Posted in Engagement, Recap

Recap: #ECRchat 20 February 2014 on Public Engagement

This discussion focused on “Public Engagement and the ECR” and was hosted by Deborah Brian and Tseen Khoo.

In this chat we covered the following questions relating to public engagement

  1. There’s been a lot of attention on academic engagement lately – do you think academics do enough to engage the public?
  2. Given the general consensus that there needs to be more quality engagement, what are your best tips for effective engagement?
    2a. What’s the best way for an ECR to get started in public research engagement?
  3.  Should ECRs be required to engage, and what might some of the barriers be to this?
  4. How do you balance time spent on public engagement with imperatives for more traditional forms of academic ‘productivity’?
  5. How do you start to engage from early on and learn skills?
  6. What do you see as the best outcome(s) of academic engagement?

You can find the answers to these questions and lots more discussion in this Storify of the chat.

Posted in Engagement, Recap

Recap: #ECRchat 10th October 2013: Engaging with Industry and the Community

This 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 and can also be found on Twitter @PostdocTraining and LinkedIn. Here is a recap of the chat:

We started the chat with the question of whether participants were currently engaging with contacts outside academia for example in industry, not-for-profits, government, media or the general community. There was a wide range of different ways participants engaged already with community groups, media and industry. Others had not engaged yet and were looking for ideas.

Question 2 was to find out about the benefits of engaging with partners outside academia. Benefits mentioned were:

  • establishing contacts and developing options for funding
  • research and practice informing each other
  • identifying practical applications for research
  • communicating to a broader audience and making your research more accessible
  • helping communities by providing an evidence base for decisions and actions.

Several participants mentioned they had difficulties identifying obvious applications or outside interest in their work.

Question 3 was about the downsides and problems encountered when engaging with partners outside academia.

It was clear that the different cultures and aims of academic research, industry, government and community can create problems linked to different priorities, difficulties finding common goals or deciding on an end product, and managing expectations and timelines. Managing intellectual property was also flagged as a problematic area. We agreed that creating an arrangement where all parties benefit can be a challenge.

Language was also raised as a potential problem – both for those ECRs who do not speak the local tongue, as well as work-related language barriers experienced by ECRs when communicating outside academia.

Finding the right audience was a problem for many, and suggestions for solving this problem are listed under Questions 5 and 6 in this recap.

Question 4 explored everyone’s perceptions about whether engaging with partners outside academia helps or hinders careers.

The majority thought that engagement outside of academia was good for your career, for example by helping to develop a profile and improving communication skills. For those working in more applied research, engagement was considered essential to having an impact and relevance. Gaining attention for your research outside academia can have its disadvantages if it results in controversy, however. Media and communication training was therefore considered very important to avoid misunderstandings and to manage outreach well.

Participants said that, in the US, engagement is a prerequisite for tenure, while in the UK and Australia, engagement is either an explicit part of work contracts or is gaining more attention and currency within universities as a measure of impact.

I asked Question 5 to find out how those who were already engaging made the first contacts. The most common avenues were:

  • using existing contacts and help from colleagues and supervisors
  • meeting potential partners at conferences
  • using commercialisation / business linkage units within universities or institutes
  • community meetings were mentioned as good opportunities to present to the public (for example see
  • presenting at public outreach days (such as those organised by universities).

With Question 6 participants were asked to suggest what would help to start or expand engagement with partners outside academia. The main request for help was with securing  opportunities to meet contacts, such as receiving support to attend professional conferences. As one participant put it: patience and tea (hospitality) really helps with forming relationships…

In summary we agreed that engagement  – when done well – is of great benefit and can result in truly transformational relationships between ECRs and industry or community partners.

If you would like to see the full conversation, have a look at the storify. Thanks to everyone for a lively and interesting chat.


Posted in Engagement, Recap

Recap: #ECRchat on Engagement, 20 June 2013

This live chat was joint hosted by Edith Hurt, Research Manager, and Sarah Hunt, Research Program Coordinator, of Cure Cancer Australia.

In this chat, Edith and Sarah (both tweeting simultaneously as @CureCancerAust), led our discussion about Engagement, with questions such as ‘what are the best ways for ECRs to engage with each other’, ‘what are the benefits’, and may more. You can view Edith and Sarah’s Storify of the chat here.

Posted in Engagement, Recap, Support and healthy working

Recap: #ECRchat on Building offline support networks, 6 June 2013

This week, Kira Clarke led the topic  “building offline support networks”.

In this chat, we discussed questions such as ‘what do people look for in an offline support network?’, ‘what challenges do people face in establishing and maintaining offline support networks?’, and more. You can view Kira’s Storify of the chat here.

Posted in Engagement, Professional development and Identity, Recap

Recap: #ECRchat on managing career expectations, 9 May 2013

Last week’s live chat was hosted by Liz Gloyn. Liz is a Teaching Fellow in Latin Literature at the University of Birmingham; her research interests focus on the intersections between classical Latin literature, ancient philosophy and gender studies. She can be found on Twitter as @lizgloyn, and blogs at Classically Inclined. Here is her recap of the chat.

The #ECRchat that I hosted last week started off with a poll full of options about professional development for the early career researcher, and it ended in a tie for topics, which I don’t think has ever happened before! As I’d done more thought about managing career expectations, we went with that; learning and developing leadership skills will be the topic of a future chat.

Managing career expectations was a topic I wanted to look at because there is often a tendency for ECRs to think about this as an internally-focused process, where one adjusts one’s own expectations of what might happen in the future. However, in the business world, managing expectations is all about how you relate to other people, both customers and colleagues, rather than some kind of self-policing mechanism. I wanted to see what happened if we applied this idea to the ECR sphere, whether it could be helpful for us to think with, and what insights considering the idea of managing expectations would generate.

We started the chat by thinking about what managing expectations is, and where those expectations come from. The idea of the disconnect between the ideal and the reality felt like a central part of this, as did the way that expectation gaps create disappointment. People felt there was a fine balance between aiming high and accepting the realities of one’s situation – including, perhaps, that certain things just wouldn’t work for you as an individual. Digging a bit deeper, we identified plenty of places where expectations come from – the job specification, your department, your university, disciplinary norms, ourselves, our families, the norms of (senior) colleagues, search committees, your PhD supervisor, funding bodies, and students. Being aware that expectations sometimes come from outside, and that this means we have the power to decide whether we want to sign up to them, seemed an important take-home point here.

After thinking about where expectations come from, we considered how we might find out what those expectations are before it’s too late to engage with them. There were lots of possibilities – considering the needs of the stakeholders in your projects, for example, or talking to colleagues to work out how the expectations of you on paper might play out in practice.

The key message which came from this section of the chat was the importance of communication to make sure that you knew what people were after, and could adjust your behaviour accordingly. This also held true when we thought about how to go about managing those expectations – honesty, clarity, straightforwardness and a dose of humour seemed the sensible way to go! Participants also flagged up the importance of being willing to say ‘no’ if an expectation was genuinely at odds with other things which also needed doing. It felt as if some personal thought was needed here too, to work out what your career priorities were and how they fitted into the expectations of the institution, so you could balance the two accordingly – but it felt very difficult to make a satisfying plan without knowing the shape of all these jigsaw pieces.

We closed by thinking about how we might use expectations for our advantage rather than as coercion. Some suggestions including making sure that we know expectations so we can show how we are meeting them during performance reviews; using them to gain opportunities that might not otherwise be available; making them a tool to point out where your potential isn’t being fully developed or used; and using them as part of the networking process to discover more about your field and what’s going on in it.

If you’d like to read more from the chat, the Storified tweets are here.

You can also download the full unedited PDF of tweets here #ECRchat_tweets_2013_05_09.pdf