Why being an academic is more tempting than Cinnabon?

While reading about academic careers, you are more likely to come across articles sharing negative experiences of academics and researchers. These articles may discourage you from pursuing academic careers, or even academic degree. 

I agree, getting a (permanent) academic position can be difficult and can take time. But you do not see people of other professions complain as much about, for example, stress, work-life balance and competition.

I believe that your academics strengths and excellence will be recognised if you are truly determined and motivated to become an academic. Such determination will enable you to develop a strong track record of high-quality research. You will also get yourself know as a person who can be relied on within your department. Such a positive attitude can kick start your academic career!

Moreover, being positive and motivated at work, even when experiencing some challenges makes you more productive. It also has a positive effect on your academic environment. And it goes without saying that fellow researchers and more senior colleagues will be pleased by your positive attitude. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an academic as “a member (such as a professor) of an institution of learning (such as a university).” 

I would define the academic as “a curious and motivated person with academic integrity who is pushing the frontiers of our knowledge and shares their experience through mentoring to develop others”.

Would you agree with such a definition of academic?

I want to share this definition of academic as this is the picture of “the academic” I had in my mind when I decided to do a PhD degree and pursue an academic career. 

Now, as an academic myself, I am putting every effort into living up to this definition. 

Therefore, I have put together a list of the benefits of an academic career that made me fall in love with academia. I trust you will like it! 

Academic freedom

Academic freedom is one of the most commonly indicated benefits of being an academic. Why? This is because when you become an academic, it is entirely up to you to decide the focus of your academic research. 

You will be free to pursue your academic interest, choose what are you working on and with who you do so (in most cases). You will also decide where to publish your academic journal articles. 

Of course, this comes with great responsibility, especially at the later stage of your academic career when you will be building your research team. But would not it be amazing to see academic vision change the world? 

Academic calendar and work flexibility

When I was doing my PhD, I was curious about what academic calendar actually looks like. At that time, I thought it will be filled mostly with research activities and that you get 2 months holidays in the summer. 

I was surprised to see the flexibility that my academic position actually gave me. As I sent my research agenda, it is up to me to plan most of my activities (and stick to them!). I say most of them because there are some activities (i.e. committee meetings, PhD progress reviews) about which that I do not have that much control. 

Despite externally set events, I find the ability to fit my work into my lifestyle delightful. This means that as long as I deliver on my commitments and responsibilities, I can work from my university office, home or café. I even sometimes get to work in Oman!

As an academic it is part of my job description to travel and deliver courses in an exotic locations such as Oman, this picture shows how I was preparing for my lectures! It is great to have such academic freedom and work from wherever around the world.
I regularly travel to Muscat, Oman to lecture and mentor postgraduate students. You will never know where academic career will take you!

Of course, COVID19 pandemic has turned everything upside down. As a result, I have been working from home for 2.5 months now. But because of the characteristics of my work, my research and other activities to deliver the goals of my academic career have not been affected.  

Travel and networking

As I mentioned in our free ebook, sharing your research is essential to achieve impact. This comes with an additional benefit of being an academic. 

To share your research, you usually present your work at a conference. Although we still do not know precisely how the pandemic will change the way we share our research, conferences were a unbeatable way to share and discuss your research with potential collaborators. 

The added benefit of attending a scientific conference is that these are organised in fabulous and picturesque locations around the world. I will always remember the time Magda and I spent on Sardinia! 

Networking is a part of academic position and therefore travelling to exotic destinations is a really great perk that you would really enjoy as an academic
Travel, conferences, networking are only a few of perks associated with academic careers

Job satisfaction 

Being an academic can be an incredibly inspiring and satisfying job. Why? 

First, you may follow your interests and satisfy your curiosity for academic exploration, demonstrate new principles governing the world or find innovative technologies that will solve global challenges. Imagine you develop an ultimate cure to cancer! 

Secondly, as an academic, you will be supervising and mentoring students that often come from different backgrounds and countries. For me, being an academic advisor is not only a captivating opportunity to learn about different cultures and countries worldwide, but primarily to help them succeed in their international industrial and academic careers. 

Thirdly, you get to work with amazing and even famous people who are at the top of their field or are leading innovative organisations. Discussions with such special people will give a substantial boost to your creativity and satisfaction. 

Overall, job satisfaction is an important topic in the academic environment. Research by Castellacci and Vinas-Bardolet showed that after initial struggles (PhD/postdoc), academic careers can result in decent job satisfaction. It is definitely worth it to deal with these challenges of early career researchers to land a satisfying academic career in the long term. 

Solve global challenges – make the world a better place

As you can set the direction of your research, you may pursue the subjects that you genuinely care about. It means that your research can solve the challenges that our civilisation is currently struggling with (and will be facing in the future). 

Therefore, I urge you to think big! 

My academic career goal is to solve global challenges such as climate change and global warming by developing innovative technologies (carbon capture and storage) and develop future energy leaders who will implement the energy transition

For example, my career aim is to bring a step-change in fighting climate emergency by academic leadership in research and teaching, and by developing future energy leaders. 

Motivated Academic is one of the ideas that was inspired by the aim of my academic career! 

Collaboration with industry 

You may be asking yourself whether it is better to get an industrial position rather than pursuing an academic career. I believe that both career paths have their pros and cons, and the decision on which is right for you depends on your career aspirations. 

However, my experience of academic research showed that even if you are an academic, you collaborate and engage with industry A LOT. 

This means that as an academic, you will be working together not only with colleagues at other universities but also with those who chose industrial career paths.

Such collaboration will mostly include research and consultancy projects. But it can also mean that you will be developing bespoke courses and training based on your unique expertise. 

If you want to get a feeling of the differences between academic and industrial positions, you may apply for an industry fellowship. It will enable you to further develop your research in an industrial setting.

Professional development 

If you enjoy discovering and learning new things, pursuing an academic career can be a smart move. 

As an academic, you are responsible for scoping and developing research that solves the existing challenges. This means that sometimes you need to apply techniques you are not yet familiar with.

Moreover, you may need to develop your knowledge or skills when revising the curriculum of your course to ensure it stays up-to-date and provides the best value to the students. 

Finally, as an academic, you will be building your research team around the area of your expertise. This means you need to develop relevant leadership skills that will help you do so. 

This is why I spent the past 2 years on completing the Masters in Business Administration. Having completed both PhD and MBA, I believe that some of the courses on innovation and team management should be compulsory during the PhD degree!

Professional development is essential to keep you at the top of your game, I took  the MBA course to ensure I provide my academic team with the best leadership and lead them to achieve greatness
Even if you decide to pursue an academic career, development of leadership skills is crucial to build your own research group!

Access to information, software and discounts 

Last, but not least as an academic, you get access to multiple perks that may not be available elsewhere. 

First, if your university has relevant subscriptions, you get unlimited access to published papers. This will definitely help you to find inspiration for your research, stay up to date with the recent developments in your field, and find relevant literature for your research. I wrote about the best research tools that can supercharge your literature review a couple of weeks ago.

Second, as an academic, you usually get access to the commercial software either directly via your institution or as a part of your research project. This enables you to apply the industrial techniques in an academic setting. 

Thirdly, you may qualify for some student discounts, such as TOTUM in the UK or teacher licence of Creative Cloud, that are not available for those working in the industry. 

A final word…

A decision to pursue an academic career path can be difficult, primarily since most information available online may imply that academic life is miserable.

I trust that with this article, I gave you sufficient evidence that being an academic does have its charm. 

Do you have ambitious academic goals and strive for academic excellence? Are you keen on thinking big and work with (sometimes intimidating) uncertainties? 

If your answer to these questions is positive, I am sure you will succeed in academia! 

What is your academic goal? What do you think are the best aspects of being an academic? What are the most significant challenges of getting there? 

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Academic Coach at Motivated Academic, senior lecturer at Cranfield University, UK.

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