Building a Nursing Academic Career in the UK: Reflections from an International Early Career Researcher

This week’s blog is part of the ‘Early Career Researchers (ECRs)’ theme. Dr Catherine Clarissa (Clarissa) is a Lecturer in Nursing (Life Sciences) and a Research Fellow (YARNS Transitions) in Nursing Studies, School of Health in Social Science, University of Edinburgh.

She is an early career researcher having achieved her PhD in 20211. Moving from Indonesia to work in the UK, she reflects on her journey and offers tips on deciding on a career as a nurse academic.

Are you currently pursuing a PhD in nursing and considering a career in academia after obtaining your doctorate in the UK? Let me assure you that your entry into the nurse academic workforce will positively contribute to the future of nursing education for three main reasons.

First, there is a pressing need for more nurse academics. Recent data from the Council of Deans of Health highlights challenges in recruiting nurse academics in higher education institutions in the UK2. Some of them include competition with higher-paying NHS salaries and low application rates. Second, becoming an academic with a PhD degree adds to the number of nurse educators with research expertise, which is currently quite small2. Third, building a robust academic workforce with increased expertise in research is crucial, especially considering that our profession is grounded in evidence-based practice3.

Now you’ve decided to pursue a career as a nurse academic, but what if you’re not trained as a nurse in the UK? I offer three tips to consider before sending your applications.

Tip 1 – Check Work Visa Sponsorship: Before applying, ensure the employer or workplace can sponsor your visa. Contact the listed person in the job advert to confirm visa requirements. This step is vital to avoid potential disappointments later in the process. I learned this the hard way. I once received an offer for a position, but since they couldn’t sponsor my visa, I couldn’t work for that job.

Tip 2 – Teaching vs. Research: Think about whether you aspire to be a full-time researcher or a lecturer with research responsibilities in your contract. For 100% research roles, such as postdoctoral researchers, nurse registration with the NMC usually isn’t necessary, making the application process more straightforward. However, be mindful that the post might be more competitive. Lecturer posts, on the other hand, require NMC registration4. They often offer open-ended contracts, which can be quite appealing. Whatever interests you, make sure you assess the nature of the post—whether it emphasises teaching, research, or a balance of both. Some lecturer posts with 100% teaching mean that there is no time allocated for research.

Tip 3 – Reach out to Your Supervisor(s), Mentor(s) or Colleagues: Having a chat with your supervisors, mentors, or colleagues with different roles to gain insights into each position (postdoctoral researcher vs. lecturer), including its strengths and limitations, can be useful to assess how it will fit your situation. I found talking to my supervisors and mentors extremely helpful in making decisions, especially coming from a clinical background with no previous experience in formal research prior to my PhD.

In summary, aligning with Nicholas et al.’s findings on the ‘Big Changes’ faced by Early Career Researchers (ECRs) globally—especially in communication, attitudes, and collaboration5—I have experienced these changes myself. Working in a different system than my home country has improved my communication skills and broadened my perspective. Collaborating with colleagues and students from different countries has made me a proud global citizen. Regardless of the career path you choose post-PhD, having more nurse academics in nursing education and research will contribute to improving the quality of nursing education and advancing our profession.


  1. UKRI (2023) Early career researchers: Career and skills development. Available at:  (Accessed: 10 March 2024).
  2. Baltruks, D., Cooke, R. and Tang, P. (2020) The academic workforce in health faculties: Analysis of the Council’s academic staffing census 2019. Council of Deans of Health. Available at: (Accessed: 10 March 2024).
  3. Mackey, A. and Bassendowski, S. (2017) The history of evidence-based practice in nursing education and practice. Journal of professional nursing33(1), pp.51-55.
  4. NMC (2023) Standards for student supervision and assessment. Available at: (Accessed: 10 March 2024).
  5. Nicholas, D., Watkinson, A., Boukacem‐Zeghmouri, C., Rodríguez‐Bravo, B., Xu, J., Abrizah, A., Świgoń, M., Clark, D. and Herman, E. (2019) So, are early career researchers the harbingers of change?. Learned Publishing32(3), pp.237-247.

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