#Researcher Realities: Inspiration & Future Directions

In this blog post Dr Anna Pilz, Academic Developer & Trainer at the IAD, discusses the inspiration behind the ‘Researcher Realities’ event, provides some reflections from the day and ideas for future events.

On 30th May, we hosted our inaugural #ResearcherRealities event that featured four sessions about researcher career journeys, navigating funding applications, how to approach interdisciplinary collaborations, and the challenges of being a Principal Investigator. Thanks to our wonderful 16 speakers who made this event such a great success and who shared generously their experiences. (Take a look at the day’s programme here. 

From the comments on the day, the honesty with which the speakers shared their personal insights were very much appreciated. For me, among the highlights were many speakers’ reflections on the need to normalize rejections, learning about non-linear career paths in research, the best-practice example of giving your research team members one day a week to develop their own research ideas, and the recommendation to build project management support into grant proposals. To hear how one researcher navigates through academia might help another along the way, simply by hearing where one can turn for support, how to develop a funding profile alongside parenting responsibilities, or what to consider when developing a project budget. For instance, if women don’t know (and aren’t told) that men ask (and get) more funding for comparable projects then they won’t budget for more.  

We are in the process of captioning and editing the recordings from the sessions and these will be available on the Research Staff Hub in due course so that the research community can benefit from such insights. Meanwhile, you can check out the #ResearcherRealities Twitter Thread for a summary of the conversations and valuable tips.  

Initial feedback highlights the value of this format, and we look forward to shaping the future direction of this initiative and invite the research community to join us to do so.  

The Inspiration for #ResearcherRealities  

I was inspired in the conception of ResearcherRealities by my colleague Dr Alison Garden’s initiative to host an ECRday in 2021. Ever since her days as a PhD student, Alison has been one of the most generous colleagues I’ve known and I can highly recommend her personal webpage where you can find helpful Academic Advice Guides. Alison, who is a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, has done incredible work for early career researchers by identifying areas of the ‘hidden curriculum’ in academia. When, in 2021, she had the idea to run a full day of online sessions that would be by ECRs for ECRs where various UK-based funding schemes in the Arts and Humanities are introduced with speakers sharing their experiences of navigating the application processes, it was a huge success. Over 300 people signed up. I was among the speakers on that programme, talking about my experience of applying to the Marie Curie fellowship scheme. All sessions were recorded and made available via Alison’s youtube channel afterwards; I still receive emails every year from ECRs from across the world who have watched the videos and reach out to seek further advice. In its third year and now in association with QUB’s Postdoctoral Development Centre, ECRday2023 branched out into addressing the realities of “The Uneven Sector”, a powerful panel that included a presentation from Anouska Lester ‘On Disability and Academia’. (Anouska generously shared a typescript of her talk here.) Alison’s vision for ECRday was and is inspired as well as inspiring.   

We need more such events to increase the visibility of what researchers’ realities are like. And not just for early career researchers, but across career journeys to address challenges and to hear empowering stories of personal experiences that acknowledge that many of the challenges are shared rather than isolated experiences. It’s those nitty-gritty and ‘assumed’ knowledges that can be brought to light through events such as Alison’s #ECRday and our #ResearcherRealities initiative.  

 Looking Ahead & Getting Involved 

We’re encouraged by the positive feedback that we’ve received, and plans are already underway for future events. In response to suggestions for making this an in-person event, we’re planning to have themed pop-up sessions for PostDoc-Appreciation Week, PAW (September), Writefest2023 (November) and career month (June 2024). Look out for our newsletter or follow @ResearchersAtEd for future events.  

There are rich opportunities to take #ResearcherRealities into local contexts, encouraging conversations for best-practice sharing, exchanges, or idea generation. Themes could centre on #ParentingResearcherRealities; #TechniciansResearcherRealities; #MenopausalResearcherRealities; #NeurodivergentResearcherRealities. We offer you the umbrella of #ResearcherRealities and invite you to make it relevant to your realities. If you wish to run a local event, we can advise on how to set up these sessions, and assist in promotion. 

We have also launched a new curated section on our Research Staff blog on #ResearcherRealities on Researchers’ Journeys, curated by Dr Cecile B. Menard. If you have an idea and wish to curate a thematic blog series, please get in touch (anna.pilz@ed.ac.uk). 

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