Arts and Humanities Early Career Researcher Experiences

AHRC reportThe Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the British Academy have just published a report from research they commissioned on the experiences of early career researchers (ECRs) in the humanities.  It provides a good insight into the early stages of academic career path in arts and humanities, showing that there is no ‘typical’ path but instead researchers build up a variety of experience in the hope that it will lead them to a permanent academic job (for most people this means a lecturer post).  For those of you doing a PhD in the arts and humanities, who want an academic career, it could be of use to help you understand the next steps.

You’ll find the full report here but I’ve summarised some of the most interesting findings below and included quotes from researchers contributing to the survey.

  • Individuals seeking to pursue an academic career are engaged on a range of contracts, and carry out a variety of roles. They are employed as teaching fellows, research assistants, research fellows, teaching assistants and more.
  • 70% of the ECRs in the higher education sector were employed on fixed term contracts, ranging in length from 3 months to 72 months.  Many were employed part-time and held a number of posts concurrently to build up relevant experience.

No student contact in my ‘day job’, so I am doing extra teaching work to keep career options open.

  • Around half of ECRs on fixed-term contracts gave negatively or neutrally phrased reasons for taking up their current position(s), e.g. they were unable to secure a full-time position or it was all that was available. These reasons reflect a perceived lack of choice or a necessity.

There are very few permanent jobs (whether full or part-time) advertised in my field.  Sessional teaching is the only way of remaining in academia and maintaining good contact with staff.

  • Around 92% of ECRs on fixed-term contracts expressed concerns about their career now and in the future – for the most part related to achieving a permanent academic position.
  • 71% of ECRs on a permanent contract had previously held a fixed-term contract, and a quarter had held 3 or more, which does suggest that short-term posts are a pathway to permanent contracts for some.

I want a career in academia and have applied for a number of jobs since I was awarded my PhD and haven’t been shortlisted for any.  This is probably partly because I need publications.  However, I need an income while I’m working on my publications so I have taken these positions.  I hope that these roles will give me skills, knowledge and experience that will help me in the job market.

The researchers gave some advice which may be worth considering if you are interested in an academic career.

  • They regarded “advice with preparing grant applications”, “time to publish”, and “mentorship” as the support most beneficial to career development

I have a mentor at my current workplace which I find very useful.  The arrangement provides time and space to discuss my professional development with a senior member of faculty.

  • 61% of ECRs on permanent contracts began to seek advice on pursuing an academic career before or at the start of their doctorate, compared to 43% of ECRs on fixed-term contracts.

So you may want to start planning and seeking advice as early as possible.  This could include:

  • asking academic colleagues for advice on funding, and you could use the resources provided by Edinburgh Research and Innovation to identify suitable funding opportunities and see examples of successful grant applications.
  • preparing a strategy for publication with the support of your PhD supervisor
  • finding a ‘mentor’, someone a little further along in their career who may be able to share insights from their experience with you.  This may be something you can arrange informally if your School / Institute doesn’t offer a formal programme.
  • come in to speak to a careers consultant to discuss your way forward.
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