Settling into an academic career

After a long time without writing in this blog, I’d like to do a double-exercise. By explaining why I haven’t been contributing as much as I would have liked to, I hope I can provide our readers with a taster of my first year as a full-time lecturer.

Starting a new job is always exciting and challenging, and in my case, I had plenty of challenges to balance the excitement! Fresh from my PhD, I was thrown (quite happily and literally) at the very deep end, into a new academic culture (for me) and a return to a country I had left over ten years before.

There were three key challenges, that I encountered in my first year and I think considering them can help anyone to plan in advance (or at least expect what’s coming your way!):

The first challenge is at the personal level: if the appointment involves moving across countries, the move will be a logistical nightmare. Promise. No matter how hard you plan, and try to pre-empt problems, they will occur. I had a disappointing experience with a reputable removals firm – the last thing you need as it is hard enough to find a new place to live. It is vital to bear in mind that, taking up a new post abroad can be expensive. By the time you get your first wage, you may have already had to pay for your deposit, first-months’ rent, furniture essentials, removal costs, etc.  This means you need to have some money to back you up at the very beginning – something quite difficult for a ‘fresh off the viva’ PhD candidate!

The second challenge has to do with research. You are now in the very real world of citations reports, ISI quartiles, and competitive research bids. As a PhD student I had heard of some of these things, and I certainly knew about the importance of publishing in good journals, but just how “good” a journal is perceived to be was not something I truly understood. The pressure to publish is immense, the saying “publish or perish” is certainly true, but does not go far enough. It should be “publish in an ISI first quartile journal or perish publishing in a fourth quartile!’  If this is confusing, you are not alone. In fact, I hope to write another post on journal publishing and “quality” – or at least how all these league tables work! So, in your first year you’ll be sending everything you possibly can to journals and will be getting successful (and unsuccessful!) responses. Dealing with success and failure will be a steep learning curve.

The third challenge and possibly the most time consuming one in your first year, will be teaching. You will no longer be teaching other people’s courses. You will be designing (and delivering!) your own course. This involves long-long-long-long hours of preparation. They will pay off (I’m told) as you will be able to rely on your own preparation year after year. However, in your first year, the sheer amount of prep work is truly overwhelming! Not just preparing module guides from scratch, but also ensuring your reading material is pitched at the right level (2nd year undergraduate students will not understand sophisticated texts written for PhD students or academics). Additionally, different countries have different disciplinary traditions, and with that comes different ways of understanding what a foundation to a discipline is. What you may have thought was basic and fundamental to all, may no longer be. Be flexible, listen to students, but also be confident in what you are doing!

That being said, it has been a great year. It’s a key stage of progress from being a PhD student to becoming an academic. The learning process has been rapid, and I’m sure it hasn’t stopped! What it does is ensure you start looking forward to far more challenges!



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