From Studentship To Indispensable Research Partner

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Every department with research students contains a variety of types. There are the “ghost students,” who either rarely appear, or rarely step outside the lab. There are those who work hard, do well, but come and go. And there are those who are so busily visible that many academics assume they are actually junior members of staff.

That last group tends to be the one from which postgrads actually make the successful transfer from research student to researcher or lecturer. The following tips suggest ways to join its ranks. 

Work like you mean it.

This is the tip that shouldn't be necessary, but every supervisor has stories of postgrads who don’t pull their weight. Make sure you give any project you have agreed to contribute to more than the bare minimum.

Just as importantly, make sure your supervisor and his or her academic colleagues know what you do. This prevents others from taking credit for your hard work, and also ensures that you become a familiar face with a strong reputation.

Become an expert researcher.

Read as much as you can about methods you are using. Understand why they were chosen over alternatives, and how to address any shortcomings they may have. Attend methodology seminars, learn any software that you use inside and out, and know where every lab or research resource in your department can be found.

Share what you know, and soon both staff and fellow students will think of you first when they have a research question. 

Join academic organisations.

Go through your department and university Web site in search of faculty organisations. Most of these are also open to PhD students. Choose wisely: look for organisations aligned with your long-term career ambitions, such as research groups, and that include as members the very academics you would most like to get to know.

Attend meetings, and make sure you have something intelligent to say about the topics discussed. Take the time to chat with academic staff before and after meetings about their current research and teaching. Keep your contacts professional, avoiding participation in the university gossip that may come up. There’s nothing academics like more than know that someone finds what they have to say interesting, so show your interest and listen politely. Then, contribute some memorable ideas of your own. 

Learn how to write great research applications.

Get to know anyone in your department who has a great funding track record, and find out how they do it. If there are dedicated staff who write funding applications, offer to help as a way to get on-the-job training.

This step is especially important for those who have joined a project that is already funded rather than writing an original application. In academic life, your ability to bring in funding can determine the trajectory of your career—or even its existence—so learning how to craft a compelling bid is an essential skill. It’s one that will make staff members seek out and rely on your expertise.

PhD Section

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