It seems like a lifetime away since I was an ECR (it was from the early to mid 2000s so not that long ago), but I feel that I’ve learned a lot on my way to becoming a lecturer. My top survival tips are based on my experiences, observations and knowledge gained, and are relevant to PGRs and ECRs who want to retain a career in academia. I have tried to make them generic, but recognise that the discipline you are working in and the institute you work for are likely to impact what you should be doing to benefit your CV.
1. Network with other ECRs and PGRs. It’s good to have someone to talk to who is going/ has gone through similar experiences to you. Not only can they help with potential challenges but they can also guide, advise and support you. It’s also great to have someone you can lunch with when you need that respite from work!
2. Networking on a more broader level is important too (although your network of contacts will build as your academic career develops). This is about putting a face to a name, and has the potential to come in handy for job applications and collaborations. Networking can be easier said than done but it is worth biting the bullet. If you have anxieties about it, I recommend that you attend a workshop aimed at developing your networking skills and confidence. Most universities offer such courses as part of their staff development profile.
3. Write articles for publication. These can take many forms e.g. book reviews, or they can be from your PhD study or the project you are currently working on and thus be literature reviews, methodological papers, as well as those that report project findings.
4. It can help to be ambitious when you publish your work: make a list of the ‘best’ and most appropriate journals for your article, submit it to the top one on your list and if rejected submit it to the next one down. Do check author guidelines carefully before submitting your work, as it’s not uncommon for articles to be rejected prior to review for not adhering to form.
5. Present your work too. Don’t let others discourage you by telling you it is not important to do this. It is! Again, you can start with a friendly audience, like a postgrad seminar group, before moving to large conferences if you need to build confidence. It sounds like a cliché but the more you do, the easier they get.
6. If you get the opportunity to teach, do so. Taking a one-hour seminar can give you valuable experience for your CV. Also gaining experience of curriculum design would be an advantage. Have a word with the unit leader and they may be happy for you to get more involved.
8. Social media can help in other ways too. There is an impressive support network on Twitter for ECRs, PGRs and PhD students, and a wonderful range of tips and guidance are communicated via the hashtags #ECRchat and #PhDchat.
9. However, be careful not to take on too much. Over time you will learn what requests, and made by who, to say yes to. Some people make them in good faith, some need help, some just want to offload. Obviously the implications of saying no require careful consideration, especially if your relationship with the person who has made the request matters.
10. Take time out. Some academics look as though they rarely break from work. But even those who continue their work in the evenings and at weekends take a rest. Doing things that you love (e.g. walking the dog, rock climbing, whatever it is as long as it’s not academic-work related) can recharge the batteries and clear the mind.