How Early Career Researchers Can Help Themselves

By Grace Hamburger on Oct 30, 2019
eContent Pro
Early Career Researchers

Moving through the PhD process can feel intimidating, especially when you’re rubbing elbows with researchers who have been in the field for decades. With so many Academics fighting to have it all (grants, publications, accolades, a life), it can be hard to remember that everyone starts somewhere. PhD Students, PhD Candidates, Doctoral Researchers – there are many ways to describe a person who is starting the process of becoming a seasoned Academic. If you define yourself by any of these titles, you may be what is known as an Early Career Researcher (ECR).

According to De Montfort University, an ECR is defined as a researcher in the first four years of their research activity. Within this time period there are three distinct ECR stages: doctoral, postdoctoral, and independent researcher. Each stage presents its own challenges, and it is all too easy to get lost and forget to focus on the right things. So, what do you prioritize?

Identifying Research Mistakes

There are a lot of ways that research can go wrong, but if you can avoid common research mistakes, it can make all the difference. Pay special attention to the sources you use, and always make sure you’re citing sources correctly. If your research is filled with data, take advantage of visual elements like figures and tables to display your research in a digestible manner. Also, remember to have your work peer reviewed to make sure your work is balanced and is presented accurately. Finally, it’s important that you have a complete understanding of plagarism, and understand that even accidental plagiarism is still unethical conduct and can land even the best researchers in hot water.

Reading and Writing

About half of your time as an Academic will be spent writing papers, grants, and fellowships, and completing countless other applications and forms. Ensuring that reading and writing become a part of your everyday life is key in transitioning from student to full-fledged PhD. It might seem obvious that an ECR should always be reading and writing – as they say, practice makes perfect – but it is important to note that this is not just limited to research areas. Mixing things up and reading books for leisure rather than solely for research purposes can keep an ECR creative, as can writing outside of the field you are researching.


You have heard the word a thousand times. Of course it is key to have solid, well-written research, but almost as important is networking. In any career, it is vital to create contacts within your field, and Academia is no exception. There are many opportunities to network, such as conferences and seminars, but networking can be as easy as getting a cup of coffee with the people on your research team or talking to a professor after class. It is becoming increasingly popular to network on social media as well, and an ECR can take advantage of this and engage with other Academics by using hashtags or posting in groups.


Between grants and experiments and trying to stay on top of your work, it can be easy to overlook the most important part of your research: You. When’s the last time you went out to see a movie, or took a nice long walk? You do your best work when you feel your best, and when you have a looming deadline or a big project, self-care often goes by the wayside. Take a little bit of time out of your day, be it 10 minutes or an hour, and do something to unwind. Stepping away from your work and coming back to it with fresh eyes makes all the difference.

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