Alumni Relations, Valparaiso University
When you think of academic positions, you probably think of professors who divide their time between teaching chemistry classes and conducting scientific research; however, there are many other academically based careers that help with both education and research in different ways.
Academic support positions vary across institutions. For example, at a smaller institution, several jobs may be combined into a single position, while at larger institutions, multiple people may have the same position. Contract lengths also vary from a single semester to several years.
One important factor to keep in mind when considering support positions is the type of money used to fund them. Soft money (grant funding) is guaranteed only for the length of that particular grant and may be lost when the grant term runs out. Hard money (university funds) comes from tuition and fees and usually does not have a specific term limit, but is still subject to changes in institution priorities and the budgeting process. For this reason, positions associated with teaching (e.g., stockroom manager) tend to be more permanent than research-related positions (e.g., technician) that may last only for the duration of a particular grant.
Most other positions require a bachelor's degree and experience in a laboratory or research environment.
Most positions are full time, though some may be on a 9- or 10-month schedule to match an academic year. Work is generally on-site at the institution.
Many of these positions have no clear path for advancement, but working at an institution may mean you hear about other opportunities before anyone else. However, a long-term temporary position may prevent you from being seriously considered for a permanent position.
As enrollment in academic institutions continues to increase, more staff will be required to meet students’ needs. However, increased financial pressures will mean many of these positions will be flexible but only part-time and without benefits.
One growing area is the variety of forms of distance education, which require different skills to teach successfully. Distance learning allows instructor and students to be in different locations, so institutions are able to hire instructors with specific expertise, no matter where they are located.
If you have the desire to help students learn in a larger sense than working with them individually, academic support positions may be right for you. These positions may or may not come with multi-year contracts, so they are flexible but do not have the long-term stability of tenured positions. Part-time or short-term positions can be used to add experience to your résumé, especially when you are in a new geographic location (for example, when accompanying a partner).
Some typical jobs includeInstrumentation laboratory manager, Stockroom manager, Laboratory technician, Project manager, Outreach coordinator, Career advisor, Safety officer, Technology transfer
Salaries vary widely, depending on the level and type of position. Many temporary or contract positions do not include benefits.