When an early career in academia is a second career

Katharine WilkinsonSeminar Room 2

What does it mean to consider an academic career in English as a second career? This session focuses on this question, drawing on available research into the profile of Early Career Academics (ECAs) in their 40s and 50s and on speakers’ personal experiences. A roundtable will be followed by workshop-style discussion, aiming to identify challenges and opportunities for mid-life ECAs and good practice for supporting research and career development.

The terms Early Career Academic and Early Career Researcher are used flexibly to describe people in a wide range of career stages, from PhD students to several years post-doctorate. The average age for completing a PhD in the UK is around 27 (according to the European University Institute), though many ECAs in English begin their PhD study at a later age. The environment for all ECAs is challenging and precarious, and this session will explore how age, family responsibilities and gender can affect access to opportunities for mid-life ECAs in particular.

Structural issues to consider include the available study and funding options for a PhD, for example, which is in most cases the necessary qualification for an academic career. Full-time study can be difficult to combine with family responsibilities and commitments that may require supplementary income. Evening events and weekend conferences present challenges for all ECAs with caring responsibilities, and women ECAs can face additional challenges in terms of progression and visible career routes.

Previous professional experience in some cases may be an advantage – a career in teaching, for example, or in creative writing – but in most cases it is unlikely to be relevant when applying for academic jobs in English. What are the implications and impacts of this for ECAs and for universities as employers? The experience of being ‘early’ career in mid-life can produce a sense of ‘belatedness’, for example, as ECAs negotiate new forms of peer and professional relationships. And for universities, as places of study and as employers, there may be questions of age and inclusivity to consider, in training for PhD researchers and for associate teaching staff.

The session will also explore mid-life ECAs’ experience of teaching, where relevant issues include student experiences (both ECAs’ and their students’), student perceptions, training needs and access to mentoring relationships.


Christine Hawkins, Teaching Associate, Queen Mary University of London

Dr Kate Wilkinson, Teaching Associate, Queen Mary University of London

Caroline Wintersgill , Senior Teaching Fellow, University College London

Sun 11:30 am - 12:45 pm