Within academia, varied 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 (aka junior colleges, city colleges) are publically funded and offer two-year associate's degrees. Many also offer continuing education programs. The teaching and university service requirements tend to be high here, with little to no grant writing or research options. Examples include San Francisco City College and Foothill College.

Comprehensive colleges

Comprehensive colleges primarily focus on undergraduate and master's degree programs in the liberal arts and professional studies (e.g. nursing, business). While some research opportunities may exist in these colleges, the expectations also may be much lower than at research-focused institutions. The extent of research being performed may also be limited by access to equipment and lower financial support. Examples include San Jose State University and Cal 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. Again, the emphasis is more 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 bachelor's, master's, 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 are especially focused on allowing their students to gain hands-on experience. For those interested in business, Menlo College is an example.


For those looking to work with a different age group or who desire a more 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 play a role in advocating for, and mentoring, 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 itself. 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.

Typical Job Titles

  • Professor
  • Professor
  • Associate/Assistant Professor
  • Dean of Students
  • Teacher
  • Instructor
  • Vice Provost
  • Dean of Student Affairs
  • Director of Multicultural Affairs
  • Assistant Dean of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs

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