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Moving into academia: Top tips for planners

Published on: 11 Mar 2016

Are you a planner considering the move into academia? Here are some helpful tips:

What is it?

Planners working in the academic world can perform groundbreaking research and teaching roles in universities and colleges. They are usually required to lecture and teach students, while they have opportunities to carry out research in areas they are interested in.

They may provide thought leadership to other planners through publications, conference presentations and roles as advisors to public, private or statutory bodies. Top academics sometimes sit on government committees and other bodies looking at issues affecting the built environment. Some double up as private practitioners as well.

Robin Hambleton, who is professor of city leadership at the University of the West of England, believes it is good to develop a career that has crossed between different sectors. He worked in different local and central government roles before becoming an academic.

What are academic employers looking for?

  • Curiosity

An intellectual curiosity about cities and city planning is necessary for any budding academic, and university employers will be looking for strong evidence of that. Someone who really cares about the subject often has the qualities needed.

“You need a real enthusiasm and passion for trying to understand why things are the way they are,” says Hambleton.

  • A desire to make a difference

A commitment to see planners making a real difference to the way the world develops, is another essential ingredient for a successful academic planner.

  • Teaching skills

A desire to want to help young people is important as academic planners will interact with students in lecturing and teaching roles. An aptitude for teaching will make an academic planner effective in their role within higher education.

Essential skills

  • A global perspective on planning

    A real interest in international issues and trends has become more much more important in recent years.

  • Understanding of diversity

It is vital that planners understand the mixture of people in the populations where they are working, whether their differences are age, gender, culture or physical ability. Academics can help colleague planners in other sectors grapple with difference within the local community.

  • Able to cope with new demands

    As the world changes, it is important that talented planners who are able to adapt, and also produce new ideas and fresh thinking, become academics.

Types of roles available

(1) A career centred on academic research is one option. It will start with a research assistant position, followed by associate, fellow and professor levels. Hambleton explains that it may take 20 years to follow this path through to becoming a professor, with your audience being mainly an academic one.

(2) A second option is to focus on teaching and become a lecturer. The career progression along this route is to senior lecturer, professor and head of department. “Good researchers are interested in teaching and good teachers are interested in research,” Hambleton says.

(3) The third main career path is into management or administration within a college or university. In this role you would run courses, and administer a programme of teaching. There are jobs as assistant head and head of department, as well as associate dean, dean, vice-chancellor and ultimately chancellor.

CV/application form highlights

  • Headline with any part-time lecturing you have done. Don’t hesitate to approach your local university if you don’t have this under your belt and see if you can get involved in some way.
  • Show evidence of working with young people and of empathy with them. Highlight any volunteering you have done with a charity helping young people.
  • Illustrate your desire to investigate new things and come forward with your own thoughts.
  • Be able and willing to switch between planning practice and academia more than once – it makes you a stronger planner and academic.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of politics and power structures. Have an awareness of who is making the decisions that affect planning.

Planner cover Guide 2015

To read more from the Planner 2015 Guide to Career Development please click here.