HDR Career Conversations

Supporting research student career development and employability at UOW

When things line up… Securing your first academic post


Guest post by Dr. Travis Holland

Introduction:  There is no doubt the academic sector is increasingly competitive, or that its the sector many HDR students aspire to.  I loved Travis’ original blog post on LinkedIn describing how he managed to get things lined up in such a competitive academic sector.  I’ve known Travis as a project colleague, a contributor to our HDR conference and as a job-seeking HDR student.  As the latter, he struck me as clear and confident of the value he could add in a range of target sectors– an element essential to employability.  His advice will be useful to many students looking to get ‘things lined up’ for their future careers.


Source: Charles Sturt University

For most PhD students, the likelihood of landing an ongoing academic role is low, with increasing rates of casualisation, budgetary pressures on universities, and an oversupply of candidates. However, I managed to successfully land a role that I’m very excited to take up at a progressive, community-focused University before I had finalised my PhD.

There are a series of factors that converged to make the right role for me and to make me the right candidate for that position.

The role I landed was Lecturer in Communication and Digital Media at Charles Sturt University, while completing my PhD in Communication at UOW.

  • During the interview (indeed, the first question), the panel sought to confirm whether I was aware and happy that the role was based in the regional NSW city of Bathurst. I always have been a regionalist, and I love regional towns and cities, so this simply wasn’t a problem for me and, in fact, was one of the things I liked about the role. I suspect other candidates might have been more reluctant. My wife has found it problematic to find suitable employment in Bathurst, which is a consideration for those in a relationship moving to a regional town. However, we had always been open about our goals and agreed in advance to relocate for any promising full time permanent role that either of us were offered. It can be important to be prepared to move where the jobs are and not only hoping to live in already overcrowded capitals.
  • While I accept that I have certain socioeconomic advantages in applying for a role like this (white, male), I also come from a lower income family and I am a first-in-family graduate. I didn’t do especially well at school and I didn’t have the best time of higher education when I first returned to it after school. In fact, I started and stopped a number of different degrees! These factors combined have shown me the power and importance of higher education and the rewards for hard work. My new employer has a high proportion of first-in-family students (around 70% in 2014), so I come from a place where I can connect with the students and demonstrate it is still possible to achieve to a very high level.
  • I engage with academic work from across STEM and the Humanities and adore science and learning in all its forms. I am motivated to look outside of my immediate work goals and think about and connect with the wider university sector by reading up on issues affecting how all of us do our jobs and go on together. This is an important aspect of academia today. Specifically, I have done this by reading a lot, connecting with people on Twitter, and taking jobs in Universities outside of my research work. During my PhD, I’ve done the following alt-ac jobs: (1) student services at Western Sydney University; (2) social media at University of Wollongong; (3) designing e-learning sites outside my discipline, UOW; (4) digital literacies program manager, UOW; and (5) freelance and short term journalism, social media, and website work.
  • I have diversified my research. This relates closely to the point above. Although my PhD research is in a fairly narrow field, as it should be, I have kept a few other research interests bubbling away. One future project I have drafted in particular actually relates to the communities where I’ll be living and working, so it was a great point of discussion in the interview even though there aren’t publications or results yet. I have also developed collaborative work in another field with a colleague, which shows potential employers that I am valuable in a range of areas and not simply the field of my PhD. There is an opportunity cost here, though, because every hour spent on other research projects can slow down PhD completion, so it must be an individual decision.
  • I kept applying. The process of applying for jobs is time-consuming and can be soul-destroying, but I kept thinking that the next application I put in would be the successful one. I applied to Universities in several Australian states, the US, and also to non-academic employers. Each job application helped me learn something else about my strengths and weaknesses, and each one brought me closer to the successful application. I applied for jobs that I thought were interesting and that I felt qualified for, regardless of the specific labels or field they were in, where they were located, or who the employer was. Along the way, I built up contacts in a range of industries and places. Think of job applications as another form of networking.
  • Related to the point above is that I made use of the UOW Careers services on offer. I met with Sarah Ryan on a number of occasions for interview practice and to review my CV, and I am very confident in saying that her help was important in finally landing the role.

I worked with some really great students and colleagues in my time at UOW. I miss the scenery, the wildlife, and the friends, but I’ve settled in well to a new community of colleagues and friends at Charles Sturt.

Travis Holland is a Course Director in Communication at Charles Sturt University. He was appointed Lecturer in Communication and Digital Media at CSU in 2016 while completing his PhD. Before joining CSU, Travis was a casual lecturer and tutor at the University of Wollongong in communication and media studies for several years. Travis’ PhD dissertation applied Actor-Network Theory to media networks in three New South Wales local government areas. His writing, teaching, and research includes work on fan studies, politics, digital media, television, and local government.

This post is adapted from a piece originally posted on LinkedIn.  Thanks Travis for updating your post for us (and of course the shout out for the careers support we offer HDR students here at UOW).  

Are you applying for academic positions? Access HDR career resources on making applications or interviews,  attend a career workshop or book an appointment for application review or practice interview.

Share your thoughts, questions, experience and advice on the academic job search below. 

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