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Exploring Academic Careers for Young Professionals

An In-Depth Examination by YPC Member, Michael Wijesinghe

Academic Survey Results

Academic roles in horticulture and floriculture are vital to the future of our industry. They ensure that the next generation has opportunities to learn about and enter our industry. The American Floral Endowment’s Young Professionals Council surveyed 22 academic professionals who work in floriculture and horticulture —a great response from AFE’s faculty network. With various backgrounds, experiences, and years in their positions, these survey respondents provided both guidance and reasonable expectations for young adults considering or preparing for a career in academia within our industry. The good news is that the results show several institutions plan to hire within their floriculture/horticulture departments in the next 1-3 years – more on this below.

The results of the survey were presented in a webinar on Tuesday, November 16th, 2021. A second survey on industry careers was also conducted, and that examination will be released in 2022.

About the Respondents

Practically all survey respondents have more than 16 years of experience as faculty members, and most work as either professors, associate professors, or assistants. Associate professors generally reported earning between $80,000-$120,000 per year, while most professors earn more than $120,000 per year. It was found that most respondents work for a large, public institution with four-year degree programs. During the webinar, faculty experts recommended directly exploring the salary offerings at the institutions to which you are applying before interviewing. Public institutions publish salary information for most faculty and staff online, so searching the web can more accurately depict salary expectations for specific positions and institutions.

Diversity of Academic Roles

Young professionals should expect a job in academia to combine education and research. When applying for these positions, be sure to fully understand responsibilities as the balance between teaching and research varies by role. It is recommended that “if you’re a teacher, don’t take a heavy research appointment and vice versa.” The scope of work also varied by position. Some respondents spent all their time working on floriculture crops, while others did not spend any. Our expert panelists recommended prioritizing your career goals when considering the balance between teaching and research. They also shared that roles in academia will require skillful time management.

Branch Out to Find an Opening

Those interested in an academic career in floriculture will be happy to know at least a third of respondents mentioned their institutions plan to hire within the next 1-3 years. This is excellent news for young professionals hoping to enter the field.

Most academic positions are posted on university or college career pages. Many are also circulated through professional organizations or publications such as the American Society for Horticultural Sciences or the Chronicle of Higher Education. However, most respondents mentioned that they obtained their positions through more than just an online application.

Nearly 75% earned their current roles through graduate school or networking connection, which is presumably why so many stress the significance of networking to someone preparing for their first academic job in floriculture. Seeking experience either in a research project, teaching role, or even a job or internship directly in the floriculture field constructs a network flush with academic and industry contacts who may help open doors down the road. It is also recommended to maintain connections with professors and colleagues from degree programs and actively pursue new connections at national conferences like those by NSHS or NFF.

Skills for Blooming into Academia

YPC Members at Cultivate'21

Three must-have traits for a young professional seeking a position in academia are strong teaching skills, successful grant writing, and high publishing productivity. Fortunately, most institutions offer undergraduate and graduate students plenty of opportunities to exercise these skills and flush out their CVs.

Almost all careers in academia involve some degree of teaching; whether students are pursuing a degree or from the public via extension, candidates are expected to have some educational background. Teaching ability can be improved by taking education courses alongside other degree requirements or pursuing a role as a teaching assistant.

Individuals interested in academic careers also should “publish, publish, publish” and demonstrate the ability to obtain grants to fund research. Graduate programs offer excellent opportunities to grow research experience; however, working on research projects as an undergraduate can further help candidates stand out. Generally, academic institutions seek new faculty with a bolstered ability to obtain large grant awards and prolifically publish research in high-quality journals.

Besides these traits, respondents also acknowledge the significance of softer skills. The ability to collaborate well with others and communicate effectively was most frequently mentioned.

While obtaining an academic career in floriculture requires hard work and dedication, those who do earn one help steer the future of the field. Whether educating current and future industry leaders or conducting forward-thinking research, academic roles in floriculture will continue to make tomorrow blossom.

YPC LogoAdditional Resources for Young Professionals

More career insights and information on this project can be found below, including the Executive Summary of the Academic Survey conducted as well as the webinar recording where these results were presented and discussed. Young professionals are also encouraged to visit the AFE Career Center for even more career resources like resume reviews, job listings, and more. Membership to the Young Professionals Council is completely FREE and is a excellent opportunity to expand your professional development.