Posted in Coming up

Coming up: Developing new skills as an ECR

The next live #ECRchat is Thursday 21 May at 20:00-21:00 in the UK (BST), 21:00-22:00 in Europe (CET), 15:00-16:00 in New York (EST), 12:00-13:00 in Vancouver (PST). This chat will be hosted by Beth Hellen, a postdoc at the University of Sheffield. You can find out more about her from her account.

Learning is something integral to our lives as Early Career Researchers, but once your formal education is over, how easy is it to identify and learn new skills?

This #ECRchat will explore the types of skills we think it is important for ECRs to learn, how easy it is to access ways to improve these skills (information, courses, mentors etc.) and whether we can do anything as a community to help each other learn new skills.

Posted in Recap, Support and healthy working

Recap: #ECRchat on When to Start a Family

Last week’s live chat topic was Deciding when to start a family’, 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 topics for last week’s #ECRchat had a family-related theme, as one of
the topics that keeps coming up among the people who take part in the
chats is the tension between academic and personal life. The poll came up
with the topic of “when to start a family”; it’s a question that has
caused quite a bit of debate when the subject of the ECR Hamsterwheel has
come up. It’s also pertinent in an age where younger female ECRs are still
facing what my friends in the States called the Illegal Question at job
interviews – that is, whether you are planning to become pregnant in the
foreseeable future, with the implication that fertility makes you less
attractive as a potential employee. (If you don’t believe me, I was
advised not to wear my engagement ring to a job interview last year, and
was more or less asked the Illegal Question at the same interview despite
following that advice.) #ECRchat gave us the opportunity to discuss the
question without the assumption that starting a family would somehow count
against you at this stage of your career, and to have a productive
conversation about the practicalities involved.

One thing the chat really foregrounded was how the issue of when to have a
family intersects with a lot of other work/life balance issues, and the
same problems about how willing you are to follow the job and live apart
from your partner apply for ECRs who are childfree. Some people had
tweeted me before the chat saying they weren’t sure how much they were
going to be able to contribute as they either did not have children or
were not planning to have them, but the flow of the conversation showed
that the overall issues are the same for most big life and career

We also benefited from the experiences of parents in the chat, who all
said more or less the same thing – don’t plan this too much, and just get
on with it! I think my favourite mantra that came out of this part of the
chat was “babies defy timing” – something that I suspect ECRs may find
difficult to get their heads around, given how much planning and
organising goes into our work. But, as the parents in the chat kept
reminding us, life isn’t just about the job.

The chat talked about the practicalities of having children. People raised
the importance of checking the childcare and maternity leave policies at
your institution, and indeed at your partner’s employer, as well as making
sure you’re familiar with the legal rights offered by your government. In
broader terms, we discussed the impact of having a family on the academic
workload, although there were plenty of anecdotal examples of parents who
had discovered they were more productive post-children – both because of
needing to manage their time more effectively, and because of feeling more
empowered about saying ‘no’ to things that were not in line with their
priorities. We discussed some options for bringing academic work into line
with family life, like flexible working or working in the evenings after
children had gone to bed, and of course the importance of a supportive
partner to make it all work.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the chat, and who offered their
experiences! If you are interested in reading more, there’s
a Storify of the chat available here. You can also download the full transcript of tweets here #ECRchat_tweets_2012_11_22.pdf.


The next live #ECRchat for Europe and Australia (and places in between) will be on 6th December. This will be the last chat before we take a break for the Christmas holiday. UK 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 is next on  29th 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 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.