How to advance your academic career

Working in an industry that shapes the lives of future generations, it is crucial to ensure that your decisions positively impact students’ educational journeys and contribute to the overall growth and success of the institution, writes Arunima K V

Arunima K V's avatar
1 Mar 2024
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A career in higher education is both challenging and rewarding, and there are plenty of opportunities to climb the ladder. For many academics, reaching professor level represents the culmination of their efforts. However, there are additional opportunities for those with high ambition, such as becoming dean, director or pro vice-chancellor. This guide offers practical advice for those aspiring to these kinds of position.

Many institutions provide comprehensive guidelines that outline promotion criteria. These often include specific contributions that enhance the faculty or school, international scholarship and research, leadership and connections with external contacts. The guidelines also often emphasise the importance of teaching philosophy, innovative teaching practices, impact and student feedback data as integral components of the promotion process. Here are a few areas where academic professionals need to invest their knowledge and skills.

Strategic career planning: aligning short-term goals with broader career aspirations involves setting objectives that contribute to your long-term vision. Seek professional development opportunities in administration, institution building and leadership. In the early-career phase (years one to four), focus on securing research funding from national and international agencies, publishing your work in high-quality journals and working on your teaching practice. Mid-career professionals can aim for prestigious national and international fellowships, take on departmental leadership roles and contribute to institutional development initiatives. In the advanced career stage, set objectives to apply for senior positions, seek leadership roles and contribute to policy development. The ability to plan and adapt is crucial for long-term success.

Advocating for teaching excellence: investing in pedagogical training showcases a commitment to teaching excellence. Participate in faculty development programmes focused on innovative teaching methodologies. Respond to and learn from feedback from student evaluations or peer reviews that help you understand the needs of students and faculty. This continuous improvement in teaching quality can enhance your reputation as an effective educator.

Research management: apart from publication opportunities, there are various research grants and funded projects that academics can apply for. Government funding agencies such as the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) offer opportunities in India, while international bodies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the European Research Council (ERC) provide global options. Additionally, NGOs, foundations and philanthropic organisations support research aligned with their missions, and some corporate entities offer funding for relevant projects. Examples include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Tata Trusts.

Professional associations, universities and research institutions also offer internal funding mechanisms. Online databases and grant portals aggregate opportunities from diverse sources, allowing researchers to explore and apply for grants that suit their interests and objectives. It is a good idea to monitor these sources regularly to stay informed about new opportunities.

Collaboration with industry: encouraging faculty to participate in networking initiatives with industry professionals can lead to collaborative projects. Supporting flexible research models allows academics to engage with industry without compromising teaching responsibilities. For instance, establishing partnerships with local businesses for research projects can benefit both academia and industry.

Addressing challenges – research vs administration vs teaching: the past decade revealed a notable shift in priorities within academic careers. Research has increasingly taken precedence over teaching and service. The impact of quantitative metrics, particularly in research output, has been significant, influencing career trajectories and institutional cultures.

While teaching and service contributions remain important, they have often been overshadowed by the prominence of research in academic career progression. This trend underscores the need for academics to navigate a landscape where research excellence is paramount, while also advocating for the value of teaching and service within higher education institutions. Explore ways to encourage excellence in teaching such as to advocate for a teaching-focused track for promotions. Develop strategies to balance research and administrative responsibilities along with effective teaching, emphasising the value of quality education.

To move up in higher education requires strategic planning and setting clear goals. To streamline the process, break down tasks into manageable steps, delegate when possible and establish boundaries to prevent burnout. Use efficient teaching strategies, explore flexible work arrangements and stay updated on educational advancements. Remember, finding the right balance is a personal journey, and it’s essential to periodically reassess and adjust your strategies based on your evolving needs and circumstances.

Working in an industry that shapes the lives of future generations, it is crucial to ensure that your decisions positively affect the educational journey of students and contribute to the overall growth and success of the institution. This will place you in good stead for progressing to administrative positions.

Arunima K V is an assistant professor at T A Pai Management Institute (TAPMI), Manipal Academy of Higher Education.

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