Tips for academics on how to deal with short-term contracts and job insecurity

One issue for those working in academia that can be difficult to deal with is the problem of job insecurity. It is common for postdocs or junior lectures to be employed on short-term contracts of a few months to a few years, meaning that they must secure a new job when their contract ends. Today we have some tips on how to manage this insecurity if you're working in academia.

Advance Planning

When you know you're on a fixed term contract, such as a two-year postdoc contract, then you need to start preparing for the end of your contract early. Six months before the finish date of your contract, you should start looking for employment options. As academic hiring processes can be lengthy, and sometimes seasonal (summer tends to be a quiet time for hiring, so you may be better off looking for new jobs around autumn time), you need to be thinking about new job options far in advance. Remember to be on the look out for new opportunities not only on job posting websites or mailing lists, but also by reaching out to your network. Contact your previous colleagues and professors to let let know that you're looking for work, and they can help by forwarding on any relevant positions to you.

Securing Your Finances

When your contract is only short term, it's important for you to be financially responsible and to ensure that you have a financial cushion if you're not able to find work immediately. You may need to live for a few months without income if you are between jobs, so you should prepare for this possibility. Make sure that you're saving a reasonable percentage of your income during your contracted work time. Preferably you should having savings that you could live off for six months if required, in addition to an emergency fund. If you live with a partner or family, consider how your joint finances will be affected by a pause in your income, and be aware that you might need more than six months if you want to find a job in your local area rather than moving to another city or country.

Brushing Up Your CV and Other Skills

Naturally, if you're going to be looking for work then you'll be updating and improving your CV. While you're doing this, you can consider what skills you have acquired in your studies and work so far. If you can't find an academic position straight away, it's helpful to know what your other options are in terms of employment. You could consider putting together a non-academic CV which showcases your skills, and information about successful projects and the role which you played in them. When trying to make yourself appealing to a business rather than an academic audience, focus more on your concrete achievements than your abstract ideas – for example, how you made a process more efficient, or how your presentation pursued a collaborating lab to take on your preferred methodology. Even if you never need to use your non-academic CV, it can reduce your stress and anxiety to know that you have other employment options.

Applying For Your Own Grant

One way to avoid job insecurity is to apply for external funding for your own project. If you can secure a fellowship or other research grant, you can be certain of both your own salary and your research costs. However, be warned that grant application is a lengthy process – sometimes taking six months or more – and can be very competitive. Remember that you can and should begin applying for a grant during your current contract, as most lab leaders or PIs will be happy to know that you could bring in funding of your own. Once you have your own funding, you have much greater freedom over where you work and the the topic of your research, as well as more certainty over your future.

For the latest job opportunities for postdocs and other researchers, you can see job listings here.

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