The importance of early career networks

By Fredric Windsor

Informal communities of early career researchers (ECRs) have long been present within universities, societies and at conferences. The formalisation of early career networks, however, has been a relatively recent development within academic communities. These groups are now widespread and operating across a range of scales.

As a committee member on two ECR networks (European Federation of Freshwater Science and Cardiff University Water Research Institute) operating across a range of scales (institutional to multinational), I have had the opportunity to observe, first-hand, the benefits to ECRs resulting from active participation in these groups. Nevertheless, across the wider community, the importance of these networks may not be as clear as perhaps it should be. There are, however, many benefits of ECR networks, including but not limited to the following:

  • The social and not so social network: Developing links to other researchers at a similar stage in their academic career provides the potential for support networks during difficult periods (e.g. grant applications and career changes) but also connects future collaborators. Often some of the most fruitful collaborations stem from existing and often long-standing connections between researchers. A major benefit of ECR networks is therefore the increased interactions between ECRs, as well as the significant potential for future academic and non-academic collaborations.

Enter early career events facilitate interactions between ECRs. This can provide a number of different benefits, including but not limited to having fun!

  • A platform for interactions: Interacting with senior researchers can often be a daunting prospect for ECRs, with imposter syndrome amongst other factors deterring individuals from approaching seasoned researchers. ECR communities help to break down these barriers through providing a platform, usually in the form of a workshop or seminar, through which the entire ECR community can interact with senior researchers. These activities are crowd-pleasers, with both early career and senior researchers benefiting from interactions that otherwise may occur infrequently within academic communities.

ECR networks often organise events that enable interactions between early career and senior researchers. Here is a workshop on Academic publishing at SEFS 10. Left to right: Chris Robinson, Rachel Stubbington, Catherine Leigh, Anne Robertson, Mark Gessner and Luigi Naselli-Flores.

  • Interdisciplinary conversations and skill development: ECR groups, depending upon their nature and scope, often provide the first opportunity for ECRs to develop skills relating to interdisciplinary research. Establishing this skill set in a friendly, constructive environment is relatively unique opportunity provided by ECR groups.

Training opportunities aimed specifically at ECRs are often available for networks. These events link researchers at all levels and provide a good opportunity for interactions.

The benefits of ECR networks revolve around the development of skills and social networks within a supportive environment, such that may not be available to every ECR. The benefits of these networks, however, are not restricted to ECRs, with many reciprocal benefits for senior researchers engaging in joint activities. The old adage ‘you get out what you put in’ is very appropriate, but for those willing to invest some time, ECR networks can be extremely beneficial and more importantly enjoyable.

If you are interested in setting up your own early career group or already have one established and are interested in swapping ideas then please feel free to share through Twitter with #ECRnetworks and @rapidecology.

Author biography: Fred Windsor is a PhD candidate at Cardiff University, studying the interactions between organisms and pollutants within river systems. He is a committee member on several early career researcher networks, and a participating member in many others. He communicates his science through Twitter (@Fred_Windsor) and is also partly responsible for social media for the Early Fresh and Young Researchers (EFYR) within the European Federation of Freshwater Science (EFFS), see @EFYR_EFFS.

Image caption and credit:

Photo 1: Photo by Núria Cid.

Photo 2: Photo by Núria Cid.

Photo 3: Photo by Water Research Institute (Cardiff University).