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Become an Academic Secretary

Become an Academic Secretary

Want to expand your mind by interacting with intellectuals? Want to learn about the newest scientific research before it hits CNN or provide much-needed behind-the-scenes support to help young people achieve their goals through education? A job as an academic secretary might be ideal for you.

A Rewarding Job

Though salaries for academic admins tend to be a bit slim, the limited compensation is offset by a working environment admins can truly love, say two administrative pros with deep knowledge about working in academia.

"I really enjoy the academic environment," says Margaret Caddell, a coordinator for Tuskegee University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama, who retired in 2010 after being an academic admin for more than 30 years. "There are numerous opportunities to learn and interact with many people from throughout the world. Also, it is very fulfilling to support students in reaching their educational endeavors."

Another perk to academic jobs is the chance to learn new technology, which makes it easy to improve administrative skills, says Peggy Colflesh, assistant manager of circulation in the user services periodicals department at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. But, she adds, people who fear new technology may also enjoy the fact that, ironically, many higher-learning institutions are among the last to adopt standard, up-to-date software that admins might use.

The Downside

Again, salaries tend to be low, with pay at state-run institutions usually higher than that at private ones. Also, few opportunities exist for moving up the career ladder, and competition remains high for a limited number of positions.

"With cuts to higher-education funding, fewer administrative professionals are being hired and retained," Caddell says. "However, those who achieve professional excellence have fewer problems with job stability."

Job Variety

The best-known position for an admin in academia is as secretary to a department, such as English or sociology. However, academic admins also provide support for libraries, laboratories, admissions and the offices of deans, provosts and other university administrators. For example, Caddell assisted in the administration of a grant from the US Department of Education, while supporting graduate students and the dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health.


State-run colleges and universities generally offer the benefit packages received by government employees. Time off and vacation time at both state and private institutions are also typically more flexible than in other industries. "Working in the library, we can take a vacation almost any time we want," Colflesh says.

However, the best perk of all may be that colleges and universities typically cover partial or total tuition costs for employees and their children. At MTSU, Colflesh can take one class per semester at no charge, while her spouse and children receive a 50 percent discount.

Getting the Job

Still interested? Unfortunately, there are no professional organizations specifically for academic admins, nor any specific certification process to qualify them. However, some simple advice can go a long way to help you make it in academia, Caddell says.

Admins should exercise patience, tolerance for diverse cultural backgrounds and lifestyles of students and professors, and "stay up to date on academic trends and history of institutions where [you are or would like to be] employed, thereby rendering better customer service to clientele and also receiving personal growth and enrichment," she says.

For more information and tips to help you advance your administrative career, see all our advice for admin professionals.

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