Recap: #ECRchat 6th March 2014 on Punk Academia

The topic of this discussion was Punk Academia and led by Dr Kieran Fenby-Hulse, Researcher Development Officer at Bath Spa University.

At this time of instability in Higher Education – in terms of both teaching and research –  it seemed appropriate to discuss the relevance of the current academic system and what the challenging this system might mean for early-career researchers. The questions we discussed were:

Q1 – Rip it up and start again! Are there academic practices and disciplinary traditions that you feel limit you as a researcher?

Q2 – How do work within or outside these traditions? How confident do you feel about challenging these norms as an ECR?

Q3 – How do you think punk academia sits in relation to peer/institutional/funder expectations?

Q4 – What support do you think is needed to ensure new approaches to academia are discussed, considered, and embraced?

Q5 – To conclude, do you know of any good examples of punk academia, or have ideas about what you might like to do?

Perhaps prompted by nature of the topic, the discussion was lively with a range of topics being covered. Participants talked about the constraints of disciplinary silos, emerging research fields, and of multi-modal methods of dissemination. But discussion also covered the fears early-career researchers have of stepping too far outside of one’s disciplinary expertise and of presenting their research in non-conventional and challenging formats, particularly at a point in their career when gaining recognition and acceptance is crucial. Interestingly, it was felt that it wasn’t the institutions or national policies that were constraining researchers’ interests, but the far more intangible “culture of academia”. This moved the discussion on to considering risk and resilience in research and the importance of valuing failure, a subject that seemed to capture the imagination of all participants and resulted in the informal establishment of the International Journal of Insignificant Research.

The discussion got people to reflect on the creative risks they take in their research and to acknowledge the courage required to go against the grain in academia and to put forward new ideas and/or approaches. This begs the question of what training and support is available on failure, resilience, risk and creativity and whether Punk Academia should form a core component of any researcher development programmes.

For full details of the discussion view this Storify.

The next chat is on Thursday 1st May, UK/US timezones. Host and topic suggestions needed! Coming soon, the recap of yesterday’s #ECRchat on ‘moving towards independence as an ECR’.

Poll: What should the #ECRchat topic for 17 April 2014 be?

The next #ECRchat is on Thursday 17th April at 11:00-12:00 in the UK (BST), which is 12:00-13:00 in Europe (CEST), and 20:00-21:00 in Sydney (AEST). This chat will be hosted by Katie Wheat (full bio below).

Please vote for your preferred chat topic (topic descriptions below):


Careers outside of academia – making the decision, where would you go, dealing with reactions, adjusting to a new identity

Career transitions – moving from PhD to postdoc, changing departments/institutions/disciplines, building a new network

Getting career development support as an ECR – what is available to you, how do you make the most of it, how do you get your PI onboard?

Moving towards independence as an ECR – searching for that illusive first independent funding, taking steps towards independence while employed on a grant, what does independence look like?

Katie Wheat is a project manager at Vitae. She was previously as postdoctoral researcher in cognitive neuroscience at Maastricht University and holds a PhD in psychology from University of York. Katie co-founded #ECRchat with Hazel Ferguson and now coordinates the chat with Beth Hellen.

#ECRchat tweetup details

Thanks to those of you who responded to our polls about a possible tweet up for UK ECRchat folks.

The results were overwhelmingly for a Saturday meet in London.  So…

ECRchat Tweetup: Saturday 17th May, 1pm onwards. Somewhere in London, specific venue yet to be decided (suggestions welcome).

We understand that there will be people who can’t make this time/place/date and we hope to have another tweetup in a different city sometime in the future.

Recap: #ECRchat 12 Dec 2013 “The Experts Ask Us” – Issues of reward and recognition for early career researchers

This #ECRchat was a special “The Experts Ask Us” chat, guest hosted by the Academy of Medical Sciences, in the style of an online focus group. If your organisation is interested in hosting a similar chat, please email us.

What challenges do researchers experience in ‘team science’ projects? Are there barriers that discourage early career researchers even getting involved? If so, what are they and are they the same across different disciplines and countries? This #ECRchat, hosted by Nigel Eady @naje99 and Holly Rogers @acmedsci of the Academy of Medical Sciences on 12 December 2013, discussed these issues and more.

So what did we learn? Here are the headlines:

  1. Putting together an effective team is a key skill.
  2. Every skill in a team needs to be valued.
  3. Roles, responsibility and reward need to be agreed up front.
  4. Authorship of publications is a battleground!

This #ECRchat formed part of the scoping phase for an Academy working group study on ‘team science’ which will launch in April 2014. The final report, with recommendations, will be published around spring 2015. Further details will appear online. It is a follow up to a previous discussion paper:

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the #ECRchat. Do you recognise these issues?

  1. Putting together an effective team is a key skill.

A number of researchers said that finding good collaborators was a big challenge. You need to learn the skills of building collaborations and facilitating them effectively as early in your career as possible. Some principal investigators are very resistant to their research teams spending time exploring partnerships which don’t appear to be directly relevant to their core research. So how can you develop the skills you need?

  1. Every skill in a team needs to be valued.

Clearly team projects require a range of skills. A number of researchers reported that certain skills are perceived to be less important or are viewed as ‘number crunching’, and therefore deemed to require less skill and deserve less recognition. The individuals who deliver these supposed ‘service delivery’ roles end up feeling extremely marginalised but are continually expected to work faster and better! “Surely what you do is easy!” The skills mentioned in this regard included medical statistics, qualitative research and computational biology.

  1. Roles, responsibility and reward need to be agreed up front.

It’s vital not to give lots of your time before you’ve agreed what recognition you’ll get for it! Discuss some ‘ground rules’ at the start of the project, especially if you’re doing all the hard work behind the scenes, for example, the grant administration and ethics approval.

  1. Authorship of publications is a battleground!

Unsurprisingly the lack of value attributed to some skills also plays out when it comes to authorship of papers. Shared first authorship was felt not to work! But what factors should determine the order of authorship? Who did the work, who was awarded the funds, who wrote the paper…? Author contribution statements were felt to be a move in the right direction, especially as amongst diverse disciplines authorship conventions vary significantly (e.g. if you compare maths, bioscience and social science). Physics was perceived to be a more collaborative discipline with open access data and alphabetical authorship of papers.

Here is a storify with all the tweets. One participant highlighted an interesting systematic review on the promotors, barriers, and ways to enhance multidisciplinary teamwork.

The Academy is very grateful for this chance to host an #ECRchat and will post updates on our ‘team science’ policy project as it develops. In the meantime, any more comments, questions and ideas can be emailed to

#ECRchat UK Tweetup

For the majority of May, both of the #ECRchat organisers are going to be in the UK.  We thought this might be a great chance to meet some of you (UK) folks and have a tweet up (informal meet up, probably taking place in a pub).

In order to find out what place and time would suit the most people (obviously we can’t manage to please everyone) we’ve set up some polls.

We hope we’ll get to meet some of you very soon.


These are places we’re able to organise an event in, if you add another city, please be willing to help host the tweetup.

Once we get some ideas of what people would like, I’ll suggest some more specific dates and places.