We asked the 500 researchers who are members of our Innovation Explorers community (our online, invitation-only advisory board) what one piece of advice would they pass on to colleagues who are starting their career in research. Of course we received a wide range of response but there were several recurring themes.
Read a lot, but don't try to read everything
Researchers encourage young researchers to read other research to be able to have a full grasp of the literature within their field. However, a number felt that reading whole papers, in lieu of reviews, is not as useful. Instead thinking creatively about new solutions might be a better use of your time than trying to read everything about everything.
"Do not start by reading research papers. Start by trying to think creatively and critically and finding your own solutions. Read a summary paper and then think some more." Zach R., Research Engineer, United States
"I would advise the young researcher to read reviews rather than research papers in the first stage of her/his studies. But it does not mean that they won't read research papers. Reviews give much wider thinking angles in the first stage and researchers can easily decide what to work on." Muhsin K., Professor, Turkey.
Find a good and experienced mentor and network early and often with professional contacts
Over and over, experienced researchers stress the importance of guidance and mentorship in early career development. However, researchers early in their career may not always have the networking skills--or available network--to find mentorship opportunities.
"Having a great mentor is key to success. Not just to learn the techniques necessary for your chosen area of research, but to learn how to think through problem, and how to navigate the system. They will also support, guide and protect you through the process of getting promotions and tenure, which involve politics and not just basic talent." Fiona H., Assistant Professor, United States
"Network: Talk to people! Meet the people working in the same field, go to conferences, talk about what you're doing and about your problems. Team up to tackle specific problems." Frederik C., Assistant Professor, Belgium
Publish early in the game
While not all researchers are enthusiastic about the publish-early-publish-often trend seen among many colleagues, a number of members agree that publishing early is key for researchers early in their career.
"Find ways to get your name on publications early (before you graduate). To be a researcher, publishing is how you show your competence, so it is important to prioritize/invest time in writing and publishing over other tasks that will not show your prominence as a scholar." Virginia T., Assistant Professor, United States
Develop strong writing skills
This may not always be emphasized in researcher' standard curricula but it's an imperative tool for success in today's high-pressure publishing environment.
"Ask yourself: Do I want to be a writer? ... If you want to be a researcher you need to be a writer and an editor. If you don't have the discipline to write and the willingness to edit your work and your peers' work you should aim to be a research technician in charge of manning instruments and assisting in data collection and analysis." Javier G., Associate Professor, Canada
What do early career researchers themselves say?
We asked members of the advice group who are newest to research what advice they've give their peers. The early career researchers identify three areas where they could use support early on in their career.
1. Establishing a research trajectory and setting goals is an important skill for us to learn early on.
"I believe that the biggest challenge is to be able to define a research trajectory and follow it. During your Ph.D. you have a clear research target and maybe someone helping you to clarify it. Once you start a research career you have more freedom in terms of research theme and methodology. This is important because you can be more creative and work on what you like the most. On the other hand, you have to be even more determined to achieve your targets." Rosa Maria D., Postdoctorate Researcher, Italy
2. Time management tools are very important, especially as the nature of research is changing to become more interdisciplinary, involving teaching, more writing, reading and social media use.
"The biggest challenge starting my career was the time administration, because you have to teach, research and carry out "political" networking. To solve all these you need to have a strong team of colleagues and students to guarantee the best result in everyone (teach, research, political), because the deadlines are relentless." Nancy Montero S., Research Assistant, Mexico
3. Researchers early in their research career agree with more experienced researchers that it is very important to select a good mentor.
"The important challenge during a Ph.D. is the selection of a good mentor." Jyotishkumar P, Ph.D. Student, India
Innovation Explorers™ is Elsevier's online, invitation-only advice community. It's made up of of hundreds of researchers, librarians and research administrators from around the world who give us feedback on our products, services, tools, strategy, and marketing.
Membership is limited, but if you'd like to be considered, please contact Elsevierteam@communispace.com
Dr. Noelle Gracy received her PhD in Neuroscience from Cornell University, Graduate School of Medical Sciences, New York, and completed her postdoctoral training at The Scripps Research Institute in California. An Executive Publisher until 2009, as Director of Community Engagement she now works with Elsevier's many advisory boards and was part of the Elsevier team producing the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills report International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base - 2011