20th July 2010: Advice to a Young Researcher 1

1. Have mid-term and long-term goals for your personal ‘program of research’. This may involve multiple streams of research, collaborative projects, forming national and international teams, and building the reputation and status of your field and discipline. A mid-term goal may be three to five years away whilst a long-term goal can be five to ten or fifteen years away. Cultivating this breadth and depth can be useful to keep your options open beyond the current project or departmental and institutional politics. Define the roadblocks to your mid-term and long-term goals, navigate a way around them, and find the people, resources and organisations to help you achieve them.

2. ‘Own’ your research project as the named Chief Investigator. You are responsible to your institution and the grant-making agency for the timely, accurate completion of project deliverables. This is why scoping the project, ensuring the rigour of the methodology and research design, and identifying budget, resources and critical paths is crucial. Yet to achieve this clarity you need to be self-empowered and assertive with stakeholders to make the necessary judgment calls. This requires skill in dealing with government, industry, and non-profit partners to ensure that the project reflects their input and that as co-journeyers and collaborators they are fully committed to its success. At times you may need to say a firm ‘no’ on stakeholder ideas that would create ‘scope creep’ for this specific project. You may have a project governance committee to help inform your decisions and to find the interdependencies that are ‘triple win’ outcomes for you, the stakeholders, and the broader research community. Or you might start with a good project management guide like Scott Berkun‘s Making Things Happen (O’Reilly, Sebastopol CA, 2007) and David Allen‘s Getting Things Done (Viking, New York, 2001) for workflow. Whatever tools and frameworks you choose to use, you — and not your stakeholders — are responsible for the project’s timely completion on-budget.

3. Know the top five or ten international academic researchers in your field. You should know who they are and the basis of their expertise, what conceptual contributions they have made to a field and discipline, their broad ‘program of research, their institutional affiliations, their publicly available grants, and if possible who their PhD students and research colleagues are. Spend some time doing ‘due diligence’ on these people: they have a career pathway that you can model for short-cuts, they have networks, and they have often established the research teams, interdisciplinary groups, centres and institutes which are pivotal to your field and discipline. They may also be approachable if you have a specific and ‘targeted’ request in mind for a project: their goal in the last four or five years of their career is to leave a legacy and help to train the ‘next generation’ of researchers.

4. Join the relevant scholarly networks and organisations, and know their academic peer-reviewed journals. You need to have ‘external awareness’ beyond your institution about what is going on in your field and discipline, including international trends and networks. For your specific research problem or question there are probably at least four to five other teams and researchers globally who are working on the same issue yet perhaps using different assumptions, frames, methods and research designs. Being across the top journals in your field is necessary to know what is going on, what material editors will accept, what a really good research design and methodology looks like, and as one of several external reference points that you can use to evaluate the quality of your own research and that of peers (and you may need to keep your own counsel on this if there are significant gaps).

5. Develop skills as a rainmaker to ‘source’ external funding. The first step as an Early Career Researcher (ECR), or the first five years after your PhD conferral date, is to develop an academic ‘body of work’ in order to establish your expertise, reputation and credibility. Along with a demonstrable ‘track record’ — internal funding from institutional sources, publishing in academic peer reviewed journals and forming collaborative research teams and networks — it is these qualities that will get you past gatekeepers and will open doors to ‘responsible’ decisionmakers. Familiarise yourself with the Australian Research Council and similar grant-making bodies, from federal and state government agencies to private foundations and philanthropic institutions. Talk with your Head of School, Department, your Associate Dean (Research) and your institution’s Research Office about what may be available. Researchers who are ‘rainmakers’ will be indispensable to their institution and highly sought after by others.