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Recap: #ECRchat 26 June 2014 on Planning your Career

The live chat on 26th June 2014 was hosted by Kerstin Fritsches. After a 12-year research career in neuroscience, Kerstin now runs PostdocTraining, an independent organisation specialising in career development and mentoring for early career researchers, including hands-on support with career planning. She blogs on her company’s website and can be also be found on Twitter @PostdocTraining and on LinkedIn.

As an early career researcher, how do you plan your career? Given short-term contracts and tough competition for jobs and funding, do you even bother to develop a plan? The questions posed in this #ECRchat focused on finding out people’s approach to planning and good ideas to use for your own planning. You can read the full discussion in this storify, but here is the discussion in a nutshell:

Q1. Do you have a career plan? Why? Or why not?

The extent of participants’ plans varied, but a number of people mentioned that they did not plan because they were trying just ‘to stay alive’ and were frustrated by their plans having to change due to circumstances. ‘Planned happenstance’ was mentioned as a desirable strategy where, with a good idea of your strengths and preferences, you can recognize or create opportunities and ‘lucky‘ breaks.

Q2. How long do you plan into the future and what’s your reason for your chosen timeframe?

A range of timeframes between 3 and 5 years were mentioned, but people also used external timelines such as those determined by the Research Excellence Framework (UK) or project deadlines. Others had just achieved a milestone or changed career direction and were holding off planning the next step for the time being.

Q3. A. What tools or processes do you use to help you plan? B. Who do you turn to for help with planning?

Again, the UK’s Research Excellence Framework as well as funding guidelines were mentioned as guiding tools, as well as institution-specific success indicators.

Finding mentors was a big part of the discussion and there were some great examples of finding unexpected mentors, such as a journal editor who proved to be a great help. Going outside your immediate environment to look for mentors was mentioned and the advice here was to build a mentoring team, with a range of supporters helping with different issues. Another important point was that mentoring relationships do take time to develop.

Q4: What set-backs have threatened your plans and how do you deal with them?

Not getting funding needed and not having contracts extended were mentioned as the main set-backs for ECRs. The main coping mechanism was to take a little time to get over the shock and disappointment and then move on and try again. There was resilience in spades among those on the chat!

Q5: How do you decide on a ‘plan B’ in case ‘plan A’ does not work out?

The only concrete Plan B mentioned was teaching, but several people made the point that you need to think very thoroughly about what you like and what matters to you when deciding on a plan B.

This tweet was a great final word on the topic:




Postdoc in psychology and cognitive neuroscience, researching visual word recognition. Likes MEG, TMS, fMRI, reading, waffles, and motorbiking.

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