In a previous article, Contracts or Career Progress, I used the emphasis on developing research independence as a way of analysing and reflecting on your career development. Can early career researchers, however, rely on having a strong research profile entirely in today’s competitive academic job market? In a small number of cases those stellar researchers who have had a glittering start to their research career may perhaps be able to use this approach. The majority of those competing for academic jobs will, however, need to demonstrate enthusiasm for and readiness to take on teaching, management and administration as well as other aspects of academic life, such as outreach and public engagement work. I would also suggest that engaging with some of these offers early stage researchers opportunities to experience and undertake practical careers research, allowing you to consider if an academic career is really what you want to commit to?
I can, of course, hear a collective sigh from researchers reading this article wondering how they can be expected to fit in career and personal development activities in addition to their research work. Today’s pressured work environment does leave less time for individual development but identifying specific career related activities at appropriate stages in your career and personal development planning may help you to continue to build experience across a wider range of activities. By adopting a strategic and planned approach to your development you can also assess what may be realistic and achievable alongside your work commitments. A starting point may be to use your academic CV to assess which sections, apart from research, need strengthening? There may be one section, for example teaching, that you need to focus on. If, however, you have more than one area to take action on then the decision on which to tackle first may be influenced by what is practical in terms of time or training/development opportunities available to you. There may also be opportunities to develop your experience which may not involve attending formal training events and so may fit in better with your work commitments. The suggestions below for formal and informal training and development opportunities are prompts for you to think about the ways in which you could build knowledge and insights as well as practical academic career experience:
For those already teaching check whether there are training courses offered at your institution for staff with limited teaching duties. If you cannot attend courses, can you observe a lecture and focus on the lecturer and the teaching techniques and approaches being used. You could also use participation in outreach or public engagement activities to enhance your teaching delivery skills as well as developing these two areas of your research experience.
Are you aware of research leadership training offered by your institution? Can you volunteer to be on a departmental or school committee in order to develop organisational knowledge?
I would stress that you will have to prioritise the career development activities you can fit in with work and also that in some cases the benefits may not be immediately apparent in terms of promotion or recognition. If this is the case, the time and effort made might be best described as being your “career investment account” – you may be able to draw on these investments in the future.