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.