Recently I received an email circulated within my University making staff aware of the blog post ‘Early Career Researchers – 20 tips for career development‘ by Gerry Czerniawksi of the University of East London. Rather than being asked to circulate it in my capacity as Research Coordinator for Archaeology, it was already sent to all my colleagues, including Early Career Researchers. This worried me, as I felt many of the ‘tips’ were not particularly helpful, while others were downright unhelpful. I immediately emailed my archaeology colleagues, suggesting that, from my perspective and at least for our discipline, only a minority of these tips are neither problematic nor misleading.

The article is valuable in citing 3 dimensions of early career development, but I would adapt them slightly: cognitive (i.e. research), community (i.e. scholarly and network) and organisational (i.e. administration). Beyond that, there are five positive tips out of Gerry’s 20:

3. Ensure you keep your university staff webpage up to date. [However, unlike the blog, suggesting that this is for the benefit of “lobbying groups, journalists, publishers, policy-makers and others” I would suggest it should primarily be for the general public, other researchers and YOUR STUDENTS past, present and future!

8. Aim to have one article under review while writing the next [in other words, if you are an active researcher, you don’t stop just because you are waiting to hear back from one submitted article: a no brainer really, although this is a somewhat insidious factory production line approach to publication I abhor]

17. Exploit your doctoral thesis to the maximum in publications, in terms of contributions to theory, practice, existing findings, methodology and policy. [This is so important since many ECRs are minded to ‘give up’ on their doctoral theses, not realising that key elements might be publishable in terms of the aforementioned areas]

18. Join any special interest group/network within your professional community (often related to annual conferences). [Within reason and budgets, this makes absolute sense]

20. Finally, write the sorts of publications you want to write, rather than those you feel you ought to write. I still enjoy writing for A level sociology students.  And I get as much pleasure writing those sorts of publications as I do for the REF, TEF or any other auditing requirement that we academics, often feel pressured into writing for.  All writing is good – it helps us think, create, develop, review and enhance our ideas.

What of the other 15 tips? I’d say:

1. Don’t waste your time approaching senior colleagues to ‘lobby’ them about your work. You will look like the crawler you are!

2. Do write a blog. I love writing on my own blog (can you guess?). However, I would seriously doubt the validity of the recommendation to write a blog primarily on an ‘established blogging site’. Write for yourself and write in a venue you can design and develop at first. Maybe write for ‘established blogs’ at a later stage and writing different things. So certainly do blog, but not simply to promote yourself and for high-profile venues;

4. Don’t offer to review articles for journals because you think it’ll lead you to publish there. Read the journal instead! If you want experience reviewing articles, wait to get asked based on your expertise and profile. If you really have the time to review other’s work, and you are so desperate to do this as a volunteer rather than when asked, do so for the experience it provides in your field, the networks it brings, and because you are interested in the content! Don’t do it simply or primarily because you want to ‘target that publication for future article’ of your own;

5. Offer to review abstracts for academic conferences? Never happened to me and this might relate to another subject practice. I’ve been assured this happens on computer science, for example;

6. ‘Schmooze grant managers/university research funding officers in your university’?!!!! Get in the sea!

7. Go to conferences to learn, network, enter debates and promote your research, but do so when you can find the time and funding amidst many other activities not on some kind of fixed schedule. Don’t be that ECR who thinks conference attendance makes you an academic!  ‘Present a whole paper (rather than just Powerpoint slides)’ – no: this misunderstandings what conference presentations are about: often experimenting and pitching new ideas, not simply one stage en route to publication in the form presented.

9. Get critical friends to read your work, but don’t do so in a fixed and systematic way and I don’t personally see the value of getting people to read only Intros and Conclusions. But still, different approaches, different people etc.

10. ‘Widen your methodological expertise’. A good point for all of us. However, I think ECRs have enough to worry about than telling them their core knowledge, expertise and training is inadequate. Still, I’ll admit this might be useful advice for those building on their initial ECR successes;

11. Aim to have two mentors? Well, mentors are great. Do try to acquire mentors. However, also cultivate a range of professional dialogues, and perhaps don’t rely on ‘mentors’ exclusively as designated individuals you pester for advice on all matters. A network, as much as, and including, ‘mentors’, is surely the answer. Still, I guess having external mentors as well as internal is a fair point;

12. There is ‘dedicated support’ for ECRs? Well done University of East London!

13. Talk to people at conferences, don’t target the people behind the publisher’s stands. Talk to delegates and publishers in equal measure;

14. ‘Try to write and publish with your mentor or other colleagues within your ‘academic tribe’ because ‘more authors means more citations!’. I’ve no idea what that means;

15. ‘Seek out and contact ERC forums in other universities.’ Because we have time for this kind of ‘seeking out’?;

16. Special editions of journals are great ideas, but don’t do it with ‘a colleague or two’ and for ‘fun’, do it because it is an important mode of research dissemination;

19. Answer emails at the end of the day? Because we all love that colleague who sends us a raft of emails at 10pm and at NO OTHER TIME! Ok, I’m guilty of this and it sucks, so please do answer emails before the end of the day everyone, at least sometimes…

Of course the biggest frustration with this list is that very little of this detail matters. What is really key for ECRs is to publish high-quality research, deliver high-quality teaching, and build on your expertise and profile.