Making the most of your time in academia

As a researcher in a university your day-to-day routine is probably largely based around your department, probably mostly around your office or lab.

Yet most universities offer all kinds of development opportunities to their students and staff – are you getting the most from your institution?

Here are six ways in which you can boost your employability, investigate career options and make your life easier as a researcher.

Use experts: Every institution is full of experts – and you are fast becoming one of them! In addition to the academics and researchers who are experts in specific fields, there are also many staff employed in particular functions. Your institution will employ research librarians who can help you to develop better information management skills, research officers who can help you find funding opportunities, careers advisers who will improve your CV, health and safety staff who can help you complete essential documentation and administrative staff who can help you manage the governance of your research and complete university forms when required.

Use training: One set of these experts are the researcher development staff who will be running a programme of training tailored for you. Often based around the Researcher Development Framework these programmes will cover a diverse range of topics designed to make you more effective as a researcher. Your department may also have a budget to develop tailored courses just for physicists, so if there is a skills area you would like to improve, why not request a course?

Conferences: For many researchers one of their most important experiences is presenting their work in front of an expert audience. This is a chance to raise your profile, receive feedback which will help you prepare for a viva or write a better paper, a way to meet future employers or collaborators and also to socialize with people with similar professional interests. The Institute of Physics offers funding to help Members attend meetings and conferences which is describe in the funding section.

Work experience: Although most researchers work on projects full time there are an increasing number of opportunities to undertake placements during research projects. Ask in your institution for details of any schemes that might be running or look at the websites of the major funders – the Research Councils are supporting an increasing number of internships in industry and government.

Teaching and demonstrating: Whatever your intended career trajectory you should try to take the opportunity to be involved in teaching and demonstrating as it will give future employers tangible evidence of your ability to motivate, instruct and supervise others. Most departments use research students for support in undergraduate lab classes, you might be able to supervise a summer student or as a postdoctoral researcher even teach degree classes.

Outreach: The Institute is an passionate supporter of bringing physics and science out of the lab and into people’s lives. If you would like to share your enthusiasm for physics, why not volunteer for your department’s outreach programme or to be a helper on the “lab in a lorry” when it visits your region?