A Research Scholar’s Perspective on a Career in Academia
The thought of taking the leap and moving to the other side of the classroom was far more intimidating than the actual transition. It took me a while to realize my ambition of becoming a professor. As an individual, I enjoyed learning (not until high school actually). Finding subjects that interested me took a while, but once I did find them I just knew that I wanted to study.
However, could I make a ‘living’ out of it? I followed the conventional path – graduation, post-graduation, competitive exam to qualify as an assistant professor (it helps with admission for research degrees), admission to a Ph.D. programme. But when was I supposed to get a job and what job would it be? Will I have a flourishing career in academia?
Career in Academia
First of all, the word ‘job’ is semantically most unappealing. As a more evolved individual than a rash teenager, I’d like to use the term ‘calling’. Looking at your profession and tasks associated with it, as a drab mundane process you have to go through each day is not going to help bring the positivity you need. Waking up each day with the desire to go off the beaten track and learn something new in order to grow is important. Also, we are not robots programmed to have the same efficiency levels each day.
It’s more about being aware of your potential and circumstances while trying to achieve something. Some days the process is slower and some days you perhaps need to step back or maybe even lose your way only to find what you’ve been looking for. Talking about my career in academia and experience of making it to where I am, there are a few lessons I learnt the hard way.
What does a career in Academia mean : Is teaching the only option?
No. Academia as a field is more than just teaching. It is a galaxy of opportunities on its own and has several advantages. Research, administration, curriculum development, special education, counselling etc. are just some of the many options to choose from. What people need to decide is what they want out of their choice. Do you want to contribute to society by answering and explaining phenomenon that we choose to ignore because we don’t have the time to comprehend it? Then go for research.
If you feel managerial skills and team work is your thing, opt for administrative roles and contribute to institution building. If learning and interacting with bright young minds appeals to you, opt for teaching. The possibilities are endless, if you know what you’re good at and what you want.
How to pursue a career in Academia:
A job does not appear out of thin air
You have to keep your eyes open and look. While the good old classifieds column in the newspapers continue to carry advertisements for positions in most institutions, the newer lot of institutions focus on social media advertisements, in order to target the youth.
If you are interested in a particular organization, look up their website, Facebook page, Instagram handle. You’d be surprised how much you get to learn about the institution and the possible opportunities it has for you. Knowing the institution and their goal is imperative. It helps you understand if your aims and value system are in consonance with that of the institution you wish to choose for yourself.
Is it important to have a Ph.D. before applying for a teaching position in colleges and universities?
A Ph.D. is definitely an advantage for teaching at the undergraduate level, and a necessity at the post graduate level. At the undergraduate level, it just means that a potential candidate has research experience and will not be strained while performing their academic responsibilities. While teaching at any institute of higher education a Ph.D. is a form of career advancement and furthering your academic interests while contributing to academia simultaneously.
PR and communication skills are vital
Knowing how to put across your perspective and accepting the point of view of others in a professional and effective manner is essential. Knowledge helps an individual and society grow. Therefore, it is essential that you know how to communicate and transfer that knowledge. As a dynamic process, knowledge transfer has to be open to criticism. Learning from the suggestions of others (not necessarily superiors or those more qualified than you) with humility will help you evolve and be more productive.
Time management is key
The clock ticks away without taking the coffee break you need to stop for. Knowing that does mean you have to race with time. Achieving targets and goals within a deadline is important and enhancing productivity is key. Longer hours do not necessarily mean faster results.
The strain could cause more errors than you expect. Work out a schedule and breathe and do not leave tasks till the last minute. If you are preparing for an exam, submitting a research paper, completing an administrative task, its best to list out your work in order of priority. Not only is it a more efficient way to work, it will leave you with enough time for pursuits of leisure or the days when you just can’t get yourself to concentrate (and even time for crisis management should the eventuality arise).
Keep your mind open, you are always a student
You learn till the day your senses give in. Learning is a constant process. You could be a teacher, administrator, researcher or be involved in any profession, but you will continue to learn everyday if you are perceptive. We learn from everyone around us, our seniors, subordinates, parents, children, society and even nature. It is important to value the lessons, incorporate positive criticism and reboot to a better version. Accepting that knowledge is infinite and there is a whole world of information out there we need to be alert, sensible and sensitive.
These are just a few lessons I learnt while trying to find my place and calling in this world. I hope they guide those who intend on treading a similar path. There is a method even to madness and hopefully we will be open to finding our own.