2019 Early Career Solution Room follow up

How is it best to access opportunities outside of your own institution?


Professor Helen Atherton, University of Warwick


Getting to know people. Attending SAPC conferences where possible - this is where I met most of the people I now work with - in the first instance you can identify people who do similar work, and work up the courage to talk to them at some point. Find a friendly academic and ask them to do an introduction for you – they will rarely mind.


Cold call introductions work – send an email to comment on how much you enjoyed a paper, or to say you are doing similar work. Again a friendly academic can be useful here to do email introductions.


Where possible take on roles that develop your profile – sapc ambassador or even exec, offer to peer review abstracts for SAPC conference (your name goes in the programme if you do that), join SAPC or SPCR special interest groups. Sign up to do peer review for journals and ask people senior to you to pass on reviews they haven’t time for (but pass them on formally so you get the credit)


If people know you, they think of you and they give you opportunities. Then as you become more senior you can pass the opportunities on.


Professor Suzanne Richards, University of Leeds


You have to talk to more senior people within your institution (to get some sense of external opportunities) and then be pro-active. Some managers naturally think to include ECRs in wider roles (i.e. get them to shadow the role, or ‘stand in’ when they can’t attend), but it can be very patchy. So if your boss isn’t the inclusive type, approach the external organisation and just ask them. You need to be prepared for a ‘no thanks’, but ultimately something will come off. Don’t take rejection too personally (that’s the mantra of academic life anyway).


Dr Christopher Clark, University of Exeter


I agree with Sue. If you make yourself useful on existing projects with other institutions that will bring you into contact with them, you will start to build up relationships and become known as a good research colleague (may even raise job opportunities, Shhh!). Also conferences. Talk to people working in your areas of interest. This may generate unexpected opportunities to share existing or future projects. Maybe you can become involved in a Society – SAPC or subject specific organisations,

particularly if they have Young Investigator networks (see here for an example: https://bihsoc.org/about-us/working-parties-network-groups/young-investigators-network/). This will make meetings more enjoyable and relevant to you.


Professor Philip Evans, University of Exeter


Again this is not easy and may in part be due to serendipity. Perhaps putting it “out there” that you are interested in such and such a topic may be helpful. The main principle is to make academic liaisons with as many people as possible outside of your organisation and if possible discuss their linked interests, then follow up rapidly with an email confirming your interest as well.





How can you develop your own portfolio and interests when you are busy writing grants / working on other projects in a post-doc role?


Professor Helen Atherton, University of Warwick


This is always very difficult and I would stress that it is really important not to become despondent if you don’t find time to work on your own things for a while. Research really is about the journey and not the destination. Don’t assume that your day-to-day work is not relevant to development of your own portfolio and interests. There might be a methodological approach that spans both and becomes your ‘thing.’ There might be an overarching theme that incorporates both – e.g. patient experience, or patient clinical outcomes, at a high level.


Early in your career it is often more important to be getting grants and papers, so think about having a discussion about whether you can be co-investigator on the grants you are writing with those senior to you. That is excellent for CV building and the move to independence, regardless of what the topic is. You are more likely to get funding of your own if you are seen to be a sure thing who delivers. I appreciate this can be a difficult discussion, but framing it in terms of the further opportunity for the department and for the senior as well as for you usually helps. If you have a strong CV it benefits everyone.


Find out if your institution has any policy for giving you time for development. Ours gives people who work full time 2 days a month to do their own research – you might find there is something similar that isn’t advertised.


Finally, be sure to put boundaries around what you are doing for your post-doc role. You don’t have to say yes to everything (within reason) and as long as you are delivering on what you need to, make sure the extra things are the things that satisfy your portfolio and interests.


Professor Suzanne Richards, University of Leeds


Be strategic. Resources in Universities are tight, as is your time when working on short term contracts. Find something that aligns with your institute/ongoing work, that you find ‘interesting enough’, and then build a proposal that extends it (i.e. your bit of a wider programme of work). That way, the more experienced folk will support it, you have a platform that funders can see you are building on (increases your chances of success), but perhaps more importantly it is efficient. You are building on

knowledge/links that you already have, and not mining completely new areas that you may find difficult.

Dr Christopher Clark, University of Exeter


Much research grows organically so whatever you are currently working on or employed for, there are likely to be spin off research questions. Some of these will be very valid but not pursued through lack of time and resource. If they appeal you can pick one up and try to develop it. I would expect support to emerge as you persist and show your interest. As we said in the meeting, the subject must be of interest to you or you will find it very hard to put in the hours. In the end, you should probably be prepared to go the extra mile if you want to develop a strand of work for yourself. But taking that step towards being seen to have some independence of thought and drive is an important one.


Professor Philip Evans, University of Exeter


Clearly you will have to deliver on your core academic role but attending occasional seminars across the University or outside, perhaps a webinar in the evening or other initiatives may help you to develop an interest, but more importantly a passion in something else. Getting to the stage where one of your colleagues says 'I know somebody with an interest in that' is helpful.



How is it best to juggle academic fellowships whilst navigating clinical placements?


Dr Christopher Clark, University of Exeter


I think we said this at the meeting too – my top tip is to only do one job at a time. Either you are in the surgery and devoted to clinical care, or you are at your research group and not available for clinical enquiries. Half days may be an issue here- try to go for whole days if you can. Set out to agree your usual working week’s timetable with your clinical employer and research supervisor. Defining these boundaries early will really help – put them on your email footer if you like so everyone knows why you may not respond yesterday. These boundaries will never be 100%, nor do you want them to be because you may want some flexibility to get to a meeting or dial in during your clinical day sometimes, but defining them well and transparently is the best policy. That also goes for defining your non-working time too.


Be robust but flexible, if someone wants a swap bank it for the future.


Professor Philip Evans, University of Exeter


We discussed this in detail particularly the issue of half days not being good for either clinical or academic work. I introduced the concept of a 'firewall' to try to differentiate your clinical and academic space. This cannot be complete, but acknowledging there is some overlap and trying to minimise that is helpful. Most non-clinical academics accept that clinical academics are not available on their clinic / GP days and don't be reticent in mentioning this (as patients must come first). Choosing which

battles to fight is a difficult balance however. Making a case to your educational supervisor/practice that this meeting is so important it's impossible to miss (!) is not easy but worth the try! My other suggestion is not to try to slot in complex academic activity (e.g. finalising a grant) in the middle of a busy clinical day as it is stressful, not productive and in my experience you’re bound to make a mistake!


Any other thoughts?

Professor Helen Atherton, University of Warwick


Finally to say that mentorship is really important. Getting a mentor via the SAPC scheme means you gain a connection outside of your institution. Mentors can help you to reframe and repackage what you have done to look cohesive and ‘good on paper’.