Listen, talk, network…
…by Greg / from the United Kingdom / PhD Precision Medicine / 4th Year
Current status. Location: Edinburgh, UK. Weather: rain. Beverage: Everyday Tea. Currently reading: Metternich: Strategist and Visionary by Wolfram Siemann.
I’m Greg, and I have been a scientist for the last nine years. I’m studying for my PhD in physiology. I am writing my thesis, but this blog is my reflections on my two years meeting academics.
For the last two years, I am an early-career researcher member of the Centre for Cardiovascular Sciences seminars committee. I am jointly responsible for organising our “Meet the Speaker” sessions, co-producing blogs and vlogs for the website and departmental newsletter, co-and organising the ECR session at the annual departmental symposium. I’d say that this takes 90 minutes per week on average.
The “Meet the Speaker” sessions run for 30-45 minutes after the speaker gives their seminar. The sessions provide early career researchers (which we interpret pretty flexibly) the chance to meet with speakers away from senior faculty. This allows researchers to ask questions, network and learn from the experience of others. We’ve had various researchers from veterinary scientists, editors, clinicians, pharma, diagnostic companies’ funders, facilities, from 5 continents and a wide range of disciplines. It was always interesting to find out how people got into their respective fields. Often it was a supervisor or the only opportunity available. Still, I was always fascinated by those who picked their area of interest and stuck at it. I admired the determination and sticking power.
There was always plenty of advice going around based on what worked for them. I often had to try not to laugh because, on many occasions, one speaker would directly contradict the previous speaker. The advice one week was to be a generalist, and the next it was to be a specialist. The same can be said for outsourcing, IP, cell culture research, impact factor, work-life balance, techniques and prestige. I heard the views.
Certain things were more consistent. It is essential to have an online research profile, be it Twitter, Scholar or Researchgate. People need to be able to access you and your research. An interesting one came on jobs. I cannot think of a single speaker who did not mention that emailing a PI was the best way to find out about jobs – perspective employees just have to ask. From those who hailed from European Universities, one thing that consistently came up with communication skills, be it writing, speaking or listening. I’m not sure why but it was always mentioned! Finally, the last thing I want to say is assertiveness. People are busy. Many, many professors spoke about how difficult it can be to help junior researchers take the next step unless they take the first step. If you want more responsibilities or a change in duties, you have to ask. Often, the professor was quite open to it.
I want to finish with this. The biggest gain I received out of my role was the professional network. I got to meet and work with local research staff and researchers globally. It is hard to define a network’s value, but I consider it to be like a candle and matches. Most days, they have little value, but during a prolonged power cut, they are invaluable. This pandemic has shown me how lucky I am to have such a network.