Advice, Career, Featured, Panels

“Should I pursue an academic career?”

Professors and advisors are often asked by master and PhD students as to whether an academic career can be recommended. Christian Bettstetter and Bernhard Rinner summarized their personal perspective on the characteristics and career paths of academic jobs and give some hints for people who decide to go for academia. The content was first presented and discussed at the retreat of the Institute of Networked and Embedded Systems in June 2010 and was updated at the retreat in 2014.

Characteristics of Academic Jobs

  • Offers you the chance to work in a field that interests you
  • Enables you to “dig deep” into a field for a relatively long period (stable work horizon)
  • Offers freedom and independence
  • Sets clearly defined goals (esp. PhD thesis)
  • Allows you to work in a generally friendly and respectful working environment
  • Allows flexible working times
  • Allows you to get “young and hungry” vibes
  • Enables you to learn a lot and train your skills (e.g., leadership skills can be trained during PhD period)
  • Allows you to make mistakes (at the beginning of your PhD)
  • Gives you fixed-term contract assignments
  • Gives you medium salaries (low salaries in some countries); no top salaries
  • Requires high personal commitment (it’s not a “job”, sometimes 50-60-hours work week)
  • Requires many soft skills (writing, presenting, management, finance, leadership)
  • Makes you somewhat dependent on your PhD advisor (in industry: dependence on boss, owner, financier)
  • Provides an international working atmosphere
  • Leads to world-wide competition
  • Requires endurance and resilience

Academic Career Paths

Academic Career Paths

Academic Career Paths

Hints for an Academic Career

  • Focus on quality instead of quantity – Aim for creativity and impact
  • Convince people by a few important contributions – Don’t lose time with trivia
  • Be a specialist contributing to the “whole” – Be of value for your institution
  • Show your competence in defining and leading projects – Write proposals
  • Do active career planning – Know what you want, do good timing, plan alternatives
  • Know your strengths – But also try to obtain well-balanced skills
  • Give impressive conference talks – And people will know and invite you
  • Adhere to professional behavior – Avoid pitfalls
  • Remain mobile – Be careful where to settle and when to buy an apartment
  • Participate in conferences, summer schools, … – Create a network
  • Practice hearings, presentations, conversations – Be prepared for decisive moments
  • Rule of thumb: 3 – 5 years in one position – Avoid too frequent job hopping
  • Don’t miss the point-of-no-return to industry