early career researcher

Life as a research assistant

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Just to introduce myself, I am currently a Research Assistant at Newcastle University Business School. I joined the world of academia in May 2011, having previously worked in commercial (public sector) research and consultancy for the last 10 years ish. More about that another time, but my experiences may be of interest to others, hence sharing through this blog. 

Part one of my experience has been to quickly get reacquainted with academic literature, learn qualitative data management software (NVivo), and remember how time-consuming and slow the process of transcription is. Part two has been to understand the place of research in the university context, understand my place within it and figure out a new career path.

It’s this last element which has been much on my mind recently, and taken time to understand (not sure I’m there yet). Things I know for sure- 1) PhD is a must if I want to become a lecturer 2) getting work published is vitally important 3) getting work published in the right places is vitally important (3* and 4* journals). Things I still don’t know- 1) how to get PhD funding for a topic that both interests me and interests the funders 2) how to respond to multiple reviewers who may disagree 3) why some journals are considered a higher star rating than others and what difference this really makes.

My current position is managing a short term contract, hourly paid seminar work, and paying the bills. Despite this juggling, things are going well so far! More to follow, if you’re interested. Comments, advice, tough love welcome.


Research Staff – have your say via the CROS survey

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This is your opportunity to tell the university (anonymously) how you feel about your working conditions, career aspirations and career development opportunities. Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) 2011 is designed for research staff and is open for 3 weeks between 09-31 May 2011.  CROS has been continually capturing the views of UK research staff since 2002, and at Newcastle is the main way research staff opinion is gathered. The data helps inform decisions and developments relating to the employment, training and career development of research staff.

It takes about 20 minutes to share your views and experiences of being a researcher and help shape provision to support your development.

Take part now

Results will be analysed by the Research Staff Support Team at Newcastle. Key findings and recommendations will be emailed to you during the summer and reviewed at Faculty and University level. Data is used to help the university shape the provision of support for your development and address major issues. National results help inform the government and research funders on matters of relevance to research staff.

At Newcastle, CROS has lead to improvements for research staff including:

  • Higher profile of research staff needs throughout the University.
  • Improved communication with Research Staff.
  • New offerings in training and development provision, tailored to need.
  • Improvements in Performance and Development Review (PDR).
  • Faculty Induction for Research Staff.
  • Greater access to personal careers guidance and support for longer term career planning.

Take part now

Researchers in Residence

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Researchers in Residence: PhD or Postdoc wanted as research host for TV documentary

Researchers in Residence, a school placement scheme funded by Research Councils UK, is looking for a Newcastle-based researcher to run an engaging project about their area of interest in a local secondary school or FE college as part of a TV documentary to be featured in TeachersTV and new online science channel Newton TV.


The documentary will be an excellent profile raiser, maximise the impact of your research and boost your CV by developing teaching and communication skills  

Filming is likely to take place during one or two days in November by a Teachers TV film crew and will involved teacher and research interviews.

The project is likely to include practical demonstrations and a talk about your work across a range of Key Stage 3 and 4 year groups.  The classroom teacher will support participating researchers and communication training to help develop activities will be provided.

This opportunity is open to PhD and post doc researchers that are directly, or indirectly funded by one of the seven Research Councils or Wellcome Trust.

Interested researchers should apply by completing the online application form at www.researchersinresidence.ac.uk by October 10.

Interview Feedback

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In preparation for last week’s job interview, I read articles about the social benefits of writing residencies in prisons, re-read my application and re-read the brief they sent me.  There was a wealth of information on the Writers In Prisons Network website and the interview pack they sent me contained sample questions as well as a detailed run-down of how the day would go.  On the morning of the interview, I had a friend mock-interview me.

Unfortunately I did not get the job.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Voice of Young Science

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I found this network on the ‘Sense about Science’ website – and thought it may be of interest to researchers.

The Voice of Young Science is a network that helps young researcher, scientists, medics and engineers in the early stages of their career to get actively involved in public debates about science, particularly on contentious subjects.


Intel Challenge 2010

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What is the Intel® Challenge? http://www.intelchallenge.eu/

The Intel® Challenge Europe is a regional business plan for university students. In collaboration with prestigious education institutions and entrepreneurship organizations across Europe, Intel is excited to launch the Intel® Challenge Europe this year.

The goal of Intel® Challenge Europe is to contribute to the entrepreneurial movement and help generate interest and development of technological projects with the potential to become major business opportunities. By advancing technology entrepreneurship, Intel® Challenge Europe can support projects that can create value-added production chains and result in job creation.

The winners of this regional competition will be invited to participate in the final round of the competition at the Intel®+Berkeley Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge (IBTEC) in November this year at the University of California at Berkeley.

Confused career thinking?

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I’ve been thinking recently about careers blockages. I meet quite a few PhDs and researchers who end up drifting into careers rather than choosing them (I recognise them clearly since I was a ‘drifter’ myself!). They’re hurtling towards the edge of the cliff that is the end of their funding or contract, when their supervisor or PI lands another wodge of money and offers to extend their contract for another year or two. Saved! In the blink of an eye, they’re five years down the line of being a researcher and think of their career as something that’s somehow ‘happened’ to them, rather than it being something that they deliberately chose to do.

I got to wondering why this might be. Some of it is obviously down to pure unbridled panic (“if I don’t take the contract then how the hell will I pay the rent?!!?”), but I think that, for many people, it’s down to fear about making a decision – after all, if you don’t choose to do something, then you’re not to blame when it doesn’t work out! And then I stumbled across this article by careers theorist David Winter, who writes about confused career thinking (aka cognitive biases), and it really struck a chord. I reckon that I’ve fallen foul of at least 7 of his career traps at one point or another. How many of them have blocked your thinking?