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Career paths in academia

A doctoral education opens up a variety of career paths in industry, national and local government, and academia. If you are interested in taking the next step in your academic career, here is a brief presentation of what the path can look like at Lund University.

A completed doctoral education or postdoctoral experience is valued and sought after by many private and public sector organisations in the global labour market. Similarly, experience in industry or the public sector is valuable when starting or continuing an academic career.

The path to an academic career is rarely straightforward and can often be quite winding. Also, few people spend their entire career at the same university. Instead, it is more common to move through the different career stages at several different higher education institutions or workplaces.

The four stages of an academic career

In the EU, of which Sweden is a member, the academic career is divided into four stages. Below is an overview of the different stages, based on the positions and rules at Lund University. It may be different at other universities.

Within Lund University there are also some differences in career paths between different faculties. Therefore, there is not just one, but several possible career paths.

The first stage is doctoral studies, as a doctoral student. The studies end with a doctoral degree (or doctorate). After graduation, most people leave academia for employment in the private or public sector, but some stay on, or return after a few years with other employers.

Doctoral student at the University

Lund University aims to offer a four-year doctoral position to its doctoral students (or up to five years in the case of extensive departmental service, e.g. teaching). Read more about doctoral studies at Lund University:

Doctoral studies

Doctoral student in industry

If you are employed by another employer, you can still complete doctoral studies through an agreement between Lund University and your employer. You will then become an externally employed doctoral student. 

As an externally employed doctoral student, you are not employed by Lund University, but are subject to your employer's terms of employment.

The second stage – the development stage – is perceived by some as uncertain and insecure. However, most also find it enriching. The length of this stage varies depending on the field of research and the competition for available positions. It is sometimes referred to as the 'postdoc limbo'.

Postdoc (postdoctoral fellow)

During the development stage, it is common to have one or more so-called postdoctoral positions over a period of time. These can be at one or more universities, in Sweden and/or abroad. Postdoctoral positions improve your chances of competing for a further academic career.

If you have a postdoctoral position in Sweden, the central collective agreement requires you to focus mainly on development in research. However, pedagogical development can be equally important for a later career, especially in academia.

Associate senior lecturer

As an associate senior lecturer in Sweden, you have a fixed-term (temporary) career development position with the right to be assessed for permanent employment as a senior lecturer. This career path is sometimes called the 'tenure track'.

Particularly in medicine, engineering and technology, and science, it is common for an associate senior lecturer position to be preceded by one or more postdoctoral positions outside the University. 

Similar positions with the possibility of tenure, i.e. permanent employment, exist in several other European countries. However, the term 'tenure track' often has a different meaning in the USA.

Other ways to develop your career

In addition to postdoctoral or associate senior lecturer positions, other ways to gain qualifications include:

  • applying for a (fixed-term/temporary) position as a researcher or equivalent
  • working in industry
  • volunteering
  • applying for employment as a lecturer to gain further qualifications in education.

Networking through work at other higher education institutions and the experience gained are also valuable for further academic careers.

International experience is also often valued. For example, if you have completed an education at the doctoral level at a foreign university that is equivalent to doctoral studies in Sweden, you have a good chance of developing your career further at Lund University.

Career development positions at Lund University

The purpose of the so-called career development positions is to gain experience in both teaching and research. There are two different formal career development positions at Lund University.

  • postdoc (two to three years)
  • associate senior lecturer (four to six years)

Both types of positions are recruited through open competition.

Read more about both types of positions on our page about academic positions at Lund University:  

By the time you reach the third stage, you have acquired a high level of expertise in both research and education. You are established as a researcher and work independently in your field.

This stage includes both senior lecturers and researchers. These types of employment offer different conditions for your further academic career, so it is important to be aware of the differences between them.

Senior lecturer

As a senior lecturer at Lund University, you have the opportunity to spend time on research, teaching and collaboration. You usually have a permanent position, and often take a lot of responsibility for integrating education and research.

Vacancies for senior lecturer positions are advertised through open competition, but may also be offered to an associate senior lecturer who has applied for promotion (known as the 'tenure track'), if they are deemed to have acquired teaching expertise as well as research or artistic expertise. Some senior lecturer posts require the qualifications of an associate professor.

Read more about both types of positions on our page about academic positions at Lund University: 


A researcher is often largely externally funded. This means less secure employment and limited opportunities to develop expertise in teaching.

Employment as a researcher is not a teaching position at Lund University. This means that researchers cannot assess students and cannot apply for promotion to professor.

For this and other reasons, Lund University aims to reduce the number of researcher positions.

Read more about this type of position on our page about academic positions at Lund University:

Researchers and associate researchers

The fourth and final stage is employment as a professor. At this stage, you are a research leader or leading specialist in your field, both in terms of research and teaching.

At Lund University, the position of professor is the most senior teaching position, and there are many opportunities for both research and teaching.

The position of professor is a permanent one. Vacancies are normally advertised through open competition to ensure quality, mobility, diversity and transparency.

In some cases, a senior lecturer may also receive a professorship at Lund University. This requires that the relevant faculty judges that the strategic conditions for promotion are met and that the applicant also fulfils the requirements for a professorship.

In some faculties, the possibility of promotion to professor is very limited.

Read more about this type of position on our page about academic positions at Lund University:


A schematic view of academic career paths at Lund University. Illustration.
Examples of possible academic career paths at Lund University described on this page. Click on the image to enlarge (new tab).

Contact information

Division of Human Resources
webbansvarig [at] hr [dot] lu [dot] se (webbansvarig[at]hr[dot]lu[dot]se)

Postal address:
Lund University
Box 117
221 00 Lund