Early-Career Researchers: Navigating a Complex Landscape
Life for Early career researchers (ECR) has never been so challenging: competition is high, societal attitude to value is changing, and the nature of academia is more complex than ever. What are the good practices in planning both for long-term growth, as well as short-term success?
Nothing substitutes for good research: it is by far the most efficient and safe way to guarantee short-term and long-term success.
Internationally leading research as defined and benchmarked against peers is a through-life value that all academics and positions value. Here are a few pointers:
Benchmark your excellence against the best, not just who you know around you or even what your supervisor/line-manager says. That means reading widely, asking the best people for advice, and not to be consumed by self-doubt or self-satisfaction.
Articulate your plan to others on what you want to achieve in 100 days, 1 year, 3 years, and 5 years. Plans can and should change, but a person without a plan doesn't attract investment and mentorship.
Understand the ecosystem is critical to growth and being responsible. The biggest difference I see between a naive researcher and a mature academic is understanding the responsibility of resources. Resources are largely tax-paid and industrial funding, so knowing who we need to be responsible to, what the time and financial pressure points are, and how you need to work with others to achieve a cooperative ecosystem is important.
An ECR cannot understand all of that alone, so mentorship in a benevolent manner is critical. This is lacking due to the modern time pressure on all academics, but also because there is a lack of trust between senior and junior researchers. Senior academics fear the irresponsible, and junior researchers fear exploitation.
Building that trust through an exchange of knowledge is essential, but a large onus rests in junior researchers willing to take on critical advice and diverse information - listening in intelligent ways (not all advice is good, so cross-check facts), and developing a plan of action that is responsible to not only themselves, but also the wider ecosystem. This requires time and commitment, which are rare attributes in a competitive and dynamic world.