Suzie Thomas

Dr. Suzie Thomas on field-work in Helsinki (credit: Suzie Thomas)

“Try not to have a too rose-tinted view of what an academic career is like, as it probably is not for everyone”

Associate Professor (tenure track) Culture Heritage Studies, University of Helsinki

Interview originally published in TEA 65

How long did it take you to obtain a permanent academic job from the end of your PhD?

It took four and a half years until I got a permanent lectureship after my PhD. I’ve since then taken a risk and moved to a tenure track post, which means my permanent position is not yet guaranteed until I pass the tenure track stage satisfactorily.

Where did you do your PhD? Have you moved to another institution, country or discipline in order to pursue a career in archaeology?

I did my PhD at Newcastle University (UK), and my first job while I was still finishing my PhD and after graduating was with a heritage charity in England – the Council for British Archaeology in York. Then I got a post-doctoral position situated in a Criminology centre at the University of Glasgow (Scotland), although the project was very closely connected to archaeology issues. Finally on moving to University of Helsinki (Finland), I started off in Museum Studies and am now based in Cultural Heritage Studies. Still connected closely with archaeology, but officially a different discipline.

Tell us about your post-doc experience. How many post-doc positions have you held? Do you ever miss being a post-doc?

My first post-doc was a great opportunity as it was a chance to get into academia after working in the third sector for a couple of years. I was not particularly happy in the post however due to difficult team dynamics and concerns for my long-term future, so I was delighted to get a position in Helsinki. During my time as a university lecturer in Museum Studies, I was ‘bought out’ for 18 months to work as a post-doc on an Academy of Finland project. This was a much happier experience, mostly due to the wonderful research team I was part of but perhaps also because I knew that I still had a permanent lectureship waiting behind the post-doc. Therefore, the job insecurity had been removed while I still had the chance to focus on a research project with minimal teaching duties for a period of time.

Public Archaeology excavations at Inari, Finnish Lapland, as part of the Lapland’s Dark Heritage project in summer 2016 (credit: Suzie Thomas)

Do you have any advice for new PhD graduates who wish to pursue a career in academia?

Be patient – it can take a while to get a position, especially a permanent one. I would also say be prepared to move for your job, it is likely that an otherwise ideal position might be located in a place you would not have considered moving to otherwise. Obviously this is more complicated if you also have family to consider. I would also say that if you do not get an academic position at first and end up working somewhere else (as happened with me), this does not mean that you might not necessarily get into academia later on. However, it is also important to be realistic and to remember that there are more PhD graduates than there are academic positions, so have a ‘plan B’ that you would also be happy to do.

Is there a typical career path in academia, have you noticed if this has changed over the years?

This is hard to say as I still feel quite ‘new’ to academia myself a lot of the time! I guess it seems more these days that employers appear to appreciate candidates that have experience of working/studying in more than one institution, and perhaps in more than one country.

Retrospectively, would you make any different choices in your academic career path?

I think I would have applied more actively for research fellowships in my own right. I think I was quite naïve about the availability of these options, in terms of where to find them or how to construct a good research proposal. If I had been more strategic I think I would have sought out
training and advice for applying for post-doctoral research fellowships.

Is there anything you want to add?

Academia is quite a demanding and challenging career path that may take up a lot of your time and energy (despite many people vocalising that it should become a less competitive and tough sector). Try not to have a too rose-tinted view of what an academic career is like, as it probably is not for everyone.