The scholar world is highly competitive and early career professionals face a whole lot of challenges while trying to carve a successful career path for themselves. Most of these challenges start with fellowship and collaboration issues: once one goes solo, competition arises – even between best companions or former senior supervisors – bringing a sense of solitude or even poor self-confidence. Another type of challenge is defining what is coming next regarding work: most young PhD researchers struggle while defining focus or direction in their research, leading to a lack of motivation and fear of failure.
What is an early career researcher?
The term Early-Stage Researcher refers to researchers in the first four years of their research activity, including the period of research training. ECR is determined on the length of time since the individual completed their PhD, e.g.:
- A maximum of four years’ academic research experience following the completion of their PhD
- Be of equivalent professional standing;
Early career researcher
Early career researchers (ECRs) face many challenges with funding, publishing and career progression. In general, we know that ECRs are rated mostly by the number of first-author publications and the tier of journals where their published articles appear.
ECRs face a lot of pressure, including to get their research published – as it is said in academia jargon, “Publish or Perish” – to find the next position and balancing professional and personal life. To manage all these issues, it is important to take breaks from work, relax the mind, and find some time to pursue your own interests.
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But not everything has to be this gloomy … Starting an academic career is also fascinating and full of opportunities once you are able to overcome some of the most common worries (listed below) with positivism:
- Coping with change: The transition process and letting go of the “old me” can be unexpected and challenging. Knowing that others go through a similar process can be quite comforting, so keep in touch with friends and senior experts to ask for advice or simply share your experience.
- Post-PhD – “and now?”: Sometimes, instead of the anticipated elation at finally completing the thesis, there is a feeling of emptiness, and early researchers struggle to find anything that will offer similar intensity and a sense of purpose. Some people decide to undertake a temporary job – out of academia – or go off on a journey to feel inspired and clear their minds. Whatever solution, it is a good idea to put life in perspective to help refocus on a fulfilling research theme that can feed your career for some time.
- Lack of access to resources: Very often ECRs find themselves disconnected from sources of support (networking, professional development or career advice) at a time when they need them the most. Recreating those networks without any official institutional affiliation can be quite difficult. Try to keep close to people who have gone through the same situations to find out how to overcome them.
- Lack of support from supervisors: While the official relationship may be over, some ECRs will be keen to maintain the informal connection with their supervisors. However, otherwise is not very common; by becoming an independent researcher, you also become a competition.
- Time management: For academia beginners, time management might be quite challenging: self-discipline is essential, not only setting your own timetables but also managing family and working time. Remember: if you feel you are not quite coping with all there is in this job, try getting rid of some of it – with Elsevier, it is easy to get your manuscript’s quality ready for a journal submission while you think of other things to do.
- Sustaining writing productivity: The ability to produce academic publications can make or break a researcher’s career. At the same time, this is possibly one of the most challenging aspects of being an academic. A fine quality text edition and good presentations are key features for successful submissions, and consequent publications, bringing, therefore, more chances of financial stability.
- Career issues: The path to post-PhD employment is rarely linear and can involve blind alleys, sideways moves, and a lot of twists and turns, leaving people confused about what their next steps should be. Try to keep focused on your immediate work but always keep in mind how it can evolve in the future.
Advice for early career researchers
Spending time in the lab is important, but it is also important to network and collaborate. Try to attend conferences and networking events, as they are the best source for helping you pave your future career. Having a substantial literature survey is also of extreme importance; especially in the first years!
Remember to always find courage and perseverance in yourself; determination is one of the most essential features for a researcher. Positive thinking will help you to overcome the first years but, if you want a long-lasting scholar career, the most important thing is to be committed to your own work: without commitment, it will be difficult to stand out in the dog eat dog world of academia.
Another tip for standing out among researchers is to find a research gap, that is, to choose a research topic that has not been addressed yet. As difficult as this might sound, there are certain clues that lead you to a research gap, you just need to know how to read them.
At Elsevier Author Services, we are aware of the importance that each project has for its author. In Elsevier, early researchers can find a reliable companion to help them build a career of success in a time when they need support and confidence the most.
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