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Ideas for masters degrees, for which their is high demand for academic staff
May 2, 2012 10:02 AM   Subscribe

I would like to work within a UK academic environment. Given my background what niche would give me the best chance of success?

I have decided to study a masters degree. It's quite an indulgence, and I have a job to go back to if it doesn't work out.... but nonetheless I would like to choose a subject which gives the a good chance of working in an academic environment.

I am 32, with two bachelor degrees. A 3rd class degree in engineering from a relatively poor university, and one 2:1 in literature from a red brick uni.

I run an internet business, and have some natural talent for marketing, finance and management. I have elementary programming skills and I enjoy fiddling with databases, though I am definitely a beginner.

I think it would be fun to study a subject somewhere on the intersection of science and the humanities. My feeling is that if I don't have the grounding to compete with single subject graduates of, say, engineering, computer science, or literature.

So I would like ideas on more unusual interdisciplinary subjects, for which high demand is predicted for academic staff in two years time, and ideally where original research is genuinely useful, and encouraged.
posted by choppyes to Education (14 answers total)
 
So you already live in the UK - that is a good start! Science and humanities. Hmmm. That's maybe Cambridge or Oxford country. You could do science and philosophy or just do philosophy and plan your MPhil around your interests and see if it lands with an adviser. Working in academe really requires you to get a PGCE in post-compulsory education and learn to make funding bids. Bids come first! They will assign you into a PGCE course when they know you can teach, not when you want to.
posted by parmanparman at 10:11 AM on May 2, 2012


I am ideally interested in accessible, well funded research areas with staff shortages. There is no money in philosophy, so that is out.
posted by choppyes at 10:19 AM on May 2, 2012


Firstly, your question suggests that you don't realise that a masters won't get you a job in academia? You need a PhD too. So you're looking at, at least, 4 years of study, probably more like 5-6. If your field is not in the pure sciences then all five of those years are, statistically at least, very likely to be self-funded. As in you need to pay both fees and your living expenses.

Assuming you did realise all that: if you just want the field with the best statistical odds of getting a permanent position in tertiary academia, then do biology, physics or chemistry (in that order of preference). Failing that, do engineering or maths. Failing that, look at the humanities. Absolutely do not do anything interdisciplinary or "unusual". Statistically that is the longest shot of the longest shots. Interdisciplinary studies are only "unusual" in the sense that there are few permanent positions, not in the sense that there is a shortage of people who, with respect, are very naive about academia and/or think that a taught masters to satisfy an itch/intellectual curiosity is worth the financial and opportunity cost.

If you count teaching in secondary school as an academic environment then the same advice applies (including the bit about not doing anything interdisciplinary).
posted by caek at 10:21 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am ideally interested in accessible, well funded research areas with staff shortages.

These do not exist.
posted by caek at 10:22 AM on May 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I would like to choose a subject which gives the a good chance of working in an academic environment.

What do you mean "working in an academic environment"? Do you want to teach? Do you want to be a member of a professor's research staff? Are you looking for a support staff job at a university?
posted by deanc at 10:25 AM on May 2, 2012


On preview, it would seem sensible to open up the question from 'academia' to 'anywhere'. Some subjects I thought might qualify as niche are things like, UX, micro finance, oil and gas acoustical engineering, crowdsourcing market research.
posted by choppyes at 10:37 AM on May 2, 2012


if you just want the field with the best statistical odds of getting a permanent position in tertiary academia, then do biology, physics or chemistry

I think a number of chemistry departments are up for closure so it's not a good bet as a discipline if you want good prospects.

Are you good at grant writing? Can you bring in money from outside? (You'll need to show a track record.) Because that would make a difference, and is one of the few things that might get you noticed. With an MA and a good *proven* ability at getting money from outside you might be able to get into an administrative position. You will not be able to teach, because there's already enough desperate PhDs out there to fill those slots several times over. If you do go the PhD route try, Oxbridge is your bet. Not just because of the name recognition, but because they get most of the funding for PhDs and you do not want to pay for a graduate education.

So I would like ideas on more unusual interdisciplinary subjects, for which high demand is predicted for academic staff in two years time, a

Anyone who tells you they know this is lying. And there will be no high demand for academic staff in anything as there is - short of a miracle - no need tranche of funding coming to UK universities. Even well respected programmes are being cut; new programmes might last, but they'll probably get no new funding unless it comes from business.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:42 AM on May 2, 2012


no need should be *no new*
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:43 AM on May 2, 2012


Have you looked at working for any of the "digitizing information" projects? To be honest, I don't even know if that's as much of a thing in the UK as it is here in the US, but several people I know who couldn't find jobs (or jobs they liked) in academia found interesting and decently-paying jobs in that sector over here.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:49 AM on May 2, 2012


Ah. Ok, to clarify, it sounds like you want to find a niche field that not too many other people are populating, or at least one in which the demand outstrips the supply.

Research in novel oil and gas extraction methods qualifies.

UX is really dominated by people who are very brilliant artists with engineering talent, and trying to compete with people who spend all of their time thinking and breathing aesthetics and design is not going to have a positive outcome for you.

Microfinance was all the rage 3-5 years ago. It's still quite important, but you definitely won't be getting in on the ground floor of that.

Crowdsourcing market research, and geotargetted fast-turnaround of market research is something that is just starting to come together, actually.
posted by deanc at 11:05 AM on May 2, 2012


Working in academe really requires you to get a PGCE in post-compulsory education and learn to make funding bids.

No, you do not need a PGCE to work in academe.
posted by grouse at 11:10 AM on May 2, 2012


I am ideally interested in accessible, well funded research areas with staff shortages.

The UK is seriously cutting back on funding research other than in the sciences (and its not exactly pouring money into those either). Funding to humanities is being hacked back to knob all. Social sciences will fare a bit better, but much depends on being in an economically relevant area (energy, regulation, etc). There is a lot of talk about interdisciplinary research but the reality is often that these are difficult to get in reality since the division of funding bodies can make a bid that suits both sides a bit of a crap shoot. They tend to be more effective crossing disciplines within the same funding area. Funding in the UK is divvied up into:
hard sciences (EPSRC)
life sciences (NERC)
social sciences (ESRC)
arts & humanities (AHRC) (Not exactly swimming in cash even when times were good.)
Though there are other sources of cash.

The nuclear guys are always on the lookout for people to turn to the dark side but that might be a bit too sciencey for you. Sustainable/smart energy/CCS is doing ok at the mo since the UK is taking its targets somewhat seriously, but its easy to see that things have got worse over the last 2-3 years.

I would also say that most of the sector has seen a very significant drop in the number of available jobs. When we have advertised in the last year we have seen a big jump in applications, indicating that there is much less out there in the way of opportunities. This will impact on you entering research. I would guess there are a lot of places who are not replacing all the staff who go.

The advent of 9k fees and the number of institutions who find they aren't going to be able to get enough students to keep their fees at 9k and have to go down to 6k is also likely to mean things get harder for some institutions before they get easier.

Working in academe really requires you to get a PGCE in post-compulsory education and learn to make funding bids.

The PGCE thing is wrong. No one I work with has a PGCE. Most junior lecturers today are required to do some form of qualification, usually recognised by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). This is equivalent to about 30 credits of study.

if you just want the field with the best statistical odds of getting a permanent position in tertiary academia, then do biology, physics or chemistry

I know a lot of biology PhDs, their chance of getting a permanent academic position is pretty slim. The department produces far more than they need. Is your assertion based on data or gut feeling?
posted by biffa at 11:30 AM on May 2, 2012


In reply to
I think a number of chemistry departments are up for closure so it's not a good bet as a discipline if you want good prospects.
and
I know a lot of biology PhDs, their chance of getting a permanent academic position is pretty slim. The department produces far more than they need. Is your assertion based on data or gut feeling?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the situation is good in biology or chemistry. In an absolute sense, the chance of getting a permanent academic position in any subject is extremely small. The situation is slightly less awful in biology (including biochemistry, genetics, etc.) than chemistry and physics, which, on generational timescales, are dying. I say this as a professional academic physicist.
posted by caek at 3:39 PM on May 2, 2012


I don't know about the UK, but here in Australia, I know that our university has trouble getting enough academic researchers/lecturers in the following fields:
Business
Marketing
Computer Science
Psychology
Engineering (less so)
Law (less so)
Some popular languages (mainly Asian languages & Spanish)

We have recently advertised positions in most of these that have had so few applicants, they've appointed no one, and had to readvertise. For psychology, comp sci and engineering, you still need a PhD before they'll consider you for continuing jobs, although you can get fixed term teaching positions with less. In the other areas, they often hire people with masters degrees because they can't get enough candidates with higher degrees. (I'm not sure about this for law, although I do know they too are struggling to fill positions.) They also offer higher salaries in these disciplines (except languages) than in most others, because they have to to attract people who could earn a shitload more in industry.

The point is, if there are attractive jobs outside of academia in a field, academia will find it harder to keep staff in what are objectively pretty low-paid, high-stress positions.

Anyway, as I said, I know this first hand for our university, and am pretty confident generalising to the rest of Australia, but I don't know if it also holds for the UK.
posted by lollusc at 5:44 PM on May 2, 2012


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