BAVP Early-Career Researcher Meeting Careers Discussion
At this year’s BAVP ECR meeting, we hosted an online careers discussion with Adam Hayward (Moredun Research Institute), Roz Laing (University of Glasgow), Paul McVeigh (Queen’s University Belfast) and Caroline Millins (University of Liverpool). The panel began by each sharing their career trajectory before attendees asked questions to stimulate discussion.
Roz presented a schematic which showed an “ideal” career trajectory, and it’s fair to say that none of the panellists’ careers followed the smooth path from PhD, to post-doc, to fellowship, to tenure, with Nature papers scattered liberally throughout! The panellists’ backgrounds included evolutionary biology, veterinary practice and molecular biology, with varying amounts of time spent in post-doctoral research before gaining some degree of independence with fellowships or lectureships.
We then moved on to the Q&A.
How important is outreach and how do I gain experience?
Suggestions included Pint of Science, Soapbox Science and I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here, as well as getting in touch with local interest groups, schools, and your institutions outreach organization (they will have one!)
Panel members also noted that while outreach is seen as important, a cynic (i.e. all of them!) would say that outreach barely comes up in fellowship or lectureship interviews…
How important are high-impact publications?
Everyone felt that publishing was important, but that having Nature papers wasn’t
Publishing in respected journals is going to help with job applications
Altmetrics are increasingly important: Impact Factors are looked at, but the influence of your research into things like social media, podcasts, blogs and policy are also important
Did any of you have a back-up plan if science didn’t work out?
All panel members thought there was a time when they may have to leave science and considered other jobs, one even turning down a job from outside science
Everyone recognised that while they all enjoyed their job, working in science isn’t everything and there are many fantastic careers out there for people leaving science
If you’re going to move to a job in industry, is it possible to move back into academia?
The answer was a resounding yes!
The breadth of outlook and skills picked up in industry could provide advantages when applying for jobs in academia
There are some schemes specifically for funding people who are returning to academia
How do you identify a supportive research supervisor or group?
The key is to remember that you’re interviewing a prospective supervisor as well!
It’s crucial to ask other lab members – post-docs, students, technicians what the lab is like to work in, and if you’re really sneaky you can even contact past lab members
How do you get away from the incompatibility of academia with starting a family?
One acknowledgement was that there is never a really good time to start a family and that academics are not necessarily worse off than other careers in that respect
It was further noted that academia is often more flexible than other careers when it comes to leaving early to pick up kids, or to stay off work when they’re ill
How do you find a niche in your field or department, especially if you’re not able to move far?
Luck can play a role here – but it’s also important to develop a separate set of questions or approaches if you’re staying put
Ideally you don’t want to be competing with your current or former supervisor!
A supportive supervisor or mentor will provide time for you to think about these things to help career development
Overall, our top ten tips are:
Work with people who provide you with opportunities to develop your research, including pursuit of outside projects and funding.
Moving research institutes can be good but is not essential. If your current institution is the best place for your research, justifying the decision to stay is easy!
If you want a lectureship, don’t be afraid to apply – and ask colleagues for teaching experience
Gain experience of committees or administration
Publish your work – but having papers in reputable journals looks good
Amassing loads of funding isn’t necessary at the early-career stage – but having credible fundable ideas is
A non-linear career path can enable your outlook and ideas to broaden and provide advantages and opportunities in the long term
A career in academia doesn’t need you to live and breathe your work
A science degree, PhD or post-doc provide a huge number of transferable skills
Finally, have fun and do things that make you happy!