It’s almost a cathartic experience to write a piece on tips for research survival for new academics. I certainly wish that something like this had been around when I was an ECR in the early 2000s. As earlier posts have noted though, academia is a different ballgame now. The pressures on new academics are huge and so PGRs and ECRs should be thinking about making themselves different to stand out from the rest. Building on the comments from the earlier posts, here are some of my tips.
1. Don’t get stuck in a rut. If you do, recognise it and address it. It’s really easy at the moment with competing pressures in HE for new ECRs to become completely overawed with the teaching and administration associated with a lectureship. In a new lectureship, it’s normal to feel this way. Whilst teaching is a needed part of academia and inspires the next generation, the amount given to ECRs can be challenging. Hopefully your institution will have the appropriate research management to ensure that this doesn’t swamp ECRs’ research potential. But if it doesn’t, and you don’t, then make sure that you are honest with yourself about what you want out of your academic career. If you want to continue to develop your research profile, find a way out of the box to do it. In fact, embrace the next point …
2. Get yourself a good mentor. I am passionate about mentoring and have both mentored and been a mentee. A good mentor will offer you support when you need it. But, and this is where some mentoring relationships can fail, a good mentor will also challenge you when you need to be challenged, and stop you falling into a rut. It’s not always a comfortable experience but a mentor will encourage you to develop yourself.
3. Get involved with your professional bodies. A lot of disciplines have professional bodies attached to them. Mine is the British Psychological Society (BPS) and I am the current Chair of the BPS Social Psychology Section and also a committee member of the Qualitative Methods in Psychology Section of the BPS. I’ve been involved in the BPS in various roles since I was an ECR and, whilst they’re time consuming, it’s useful on two counts. The first is obviously to give time to the professional bodies, someone has to do the work and it might as well be you. But secondly, it gets your name known in these settings. If you intend to have a long career in academia, then this is important.
4. Publish, present and network. Linked with the point above, as an academic you need to create ‘the brand’. This brand is you as a rounded academic who teaches, publishes and works for their academic community. Some of this ‘branding’ can be done more easily now on social media. However, you must publish and present your work in books, peer reviewed journals and the like. Publications are what set you apart. It’s what makes academics, academics. No matter how busy we get, publishing and presenting your ideas (and therefore networking), is part of your job. If it’s slipping, address points 1 and 2 above – get out of your comfort zone/rut and get yourself a mentor! If it’s a confidence issue, start slowly with book reviews and newsletters before working up to journal articles. Ask your mentor or a trusted colleague to read and comment on your work before you submit it. This kind of informal feedback can be invaluable.
5. Be a good a citizen and recognise career opportunities. I remember a few years ago having conversations with a fellow academic and I was surprised that they were not willing to input fully into their community in terms of peer reviewing, etc. Their point was ‘what’s in it for me?’ I was really surprised with the view that you don’t work unless you get something for it. In academia, being a valued part of your community and being a good, active citizen, means that you will get something back from it. I’ve been reviewing journal articles and grants for well over a decade now and only once have I had to say that I’m too busy. It should be an expected part of your role. As an ECR, if opportunities like this come your way, grab them.
Remember that most of us are in academia for the long-haul and, for that reason it’s worth investing time into developing yourself holistically to become a fully rounded academic. As an ECR you are at a vulnerable point and so it’s seeking advice and learning from those who’ve been there. That’s why projects such as The New Academic are invaluable.