Last week’s live chat was hosted by Kerstin Fritsches. Kerstin used to be a research fellow in neuroscience and is now an independent trainer and mentor, helping postdocs with their careers through online and offline support. She blogs on her company’s website www.postdoctraining.com and can also be found on Twitter @PostdocTraining and on LinkedIn. Here is a recap of the chat:
This was the perfect topic for US Independence Day and we had lively contributions of ideas and experiences. We started with introductions and then went through 5 questions on the topic of “How do you gain independence as an ECR?”:
Q 1: What does/did independence mean for you as an ECR?
The main themes were being in control of your own research, collaborating and publishing independently of your supervisor, and gaining own funding. Driving one’s own research agenda and identity was a good summary of what independence means to ECRs.
Q 2: What are/were your steps to gaining independence?
Moving to a new institution, winning an independent fellowship and having a permanent position were considered key steps for gaining independence. Other steps mentioned were building trust, expertise and a personal profile, creating your own network, gaining research management experience, publishing your own papers (without your supervisor), and gaining lecturing experience. Interestingly, several people mentioned that creating a social media profile has been a useful step for developing a profile and gaining independence.
Q 3: How do/did you negotiate autonomy while working for someone else?
People stressed that a good PI is a great help with this and that it is important to negotiate responsibilities and expectations upfront. Developing extra output based on personal interest and expertise was raised several times as a strategy, using your own unique skill to carve out a niche within existing projects.
Q 4: What are the downsides and dangers of independence, especially when gained early in career?
While we all seek independence there are certainly downsides and dangers to consider and manage. Issues mentioned were lack of guidance and feedback, pressure of being responsible for students, getting swept forward before you are ready, realising there is much to research that you have not been taught, and missing out on learning and working with others in a group. Time-guzzling admin tasks were also a downside of independence, although the extent of this problem varied between disciplines.
Q 5: Who and/or what helped you gain independence? If just starting the process to independence, what would help you?
Being proactive, learning about opportunities (for funding and training), more stability in your employment situation and independent funding were raised as major aspects helping with independence. Having a supervisor who believes in you and finding good mentors was considered invaluable.
If you would like to see the full conversation have a look at this storify. This was my first time hosting a chat and it turned out to be really easy and a lot of fun. So if you are interested, #ECRchat is always looking for hosts.