Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Skill-up to escape the academic treadmill

Linus Tan
The Research Whisperer has a helpful article on "Starting a consultancy can be like finding a date" (by Linus Tan, 27 April 2021). As they point out, universities are laying off academic staff and not renewing contracts. This most effects casual staff and those on short contracts. So many are looking for non university work, some as consultants. Suggestions provided are: 1. Let people know you are available, 2. Make yourself presentable, 3. Don't do it alone, 4. Select the right area, 5. Select the right project, 6. Keep working part time at university. This is all good advice, but I have a few more suggestions, from 20 years as a freelance consultant and part time academic. After all, as the saying goes: Those who can't research, teach; those who can't teach, become consultants. ;-)

More suggestions:

1. Job skill-up at your university

If you are considering work outside academia, I suggest taking advantage of the training and support provided to university staff and students. Universities provide detailed training and tools for students in how to work out what sort of job you might get and to apply. I work with people at ANU Careers teaching computing students how to think about a job, as their last assignment before graduating. 

2. Business skill-up at your local start-up center

Universities also provide training in business skills. Don't dismiss entrepreneurial training at start-up centers around the universities. Even if you don't want to set up your own business, the training in how to plan, budget and present is valuable. I have taken part in the workshops at the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN). 

3. Get training and insurance cover from your professional body

Also I suggest looking to your professional body for training and assistance. As an example, the Australian Computer Society provides training and also low cost liability insurance . Keep in mind that if you are going to be a consultant, you or the company you work through, will need to have insurance, which can cost thousands of dollars a year. 

4. Teach your students to be professionals, not just academics

In the longer term, as I suggested before COVID-19, universities and supervisors should start educating graduate students first of all for jobs outside academia, as there are very few secure well paid ones in it. If you are supervising a student, I suggest you have an obligation to make it clear to them that they have next to no chance of a secure, well paid job at a university. So encourage your student to first get skills and qualifications for work outside academia. If they are exceptionally gifted in research, they may then consider that, after they have ensured they will not be trapped in the academic system.

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