Permanent role

An Eternal A Permanent job!

January 2024

Ten years after I had my PhD viva on a stormy December day in Birmingham, I finally have a permanent contract, as of December 2023 – the first one in my life! As I changed my role from being a Nottingham Research Fellow to Lecturer Assistant Professor in Education over the end of year holidays, I reflected on the long journey to this point. I count myself fairly lucky, given I have only held three positions since my PhD, neither of them being shorter than a year or offered only on a part-time basis. I have only sent off a total of 20 applications over three job-search rounds. I haven’t had to move halfway across the country or continents since landing in Sheffield in 2013 a few months after submitting my thesis. As such, I had a chance to build a strong network of friends in a city I call home.

I am very much aware of the ongoing issues of precarity across the higher education sector, and the profound impact the lack of stability has on colleague’s personal and professional lives. Without a stable role it is rather hard to settle into a role and a community, contribute to work beyond the teaching / research one is contracted to do, network and plan ahead professionally and personally. The immediacy and demands of a current position are juxtaposed with having to emotionally and mentally commit to all the job applications sent off…

Last summer I was invited to a panel on academic careers and thought about what helped me throughout the past few years – here is a summary; it links to some comments in a previous blog post.

A (sometimes random) portfolio of (research) experience:

It is useful to build a relatively wide portfolio of experience, and be open to change direction if necesary. Before I started my PhD in 2010, I already worked in a number of research projects in Hungary throughout and after my Masters in Sociology – I had a chance to lead smaller research teams and get research reports and book chapters published. Similarly, I worked with my supervisors on projects beyond my PhD, co-authoring two papers. Although I was more interested in researching post-compulsory education, ending up in higher education research upon my PhD was more of an accident, rather than anything to do with careful career planning. I loved my post-doc project at Sheffield: beyond familiarity with the widening participation "world", I had a chance to gain a diverse array of experiences, talking to policy and institutional stakeholders, publishing A LOT, attending conferences, as well as teaching research methods. We all know how "straightforward" careers get these days - not really. What I also learned from a horrible job interview is to build a more or less coherent narrative of past-present-future, even when you think there is little else other then "I needed a bloody job". Similarly, a visible (online) profile is also helpful - hence having a semi-up-to-date website to keep my "stuff" in one place.

Building and maintaining networks:

Both throughout my MA and especially in my PhD I attended conferences mainly to get external feedback on some of my emergent outcomes and to find like-minded colleagues with similar interests. Through maintaining these networks I gained friends and collaborators for next projects; I was recommended career opportunities; and helped others in their progression too. Peer support and information is key: the academic world is full of bizarre, opaque processes that need to be highlighted to newcomers. I always believed that despite the seemingly zero-sum game of “excellence” and being “world-leading”, cooperation and creating a supportive culture is much more important.  Further, it's a sad fact that the academic world runs on free labour. However, sometimes it's worth contributing to the broader community - whether that's PGR socials, being on the UCU committee, convening research networks, or being on editorial boards

Thinking holistically and with others

A wide range of mentors have been key too, through supporting me at career junctures with advice and keeping a holistic view. This is key; knowing how to evidence different characteristics of a well-rounded academic, and a CV that covers it all. Similarly, drawing on the suggestions of careers advisors (whether the official university ones, or great friends) is key: writing a reflective and strong job application is a bit of an art that can be taught (e.g. resources here).

Most importantly, I keep in mind who and what matters most - this little Manó, and building better Brio layouts with Duplo bridges!