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Dave Jarman: An unconventional journey to a career in academia

SOURCE: Dave Jarman
Dave is a former University Head of Enterprise & Employability and former Head of Enterprise Education at the University of Bristol.


By Geetha Bai 

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Deciding between a career in industry or academia upon completing your postgraduate education requires careful evaluation and planning. A career in academia generally combines teaching and conducting research at higher education institutions.

David B. Searls, author of Ten Simple Rules for Choosing between Industry and Academia highlights ten important key points that will help you choose the right path in your career.

In this publication, Searls recommends that individuals approach the decision of industry versus academia through analytical skills.

However, passion and interest are also determining factors that could carve out unconventional pathways that lead to your dream career.

Dave Jarman is the postgraduate director of the one-year taught master’s programme at the Centre and Bristol Futures Theme Lead for Innovation and Enterprise across the wider university and Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at the University of Bristol.

U2B caught up with Jarman, who is also a freelance innovation consultant, a social innovation charity trustee, an expert adviser to the National Union of Students on enterprise and employability to gain some insight on his chosen career path.

Jarman started his career in academia upon completing both his undergraduate and Master’s degrees in ancient history and mythology.

His real passion and true calling, however, remained in both education and university life. This led him to a career in training and coaching within the Students’ Union, the Careers Service, and then the Research and Commercialisation division of the University of Bristol.

There, Jarman worked on building up the right skills that would lead him to a role as Head of Careers and Enterprise. The new role provided the opportunity for Jarman to spend more time teaching and less time managing, which led to his leap into a career in academia.

Dave Jarman is a Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at the University of Bristol.

Jarman’s pathway into academia is certainly atypical. Today, Jarman spends up to three days in a week teaching and spends the rest of his week on lesson preparation or grading papers.

A career in academics also opened up the opportunity for Jarman to be involved with various projects in several fields including marketing, civic engagement, entrepreneurial culture in the university, enhancing teaching and learning.

Jarman shares that these projects involve having many meetings as well as interacting with students, which is where his passion mainly lies.

Postgraduate students often find themselves under a lot of pressure to pick a career pathway upon graduation.

Most people entering academia in the UK at the level of lecturer or above are now expected to have a doctoral-level qualification.

Doctoral level qualifications include a Ph.D., EngD, DPhil, DBA, or qualifications of equal value.

Jarman’s journey into academia, however, was not as straightforward – although he asserts that his love for academia developed during his student days at university, his actual path, in his own words involved a lot more wandering and opportunism.

Jarman said, “I would advocate not so much having a plan as having a clear sense of what you enjoy doing, keeping your eyes open, always be talking to people about what they do, what you do, what you would like to do, and opportunities will present themselves.”

He adds that the main questions he asks himself when deciding on an opportunity are, “Am I interested?”, “Who do I get to work with?” and subsequently “Will it be convenient to do this while raising a young family?”

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Jarman has this advice to offer postgraduate students who wish to trudge the more traditional path into academia

“If you want to be a traditional academic then you need to study hard, get that Ph.D., do the post-doc research, and fight for tenure which is becoming increasingly competitive,” he offers.

He adds for those whose interest lies in teaching or supporting more applied programmes, the effort should be spent building their professional experience.

Jarman recommends that individuals whose interest lies in the latter should focus on building their presentation, training, and coaching skills.

He strongly suggests grabbing on to opportunities that will allow them to develop their communication skills and keep a keen eye on opportunities that present themselves.

When asked about the pros and cons of working in academia, Jarman says, “In its favour academia is quite stable at senior levels, the work is interesting and there is still a decent level of autonomy.”

He cautions that it is not the case at more junior levels, as role stability is a lot more precarious and the remuneration may not be as good.

“You should do it because you are interested in the field and in developing the next generation, not for the glory or the money,” he says.

While a career in academia is certainly not for everyone, the perception that a career in academia relies very heavily and solely on qualification is inaccurate.

Jarman says that a career in academia does require a level of thoughtfulness and reflection that not everyone enjoys.

He adds that while there are aspects of this career that are more appealing than others, it is vital for professionals in this field to develop the ability to work autonomously and hone their communication skills to thrive in both the classroom and the staffroom.