a bit off-topic, maybe?

… but after one of last year's weekend Schol sessions, someone asked me how you get to be a uni lecturer/researcher ie what would you have to do to get there. And we talked about it a bit. And now I'm searching round for a blog topic & thought, you're all probably heading for some sort of science career, so you might be interested in the answer too.

The first thing is, you get there through a lot of hard work. You'd do your BSc (your undergraduate degree), then move on to an MSc, which is your first research degree. (That's not to say you mightn't already have done some research as an undergraduate; these days quite a few of our good students get involved in academics' research projects). This is a two-year degree where you (usually) take taught papers in the first year & then do a research project in the second year. You're closely supervised by an academic staff member & are usually working on part of a larger project that they've got running. And then you go on to your PhD, which in New Zealand is entirely research-based. You'll have found a supervisor (hopefully one with some funding to support research students, because you don't have a lot of spare time to earn an income – but there are also scholarships available for grad & postgrad students) who works in a field that you're interested in. You'll agree on a topic for your thesis. And that person will guide and challenge & encourage & support you, but ultimately this is your piece of work. Which is a pretty cool feeling, really.

And even after all that, you wouldn't usually go straight to an academic position. You'd find a post-doc first, part of a research team, and also get busy publishing papers from your MSc & PhD work, so that you'd got a good research history behind you. Then you'd start applying for uni jobs.

The second thing is – if you decide to go this route, pick a topic or an area that you're absolutely passionate about. Because that will keep you going when the reality of research kicks in: science has its share of 'eureka!' moments but a lot of it is what you might call 'daily grind'. And sometimes your experiments don't work out as you expected (although that isn't in itself a bad thing; there's nothing wrong with a negative result, & we probably don't emphasise that enough). Or the papers you want aren't in the library & your institution doesn't have a subscription to that particular e-journal. Or your laptop's stolen & you didn't have your material backed up. (Moral: always have a back-up! Always!) If you didn't really like your research topic in the first place, any of these things might be enough to put you off. But if it's a topic that you are passionate about, that you find endlessly fascinating: that'll make the good days great and the humdrum, or downright awful, bearable. (And that passion will make you a good teacher, too.)


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