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Early Career Researchers – 20 tips for career development

Gerry Czerniawski

It’s not easy being an Early Career Researcher! Establishing your professional identity, developing your independence as a researcher, teaching, competing for grants, coping with increasing levels of administration and – oh yes – developing your ‘output’ – that dreadful word so often used to describe the writing born of your research. A word that denies the creative and emotional endeavour that writing entails. 

Laudel and Gläser (2008) argue that as early career researchers (ECRs) you are not just developing one but three careers simultaneously: your cognitive career (i.e. the development of your research trail); your community career (i.e. your contribution to your wider academic communities); and your organisational career (i.e. the performance expectations of your employer organisation).  I hope that the following tips help move you to make the transition from early career researcher to experienced senior colleague, as you develop these three careers:

  1. Approach senior colleagues and directors of research throughout your university. Tell them who you are and what your research is about. Many will be unaware of exactly what work we do in education or the potential linkages with their own disciplines so this could open many doors.
  2. Write a blog for one of the more established blogging sites (e.g. this BERA Blog). It is an opportunity to publicise arguments, themes from research and/or published work you are engaged with. Remember, blogs are increasingly being recognised as evidence of your impact.
  3. Ensure you keep your university staff webpage up to date. Don’t underestimate the extent to which lobbying groups, journalists, publishers, policy-makers and others look at these.
  4. Offer to review articles for journals as part of a longer-term strategy to target that publication for a future article.
  5. Offer to review abstracts for academic conferences. This is a brilliant way to get to grips with the work and current thinking within your own research area.
  6. Schmooze grant managers/university research funding officers in your university! Get them to know your first name. When a last minute grant comes in, with luck, they’ll immediately think of you!
  7. Get accepted at a conference at least once a year and ensure that you present a whole paper (rather than just PowerPoint slides) then use the critical feedback to turn it into a journal article.
  8. Aim to have one article under review while writing the next.
  9. Have a trusted critical friend (not an academic!) read all your abstracts, introductions and conclusions. If they cannot understand those vital sections, then it’s not their deficiency in understanding that’s the issue – it’s the clarity of your writing!
  10. Widen your methodological expertise – it is too easy to stay within our own epistemological comfort zone – widening your expertise will open doors to the sorts of research collaborations you need to develop your careers.
  11. Aim to have two mentors – one within and one outside your institution – both will offer invaluable expertise while widening your professional arena.
  12. Access the dedicated support available in your own university that specifically targets ECRs – it is there – but institutions are not necessarily effective in signposting it.
  13. At larger conferences, talk to the people behind the publishers’ stands. They’re usually the senior commissioning editors or senior publishers and are there to talk about your emerging research ideas with a view to future publication.
  14. Try to write and publish with your mentor or other colleagues within your ‘academic tribe’ – generally speaking, more authors means more citations!
  15. Seek out and contact ECR forums in other universities. They will be keen to hear from you – and in many cases will invite you to present your work – or even put on shared events at your or their institutions.
  16. With a colleague or two, put in a proposal for a special edition of a journal. It’s fun and can raise your game in terms of developing professional expertise, networks and publishing craftsmanship.
  17. Exploit your doctoral thesis to the maximum in publications, in terms of contributions to theory, practice, existing findings, methodology and policy.
  18. Join any special interest group/network within your professional community (often related to annual conferences). BERA, for example, has over 30 such networks to choose from.
  19. Answer emails at the end of the day rather than the beginning! That way you might just get to lunchtime having achieved some of the tasks on your to-do list.
  20. Finally, write the sorts of publications you want to write, rather than those you feel you ought to write. I still enjoy writing for A level sociology students.  And I get as much pleasure writing those sorts of publications as I do for the REF, TEF or any other auditing requirement that we academics, often feel pressured into writing for.  All writing is good – it helps us think, create, develop, review and enhance our ideas.

These tips draw on my own experience, from the advice and guidance of experienced colleagues and published research on Early Career Researchers and were part of my key note lecture at this year’s BERA Annual Conference in September 2017 in Brighton, UK.  You can hear it from the horse’s mouth via the following video link:



Czerniawski G., Guberman A., MacPhail A. 2017. The professional developmental needs of higher education-based teacher educators: an international comparative needs analysis. European Journal of Teacher Education. 40 (1) 127-140.

Laudel G & Glaser J. 2008. From apprentice to colleague: the metamorphosis of Early Career Researchers. Higher Education: 55: 387-406

Locke W., Freeman R., Rose A. 2016. Early Career Social Science Researchers: Experiences and Support Needs. London: Economic & Social Research Council.

Renfrew K., Green H. 2014. Support for Arts and Humanities Researchers post-PhD. London: British Academy/Arts and Humanities Research Council.