How do I go about changing tack in my career and getting back into academia?
June 7, 2009 7:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm desperately bored working in the legal information sector and want to go back to university/get into academia, but I'm not quite sure how to get there. Very long winded background below.

I currently am working as a law librarian/researcher in a law firm in London, but am desperately bored and stifled in my job. I've always wanted to be an academic/professor/lecturer (or whatever word you want to use), but up until now it's not something I've given much attention to as a serious idea (for various, primarily economic, reasons). The longer I work in the corporate sector though, the more I come to think that I would be much better off in an academic environment.

I did a humanties undergraduate degree (English Lit and History) in Brisbane, Australia, and at the time didn't have the financial stability to be able to support going straight into a purely academic Masters/Phd program, and was also keen to get some 'real world experience' rather than going straight into more education. In an attempt to do something vaguely academic that would still help me get a job, I decided to study for a Master in Information Management, under the not so brilliant justification that I liked books and libraries, so surely I'd like working in one. (yes, I know, not so bright). I finished my MIM in 2005, just as I moved to London, and had no trouble getting information work here. I've been working as a law librarian, in a number of different jobs since then, but am bored to death. I can't bear the tedious work and the beauraucracy of working in a law firm, and I need to do something more intellectually stimulating.

I now live in the UK, with no intention of going back to Aus any time soon, and there are more opportunities than I could wish for, but I have no idea how to go about catching any of them. I am really very interested in information, the web, how we use information now, etc (see the work of,, etc) and would very much like to go back to uni to study them formally, but I'm just not quite sure how to go about doing it.

I'd like to go back to uni as a phd student, but I (a) don't have the money and (b) can't really do it until I'm a UK citizen due to the extra costs to study as an international student (I'm eligible for citizenship in 2 years time).

I want to do work now that will help me in achieving these career goals, but I have no idea how to go about it. There is a Research Assistant position that I'm very interested in, and I think I have the skills for, but I know I don't have the experience (or at least nothing recent). I haven't had the opportunity to do any academic work in the last 3 or so years, as I was trying to make a go of the actual work thing and have been working hard at my job.

So I guess my questions are:
Would a university consider hiring someone for a research position that hadn't been already doing academic research in the area/has been working in the corporate sector for a few years?
Would I be able to take the skills from my undergrad + MA and successfully apply them to a research assistant position? Or am I going to be way out of my depth?
Are there different types of jobs I could use as a way in to academia?
Or should I just suck it up and wait out the two years and apply to do my phd then?

The only thing I know for sure at the moment is that I desperately want to get out of the corporate sector, but I want to make sure that my next job move will get me closer to my goals, rather than further away... Thank you to anyone who made it this far for any help, suggestions, comments...
posted by shewhoeats to Education (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
First, the job markets for traditional academic history and English are horrible and will be horrible forever. Scratch that off your list.

On the other hand there is a ton of interest in digital history and humanities. Google about and you will see what I mean. You might be able to land a position on a digital initiative right now.
posted by LarryC at 7:52 AM on June 7, 2009

I did a humanties undergraduate degree (English Lit and History) in Brisbane, Australia, and at the time didn't have the financial stability to be able to support going straight into a purely academic Masters/Phd program, and was also keen to get some 'real world experience' rather than going straight into more education

Unless something has changed with regards to your financial situation, this intuition likely was correct and will remain so. The academic job market is renowned for being very competitive. I'd think very hard about whether you want to give up a steady income for however long it takes you to complete your program and then repay all the loans you have to take out in order to do it.

I would also consider the opportunity costs inherent in such a move (i.e., the income you forgo by going back to school.)

And then I would take a very hard look at the prospects for employment in the academic sector.
posted by dfriedman at 10:20 AM on June 7, 2009

I don't know from the UK, but in the U.S., you could probably work in a law school's library and be a little closer to that environment. Also: funded PhDs
posted by paultopia at 11:07 AM on June 7, 2009

I'm a librarian at a university and it's never boring, I get to do research, help people with research, and teach people how to do research. You might consider finding such a position and then start taking courses there in whatever interests you. Good luck.
posted by mareli at 2:45 PM on June 7, 2009

I agree about librarianship. If you work at a university is is great. You can also take classes and get another degree while working.
posted by fifilaru at 4:17 PM on June 7, 2009

The research assistant position is a job - apply for it. The worst thing they can do is turn you down. You have the skills - and you just might be the kind of person they are looking for. If they wanted someone already with a PhD, they would have said so. I don't know what this position exactly is, but if it is like the research assistant positions at the health science research unit I used to work at, the position isn't one where you are designing the research (for which a PhD is very good training), but implementing a research programme already designed by the head of the project. The skills were primarily organisational and was being done by people whose only formal education was a BA, and yet the work was much more interesting than your typical office job.

And research assistantships are great ways to move into research - I deeply regret that my own field (history) does not do more of them, though they are starting to in Britain. It will give you a chance to see if that kind of research really is what you are interested in, while getting paid at the same time.

Just a note about librarianship: I have worked in an academic library setting, and while it is probably more interesting than a law library, there are just some people for whom no library work is very interesting, even if we do love books. I am one of them - love books, love libraries, I am working part-time at one right now, I think librarians are great, but I would rather do the non-librarian work of pasting book plates and copying call numbers all day than actually work as a real librarian (cateloguing, lit searches, etc). I know that there are people for whom librarianship is their passion, but OP, you should think seriously about what aspects of the law librarianship you dislike (the environment or topic, or the nature of librarian work in general).
posted by jb at 9:10 PM on June 7, 2009

I'm also a librarian at a big London law firm, and have previously worked in a university library. I'm willing to guess that at least part of what you dislike is down to the law firm environment, but perhaps you could confirm that, as jb suggests? For example, I don't like knowhow collection or cataloguing, or the more mundane aspects of preparing current awareness bulletins. Those sort of tasks don't really exist in academic libraries, unless you're actually a cataloguer.

So possibly an academic library job, that required use of/interest in new technologies and online communities, could be a good stepping stone? I assume you're familiar with It lists the sort of info jobs, including RA jobs, that might be of interest.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:10 PM on June 8, 2009

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