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).
Typical Job Functions
There is a wide variety of non-teaching careers that support education and research. An important factor when considering an academic support position is the type of money used to fund it.
- 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.
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.
Typical positions in academia include:
- Instrumentation laboratory manager - Maintains scientific equipment, instructs students in its use, runs samples for researchers
- Laboratory supervisor - Develops experiments for chemistry lab classes, oversees preparation of unknowns and reagents
- Stockroom manager - Orders supplies, reagents, and equipment; sells required supplies to chemistry students; supervises student assistants
- Laboratory technician - Runs experiments, maintains lab supplies and equipment, assists in training of students
- Project manager - Coordinates large multi-institution projects, tracks deadlines and deliverables, coordinates conferences and meetings of co-investigators
- Outreach coordinator - Coordinates science outreach activities from the university to the community, sometimes in response to specific grant requirements
- Safety officer - Sets and enforces policies and procedures, conducts inspections, files all required paperwork
- Technology transfer - Works with academic professors to commercialize findings of their researchCareer Paths
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.
Most academic professional staff positions require a bachelor's degree and experience in a laboratory or research environment. Useful background and skills include:
- Broad knowledge of chemical reactivity and the safe handling of chemicals
- Expertise in theory, maintenance, and troubleshooting of chemical instrumentation Interpersonal skills to engage with (and sometimes supervise) students, faculty, and other staff
- Networking and negotiation skills to utilize the resources of technical support staff in other departments
- Time management and organizational skills
- Good writing skills to develop lab procedures, standard operating procedures for instruments, problem sets, tests, etc.
- Interest in keeping up with new developments in pedagogy, including online course websites and teaching resources; data acquisition systems for labs, etc.