5 Tips to a Successful Academic Career

Between high competition, pressure to perform, varying work environments and long trainings, as a researcher, you are sure to face many challenges. If you’re committing to such a career, how do you manage all of it and do it well? No one should forget about themselves in their quest to success. In this blog, I share a compilation of tips brought by various experts in the field to help make your journey easier, better, and more lucrative.

From thinking ahead to being flexible, you can help yourself strive and avoid burnout in your academic career in various ways. Read on to familiarize yourself with five of the most common and important tips shared by PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows & associates across academic fields.

It’s about thinking ahead, trying things, and learning from the ups and downs.


The best dissertation is a finished dissertation.

It speaks for itself; you need goals. Whether that’s guidelines for research goals, academic career or entire life goals, it’s important to work towards something to stay motivated. At a smaller scale, you should also strive to focus on topics that give you energy, and be on the lookout for new ways of thinking to benefit your milestones. Is it time for something new?

Define your timeline

Reverse engineer success; determine what works, how much time you have, and how to make it happen. If you want to reach your next career step, make sure to make yourself competitive: have a history of successful fundings, publications as first or corresponding author, and even strong letters of reference.

Ask yourself questions: Do you want to relocate? What do you value? What next?

It’s ok to have your own timeline, you don’t have to compare yourself. Do it at your pace, and focus on your own principles. It’s about the journey.

Finish what you start

Amidst all that goal setting and daydreaming, don’t forget about the present day and short-term goals. Don’t immediately target perfection, send drafts and consult with your peers as you progress to make sure you don’t get stuck… We’re all guilty of postponing things, and that’s ok. Just don’t let things pile up. But keep in mind… The best dissertation is a finished dissertation.


Spend less time thinking and more time doing.

Whether it’s attending a seminar on a new topic or taking on a new job abroad, events or job boards are always there for inspiration and growth. What you do next depends on you, and whether you’re willing to do more than just think about it.

Build collaborative relationships

Seek individuals and mutually beneficial collaborations that enable you to realize your goals. Whether that’s a dedicated mentor that writes grants to fund your research, a second or third advisor to support your research along the way, or academic career guidance from committee members; there are experts all around you, you only need to ask.

Stand your ground

In your quest for opportunities and connections, it’s good to be nice – but don’t get pushed around. Know your worth! Look for opportunities, take on as much as you can, and know when to say no.


Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.

Things won’t always go your way, but so is the nature of research. Don’t give up, and start seeing unsuccessful attempts for what they are: part of learning. Welcome criticism, learn to frame it, take it, and use it. After all, mistakes are born from trying new thing, and you can learn the best lessons from the worst mistakes.

Seek feedback

Present your work, compare expectations, and prepare for iterations. Half the work is the mental challenge of change, but even when things do go eerily right, it never hurts to ask for opinions. It’s too easy to tunnel vision on the end product and miss important details along the way.

Get out of your comfort zone

Leaving your comfort zone is a challenge for everyone (otherwise, we wouldn’t call it that way!) Yet its benefits are often undervalued. It helps you meet new people, learn about yourself, increase your confidence, try new lifestyles, and gives you experiences you’d otherwise never get to see. What’s more – it gets easier to do the more you do it, so what are you waiting for?


It’s not that you don’t have enough time in a day, you just don’t create enough of it.

Before anything else, preparation is the key to success. You’ve heard it before: SMART goals, namely specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely – And it’s not just fancy words about time management, it’s truly how you need to organize yourself to make it work in your academic career (and beyond!)

Make time for it all

Think about to-do lists, make your own deadlines, and track research progression; without it, it’s too easy to lose track and motivation. But most importantly, carve out research time and stick to it as you would any other meetings. It’s critical to make time to read new articles in your area of expertise, analyse and write. Nobody likes to look back after a long day and wonder “what did I even do?”

Carve the time for it. What you do today, you don’t have to do tomorrow.

Organize your space

Whether it’s on paper or online, starting early with organization is a giant time saver. And that doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg! It can be a (free) reference management software, colorful binders, or labels. Knowing where your things are is an advantage you’ll be happy to have any day.

Back it up

The simplest thing we all wish we did more often… Backing up our work! We’ve probably learned it the hard way already, but if you haven’t, well…. For one, consider yourself lucky and perhaps get a lottery ticket, and for two, don’t wait for it to happen to you!

Do it at least weekly, and preferably daily to avoid any chance of tears. In theory, a simple formula. While you’re at it, consider saving those backups to different platforms, both local and to the cloud.


It’s never too early to start

It’s important to find a good work-life balance – and that means finding a routine that works for you. While it’s great to strive for publications, recognition and connections, you shouldn’t forget yourself. As you pursue your academic career, remember quality over quantity, and balance focus and exploration.

Added bonus: you’ll be less likely to burnout.

Celebrate successes

Like any job, you might wish you took a different path, but you should enjoy the experiences, learn more about topics you love, and focus on the goods: celebrate your successes, and enjoy the journey.

It’s never too early to start thinking about yourself – so be honest, have a life outside of work, follow the flow, and have fun along the way!


Kathleen Gaillot
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