Deciding to Pursue a Career in Academia

A career in academia can be immensely rewarding. It can also be frustrating and overwhelming, especially to those working their way up the ladder. That’s why it’s essential that students determine whether they really want to work in academia before taking on the often difficult task of finding work within the ivory tower. Here are some critical things to consider.

  • Are you truly passionate about your research?

    Getting a Ph.D. and transitioning into work as a professional in academia requires an enormous amount of passion. You must truly love the field you’re working in and want to commit yourself to pushing it forward through your own research and discoveries.

  • What is the job market like in your field?

    The job prospects for newly minted Ph.D.s in academia can vary quite a bit. Some fields have seen enormous growth in younger professors, while others are top-loaded with those who’ve been in the field for decades. Before committing to an academic life, do your research so you’ll know what challenges you’ll be up against.

  • Do you enjoy teaching?

    While you may be able to take a couple of research-focused sabbaticals during your time in academia, you’ll generally be responsible not only for conducting your own research but also teaching courses. You’re likely to get some experience with this as a Ph.D. student, but not everyone will feel the same way about working with students and creating course content. While you can always work to improve your teaching skills, if you have an intrinsic dislike of it, academia might not be a good choice for you.

  • What matters most to you in a career?

    Before choosing any career, it’s important to sit down and consider what matters most to you in a job. Is it prestige? The chance to make a difference? A healthy paycheck? Like with any career, there are benefits and drawbacks to working in academia, so make sure these pros and cons mesh with your values before diving in.

  • What are you willing to compromise or give up?

    Getting ahead in academia will require some sacrifices. You may make less money, work long hours, or have to make choices that will impact your significant other and family. Consider what you are prepared to do to make this career a reality. Marie Hartwell-Walker, professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts Amherst and writer for, shares the advice she gives to Ph.D. students, stating, “If my student has a serious boyfriend or girlfriend, I urge them to talk about this together to make sure they are on the same page about what compromises they are each willing to make for each other’s careers, how much money they want to have, who should make it, and how they each want to balance their careers with other aspects of their lives.”

  • Is it a job you picture yourself in for the long haul?

    Some Ph.D. students know they want to be professors before they even enroll in their first course in college. For them, academia is a dream job. It’s not simply a vocation, but a passion. Others, however, are less certain that academia is a long-term career for them. Make sure you’ve considered how you feel about your future as an academic and have addressed the alternative career opportunities that your degree will afford you after graduation as well.

This is not meant to discourage those working towards a Ph.D. to move away from academia. Rather, it’s to highlight some of the factors that may play into the potential success and job satisfaction that an individual may feel in getting involved in the academic sphere. Not everyone is right for a career in academia, and it’s smart to figure that out sooner rather than waste valuable time on a career path that just isn’t right.

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