Posted in Professional development and Identity, Recap, The job search

Recap: #ECRchat on Changing Track, 1 August 2013

August 1st’s chat was hosted by @ImperialPDC (Imperial College London’s Postdoc Development Centre), represented by Postdoc Adviser (and former humanities researcher) Rachel Walls.  Rachel advises mainly science postdocs on professional development issues such as finding a fellowship or moving out of academia.  Previously she was careers adviser for researchers at the University of Oxford.  She completed her PhD at the University of Nottingham in 2011.

The #ECRchat on August 1st was about changing track in your research. This was a chance for ECRchatters to hear about each other’s reasons for changing direction or considering a change, and to share tips for how to make transitions easier.  We had participants from across Europe (Norway, the Netherlands, UK), Australia, and even North America as @JacqInTheBooks got up in the early hours to join us.

The following questions were posed:

Q1. Have you changed direction since your PhD or are you considering it?

Q2. What are/were your reasons for changing track?

Q3. What are the advantages/disadvantages of changing track?

Q4. What did you do to make the transition successful/easier?

Q5. For those who changed, what would you do differently?

Q6. What research areas would you change to if you had no constraints (fun blue sky question to finish!)

Below is a summary of the conversations that occurred, but if you would like to read the tweets then you can find them at this Storify.

Q1. Have you changed direction since your PhD or are you considering it?

There were a variety of answers here, with some people changing direction in a small way such as adding a new method or expanding their research area.  Others had made more significant changes, both planned and unplanned. We had contributions from both scientists, social scientists and humanities, with some still completing their PhD and some much further into their career.  Some participants who hadn’t made a change were considering it and interested to hear from those who had.

Q2. What are/were your reasons for changing track?

Some people had moved, or were considering moving, in order to stay fresh and fundable. Others had changed track to take a particular job or to explore a different strand of a multidisciplinary PhD. Funding and finding work came across as a strong shaper of research direction, although others were driven by a problem they saw that needed addressing. 

Q3. What are the advantages/disadvantages of changing track?

Disadvantages included the huge amount of reading required to get to grips with a new area. Another disadvantage were slightly changing track and then realising there would be necessary additional unanticipated field shifts. There was also concern about how you can explain your research history and changes to panels when going for new jobs/fellowships and participants offered useful advice about being prepared with a compelling story about how your research has evolved. 

Advantages include new perspectives, new collaborators and insights.  Even some who were forced to change direction felt they had gained many transferable skills and were glad to have found new perspectives in the process. 

Q4. What did you do to make the transition successful/easier?

The resounding advice was to ask for help!  This included getting support from your current colleagues and building networks in the field you are moving into.  Getting a mentor was another suggestion.  Participants who had changed track had found reading the key journals and edited collections an important first step, as well as going to conferences in the new area and talking to people there.  Small conferences were praised for more effective networking and learning. Forming collaborations with people in the new field and making the most of library support was also mentioned – use your librarian!

Q5. For those who changed, what would you do differently?

Again, the main message here was ask for help sooner.  Also, publishing more between PhD and graduation was cited as a way of getting ahead with future options.  

Q6. What research areas would you change to if you had no constraints (fun blue sky question to finish!)

We heard from one participant that they were really happy in what they were doing now, and from another that there were too many interesting topics to choose from!  Many others had ideas about what they’d like to do, some more realistic than others.  #ECRchat coordinator @KL_Wheat said she’d love to work  on #ECRchat (including publications and research) full-time, so if anyone has any ideas for funding this be sure to let her know!

The chat ended with a reminder that there will be a change to chat timings in September, so keep an eye on the blog.  The next #ECRchat is 15th August but the hashtag is always here!

Posted in Professional development and Identity, Recap, The job search

Recap: #ECRchat on Alternative academic careers, 23 May 2013

This live chat was hosted by Tseen Khoo and Megan McPherson. Tseen is a Research Developer and one half of the Research Whisperer team and Megan is a PhD candidate at Monash University.

In this chat, we discussed questions such as ‘what are #altac and #postac?’, ‘what’s the best way to explore #altac options?’, and more. You can view Tseen and Megan’s recap of the chat in this Storify, including lots of helpful alternative academic links and resources towards the end.

You can also download and PDF of the full unedited chat here #ECRchat_tweets_2013_05_23.pdf


Posted in Professional development and Identity, Recap, The job search

Recap: #ECRchat on Postdoc Funding

Last week’s live chat topic was Different routes to postdoc funding’, hosted by Nicola Wardrop. Nicola is a Medical Research Council funded Post doctorate Research Fellow working in the Geography and the Environment Academic Unit of the University of Southampton, UK. You can find her on Twitter as @DiseaseMapper. Here is her recap of the chat.

With the on-going increase in PhD student numbers alongside decreases in the number of post-doc and academic positions available, it is becoming more and more difficult for early career researchers to get their foot on the academic career ladder. It wasn’t surprising then, that the ECR chat on different routes to post-doc funding was so active!

Since I completed my PhD a couple of years ago I have been on a continual learning curve trying to get to grips with the academic career path, available opportunities and grant applications. I am often asked by PhD students, post-docs and ECR lecturers questions such as “what the difference is between an ECR fellowship and working on someone else’s grant?” or “why are many post-docs never advertised?”. To me it seems that this kind of information is vital to helping ECRs progress in their career, but in my experience (and the experience of those around me), the information is not really provided and ECRs are left to work their own way through the minefield in their search for a post-doc position.

The discussion touched on a variety of different routes to a post-doc, but the three main routes were, each with their pros and cons:

  •  Advertised postdocs (where a PI has already been awarded funding and then advertises a postdoc position)
  • Your own funding (e.g. an early career fellowship, where you would apply for funding with a research proposal and if successful, the funding would support your salary and project costs)
  • Named on a grant (an in-between area where you work with a PI in development of a proposal, and are named as a post-doc on the application. If successful, you would then be the post-doc on that project)

The most useful part of the chat discussed advice for making us all more competitive as ECRs, to help give us the edge for the next step in our careers (whether that be applying for a fellowship, writing a grant with someone else or applying for a post-doc or lecturing position). Here is a summary of some of the advice:

  • Plan ahead (about a year) to know what funding is coming up, when
  • Get as much help/support/mentoring as you can
  • Try to get small grants at an early stage to improve your CV and gain experience
  • Link up with others outside of academia (e.g. business, public sector, practitioners)
  • Network as much as possible to build up a list of contacts
  • Read other peoples grants (successful and unsuccessful) to get an idea of what is needed
  • Publish/present as much as you can to boost CV (including with students if possible)
  • Make sure project is bigger than a PhD project (even if the time scale is the same)
  • Make use of any help available, even if it isn’t offered, just ASK!

It seems like everyone has something slightly different planned for their next step: applying for fellowships, writing grants with others or applying for advertised positions. A common theme was to not put all your eggs in one basket! Apply for more than one source of funding (as you would apply for more than one job) and consider improving your networks to provide more future opportunities for joint grant writing/collaboration.

Good luck to everyone for their next steps, whatever route they decide to take! You can see the chat summary on this Storify or download the full chat here #ECRchat_tweets_2012_11_08.pdf.


The next live #ECRchat for Europe and Australia (and places in between) will be on 22nd November, hosted by Liz GloynUK chat time 10:00-11:00 (GMT), Europe chat time 11:00-12:00 (CET), Australia chat time 21:00-22:00 (EDST).

#ECRchat West returns on 15th November, hosted by Networked Researcher. The chat will run fortnightly on Thursdays at 19:00-20:00 GMT.

Posted in Professional development and Identity, Recap, The job search

Recap: #ECRchat on Defining Success Outside of the Traditional Academic Path

This week’s chat was hosted by Katie Wheat, a postdoc in the Department of Cognitive Neuroscience at Maastricht University. Katie completed her PhD in Psychology at University of York and blogs at Life After Thesis.

Today we tackled the difficult topic of “Defining success outside of the traditional academic path”. I broke the topic down into a few questions to help guide our thoughts. For example, we talked about what we mean by traditional academic measures of success and what their pros and cons are. Measures such as publication output, academic promotion path, and grants were discussed. Many chatters raised the point that pressures to fulfil the requirements of academic success may be detrimental to achieving real success. Such as, publishing parts of a story in order to increase the number of publications by a lab, rather than submitting a more satisfying and complete story.

Next, the discussion moved to the other things we do that may not be valued as highly, but perhaps should be. For example, networking and communication skills and activities take up a lot of time, but this time is not necessary protected or available. We also discussed outreach activities and whether ECRs are aware of the possibilities for recognition from their institution for this kind of work.

The second half of the chat was dedicated to a discussion of how we personally view success, and how we would encourage future academics to think about success. Lots of really positive suggestions came up, including the idea that success is closely linked to happiness. Furthermore, we should be aware of our successes at home as well as at work.

For me, I think the tweets really speak for themselves this week. You can get an overview of the chat from this Storify or download the archive of the entire chat here #ECRchat_tweets_2012_08_23.pdf

It was a difficult topic that needed a little more structure than some previous weeks but it was clear that people have a lot of strong positive ideas about success. There also seemed to be a lot of frustration surrounding how we measure up against the traditional academic measures of success, and how they may be almost unattainable in some case (e.g., a professorship), and even detrimental to success in other cases (e.g., rushing to publish incomplete papers). Overall, I found the chat to be inspiring and uplifting, even if one chat can’t fix the system we are battling against to prove our worth.

Looking forward to chatting with you all again next week!


#ECRchat will be back at the same time next week with your host Liz Gloyn. The poll to vote is up now. That’s 11:00-12:00 in the UK (BST), 12:00-13:00 in Europe (CEST), and 20:00-21:00 in Australia (EST), on Thursday 30th August.

Posted in Professional development and Identity, Recap, The job search

Recap: #ECRChat careers outside of academia – Thursday August 2nd 2012

This week’s #ECRChat was hosted by Dr Sarah-Louise Quinnell. Sarah is currently the E-Learning research project lead at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists in London. Here is her take on this week’s chat, discussing careers outside of academia.

Wow, all I can say is wow! I volunteered to host this #ECRchat topic because it was a topic very close to my heart. I expected to be a career academic when I finished my PhD and after I found it very very hard to get an academic position. I was very disillusioned and wondered what I was going to end up doing. I then went into what they call ‘professional services’ so the administrative / management side of the University world for a short term contract and then found myself back at square one.

I applied for a job outside of academia having done a lot of consultancy and thought why not. I also applied for two academic positions. I was interviewed for all three and offered the one at CSP (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy) which is a professional body supporting the education and professional development of Physiotherapists across the UK. I’ve been in post four weeks and I absolutely love it. I am leading a research project looking at how e-learning can be introduced to support members professional development needs. This is applied research, which will lead to the development of a strategy, it will influence policy, it will see me engaging with a range of different sectors. It will produce reports and academic papers and will make a difference, something I always wanted to do.

I fell out of HE by accident but now I am out and proud so to speak and will blog more about that in other contexts. The chat on Thursday went mad, we even trended in the UK something that a digital researcher like myself is extremely proud of. The chat on Thursday brought up some fascinating issues as you can see in the storify Katie completed, or in the complete archive of tweets (#ECRchat_tweets_2012_08_02). Only 1 in 10 post docs will stay in academia and run their own labs (for the scientists amongst you). For the rest of us things are even harder. It is not selling out, or settling or failure that pushes people out of HE it wanting to have a meaningful career. There is a lot post docs can offer the world of applied research outside of academia. Our skills are unique and in high demand we just need to learn to sell ourselves.

The thing I realise that we need to work on from this chat is removing the stigma attached with moving out of HE. I am doing more research than I was before. I have more autonomy and responsibility, I have more freedom to lead and develop this project as I see fit. The skills I am developing here will make me a better academic, if I choose to go back (that is my plan) I am also getting to know myself better and develop embrace the different experience of working outside academia.

I look forward to coming back to this issue so lets put our head together to see how we think we can nullify this stigma!

Enjoy next weeks chat, lets make it trend again and don’t forget to join us on the wiki.


#ECRchat will be back at the same time next week with your host Prof. Pat Thomson. That’s 11:00-12:00 in the UK (BST), 12:00-13:00 in Europe (CEST), and 20:00-21:00 in Australia (EST), on Thursday 9th August. VOTE NOW!