Early career researchers (ECRs) are usually defined as individuals in the five years after completing a doctoral degree. These five years are fundamental in helping pave the way for a future in research, but knowing how and where to start can be a struggle, particularly when balancing research with weekly teaching load. Browning et al. (2016) found that the key areas that ECRs need support in are workload, performance management and accountability. This blog post considers the interesting dynamic of being both an ECR, and a lecturer in the field of education, and the role of the wider school and faculty in supporting ECRs to reach their potential and avoid burnout.
For ECRs who began their pathway during the Covid-19 pandemic, outputs have been affected such as fewer opportunities for development, or these development events being delivered online and thus losing the social aspect of networking. Research activity was reduced for many due to restricted access to settings such as schools or health providers due to Covid rules. Evidence shows that due to the lockdowns and altered social interactions – such as working remotely instead of on campus – ECRs have been affected in terms of research activity, researcher development, career prospects and wellbeing (Lokhtina et al., 2022).
‘Due to the Covid-19 lockdowns and altered social interactions, ECRs have been affected in terms of research activity, researcher development, career prospects and wellbeing.’
Stanley (2022) warns that as ECRs strive to succeed in an ever-more competitive environment of research grants and funding, there is risk of burnout as their workload has no set boundaries; promotion is now often based on evidence of impact, so in order to progress, ECRs need to do more and prove more than ever before. As we emerged from the pandemic, it was harder for boundaries to be set between work and home life, and many additional duties and responsibilities, such as being module leaders or course leaders, were added to ECR roles (Lokhtina et al., 2022).
There are many ways that ECRs can be supported by those around them.
The role of the line manager
The line manager is a key level of support for an ECR. Having monthly 1:1 check-ins gives ECRs the chance to share projects they are working on, as well as receive guidance from a more senior member of staff on opportunities to focus on or offering an opinion on whether the workload is too high. One way to manage this is through setting targets for action, and ensuring the targets are ‘SMART’: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based.
The role of the teaching space and students
Being able to teach and share current research ideas and projects with students while being an ECR lecturer is invaluable. Sharing initial ECR projects offers the opportunity for a real-life research role-model to inspire students, while also giving the ECR space to reflect upon their own pathway.
The role of colleagues
Collaborating with colleagues is a great way of diversifying research load, and also offers the opportunity of learning from others and drawing on their expertise – such as pairing up with another colleague to write a short article, blog piece or literature review for journal publication.
The role of the research development team
It is important that the members of a university’s research team – the director of research, or research and innovation funding manager, for example – reach out to ECRs and offer support with new processes such as grant finding, applying for grants and funding, and developing research projects. Sharing new funding opportunities via email is a great way to put calls on an ECR’s radar, but this should be followed up with check-ins from a research officer to help advise with calls that are more suitable.
The role of the wider faculty and institution
The wider faculty can be useful in offering interdisciplinary approaches to research; for example, an ECR in education could consider collaborating with someone in another discipline such as Social Care or Psychology to design a project. Institutions should aim to host ECR network events, either face to face or online, to allow for ECRs to meet others with different areas of subject expertise.
The role of online networking
The one key support outside of the faculty is that of online platforms such as Twitter or Facebook groups. Having other ECRs to share questions and ideas, and see other ways of working is incredibly valuable.
In conclusion, an ECR needs support from all of those around them in order to protect their workload while still being ambitious and aspirational. If the faculty monitor ECR development, there are more likely to be positive effects on their wellbeing, and the development of sustainable working behaviours.
Browning, L., Thompson, K., & Dawson, D. (2016). It takes a village to raise an ECR: Organisational strategies for building successful academic research careers. International Journal for Researcher Development, 7(2), 192–197. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJRD-11-2015-0031
Lokhtina, I. A., Castelló, M., Lambrechts, A. A., Löfström, E., McGinn, M. K., Skakni, I., & van der Weijden, I. (2022). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on early career researcher activity, development, career, and well-being: The state of the art. Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-10-2021-0076
Stanley, P. (2022). An autoethnography of ‘making it’ in academia: Writing an ECR ‘journey’ of Facebook, assemblage, affect, and the outdoors. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/08912416221120