The world of academic research can be competitive but very rewarding. Careers in academic research involve using specialist knowledge of a subject to undertake and analyse research and contribute to papers, books and journals. Academic researchers also speak at conferences and sometimes supervise and teach university students.
Becoming an academic researcher is a great career path for anyone who has a passion for a particular topic and would like to have an impact on the understanding of that subject.
- Why work in academic research?
- What careers are available in academic research?
- What skills are needed to work in academic research?
- What degrees help with a career in academic research?
Why work in academic research?
Pursue your interests
As an academic researcher, you’ll have the opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge you already have about a subject you are interested in. While a lot of other jobs allow you to follow your interests, academic researchers have the chance to drill down into the details of something they are passionate about, learning new things along the way and sharing results with others.
Make a genuine impact
The work that an academic researcher does often has a tangible impact. For example, a career in academic research may involve contributing to a paper about treating cancer or heart disease, or delivering a presentation at a conference focused on climate change. Whatever field you are interested in, the insights from your research would see you make a positive contribution to real-world problems.
Collaborate with like-minded people
A large part of academic research is working as part of a team. This collaboration may take place at conferences or events, in meetings or as part of your day-to-day work. If you are someone who enjoys working with others to generate ideas and solve problems, academic research would be a good career to consider.
A lot of academic researchers end up working at universities. Working for a university brings with it a sense of stability that can be missing from other companies. On top of this stability, researchers often have autonomy over how to structure their days and can get the opportunity to travel.
What careers are available in academic research?
The main careers in academic research are:
- PhD student or researcher – these are people who are studying for a PhD. PhDs last for around three or four years and involve conducting independent research into a particular topic.
- Postdoctoral research associate or research assistant – these are employed by universities or research institutes to assist with academic or private research. Tasks can include preparing interview questions, collecting and analysing data, and presenting key findings.
- Research associate or fellow – these roles are usually research-based, but they may include some teaching too.
What skills are needed to work in academic research?
If you are looking to go into academic research, there are a few skills you will need:
- Intellectual ability and statistical knowledge
- The ability to plan and carry out research and analyse data
- Technological – strong IT skills and an understanding of technical equipment
- A passion for your chosen subject area or discipline
- Excellent written and verbal communication
- Strong attention to detail
- Teamwork – including collaboration as well as interpersonal skills
- Problem solving – this will involve analytic thinking, as well as creativity and innovation
- Patience, motivation and flexibility – you will need to keep going, even when you aren’t getting the results you expected
If you are interested in a research position within a specific area, we would suggest finding adverts for those roles and looking at the job description and person specification. Here you can identify the skills and experience you already have and where you need to improve in order to meet the essential criteria for the role.
Take a look at the graduate skills employers are looking for.
What degrees help with a career in academic research?
In order to go into a career in academic research, you will need to obtain a degree that’s relevant to the area you would like to research. You will also need further qualifications, usually a master’s degree and PhD.
In more vocational areas, you may be able to become an academic researcher without a PhD. It’s worth speaking to a tutor at your university or looking at the job descriptions for academic researcher positions to see whether you would need to pursue a PhD.
Last updated on 13 January 2023Share this article