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March 15, 2013

Guide to Employability: Step 3. The 10 Commandments of the Academic in the Making

Ioanna Iordanou is a Job-Search Adviser and Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Skills Tutor at the University of Warwick. She also works as a Postdoctoral Researcher for Warwick Business School. She tweets (@IoannaIordanou) and blogs (Ioanna's Employ-Ability Blog).

In my previous two blog posts I underlined the urgency of turning one’s attention inwards in order to understand who they are and what they wish to pursue, while also identifying their strengths, needs and drives and building a robust skillset. Now it's time for action!

In this blog post, I will focus on action towards academic routes. We know for a fact that academic jobs at the moment are as effortless to find as a Hobbit under your bed! No surprise there! Yet, it’s easy bemoan the competition and toss the responsibility there. The question is, what do YOU do about it? What can YOU control in the process? And, trust me, there is a lot!

The 10 Commandments of the Academic in the Making

If you are really serious about an entry level academic position, it is paramount that you start thinking, breathing, talking and acting like an academic. The following are your new 10 Commandments:
1. Research agenda:

What you have done or are currently working on is not enough. What are your future research plans? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? Don’t take this light-heartedly. The PhD experience has been uncertain enough! The traineeship is over! You’re a professional now and if you’re serious about your career, you’ll have to be a strategist. The more conscious you are of your research plan, the more clearly and coherently you can articulate it, the more convincing you will be about your reliability as future expert in your field.

2. Research Dissemination/Publications:

Be specific about the journals you wish to disseminate your research in; the publishers you wish to target; the conferences you wish to speak at.

3. Funding:

It’s all about the money and you know it. Any successful funding bids so far? Which funding bodies are you planning to approach? Have you thought of research projects that can attract funding? Time to start planning!

4. Impact:
If you are looking for a job in a UK (research-led) institution, you have to be able to demonstrate how your work is likely to engage wider audiences outside the academe. This could include:
  • Media/Press Engagement
  • Consulting
  • Policy input/Workshops for practitioners
  • Input to Industry

Now, except rather vague guidelines, there is no specific way of measuring the actual impact of one’s research. This is the farcical irony of the whole affair. Still, the more impactful your research is, the more likely it is to attact interest (and get you that promotion!) Consider how your work can have a tangible influence, implement an institutional change, or alter the way people think or act in a demonstrable way.

5. Outreach/widening participation:

Can you create collaboration links with institutions within and outside your country of work? Where are you pointing your antennas towards? The key here is proactive networking!

6. Teaching:

What’s your teaching experience? What elements does it entail? Have you got the potential to design and deliver an original/innovative module that pertains the tradition of the institution you wish to apply for? How do you render your teaching more engaging and experiential for students? In a climate where students pay yearly salaries for their education, the bar of expectations has been raised dramatically and rightly so! (Note to all: students are rarely interested in an academic’s research outputs!) Moreover, have you pursued formal teaching qualifications? Many institutions are asking for professional qualifications now.

7. Technology

Bet you haven’t thought of that one, right? How do you plan to use technology to enhance your research prospects? Do you blog? Podcast? Prezi? Think 5 years ahead... If, at the moment, we are shopping online, socialising online, researching online, even dating online, what does this mean for academia? More cites and quotations will most probably entail more technological involvement! Be proactive, things are bound to transmogrify!

8. Networking:

It’s a dirty little secret that connections are key in the current job market and beyond! It’s not what you know, it’s who you know and how you utilise such connections for your progression. So get involved!

9. Mentoring:

Every young professional could benefit from a good mentor, someone who can share the secrets of the trade, whether this involves navigating publication landscapes, exploring funding opportunities, or sharing their leadership experience. A mentor can be an enormous source of support (and at times more benefits), so don't underestimate their usefulness.

10. Finally, can you talk the talk?! If you want to be part of the academic elite (and by this I mean obtaining a permanent academic job) you will have to learn, and convincingly regurgitate, the contested and, more often than not, sensationalist academic jargon that will consolidate your credibility amongst your peers and superiors. So come on, repeat after me:

· ‘In five years’ time I will be a “world-leader” in my field!’ Now, imagine telling this to Barack Obama! How does it feel? Are you convenced? Is he?!
· ‘I am a pioneer in the field of…’ and visualise winning that Nobel Prize!
· ‘My research agenda has a robust impact strategy’ and it will rock the world!
· ‘My dissemination strategy entails…’ touching hearts and souls in all corners of the globe!
· ‘I am a/the world leading expert/authority in…’ and everyone else is using my work as a forefront for theirs. Hmmm. How do you substantiate this?!

Yes, sophistry and self-image are increasingly going hand-in-hand in the current academic entry climate and beyond!

Bottom line:

Academia is your corollary; you have to breathe it, think it, be it! Now is the time to switch from the, at times, myopic mind-set of a Phd to a well-rounded ‘research leader’ conviction. Don't get me wrong, you'll still live in your academic bubble, but this time you really need to think of your research agenda, your impact strategy, your networking policy, and your academic career development plan. Create your ‘academic excellence’ in the making self-image and gradually project it to the world! Start believing in who you are becoming and the rest will follow! But have a plan, have a strategy, and follow it! Be visionary, be strategic, and be open to collaboration! In other words, be the Principal Investigator of your academic career project!

Stay positive!

Ioanna


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