? That is the primary output of being an academic and really he should want to write even in so called spare time outside of a normal working week. Otherwise he will quickly tire of being a humanities academic.
Secondly he should talk to as many junior and senior academics as possible to ask advice and hear their career trajectories. He may get ideas of how best to plan things including considering junior posts abroad. Thirdly as SarahQuack says, one step at a time, apply for a 1 Year research based MPhil and take it from there.

Xenia Sun 05-May-19 09:49:37

It sounds like he might consider the bar too. I am a lawyer and I recommend it. I know people at the bar on £1m a year (although I am not saying all barrister earn that) and it's very acaemic and very interesting and you are self employed. If he wants to go down that route he needs to look at the timings for application for the GDL course and for pupillages etc. and they recruit several years before you start work so you need to get within the deadlines.

He could have a look at some barristers' CVs in the kinds of areas where he might want to work as they put the CVs up on line on their websites and he can see particularlyo for the most junior people i.e. most up to date recruitment where they went and what they did in terms of degree, post grad etc.

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