The Graduate School

The Academic Route

The term ‘academic’ is applied to anybody engaged in the delivery of higher education and research. Typically, an academic’s workload is comprised of teaching, research and administrative duties, but the proportion of each varies across institutions. Some institutions, including Queen’s (a member of the Russell Group), are particularly research orientated, while others place emphasis on teaching as well as research.


Is academia the right option for you?

Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What's important to you in a career? How does it compare with the realities of academic life? It may not be a perfect match, but careers rarely are.
  • Every career path involves compromises of some sort; what compromises does an academic career involve? Are you willing to make these compromises? How will this affect those close to you (family, friends, etc.)?
  • How long will you give yourself to make progress in establishing an academic career, before considering the alternatives? What targets will you set yourself to ensure you are making progress rather than marking time?
  • Have you got what it takes to succeed? What areas of your professional development do you need to work on?

If you’re not sure about an academic career, or you want to consider alternatives, have a look at the next section on career opportunities outside academia.

The academic employment sector is highly competitive: permanent posts are extremely sought after and many early career academics begin their careers in a series of temporary positions. You may like to visit the following webpage which outlines some of the advantages and disadvantages of working in higher education. In the middle stage section the various ways in which the research student’s employability can be enhanced – through, for example, teaching/demonstrating, conference attendance and publication – were outlined. These are all activities and associated skills which will enhance your eligibility for an academic job, some of which are embedded in the following tips for strengthening your application:

  • Try to publish in prestigious journals with frequently cited collaborators.
  • Gain experience in applying for research funding.
  • Gain experience of designing and delivering a teaching module.
  • Familiarise yourself with current issues in higher education.
  • Network with people in your research area, especially those who can offer advice on your career strategy.
  • Conferences not only raise your research profile, but can also lead to publications through contacts made, or perhaps through conference proceedings.
  • Try to get experience of project management, perhaps through conference organisation, this is a particularly effective means of demonstrating your ability to adhere to tight deadlines and budgetary constraints.


Application Procedure for Academic Jobs in the UK

As public bodies, higher education institutions are accountable for their spend and therefore their procedure for making appointments is generally rigorous and transparent. Vacancies advertised contain detailed job and person specifications, and usually a list of essential and desirable criteria and methods by which these criteria will be assessed. As such, the process of matching your skills/experience to these criteria is relatively straightforward; it is just up to you to provide strong supporting evidence. It might be useful to speak to any contacts you have in the employing institution: they may be able to give you information which may be of use in your application.

The procedure for academic applications varies across institutes. In many cases, you will be asked to fill out an application form – often on-line – and attach your current CV and a statement of interest detailing how you match the essential and desirable criteria outlined in the job and person specifications.  Depending on the institution, you may also be asked to include a sample of published/publishable work,  a research proposal and/or a module outline for teaching. Contact details of suitable referees will also be requested. In other cases, you may be asked to embed all of the information requested within a single application form.

  • Academic CV

Academic CVs are more detailed and typically longer than other types of CV. The CV should be tailored according to the criteria and requirements of the job in question. Look at tips on structuring an academic CV and presenting your research in CVs and applications. It is important that you emphasise your achievements as well as your responsibilities. A clear layout and format is essential to draw the reader's eye to the most relevant points.

  • Statement of Interest

A statement of interest usually takes the place of a covering letter. In it, you are often asked to detail how your skills and experience match the essential and desirable criteria outlined in the job and person specifications. In doing so, you may be asked to state:

  • your past research experience, your present research activity and your ideas for future research;
  • your intended career trajectory;
  • your teaching experience to date;
  • your experience of academic administrative or managerial duties/roles
  • Referees

For academic applications you should usually include 3 academic referees. Try to include people who have taught, supervised and/or worked with you.  It is also a good idea to include a reference from outside your ‘home’ institution, for example, your external examiner or an external collaborator. Try to include at least one professor or senior academic with a good academic reputation. If possible, draw your referees from higher-ranking universities. Always ask permission from your referees and send them an updated CV.

  • Academic Interviews

If your application is successful, please consult general help on interview preparation. There is also more specific advice available on academic job interviews. The way you present your research experience at interviews will depend upon your audience; follow this link for some ideas on presenting your research in job applications and interviews.


Further Information

  • Most academic positions will be advertised on University websites; consulting these will give you an idea of the kind of academic positions available and the criteria required.
  • Other academic positions such as research fellows/post doctorate associates (particularly within the natural sciences and engineering) may be posted across various recruiting websites, companies and universities.
  • The Vitae website provides excellent tips on marketing yourself, job applications, academic interviews and much more, many of which are embedded in this section. Consult the ‘careers’ section of the Vitae website for further information.
  • The following website on ‘Working in Higher Education’ contains a great deal of information on careers in this sector, focusing in on individual sub-sectors within HE, such as researching, lecturing, administration, etc.
  • More information on applying for jobs within academia can be found here.

The following websites will also be of use: 

  • Overview of Academic roles:                

  • Academic Vacancies in N.I.:

  • For academic positions in the U.K.:       

  • For academic positions in Ireland:

  • For international academic positions:          

  • Information on research funding available from the research councils UK:

  • Other useful websites: