Careers for researchers in higher education

Careers for researchers in the HE sector are wide-ranging and can include research focused roles, teaching and lecturing, administration, support roles such as development and careers professionals and work in research-related services or projects in areas such as policy, funding and knowledge transfer.

Academic careers

New university buildingAcademic positions are highly competitive so if you decide that HE research is the path for you, it’s important that you are able to compete with your peers. In the UK a low and apparently decreasing percentage of doctoral graduates remain within HE research roles. The position will of course vary by country and by discipline.

Our 2013 report What do Researchers Do? Early Career Progression for doctoral graduates analysed data collected in 2010 and found that at 3.5 years post-graduation, just 17% UK doctoral graduates were working in HE research roles and 21.5% in teaching and lecturing within HE. This represents a 2% drop in those working in HE research roles since 2008 (What do researchers do? Doctoral graduate destinations and impact three years on, Vitae 2010).

Read our advice on pursuing an academic career, including applying for academic jobs, where to find academic jobs, academic CVs and applying for research funding.

The University of Manchester website has useful information for those considering an academic career including applying for positions and information on what an academic career actually entails.

Research-related and other HE roles

If you are considering a non academic position within HE then it may be useful to talk to staff from relevant departments in your own institution to find out more about the range of roles and what they entail. Search university websites and relevant job-sites (e.g. Naturejobs, to see the types of non- academic roles advertised. These are likely to range from senior administrative roles either related or unrelated to research, to training and coaching roles to research-related projects with short-term funding.

When applying for non-academic roles in HE, experience gained as a researcher will be highly advantageous. In addition to transferable skills such as problem-solving and project management, knowledge of research funding, research policy and university structures and experience of academic culture will be invaluable.