Careers Service

What is an academic career?

Information about different routes into an academic career

Most people will progress through a number of roles when pursuing an academic career. These include:

  • Research-only role, where the bulk of your time is spent conducting research with limited or no teaching commitment.
  • Teaching-only role, where majority of your time is for teaching with little or no time allocated for research.
  • Research and teaching position, i.e. a lectureship, where you will be expected to both teach and conduct research.

The route you take will depend on your interests, the funding and opportunities in your subject area and the job market at certain points in your career.

The League of European Research Universities (LERU) has made a study of academic careers pathways in Europe. You can see the typical routes in the UK on the ‘academic career maps in Europe’ site:

Many academic jobs will be a balance of research, teaching and administration but the percentage of time spent on each will vary greatly. Factors that will affect how you spend your time include:

  • Your role, e.g. if you are employed as a research or teaching fellow.
  • Your level of experience, as junior lecturers will often have a greater teaching load than more senior lecturers.
  • The type of institution as lecturers at research-intensive universities may be expected to spend more time on research than those employed in teaching-focused institutions, e.g. North American liberal arts colleges.

More details on the different activities that make up an academic role can be found in the document "What does an academic do?". You should also speak to academics in your network to gain further insight:

You should also use the questions in "Is it right for you?" to reflect on your interest in, and commitment to, developing an academic career.