On Thursday 21 May, Beth Hellen (@phdgeek) ran an #ECRchat about acquiring new skills. The topic elicited a lot of discussion around the subject, with lots of good general peer to peer advice about the skills needed as a Phd student, postdoc and further on into an ECR’s caareer.
The storify can be found at https://storify.com/PhdGeek/ecrchat-on-aquiring-new-skills
The next live #ECRchat is hosted by Kerstin Fritsches. After a 12-year research career in neuroscience Kerstin now runs PostdocTraining, an independent organisation specialising in career development training and mentoring for postdocs. During her time as an ECR she became a big convert to the ideas and tools involved in being strategic about a research career. Career planning is now an important part of the training she provides, both online and in workshops she is running in Australia and Europe. Kerstin blogs on her company’s website www.postdoctraining.com and can be also be found on Twitter @PostdocTraining and on LinkedIn.
#ECRchat topic 26th June 2014: ‘Planning Your Career’
How do you plan your career as an Early Career Researcher? Is it even possible to plan effectively, given the low success rates for funding applications and competition for jobs? How do you strategize for what can feel as random as a lightning strike – for example that elusive opportunity to win your next job and to move on from the transitional postdoc stage?
What steps do you need to take to be strategic and create a career plan that works for you, whether it is within academia or beyond? What are good tools to use and who do you turn to for help with planning? How do you deal with set-backs and road blocks that threaten to ruin your plans? And do you have a ‘plan B’ in case ‘plan A’ does not work out?
Come and share your experiences and thoughts, and hear from others on this topic at the #ECRchat on Thursday 26 June, 8pm UK time (BST).
I look forward to hearing from you!
The topic of this discussion was Building and maintaining networks as an ECR, led by Dr Lizzie Towl, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ.
Building and Maintaining Networks
In the current research environment, it seems that “who you know” is becoming as important as “what you know.” Those special opportunities that might make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful job or funding application are often only accessible through networks. Networks are also very important for less material forms of support, too, and for finding out about the unwritten rules of research and academia. In this week’s ECR chat we discussed building, managing and maintaining networks. You can catch up with the chatter in this Storify.
By day, Dr Lizzie Towl assists PhD students with their professional development and research skills at Victoria University of Wellington, NZ; by night, she conducts research into Middle English literature and manuscripts. She aims to swap the two occupations around someday soon.
The next chat is on Thursday 12th June, UK/Aus timezones, hosted by Claire (@bookworm_29) on Publishing as an ECR.
Today’s chat was hosted by Claire Evans (@bookworm_29), who is an early career researcher who completed her PhD at Cardiff University in March 2013. The chat was about ‘The academic job search’ and aimed to demystify the process of applying for academic jobs and potentially generated ideas for #ECRchats in the future.
Q1: What do we mean by an ‘academic job’? What types of jobs do finishing PhDers & ECRs look for?
- The main two types of jobs discussed were lectureships and post-doc positions, with one participant commenting that the lectureship is the dream job, but any research position will do!
- There was some debate as to what type of job was more dominant following the completion of a PhD, with the suggestion that it might (as often is the case) depend on the discipline.
- Mention of jobs outside of academia (i.e. independent researcher opportunities and jobs in industry) is a reminder that post-PhD, people need not limit themselves to academia
Q2: How do you find academic jobs? Does anyone have any recommendations for good sources?
Several options were suggested by chatters including:
- University Career/HR Pages and RSS feeds
- Specialist mailing lists
- Social networking sites (e.g. Twitter)
- Professional forums
- Developing and tapping into relevant networks
- Taking on part-time positions in departments to broaden your chances and networks
Q3: What sorts of issues do ECRs face when looking for academic jobs? Does anyone have any stories they are happy to share?
Participants raised the following points/questions as part of the discussion:
- Geographical location (willingness/ability or not of being able to relocate)
- Family commitments (inc. difficulty of your partner to find employment as well if you were to relocate)
- In the current climate there are simply not enough jobs for completing PhD students
- Importance of having a good track record, being known and demonstrating potential
- Three key questions that arose in the discussion were:
- Where to start?
- To consider what your long-term aims are in academia (as this will influence the types of jobs you will be looking for)
- How to turn part-time employment into a full-time career?
Q4: So let’s say you’ve managed to find an opening: What are some of the ‘do’s and don’ts when making an application for an academic job?
This question generated a lot of ideas from chatters including:
- Be sensitive to the culture around you (one participant said that this might be especially relevant in cultures where being modest is important; see point below)
- Balance being humble and selling yourself. Some chatters talked of the importance of selling yourself to potential employees and being honest about your success.
- Tailor the application to the job and selection criteria
- If you are unsure of the above, one participant suggested that you could directly ask employers what they are looking for and how you will be evaluated at interview.
- Email and ask ‘nice questions’ before applying
- Understand and acknowledge the expectations of the university, potential collaboration, and where your research fits in with research groups in the department
- Be clear about your career path and ‘let them know who you are and what motivates you’
- Don’t lie
Q5: Lot’s of great advice here. Before we end: Are there any other unanswered questions or ideas that you have about the job hunt?
At this point in the discussion chatters continued to discuss Question 4, but three particular points/questions that arose were:
- Keep an eye out for opportunities even if you are not specifically looking for a job (it’s always good to know what is out there)
- How do you deal with imposter syndrome?
- When should you start applying for opportunities?
One response to this was that, if the right opportunities arise then it is always worth applying.
Thank you to everyone for such an engaging chat and to the #ECRChat team for letting me host. The full conversation, including many useful links that were shared, is available via storify.
This chat was hosted by Chiat Cheong from the Postdoc Career Development Initiative (PCDI), in the Netherlands. Chiat brought her expertise as a project manager at PCDI and her previous experiences as a researcher to help answer our questions on “making choices for the next step”.
Tweeting from the PCDI Twitter account, Chiat started the discussion by asking what questions are important to us in making choices for the next step as early career researchers. From this, she distilled our concerns into two main themes, first, how to decide what career would suit us best, and second, when is the best moment to decide. In order to answer the first concern, we discussed what methods we are already using to explore different careers and what might suit us. Many options were discussed, such as using a SWOT analysis to explore personal preferences before trying to think about what job possibilities we might fit into.
One strong theme that led from this initial discussion was the shock, fear, and anxiety that can surround the realisation that academia might not be the best path for us. Many of us seemed to think that we had approached this realisation relatively late, and that it might have been easier if we had had the opportunity or encouragement to prepare for it sooner. Another important point was about the framing of this exploration of other careers, not as a back-up plan, but as an exploration of whether academia is still a positive choice that we actively feel like making. Much of the discussion focused on ways to take control of our career path, and be active in its direction, rather than just drifting to the next short-term post in the hope that a permanent academic position will come along.
The discussion did acknowledge some of the difficulties faced by ECRs in taking control of their own career destiny. For example, sometimes the end point of the path is not the most important aspect, because finding something that fits “right now” seems the best option. Also, with a limited supply of permanent jobs, sometimes the active decision to stay in academia does not work out.
Some final thoughts from the chat:
- Start with your personal motivation and needs, not what you are good at; ECRs can be good at anything when motivated – Chiat Cheong
- Get a realistic view on non-academic jobs, start get in touch with those who made the step to find out whether it would suit you – Chiat Cheong
- I think the phrase we’re all looking for is keeping an open mind – academic or not, do what is best – Kate Maxwell
You can view the chat tweets, including many more links and tips, in this Storify.