Non-conventional academic career paths

Over the next few months, I’m planning a series of podcasts with academics who have pursued non-conventional career paths. This is a remarkably clunky term: what does ‘non-conventional’ mean? The difficulty I’m having defining my terms is precisely why I think it’s so important to explore this topic. In essence, I’m planning to talk to people who have finished PhDs and/or post-docs without subsequently applying for lectureships while animated by ambitions of a future trajectory up a fixed institutional hierarchy.

This is a broad category within which there’s a great deal of variation in terms of ambition and circumstances.  There are lots of things that people with PhDs go on to do which, in many cases, complicate a simple dichotomy of being in the academy or being outside of it. But there seems to be a pervasive lack of career advice for those who might see such a pathway as being intrinsically desirable. Hopefully these podcasts can contribute in their own small way to rectifying this problem.

My sense of this problem has emerged from my own experience. For a long time, I’ve realised that I’d like to balance sociological communication with sociological research. Increasingly I can see how this would work in the short and medium term: at the moment I’m effectively doing the former for 3 days a week and the latter for 2 days a week, supplemented by occasional consultancy and training invitations.

It works for me and I’d like to continue, doing consultancy half the time and (I hope) within a few years working on my own grant-funded projects the other half of the time. But there’s a distinct lack of people I can turn to for advice about how to make this work in the long term. While the plans in question might be different, I’m certain I can’t be the only person contemplating a ‘non-conventional academic carer path’ in the absence of any obvious examples or available guidance about the viability of their plans.

8 thoughts on “Non-conventional academic career paths

  1. Might also be useful to talk to people doing PhDs via unusual routes for various diversity reasons (like me!), since I suspect that leads to unconventional careers. I love that you’re going to podcast about this. I used to podcast non-academically. I’m thinking of revamping in a more academic direction.

  2. That’s a good idea thanks. I really dislike the “non-conventional career path” concept but I’m seeing it as an umbrella for an awful lot of things that are, as yet, under explored

    Hope you start podcasting again. If you tweet me the links if/when you do I can put them on @soc_imagination 🙂

  3. Are you going to be focussing on people who have intentionally chosen said paths? I can understand why you might, since so often the discussion centres around people who have been forced unwillingly (by lack of employment) to find other paths. But since that group is indeed so large, and growing, I might suggest that you keep in mind, during your chats, the ways that someone who didn’t, originally, want to pursue an ‘unconventional’ career but has found themselves doing so might be able to use your guest’s experience to help them.

    That last sentence was incredibly clunky and incomprehensible, sorry. Hope you got the gist.

  4. Mark, my current job situation is somewhat similar to yours and I don’t know how sustainable it is over the long term, but I’d be glad to share my experiences if you’re interested. My original intention was a conventional academic career path, but I’ve come round to the idea that this sort of non-conventional arrangement has advantages if I can sustain it. For one thing, there’s no pressure on me to publish a lot or quickly, so perhaps I can do better research than I would otherwise, with less stress.

  5. Hi sorry I only just saw your comment. That would be very interesting – could you email a bit of an account and I’ll put on Si.org?

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