Last week’s live chat was designed to be a positive end to the year as it was the final #ECRchat of 2012. I had the idea of ‘blowing our own trumpet’ (I really hope that doesn’t mean something else in other parts of the world!) – sometimes in the middle of all the many and varied pressures of being an ECR in academia it is really easy to lose sight of the the good things. Hazel (@snarkyphd) has posted a brilliant storify of the chat here (thank you Hazel!).
After introductions we went straight into the success-fest, and it was really encouraging to see so many good things reported. Common themes were: getting a PhD, being published, getting a postdoc position, and numerous conference presentations (including a prize awarded earlier that day for a conference presentation by @nikolabowden, well done Nikola, and an invitation to be an invited speaker, well done @DocInsanity!). Other encouraging things were organising office spaces, winning grant funding, book contracts, and absolutely not to forget Hazel and Katie’s massive achievement of getting #ECRchat off the ground in the first place. There are many of us who have found it really helpful and encouraging as a public/online space where we can discuss issues with our peers, so thanks very much to them.
Less ‘tangible’ successes were also discussed, and this for me was one of the most interesting parts of the chat. Increased confidence in our abilities as independent researchers, increased recognition of our role within our teams and/or departments, and greater confidence in research vision having moved beyond the PhD. One comment was ‘I survived the most demanding year I ever had’ – I think that this is not to be sniffed at, it’s tough out there sometimes, so getting through it is absolutely an achievement.
That was a good point to move to the next question, which looked at challenges we’ve faced this year. Although the main focus was on the positive, I think it’s important that we look at what we achieve and face in totality, and the reality is that for many ECRs the context in which we work provides a number of challenges. There was some discussion about managing mental health issues in academia, with the practice of ‘mindfulness’ suggested as helpful for some. There is a lot written about student mental health issues (a couple of excellent blog posts on this are here and here), but seemingly rather less discussion of the issue at ECR level. This might well make a good topic for a future #ECRchat.
Other issues raised included that for some people that elusive job still hasn’t happened (not being paid is definitely up there as a significant challenge), and the old ECR chestnut – job insecurity. Many of us are on fixed-term contracts, so that issue is always at the back/forefront of our minds even if we are in a great job we love. The issue of work/life balance (discussed in a previous #ECRchat) also appeared again – long commutes, living apart from significant others, and time for relaxation are all challenges faced regularly by ECRs. More than one participant had moved country in order to take up their position, something which may or may not be sustainable long-term depending on circumstances. Another common experience mentioned at this point in the chat was dealing with organisational politics – issues raised included the recognition of researchers/postdocs within the wider hierarchy, the parochiality of the academy, and ‘ownership’ of research (several of us are working on somebody else’s project grant).
From this point we moved to looking at what we were hoping for from 2013. As expected for a bunch of ECRs, writing/publishing featured highly here (PhDs, articles, proposals, amongst others), along with trying to sort out funding and employment (either in our current positions or a new one). It was interesting that, as with the ‘successes of 2012’ question, this focused primarily on the ‘tangible’ – job, publications – though of course the reality of the ECR’s lot is that these issues are always to the forefront.
Finally we had a brief 5 minutes thinking about topics for #ECRchat next year. Negotiating academic hierarchies/politics seemed a popular one, and as mentioned above I think that one on managing mental health and wellbeing would also be helpful. Building offline support networks for ECRs within our institutions was another suggestion, as well as developing our own supervision style (for those of us who have supervisory responsibilities; although that would also be helpful for those of us who don’t but would like to!). Any other suggestions will I am sure be gratefully received; do feel free to add suggestions in the comments or tweet them to @ECRchat.
Thank you for a very enjoyable chat – it was hard work trying to keep up with everything but it was great to hear about everyone’s successes and plans. I hope you have a brilliant Christmas and New Year, and see you for further #ECRchat in 2013!