Academic side hustles

Today, I talked about academic side hustles. You can rewatch the session here (mini summary below):

Most side hustles are helpful for networking, developing and communicating your skills, and can generate a side income. You should only invest in side hustles which will help you achieve your goals or are fun. Keep in mind that these are usually voluntary activities which should in the first place benefit you and your career.

If you are very early in your career, I suggest you focus on fewer things. Most helpful side hustles for pre-doc researchers are reviewing (you can ask your supervisor to help you get experience or volunteer for conference abstract review), teaching (don’t overdo that, it is very time and energy consuming), as well as volunteer and science communication services (public outreach, valorization).

If you are at least halfway through your PhD and have finished one project from start to publication, you can also think about doing a side project (one is enough for the beginning). This can be a research project unrelated to your thesis work, supervising an undergrad or master’s thesis, or a collaboration with people outside your lab.

Towards the end of your PhD or in your first postdoc, your focus should be on networking and communicating your skills in order to increase your visibility and establish yourself in the research community. Good side hustles for this career stage are (co-)editing special issues, organizing lecture series or a symposium, online tutorials, external collaborations (the latter two go well with research tool development).

Once you are a more experienced postdoc, you should figure out what your ideal career path is and what skill set you need. This should define which side hustles to pick above everything else. You want a managing position but don’t have much experience? Get some students or RAs and volunteer for some committee you find interesting. You want an internationally established research lab? Get external collaborations (maybe through editing a special issue?) and good students to do some exciting extra projects. You want the security of a tenure or teaching position? Apply for a guest lectureship or volunteer to take over a course. You want to explore your market value outside academia? Time to get your website shiny and communicate your skills (maybe via a blog or online tutorials). You can also consider starting to freelance and rent out your skills to companies on the side (e.g. consulting, data analysis and data visualization, editorial services, research tool development (hardware and software)).

Not for everyone are admin and committee services. You should only volunteer for these if you want to learn about institute politics and management. Same goes for non-obligatory teaching.  If you don’t care about teaching, don’t want to learn it, and rather change career paths than doing it regularly, just don’t. Teaching is often treated as a central post of every academic position and it is not. If you would rather quit academia and do private sector research than teaching undergrads, don’t waste your time on this. Rather make sure that you do things which help you get around teaching in the future (e.g. research grants, industry interface research). Another thing which is only great if you enjoy it, is having a blog or online tutorial series (or a very active twitter account). If you don’t think this would be something for you, stick to a clean personal website and keep the rest of your online presence clear.

Actually making money on the side can be done by offering editorial services, teaching, consulting (e.g. a friend of mine is external adviser for a gaming company who value the input from a psychologist/neuroscientist), analyzing data or data visualization. Keep in mind that making money with this requires that you already have the skill set or are able to develop it fast. These can also be great opportunities to set a foot outside of academia and explore your market value.


Published by

Dr Franziska Hartung

Cognitive neuroscientist researching how brains create meaning.

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