In this guest blogpost we hear about some ways you can evidence research independence, and Sophia Donaldson explains how collaboration fits into that picture.
The academic career ladder is a tough one to climb. It’s a given that pretty much all PhD graduates are smart and hard working, so these qualities alone aren’t enough to guarantee a successful academic career. A healthy dose of luck is always useful, but crossing your fingers and hoping for the best isn’t the most proactive career strategy. So is there anything early career researchers can do to enhance their chances of ‘making it’?
A 2014 survey of academics across 22 universities explored the skills required to secure a tenure-track lecturer position. As well as some (but not necessarily mountains of) teaching experience, a crucial quality needed to make the jump from PhD student or post-doc to lecturer is ‘research independence’. This is no great surprise given that lecturers will be undertaking their own research rather than their supervisor’s. But how can you evidence research independence? And if you haven’t got any evidence yet, how do you get some?
Below are four tips for early career researchers who want to build an independent research profile.
1. Define your own research questions
Humanities researchers are usually ahead of the game with this. In the sciences, PhD students will often work on a question predefined by their supervisor. Take your time reading around the subject and attending conferences and talks so that you can determine the questions you want to answer. Even within your PhD there may be room to adapt or add the work that you’re most interested in.
2. Bring in your own money
There’s no real substitute for this. If you’ve been awarded a fellowship or written/co-written a successful grant then it shows you’ve already been charting your own course. Winning funding is easier said than done, and great applications still get rejected. However, many early career researchers don’t even enter the process. You should suggest ideas to your supervisors and show interest in helping with their grant applications. Plus some fellowships are open to researchers straight after they graduate from their PhDs (and are off limits to those with a few years of post-doc experience). So you could be putting in your own funding applications before you even write your thesis!
3. Build new collaborations
Even if you have a well-funded and utterly supportive PhD/post-doc supervisor, you can’t be seen to be too reliant on them. Building new collaborations across different groups, departments, universities and countries shows you’re capable of forging your own path. Of course, your supervisor may be able to assist you with this process, and online researcher social networks like piirus.ac.uk can help too. Early career researcher fellowships often come with conditions about being based in or across multiple universities, so networks will be key to putting in good funding applications.
4. Make a name for yourself
High impact publications are the ultimate goal, and they’ll get you known within your research field. But there are other things you can do to raise your profile too. Seizing opportunities to present at conferences at an early stage, and using social media platforms to engage both other researchers and the public will help yours become a recognisable name.
About the author: Sophia Donaldson has a background in academic research, and now works as a Careers Consultant at University College London, providing careers support for PhD students and research staff. She regularly writes for the The Careers Group blog and the UCL researchers careers blog.
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