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How To Break Into Lecturing/Academia

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Is teaching your passion? Do you have dreams of earning a PhD and standing in front of classroom to discuss with eager students? If research is your thing, then working in academia might be the perfect career for you. In this article, we talked to an associate professor and a lecturer about why and how you can pursue a career in academia. 

MARY NABACHWA SSONKO

Current title: Associate Professor, Uganda Christian University, Gender and Development
Years of professional experience: 14 years
Career Path: I have had a long and winding path. When I finished university, I worked as a communicator on an AIDS project. I then worked as a research assistant at Makerere University in the statistics and applied economics department. After that, I joined World Vision as a center coordinator in Rakai district. I was doing my masters in women studies at Makerere University concurrently.  When I left World Vision, I worked as a gender advisor in Action Aid for about 5 years. I decided to pursue a doctorate in development studies.

What inspired you to go into academia?

I was raised by a widow mum whose determination to ensure the best for her kids inspired me to support other women. I soon found out while working as a gender advisor for Action Aid that enabling women presented lots of challenges. It was a puzzle that I wanted to solve which led me to pursue higher studies in gender related advocacy. Earning my doctorate made me an academic. I thought it was a better fit than working at a Non Governmental Organisation.

Why would someone consider lecturing/academia as a career path?

It is interesting. Academia gives you an opportunity to explore ideas through research. It keeps your brain busy because you are always reading and questioning why things are the way they are. I consider myself a change agent because I have the ability to influence the masses. I interact with lots of young people who have a lot of potential that is yet to be tapped. Lecturing gives me an opportunity to mentor them to become the best that they can be.

What was your first job in academia and how did you land it?

After earning my doctorate, I had a part time position in Makerere University as a part-time lecturer in the gender studies department and an associate of MISR (Makerere Institute of Social Research). I then went on to join Uganda Christian University as a full time senior lecturer when they advertised for the same.

Academia gives you an opportunity to explore ideas through research Click To Tweet

What advice can you give to someone who wants to start a career in academia?
  • An inquisitive brain. I went for my doctorate because I wanted to understand my puzzle. Any potential academic needs to be interested in understanding and explaining why things are the way they are.
  • Persistence and perseverance. Doing a doctorate is not easy and if you are not careful you can easily fall off. It involves lots of independent work and reading.
  • Build your mind to being criticized. As an academic, your work will be criticized at some point in time.
  • An academic has to be willing to share knowledge willingly with others knowledge. Remember you will also be a knowledge recipient.
  • Academia has an element of service. If you focus on rewards and benefits, you will not be happy in this field. The focus has got to be on serving.
What resources are available for young people who want to break into academia? 

The internet is awash with scholarship and research opportunities.  In Uganda and many other African countries, there are so many opportunities. The ability to study has improved over time.

What is the most surprising thing about working in academia? 

As an academic, you are always sharing ideas. The context in which you work is very important and your ideas may be subject to misinterpretation. It is important to be respectful of the fact that others may have a different stand point.

MASIMENGO TADEO

Organisation/Company: Makerere University
Years of Professional Experience 12+
Career path I have held various positions as a teaching assistant and currently, I serve as an assistant lecturer.
Brief Description of My Job My current Job is as an assistant lecturer. This involves teaching (both graduate and undergraduate) research, and mentoring students.

Why would someone consider lecturing/academia as a career path.

Lecturing is an exciting field that keeps you up to date with changes in your area of study. It also gives you the freedom to teach when you want. That makes it different from your typical office job where you have to be in the office full time. With lecturing, you can decide to be there when you are going to teach so it gives you the flexibility to do other things. 

If you decide to follow this path, you will start off as a Tutorial fellow/teaching assistant to assistant lecturer, lecturer to senior lecturer, associate professor, and finally to professor. Your ability to advance in academia/lecturing will depend on academic qualifications and getting your work published in renown journals. It if it’s accepted.At higher levels, you will be expected to supervise masters students and win research grants.

What was your first job in academia and how did you land it?

I was a tutorial fellow at Kyambogo university where I supported the main lecturer who did the main teaching, I helped students recap concepts that the lecturer had already covered with time. It was a valuable experience because I worked under the supervision of a lecturer who mentored me. I attended classes, marked student papers and learnt how students are assessed a lot during that time.

I would advise anyone who is considering lecturing to aim at a first or second upper class degree. If there is an opportunity, go for it. In case you can not get into lecturing right away, you can get into industry before making the move.

What advice can you give to someone who wants to start a career in academia?

As already discussed, one can get straight into teaching with a first undergraduate degree. However, it is also good to get some industry practice before jumping straight into academia because you will have a better understanding of some of the theory. You can also join lecturing on a part time basis. A higher degree is very relevant. In fact, most openings demand a masters degree as a minimum requirement. A PhD is an academic qualification so it will make you highly competitive. Therefore, identify a field where you can specialize. Then, get the necessary qualifications and experience to position yourself for an opening.

What specific things do recruiters look out for in potential lecturers?

We look for someone who is eloquent, has integrity and good presentation skills. There is also need for experience in pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) as well as the ability to handle teaching assiduously (with great care and perseverance).

What resources are available for young people who want to break into academia? 

There is lots of  information on the web and data streams research in the developed world. look out for associations  such as the capital markets, professional bodies (like ACCA forums) and share ideas with them, interact with people and develop ideas. In addition, look out for opportunities to publish on different forums. Check websites of different universities for opportunities to study (masters, PhDs, short courses).

What is the most surprising thing about working in academia? 

There is too much work in academia. The hours are long with big student numbers. In my field, academic concepts are always evolving so you need to always be on your toes to keep up. Despite all this, academia can give you access to good opportunities such as travel, networking with bright minds through conferences.

 

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