Recent research has uncovered the necessary skills and characteristics for job postings at every level of an academic career. The research gathered data from Euraxess, which lists academic vacancies from around the world, and analysed over 40,000 advertisements for academic positions posted between 2016 and 2021.
The study encompassed a wide range of disciplines, universities, and countries. The results of this research could have practical applications for institutional researcher development, human resources, and academic recruitment, as well as provide guidance for individuals planning and developing their academic careers. The findings were published in the journal Studies in Higher Education.
The research found that most jobs are advertised at the R1 stage (up to the point of PhD), which made up 84% of the sample, followed by R2 (PhD holders or equivalent who are not yet fully independent) at 12%, R3 (researchers who have developed a level of independence) at 3% and R4 (researchers leading their research area or field) at just 1%. However, it is noteworthy that in 2020 there was a significant decrease in academic job ads, which may be explained by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the number of ads almost tripled the 2020 count, suggesting a recovery in the academic job market, at least in Europe.
The research team also found that degree and achievements play a principal role in academic recruitment at each stage of a career. Mobility is key to progression in senior roles, and teaching gains importance towards professoriate. Senior academics need to be equipped with skills and/or experience in fundraising, curriculum, and outreach. Mobility was listed as higher than teaching for R1–R2 but lower in R3–R4. The quality and quantity of research are the main currency in moving up the academic career ladder.
The research also found that insecure employment has a largely negative impact on academics’ research careers. Insecure employment in academia can affect the ability to publish, develop an independent research profile, and form networks and collaborative connections. Research on doctoral and postdoctoral positions suggests that international mobility is now the key to academic career progression at the early career level. International faculty mobility also boosts networking and knowledge transfer. However, geographical mobility has its costs and not every academic benefits from it. Interdisciplinary mobility is common among academics at all career stages, but cross-disciplinary mobility is rare. The latter suggests that academics stay loyal to their discipline.
The research used a four-tier structure based on the European Commission framework, which is common in academic careers worldwide. The four stages are R1 (up to the point of PhD), R2 (PhD holders or equivalent who are not yet fully independent), R3 (researchers who have developed a level of independence), and R4 (researchers leading their research area or field).
The research team developed a skill taxonomy for academic careers that build on previous research, where they followed a data-derived approach to develop a taxonomy of attributes based on job selection criteria. The research provides insights into the most important attributes in the five most represented countries and disciplines and changes by stage and across the academic career lifespan.
The findings could inform policy and practice for institutional researcher development, capabilities framework development, human resources, and academic recruitment, and provide guidance for academic career planning and development. The results are particularly relevant for policymakers and institutional managers looking to understand how best to support the development of researchers at different career stages.
Academic careers are complex, diverse, and increasingly competitive and degrees and achievements are the main currency in moving up the academic career ladder. Mobility is key to progression in senior roles, and teaching gains importance towards professoriate. Senior academics need to be equipped with skills and/or experience in fundraising, curriculum, and outreach.
The research provides valuable insights that could inform policy and practice for institutional researcher development, capabilities framework development, human resources, and academic leadership. It also highlights the need for universities and academic institutions to provide more structured support for career development and progression, particularly for early career researchers, to help them navigate the complexities of the academic job market.
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