Working in academia with a veterinary degree
What would an academic career involve?
People who have previously gone down this route have commented that "in academia you don't feel the daily pressures of work that you do in practice, but rather other kinds of pressure such as a need to publish papers and get a good reputation among other scientists".
A role in academia – such as an academic lecturer – would involve a balance of teaching, research and administration.
As a general rule, the more prestigious the institution, the greater the emphasis on research. You will feel a much greater sense of independence in this role, and while you have colleagues, you will be viewed very much on your own output. That is not to say there won't be ample opportunity to undertake collaborative projects.
A typical day might see you:
- designing and carrying out experiments
- analysing and discussing data
- writing and presenting papers
- writing grant applications
- participating in committee meetings
Would I suit this role?
An important factor for many vets who have made the transition to academia is a sense of intellectual curiosity which is not met by practice. A common saying is that "practitioners like answering questions and researchers prefer asking them".
- enjoy working independently
- be good at self-motivating and managing your time effectively
- be able to work to long-term research deadlines (over months or years) while still planning teaching for the following year
- enjoy looking at the big picture and solving problems
Top tips for preparing for academia
- Ensure your academic knowledge of your research area is up to date if you've spent time out of academia working in practice
- If you're transitioning directly to a PhD, ensure your knowledge of research methodology is up to scratch (statistics, study design, report writing, etc)
Routes into the role
Masters or residency
Many vets transitioning into academia from practice do so by firstly undertaking a masters or residency as this gives insight and experience of conducting high-level academic research.
In particular, a combination of clinical work and research that constitutes a residency is seen as a "good halfway house".
This stepping stone can help bridge the gap from a purely clinical-based role and give you an idea of whether you enjoy conducting complex research in a university environment.
Not all masters courses place equal emphasis on conducting research and it is important to consider this when evaluating different courses.
A much more common step to moving into academia is to undertake a PhD.
Vets can fund their studies by successful scholarship applications to a University, but it is also possible to self-fund. See the further resources section below for sources of scholarships/studentships.
Once you have completed your PhD (typically three years), you would then look for a post-doctoral contract, typically 18 months to three years in length.
After a post-doctoral contract, you then start to apply for research fellowships, followed by a lectureship. Promotional opportunities from here follow the typical route to professorship.
It is not uncommon for individuals to do multiple post-doctoral contract posts while they build up the necessary publication record to be able to secure a lectureship post.
Finding employment and salary scales
University recruiters are looking for you to show that you have an enquiring mind and intellectual curiosity about academic questions both at PhD and later stages of an academic career.
Having completed a masters and/or residency should show you are capable of higher-level research.
Some steps you can take to ensure the transition to academia is as smooth as possible include:
- spending time reflecting on your interest in problem solving, and having examples of when you have shown these skills
- shadowing researchers in a laboratory environment to refresh your knowledge of research processes
- starting to network so you can get advanced notice of upcoming opportunities and promote yourself
As an indication, you can expect to earn:
- PhD – £14,000 to £18,000
- Post-doctoral researcher – £25,000 to £35,000
- Lecturer – £35,000 to £45,000
- Senior lecturer/reader – £45,000 to £55,000
- Professor – £60,000 to £70,000
Further resources: funding, job and career information
© CoSector, University of London. Used with permission.