A hard life for Early Career Researchers?

You may have noticed the recent announcement (and follow up announcement) by the ESRC about changes to their standard grant scheme. In summary the key changes are:

1) An increase in the lower limit from £200,000 to £350,000

2) A decrease in the upper limit from £2m to £1m

These changes will come into force on 1 July 2015. A good blog post by Adam Golberg exploring some of these changes can be found here.

Clearly these changes will have implications for academics as they look to develop robust and credible research proposals. One particular concern is the ever diminishing pool of smaller funds that can be applied for, thus constricting options for early career researchers (ECR) even more. There is clearly some truth in that although how easy it was for an ECR to successfully apply under the current rules is debatable. I expect the success rate probably wasn’t that high. When early in your career it is becoming increasingly important to bring in research income, or at the very least be seen to be actively trying. Many academics in the social sciences and arts turn to schemes like the British Academy Small Grant. This is a great scheme that has lots of flexibility but like most schemes it is becoming ever more competitive. So what can you do as an ECR? Some things I would suggest are:

1) Network, network and network again – During PhD life you can become consumed into a very narrow area of academic thinking, research or expertise. Post PhD it is time to scan the horizon a little and see what else is out there. Opportunities can come from unexpected sources. Make sure you attend as many conferences and seminars as you can (especially your own university and/or departmental seminars) as this helps get you onto the radar of other people.

2) Join relevant associations and interest groups. Engage in discussions with them and go to events as often as you can. If a particular question or area interests you then try to arrange an event on that. Many associations will support this, as will most universities (and if they don’t then they should!)

3) Raise your profile on social media. Twitter, Piirus, Academia.edu, Linkedin and personal blogs (similar to this one) are all useful ways to help connect with people and make sure people can connect with you easily. They may even enable you to demonstrate impact in the future.

4) Finally grab any opportunities you can to collaborate whenever you can. Whether this is to collaborate on a paper, a seminar, a project – it doesn’t really matter but if you are asked to collaborate on research applications then take those opportunities where ever you can. By networking and taking the time to invest in 1-3 above then these opportunities will become more frequent.

Keep putting yourself out there and the make connections wherever you can. It will pay off.

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