The Vice Chancellor, Prof Dame Julia Goodfellow, launched the University’s Early Career Researcher Network last week by reiterating how important new academics were to the long term health of a research intensive university. In front of a packed room the VC stated that the University was keen to support ECRs as they developed their careers and started to take on leadership responsibilities. Kent already provided a range of formal training courses, but this Network was the opportunity for ECRs to share their experiences, to focus on common issues, and to discuss with and learn from senior colleagues.
Prof Darren Griffin and Jenny Billings then looked at planning a personal research strategy. Their contrasting careers demonstrated that it was difficult to generalise about this, but there were common themes. Darren had had a very ‘traditional’ academic progression, from PhD, to RA, Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader and Professor. Jenny, on the other hand, had had a career outside of academia, and was now working in a self-funded research centre.
ECRs needed to think about how they would be judged by their peers, and to plan for this. As Darren put it, ‘perception is reality’. If you are seen as the leading expert in your field, or a successful grant getter, or someone with great impact, then a virtuous circle is formed, and perceived success leads to further success. He outlined ’10 commandments for getting ahead in research’, which included taking opportunities when they presented themselves (including adapting your research interests slightly to fit with current priorities), building good relationships and allowing team members to shine, and using both failures and successes to build future research.
The group then opened up to discuss their experiences. The issue of time management was common, and Jenny made it clear that ECRs needed to be both flexible and assertive, and be willing to negotiate with others. Developing an academic career was hard work, particularly at the beginning, but being positive and persistent did pay dividends. Both Jenny and Darren encouraged ECRs to remain firm; for instance if a senior colleague said that they didn’t have much time to talk, ask them how much time they did have, and work with that. Knock on doors, and don’t be afraid of rejection.
Slides from the session are available on the Grants Factory SharePoint site, and this will be added to over time. The next ECR Network meeting will take place on 17 October, and will focus on ‘Getting Published in Journals’. It is being led by KLS, but all are welcome. If you want to come along, drop me a line.