As an early career researcher there are lots of lessons to learn as you find your feet in academia. Finding support from both peers and more experienced colleagues is important and something I continue to appreciate as I develop my career. Here are just a few useful lessons that I’ve learned over the last few years as I establish my research career:
– You don’t have to remain close to your original PhD topic. Lots of people do of course but there is a natural development in everyone’s work and exploring new avenues and different topics is ok. My PhD research was very different from the work I do now, but there is a fairly obvious progression and narrative and being able to explore new things keeps the challenge of research fresh whilst using all the skills learnt during postgrad study.
– It is quite normal to have a slightly ‘bitty’ CV during the early phase of your career, fixed term research contracts often contribute to this, in terms of giving you publications which may not be close to your original thesis research. There is often a thread that ties together areas of interest in your work and identifying this can help relieve anxiety about coherence in the CV.
– Make connections. As mentioned earlier other academics are a useful sounding board for various aspects of career development and progression, sharing ideas and meeting likeminded people keeps enthusiasm high and can open up different opportunities. Likewise engaging with third sector or community groups can be a valuable way for developing stakeholders for future research and to enable you to witness firsthand the issues of importance to those groups. Opportunities for such link ups can be facilitated by institutions, for example Leeds Beckett has the excellent Community campus partnerships team (@LeedsCCP on Twitter)
– Keep profesional development in mind. It can sometimes feel difficult to champion your own development in the context of the other demands of being an early career researcher and the daily business of ‘getting on with the job’. However thinking about what will strengthen your CV or how you can quantify some of your existing experience, I.e through completing a HEA fellowship. Look for opportunities to expand your professional horizons wherever possible.
Being an early career researcher allows you to cut your teeth on big and small projects, to work collaboratively with others and ultimately to grow your skills, making the most of the opportunities that exist is a good way of providing a firm foundation on which to build your academic career.