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Updated October 7th, 2022

Careers in Academia


Academic paths start with an undergraduate degree, followed by graduate studies (MSc and/or PhD). This is often followed by a postdoctoral research position. Depending on the area of research, a researcher will need to have several postdoctoral positions before they are able to land a permanent job in academia, such as a tenure-track faculty position that may lead to becoming a professor.

Professors do more than just research. Most professors have teaching responsibilities at the University and in many cases, they will also hold administrative roles. The research cycle can be a demanding process involving grant writing, conducting research, publishing research findings, presenting research results at conferences, supervising, and mentoring graduate students, etc.

A postdoctoral researcher/fellow, also known as, postdoc or PDF, is a person professionally conducting research after the completion of their PhD. The goal of a postdoc is to pursue additional research, training, or teaching in order to have better skills to pursue a career in academia, research, or any other fields.

Please note that various academic positions have different titles in different countries, and that the proportion of time spent in research and that spent on teaching also vary in different countries. A tutorial fellow is like an instructor and in many cases it doesn't require completion of PhD. In some countries, academia positions begin at assistant lecturer while in other countries it begins at assistant professor position. People in academic positions must meet defined targets related to research performance (publications, graduate students supervised, etc.) to retain tenure, and there have been some occasions when individuals fail to meet these requirements, which results in loss of tenure.

Individuals who are interested in academia positions should be versatile and dynamic because it is not common that they will find a position in a research area that is the same as the research they have experience in. They should be able to translate their past research into other applications and industries. Such individuals should also note that their research area will most probably change several times during their career.

Where to find Academic jobs

The most reliable source of academic jobs are the University's respective websites. In many cases, the careers page on the website will have several faculty and administration jobs. In addition, there are several websites that post jobs from multiple organizations, for example:

  • AcademicJobsOnline
  • Nature Careers Canada

Professional networks are also extremely important. Make them aware that you are looking for jobs. Many jobs are advertised to colleagues via internal mailing lists. Attending conferences in your field is a great way to make yourself known to your community and to land your next job. Group leaders looking to hire postdocs use conferences as an opportunity to meet possible candidates.

Salaries for academia positions are competitive to other positions requiring similar educational and professional experience. Salaries also differ significantly between universities. In the USA, assistant professors start at a salary around $70,000 on the lower side, while in Canada the starting salary is around $90,000. As an individual establishes a stable research program and they become more successful at securing research funding, they become more valuable to the Universities and their salaries also increase. Professors who have worked for around 10 years and have successful research programs usually earn about $160,000 per year. Of course, this is an average number as you will find other professors in getting over $200,000 per year and others still in the low $100,000s.

Some Universities in some countries pay professors for only 9 months of every year. These months usually correspond with the academic year when University students are attending classes. During the remaining three months, some professors are allowed to rely on grant funding to cover their salaries.

Here are some books you might find useful in learning more about careers in academia:

  • A PhD Is Not Enough!: A Guide to Survival in Science by Peter J. Feibelman
  • Advice for New Faculty Members by Robert Boice
  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
  • Networking for Nerds: Find, Access and Land Hidden Game-Changing Career Opportunities Everywhere by Alaina G. Levine
  • Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing by Robert Boice
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