Inclusive academia (4): How to support Early Career Researchers

Fourth of eight posts on my Irish Academy of Management Distinguished Scholar Interview

In October 2022 I received the happy news that I was elected as the 2022 Irish Academy of Management Distinguished International Scholar. I received a beautiful glass sculpture and was interviewed by the amazing Alma McCarthy on the topic Towards a more inclusive and proactive academia. This post explains why supporting ECRs has been important throughout my career.

As director of the PhD programme at the University of Melbourne between 2005 and 2009 and my role as Associate Dean Research between 2010 and 2013, I developed lots of initiatives to support young academics. However, I have really expanded this role since I joined Middlesex University in 2014, where my formal roles are Staff Development Lead and Research mentor. Over the past 9 years, I have developed a comprehensive programme for researcher development, with sessions on publishing, funding, impact, social media, promotion applications, research skills, networking, research profiles, researcher well-being. A summary can be found in this white paper: Reflections on staff development.

I also provide an abundance of online resources on a professional development portal, my website, blog, and YouTube channel, and most recently a book series Crafting your career in Academia, with books on Writing promotion applications, Publishing in academic journals, Creating Social Media Profiles, and Measuring and Improving Research Impact. I have also presented on this work at courses for Deans and Research Deans at the European Foundation for Management Development and the British Academy of Management.

Our Middlesex support programme in brief

Time and money

This includes research allowances, research cluster leadership allowances and seed-corn internal funding. These are things that are available at most universities, but the key to the latter two activities is a focus on supporting junior academics. Research clusters were created through bottom-up initiatives and the cluster leads are almost exclusively junior to mid-career academics who can build up research areas they are passionate about.

Formal workshops & training

These are dealing not only with paper writing, research funding, external research impact, and specific research methods, but also providing academics with training to help them to improve their research profile. The longest running activity in this category is our writing boot-camp. I have organised this bootcamp eight times to date and more than 100 academics have benefitted from this.

Informal meetings

These are more informal meetings such as research lunches and research receptions. They aim to diffuse information and get people together to talk about their research and its challenges. But at the same time, they build connections for collaborative research projects or funding applications. It also includes meetings of our CYGNA women’s network which has more than 300 members from all over the world. We organized our 50th meeting in December 2022 and celebrated our 9-year anniversary in May 2023. (see: CYGNA: Thriving in Research and Coping with Uncertainties)

Individual-level internal support

This is support that is provided internally at Middlesex. This might be documentary or recorded information, offered on the Faculty’s Professional Development Gateway that I created on our shared drive, or distributed through monthly Research Bulletins (an example is available for download here). Or it might be one-on-one support through meetings or emails, usually with me or someone’s departmental research lead or research mentor.

Individual-level external support

Support can also be derived from external sources. At Middlesex, we are a member of CARMA and LinkedIn Learning and I provide a lot of resources on working in academia on my own website and YouTube channel. These resources are also accessible outside Middlesex.

General academic culture building

This is largely done through social media, by supporting individual academics in their careers through LinkedIn recommendation and sharing any positive news under the #Positive Academia hashtag. 

Taking an ECR centred perspective

However, supporting ECRs also means taking an ECR centred perspective in one-on-one support. For instance, I help a lot of academics with their papers, providing very detailed feedback. Many ask me to be a co-author, but I very rarely say yes. Part of this is to protect my own time, because when I am co-author on a paper, I really do the work. But I also want these academics to get due credit for their work, rather than it being seen as published because of a well-known co-author.

We also need to provide junior academics with opportunities to shine. As a senior academic with a very public profile, I get a lot of invitations to speak, contribute to research projects, edit special issues, be on editorial boards, be an examiner or contribute to any other academic service initiatives. I can accept only very few of these, but I always suggest one of my colleagues or one of my mentees as an alternative. They are very happy to gain the experience and exposure.

Finally, I also spend a significant chunk of my time on connecting people. A large part of my role as a research mentor and sponsor is to open my network to younger academics. I am never happier than when I can find a great co-author or research collaborator for one of my colleagues. I love academic matchmaking 😊. However, for this to work well both junior and senior academics need to be proactive, which is what the next part of the interview - On proactiveness in academia - is about.

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