What to Ask Yourself If You Want an Academic Research Career
Do you enjoy seeking out the answers to big problems? Are you patient when you can’t find a solution right away? Do you enjoy collaborating with others in a lab? If so, you may be interested in pursuing a career in academic research.
Academic research doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach so thinking through your interests and capabilities will help you tailor this career path. Ask yourself these questions:
- How much time do I want to teach and how much time do I want to research? The size and focus of institutions you’re considering to work for will determine how you spend your time.
- Am I willing to engage and mentor students to develop the next generation of neuroscientists? Patience and a commitment to helping students mature academically, socially, and emotionally are necessary for academic researchers who teach.
- Will I be able to endure the competition in and among labs? Principal investigators must withstand pressure to write grant proposals, win funding, publish findings, and learn new lab techniques.
- Am I comfortable with uncertainty? Fewer tenure-track positions are available, and the alternative positions — adjunct faculty, staff scientist, and research track appointments — are not as secure. Grant funding is also far from certain.
After undergraduate and graduate education in neuroscience or related fields, academic researchers usually train for many years. They begin as assistant professors before they are eventually promoted to associate and full professors.
It is never too soon to begin preparing for an academic research career. Explore these activities to grow your skill set and portfolio:
Gain research experience
- Volunteer in the lab of a professor
- Apply for in-house research fellowships
- Intern at a wide array of schools, institutes, and government agencies
- Work as a laboratory technician
- Develop skills that laboratories find attractive
Advance your teaching ability
- Volunteer in schools or after-school clubs, work at a science-oriented summer camp, or tutor high school students
- Volunteer during Brain Awareness Week
Take advantage of training programs, fellowships, and exchange opportunities
- Organizations like SfN, government bodies like NIH, and U.S. graduate programs offer many ways to advance
Read the full Academic Research Career Path Guide to learn more about the education, skills, and experiences you’ll need to excel, and the employment outlook you can expect.