So, You Think You Would Like To Be An HR Academic? 

July 28, 2023 thehrobserver-hrobserver-HR-academia

Many HR professionals indicate an interest in putting their practice into theory and becoming an HR lecturer, this article reflects on what it means to be an academic, the benefits to self and students and poses some ideas of how to test the waters.

When most people think about being an academic, they think 95% of the job is teaching in the classroom and 5% is marking. The reality is very different, but this is part of what makes the job so interesting. Academics have to develop content for their courses which is research-led, provides real-life examples and challenges and also brings to life the links between theory and practice easier for the students. We also have to design assessments which are appropriate for students in each year of study, providing sufficient challenge for them to demonstrate their understanding and application. We keep our HR knowledge up to date by attending and presenting at academic and professional conferences and listening to our peers and the work they have been carrying out. Many Lecturers may also carry out HR consultancy and executive education training as ways of expanding their contribution to the profession as well as to their institution.  

Why become an HR academic? 

There are many reasons, many people like to give back to the profession by sharing their experiences to inspire the next generation of managers and leaders. An academic career provides the opportunity to work with very diverse groups of students and learn about their cultures as well as supporting them to embrace the advances of working in cross-cultural teams when they enter the world of work. Working with students can also be very rewarding in terms of reverse mentoring – listening to students’ ideas which may be very different from those you hear in your normal world. There are opportunities to develop new skills and opportunities to be creative in the classroom. For some, it may be part of their journey towards studying or completing a Doctorate in HRM. 

University students benefit hugely from having lecturers with industrial experience and they engage highly with real life case studies and challenges. Where courses are designed in the right way, every single class can help students with their post-education employability – as well as developing their knowledge and skills in HR. Being able to practice key management competences such as negotiation, assertiveness and leadership in a safe environment and receive constructive feedback are further added value benefits for students. 

Transferable skills 

There are many similarities in terms of the skills needed to teach and those needed as an HR professional. The most obvious ones are using your ability to facilitate discussions and debates and asking students open questions. Reflecting on your own practice and supporting students to understand why and how to reflect are also powerful contributions you can make. 

How to make the career move 

If lecturing is completely new to you, I would recommend seeking opportunities to observe some lectures or workshops if you can. This will give you a realistic preview into what it takes to engage a room of students and how we try to bring subjects to life. The next step is to look for opportunities for adjunct/visiting lecturers for universities, typically they will be advertised in July/August, most people would do this alongside their existing job for the first few months to check whether lecturing is for them.  Most institutions will require you to have a master’s degree (or equivalent professional certification) If you get to the interview stage, I recommend asking them what type of support is provided for new Lecturers and whether they would be willing to support you to work towards becoming an Associate Fellow of Advance HE. Also check out their arrangements for providing you with a Mentor and opportunities to observe other people teaching. Then the fun starts in terms of preparing your teaching materials, you will usually be given a set of PowerPoint slides and activities but then have the opportunity to make them your own.  

Professor Fiona Robson

Head of Edinburgh Business School and Social Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai

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