Your Guide to Academic Careers (With Salaries and Duties)
Updated 27 March 2023
If you enjoy learning and sharing your knowledge with others, academic careers may appeal to you. Academic jobs typically offer high salaries and job satisfaction. There is also a wide variety of careers in academia to appeal to people with different interests and professional strengths. In this article, we explain how to secure an academic career and list some of the top jobs for academics.
What are academic careers?
Academic careers are jobs related to higher education and research. Higher education institutions, such as universities and their research centres, employ people with academic jobs. They usually specialise in an area of study that interests them most. They often research their special subject area and share their findings with students or the wider community.
How can you get an academic career?
Building strong relationships with faculty while achieving good marks in your degrees can help you secure an academic job. Many academics take the following steps to get a career in academia:
1. Graduate high school at year 12
Completing year 12 of high school with enough credits for your secondary school certificate and Australian Tertiary Admission Rank is the easiest way to start your career in academia. Focus on maximising your marks in all your subjects for the highest ATAR. The higher your ATAR, the more likely it is that you can study your first-choice course at your preferred university.
Contact your preferred university before choosing your senior subjects to confirm any prerequisite subjects. These are the subjects that high school students pass to qualify for specific university programs. English and mathematics are common university prerequisites.
2. Enrol in a bachelor's degree program
A bachelor's degree introduces you to the university environment and advanced theory about your chosen topic area. Select a bachelor's degree program related to your ideal career field. If you change your mind later, you may transfer to another degree program. You may get credit for some subjects, but transferring usually extends your study time.
Focus on getting the best marks you can in every subject to increase your chances of winning academic merit prizes and securing an invitation to study honours. Participating in Peer Assisted Study Programs may improve your performance and help you connect with faculty and fellow students.
3. Study honours or master's degree
Universities invite the best students in each degree program to complete an honours year. In most cases, students offered an honours position have a distinction average. During your honours year, you might write a thesis based on your independent research about a topic related to your bachelor's degree. A faculty member can mentor you and critique your thesis. Building a strong relationship with your mentor can help you secure an academic role in the future. An honours degree may also help you qualify for a doctorate.
During your master's degree, you learn more high-level concepts associated with your topic area. Master's students also complete a research thesis. Completing an academic master's degree usually takes 18 months. Degree programs with work placement components are usually longer.
4. Become a tutor
Becoming a tutor for other students can give you experience teaching others that improves your resume. It can also help you decide whether an academic job involving teaching is a path you'd enjoy. Many people become tutors while they're studying for honours or their master's degree.
5. Get a doctorate
Continuing your studies with a doctorate in your specialty area can prepare you for a career in academia. Approach an academic who shares your interests with your idea for research. The academic may agree to supervise you or recommend a better-suited colleague. Once you find a supervisor, submit a formal application with a written research proposal, university transcripts and your resume. You may also apply for a teaching fellowship or a research assistant or associate lecturer role while you're studying to gain academic job experience before graduating. Most people complete their doctorate studies in three to four years.
Related: Resume Format Guide (with Examples)
6. Apply for an academic job
Your doctorate can help you qualify for most academic jobs. Academic institutions look for candidates with clear research ideas and strong academic records. Highlight your achievements in your application, including academic merit awards and practical experience.
Is an academic job worth it?
Academics typically spend at least three years studying before securing their jobs in academia. Most say all these years of study are worthwhile, as they get to spend time learning about topics they're passionate about. The jobs they secure after graduating also focus on this specialty area, so they keep academics engaged and motivated. Jobs in academia are also some of the best-paid education jobs available.
What skills can help people succeed in academic jobs?
A combination of hard and soft skills can help people with academic jobs succeed in their roles. Universities and research facilities seek candidates with the following skills:
Written and verbal communication
People with academic jobs rely on verbal communication skills to teach students. Clear communication helps students and conference attendees learn effectively. Academics also communicate in an engaging way to hold people's attention during lectures, tutorials, conferences and seminars. Clear written communication skills help academics explain their research findings in published works.
Academics who can think critically can assess the information they find during their research and determine if it's credible. Understanding the sources they can trust helps them move well through the research process. It also helps them identify anomalies in their own research so they can conduct more experiments. An academic's critical thinking skills make sure their research reports and papers have accurate and credible information.
People with academic jobs usually research topics that interest them. Solo research is common for academics when working on a research team or performing independent research. Strong self-management skills help solo researchers stay motivated and productive.
Interpersonal skills help people with academic jobs get along with other faculty members and their students. Academic professionals with good interpersonal skills may be pleasant to be around. Students may feel comfortable approaching them when they have questions or want guidance. These professionals may enjoy being around other people and can easily collaborate on research and faculty developments.
5 top academic jobs
The top jobs in academia are challenging and interesting roles that offer high salaries and job satisfaction. Here are some of the top academic roles you may pursue:
National average salary: $75,266 per year
Primary duties: A research assistant helps research fellows conduct research. Research assistants have bachelor's degrees. Many find employment while they're studying for a postgraduate degree. They often perform administrative duties, such as recruiting and enrolling research subjects and collating survey or experiment results. They may also complete grant applications to secure funding for research projects.
National average salary: $103,746 per year
Primary duties: A lecturer teaches and assesses university students. They deliver lectures, tutorials, exams and assignments that test student knowledge. They also talk to students about their progress and provide guidance to help them achieve their goals. Lecturers also conduct their own research and publish their findings in books and academic journals. They also attend faculty meetings and help set and revise course requirements and plan the next academic year.
National average salary: $105,305 per year
Primary duties: A research fellow is an academic who focuses on learning. Research fellows at universities may teach some classes in between their research commitments. These professionals may also secure positions at research institutions. Research fellows hold doctorates or have a lot of experience in research centres.
Medical research and scientific research are common areas of study for research fellows. Research fellows analyse and interpret data, conduct experiments and surveys and undertake internet research to learn more about their field of study. They report their findings in research reports and studies.
National average salary: $134,266 per year
Primary duties: An associate professor is an academic with outstanding performance in teaching and research. People with this role usually distinguish themselves by publishing notable research works or influencing government policy. They teach classes, assess students and conduct independent research, as lecturers do. Their profile helps them secure speaking roles at conferences and seminars. They also have a greater leadership role in universities and help decide which faculty members get promoted.
National average salary: $182,439 per year
Primary duties: A professor has the highest practising role in the university. People receive this job title after making significant contributions to their field of study. They may teach and pursue independent research. Professors also have a significant leadership role at the university. They can develop the department's curricula, review applications for new faculty members and develop university policies.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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