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Practical research considerations for PGRs and ECRs: Adaptability, resilience and career transitions

Sophie Atherton, PhD Student at University of Manchester Janina Suppers, PhD student at University of York

On 7 June 2022 postgraduates (PGRs) and early career researchers (ECRs) with an interest in youth studies met for a virtual event, facilitated by the youth study groups of three UK organisations: the British Educational Research Association (BERA), the British Sociological Association (BSA) and the Political Studies Association (PSA). During a time of ‘intersecting crises’ (see Moore et al., 2021), we decided to focus on adaptability and resilience as useful concepts to deal with these challenges. 

Adaptability can be defined as the ‘capacity to adaptively regulate cognition, emotion, and behaviour in response to new, changing, and/or challenging conditions and circumstances’ (Martin, 2012, p. 90), while resilience can be defined as the ‘process of achieving positive outcome despite challenge and constraint’ (Yin & Mu, 2022, p. 2). Although resilience is a contested concept in the literature (see for example Yin & Mu, 2022) and should not be used to deflect attention away from structural inequalities, the speakers in this event often found themselves having to develop resilience to complete their projects. The two-hour session was split into two parts, summarised as follows, which included breakout room sessions where participants could reflect on what they have learned from the short presentations and roundtable discussions.

Resilience and adaptability 

Dr Parinita Shetty, who researches intersectionality, critical literacy and public pedagogy in fan podcasts, shared her reflections on the concept of resilience. Parinita highlighted the importance of managing researcher workload, which dramatically increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. She then discussed the importance of connecting with fellow PGRs and ECRs to avoid isolation, scheduling time for enjoyable activities and being kind to oneself when plans do not work out. 

Janina Suppers (postgraduate student), who researches young people’s emerging citizenship activities, reflected on her experiences of collecting data at a secondary school during a pandemic lockdown. Janina experienced changing and challenging situations which she illustrated by sharing a map (produced by Mario Zucca). She outlined some of the challenges she faced during data collection and ways to harness adaptability to address them, including creative recruitment strategies, a range of online tools, and providing different consent options. Janina’s takeaway tips were to sometimes ‘let go’ of an idea to embrace new ones and to appreciate new opportunities arising from challenging situations. 

Career transitions 

Resilience and adaptability are also needed when it comes to planning our careers, so the second half of the event involved a discussion between four youth researchers, from across career stages and with academic and non-academic experience. 

Sophie Atherton (postgraduate student) highlighted competing opportunities PGRs may have to juggle and argued that this can be daunting and risks burnout. She explained that during her PhD, she has learned to reflect, be selective, and say ‘no’ so that she can say ‘yes’ to what she really wants and needs. Sophie’s selection (highlighted in dark blue in figure 1) changes periodically to balance extra work, while prioritising her PhD, and (most importantly), her wellbeing. 

Figure 1: Balancing opportunities to avoid burnout

Dr Christine Huebner reflected on the academic and non-academic roles that are available to youth researchers and reminded us that asking ourselves why we take on certain responsibilities can help us focus on the inspirations behind our decisions. Dr Nora Siklodi prompted the audience to engage in self-reflection by identifying our strengths, recognising the interdisciplinary nature of our work, and our potential to stretch and re-create disciplinary boundaries. In line with youth studies’ focus on transitions (Woodman et al., 2020), Professor Tracy Shildrick reflected on how careers are constantly in transition and although it is not without its challenges, academia can be a fruitful and rewarding path to experience such transitions. Tracy encouraged PGRs and ECRs to submit their research to academic journals and seek advice from senior academics. 

Reflection/discussion questions 

Academia can seem like a challenging landscape, but networking and talking openly about these challenges can benefit our research and mental wellbeing. Figure 2 summarises some of the provocations that attendees discussed, which we invite you to reflect on. 

Figure 2: Practical research considerations for postgraduates 


Martin, A. J. (2012). Adaptability and learning. In N. M. Seel (Ed.). Encyclopedia of the sciences of learning (pp. 90–92). Springer.  

Moore, K., Hanckel, B., Nunn, C., & Atherton, S. (2021). Making sense of intersecting crises: Promises, challenges, and possibilities of intersectional perspectives in youth research. Journal of Applied Youth Studies, 4, 423-428.  

Woodman, D., Shildrick, T., & MacDonald, R. (2020). Inequality, continuity and change: Andy Furlong’s legacy for youth studies. Journal of Youth Studies, 23(1), pp. 1–11.   

Yin, Y. M., & Mu, G. M. (2022). Thriving in the neoliberal academia without becoming its agent? Sociologising resilience with an early career academic and a mid-career researcher. Higher Education. Advance online publication.