Academic Careers

Part of the Every Month Series for career exploration

What are different types of academic careers?

There's a lot more to academia than tenure-track faculty positions.

When people say "academia", they're usually referring to tenure-track faculty positions. But most of the employees at an academic institution have roles that aren't tenure-track faculty positions, and these roles are vital for keeping the academic enterprise going. Here we'll talk about faculty, staff, research, and teaching positions in academia. (If you're interested in tenure-track faculty positions, check out PAC-UP, our academic career series!)


At research-focused (R), research and teaching (RT), and teaching-focused (T) institutions, both tenure-track (TT) and non-tenure-track (Non-TT) "Professor" positions exist. Among the non-TT positions, there are many kinds, some of which tend to be transitional and some of which tend to be more permanent. The research components of these positions at R and RT institutions rely on soft money, which means the salary comes from a non-permanent source of funding, like a grant, instead of a permanent source of funding. At T institutions, these positions may be called "Lecturer" or "Instructor".


Staff positions are found in both research and administration. Most of these positions are often permanent. On the research side, Staff Scientists, Lab Managers, and Core Directors all engage directly with lab groups and their research. Staff Scientists often run their own research programs within the labs of other professors. Lab Managers may be a pillar of the lab they work in and may stay in that role for a career, or transition into Specialist positions or Core Director positions. Core Directors maintain a core resource and provide services to labs related to that core. Depending on the core, they may also do some of their own research, and often write grants to maintain their cores.

On the administration side, numerous staff positions enable the academic institution to fulfill its education and research missions, grow, and interact with other institutions and sectors. In commercialization, there are positions related to technology transfer, business development and strategic alliances, and industry contracts. Technology transfer is the process by which academic research moves to the private sector in order to become a marketable product. Learn more about technology transfer on our June Every Month Series page and at the UCSF Office of Technology Management. In strategic alliances and industry contracts, PhDs liaise between faculty and industry to manage partnerships between academia and industry. Learn more from the UCSF Office of Strategic Alliances and the UCSF Industry Contracts Division. In communications, there are staff positions for government relations, public affairs, and institutional research. In research administration, there are staff roles for research development, pre/post award management, clinical research management, and regulatory affairs/IRB. You may have interacted with people in these roles as you apply for and use grant money. Learn more at the UCSF Research Development Office,UCSF Office of Sponsored Research, and on our November Every Month Series page. Finally, staff roles exist within academic administration, including program administration, outreach and diversity, university leadership, and career development (that's us!). PhDs are often required for these roles, and some, including leadership roles in academic administration, require postdocs. Read about even more types of careers in academia (including Library Affairs, institutional assessment, and campus relationship building) in this Inside Higher Ed article.

People who enter these more service-oriented academic positions often do so to broaden their impact on the scientific enterprise by helping other scientists reach their goals. Non-TT faculty positions can often be approached from many different experiences, such as work in industry or other sectors. Working in academia is a great way to use your scientific training to support research and researchers to success.

Learn from UCSF alums working in this field with Academia - The Fundamentals.

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Part of the Every Month Series for career exploration