Early Career Researchers

Sharing their thoughts on the future

Few industries or organizations have escaped the global economic downturn unscathed and among those feeling the strain are national governments.

The resulting decrease in funding for research by those governments has proved to be a hot topic for early career researchers aged 36 and under (ECRs) during Elsevier’s Researcher Insight Index, a biannual survey with published researchers.

Only 28% of ECRs agreed that their national government works hard to encourage young people to enter research. The other 72% spoke about cuts to research funding, a lack of jobs for young researchers, the cost of higher education and a belief that the funding system favors senior researchers. Only a quarter (25%) of ECRs thought that funding in their field would increase in 2012, though they were slightly more optimistic than their older colleagues (20% of whom agreed funding would increase).

“Our government tends to give the financial support for elder big name scientists, but not newcomers. Young scientists who do not have strong relationships with big names are always suffering from the lack of financial support such as grant-in-aid.” Neuroscientist from Japan

In fact, it emerged that ECRs are less satisfied with their career opportunities than later career researchers aged 36 and over (LCRs). An early career researcher is more likely to consider giving up research because they cannot balance it with their personal life, or consider moving abroad to work. Furthermore, the pressure to publish is felt more strongly by ECRs than their older colleagues and they feel less like their work is making a difference to society.

Figure 1. A selection of the feedback from ECRs in the 2011 survey.

Early career researchers as consumers of research articles

The survey also covered other areas of potential interest to Editors, including how young researchers read articles and how this is changing.

ECRs report that it has become easier to find and consume published research. Almost two-thirds of early career researchers report that they now spend more time reading articles and less time searching for them than they did five years ago (though they still spend on average more than four hours a week searching for articles). Indeed, on average they download six articles per week and spend almost six hours per week reading. Over a year that equates to more than 300 articles downloaded and 300 hours reading. Around half note that they download more now than in the past and a similar proportion believe  they will download more in the future than they do now.

Figure 2. % of ECRs agreeing the want to access scholarly information via mobile devices

The format in which research articles are consumed may also change, due to the rise of mobile devices. These devices are already changing the way newspapers, magazines and books are read and it is logical that scholarly journals will follow suit.  In early 2012, more than half of ECRs used  a smartphone and more than a third used a tablet computer on a daily basis.  The total time spent on a mobile device (also including laptops and ebook readers) is more than nine and a half hours per day, which is an hour more than researchers aged 36-55 and two hours more than those aged 56 and over.  The proportion of ECRs wanting to access scholarly information via such devices is increasing over time.

“My smartphone provides easier, faster, more reliable access to the web when on travel.” Early career researcher.

Early career researchers as authors

There has been a rapid change in the way that information is communicated over the last few years due to the rise of social media. This is particularly the case for young researchers.

  • More than a third of ECRs (36%) predicted that they would communicate their research findings via social media in the 12 months following the survey (March 2011), such as self-publishing websites, webinars/virtual conferences and social networking sites. This compares to a quarter (24%) in the survey that took place six months earlier.
  • Two thirds (69%) expect usage of social media for professional purposes to increase in their field over the next two years.

Furthermore, young researchers are willing to consider alternative formats when submitting research articles for publication; 48% agreed they would happily provide enriched content (e.g. audio, video, compound files) when submitting articles in the future, while one fifth have already posted scholarly video and 57% are likely to do so in the future.

The importance of peer review

Despite being open to new publishing methods, ECRs hold favorable views towards existing publishing channels such as peer-reviewed journals:

  • More than four fifths (85%) of ECRs agree that a history of publishing in peer-reviewed journals is critical to their career.
  • Less than one in 10 (8%) would cite an article in their own research that had not been peer-reviewed.
  • Almost nine out of 10 (89%) agree that reviewing articles is an essential part of being a researcher.
  • Researchers generally don’t believe that the Impact Factor is a good measure of journal quality. However, young researchers value the Impact Factor more highly than LCRs (47% agreed it was a good measure of journal quality vs. 41% of LCRs).

“It's part of our job - someone has to do it, someone knowledgeable, and if I want my papers reviewed by others then I should do the same for them.” Early career researcher.

It would also appear that the economic downturn is having a greater impact on their careers than it is for LCRs, which suggests more could be done to ensure they can thrive as researchers and do not leave the profession early.

Read Nurturing Early Career Researchers into Successful Authors to learn about some of the initiatives Elsevier has in place to support ECRs.


Elsevier’s Research & Academic Relations department undertakes a biannual online survey with active researchers called the Researcher Insights Index survey. The participating researchers are selected from a database of recently published authors derived from Scopus, the Elsevier search and discovery tool.

The findings discussed in this article come from three waves of the survey that took place in September 2010 (1,635 respondents: overall margin of error ±2.1%*), March 2011 (2,712 respondents: overall margin of error ±1.6%*), and January 2012 (4,225 respondents: overall margin of error ±1.3%*). These waves achieved response rates of 4.3%, 5.4% and 9.5% respectively; the surveys took 10-12 minutes for respondents to complete. These surveys are representative by country, age, gender and discipline.

* Maximum margin of error at a 90% confidence level


  • Early career researchers (abbreviated to ECR) are, for the purpose of this analysis, researchers aged under 36. We have not distinguished between respondents that are PhD students, post-docs or faculty researchers when defining ECRs, nor the number of publications. ECRs will also therefore not include older researchers who have left previous careers to become academics.
  • Later career researchers (abbreviated to LCR) are, for the purpose of this analysis, researchers aged 36 and over.

Author biography

Gemma DeakinGemma Deakin

Gemma joined Elsevier’s Research & Academic Relations department in May 2011 and is based in Elsevier’s Oxford office. As part of the Customer Insights team, Gemma manages a number of research studies in the US and Europe. Gemma was educated at Sussex University.

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