Within academia, a variety of career opportunities exist in teaching/mentoring, research, grant writing, and university service. Institutions range in size, scope, and focus, and include community colleges, comprehensive colleges, liberal arts colleges, and research-focused (formerly called “research 1”) universities.

Community colleges

Community colleges (also called junior or city colleges) are publically funded and offer two-year associate degrees. Many also offer continuing education programs. The teaching and university service requirements are high, with little to no grant writing or research required. Examples of community colleges include City College of San Francisco and Foothill College.

Comprehensive colleges

Comprehensive colleges primarily focus on undergraduate and masters degree programs in the liberal arts and professional studies (such as nursing and business). While some research opportunities may exist, the expectations are lower than at research-focused institutions. The extent of research being performed may also be limited by access to equipment and less financial support. Examples of comprehensive colleges include San Jose State University and California State University, Long Beach.

Liberal arts colleges

Liberal arts colleges are baccalaureate-granting institutions offering broad curricula with an emphasis in intellectual literacy and critical-thinking skills. These institutions often are private, have a smaller enrollment, and offer a high level of student-instructor interaction. The emphasis is on teaching and service, though research opportunities and requirements may exist. Mills College and Sarah Lawrence College represent two such institutions.

Research-focused universities

Research-focused universities grant bachelors, masters, professional, and doctoral degrees across a full range of disciplines. These public and private institutions receive millions of dollars in federal funding annually to support ongoing research initiatives. However, teaching and service are still required tenure obligations. Stanford University and the University of California campuses are examples.

Special-focus institutions are free-standing schools focused on one particular area of study. They focus on allowing students to gain hands-on experience. For those interested in business, Menlo College is an example.

Post-doctoral Scholar

Prior to entering Academia as a professor, many institutions require experience as a post-doctoral scholar. Post-doctoral scholars are individuals professionally conducting research in a laboratory under the direction of a research advisor after the completion of their PhD.  Scholars gain further experience in their research topic of interest, expand their expertise and skillset, and learn novel skills and research methods. Post-doctoral studies are completed at comprehensive colleges, liberal arts colleges, or research-focused universities. 


For those looking to work with younger students or who desire an administrative position within an academic environment, K-12 teaching or higher-education leadership may be appealing options.

Teaching K-12

Teaching K-12 is an opportunity for biosciences graduate students who enjoy developing and teaching curriculum but prefer to work with children. You may find a particular fit at private high schools, where a teaching credential may not be required if you have a PhD. Should you want to teach at a public school or work with a younger age group, you will need to complete an accredited teaching program and earn a teaching credential. On occasion, where there is a need, a school will be able to apply for you to obtain an emergency permit before you have this credential.

Higher-education leadership

Higher-education leadership is a broad and varied field. Many move into it from academic positions, as with the case of academic deans and executive positions. Other positions are area- or group-specific, such as deans of Student Affairs divisions, directors of offices like the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, or multicultural centers. The latter types of positions may be achieved through an understanding of the particular area or through study or practice in fields related to student development. Higher education provides a direct opportunity to influence the strategy and direction of academia. At the same time, these leaders advocate for and mentor students in their academic, personal, and professional development.

Desired Skills for Academia and Education

  • Content skills: To teach and mentor in these fields, you must have a solid grasp of your field of study and how to explain it to others. Further, you need to know the key concepts necessary for your students and peers to be able to master the topic. As such, you should be well versed in both the breadth and depth of your area. Similarly, you need to understand the university structure and developmental needs of students.
  • Research skills: Publishing in academia, or advocating via leadership positions, requires an understanding of how to gather and analyze data (both quantitative and qualitative).
  • Communication skills: Teaching, publishing, and grant writing are all imperative in the academic/education sectors. Communicating complex information to audiences with diverse backgrounds and training represents a regularly used skill set.
  • Management skills: Many do not realize how many different skill sets are used in academia and education. These include supervising students/staff, evaluating progress, providing training/instruction, budget management, strategic planning, and classroom/office organization.

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