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New academics

The following information is of particular relevance to early career academics.

Planning your career

Long-term planning

  • Publish what you can; A PhD is supposed to represent publishable, original research, but from thesis to book is a big step 
  • Some publishers have special ‘dissertation series’ (e.g. MRHA); not necessarily the best bet, but worth considering.  
  • At a certain point you need to leave your PhD behind. When moving beyond it, do so in an ‘organic’ way
  • The expertise you acquired should not go to waste
  • You are more likely to make a convincing switch into a new area if it is grounded in existing work

Research trajectory

  • Plan ahead when applying for promotion etc. You need both movement and continuity: a coherent trajectory
  • Where do you see your research career in 3-5 years?
  • What are your ‘big’ questions for the next 5-10 yrs?
  • See your work as a ‘programme of research’ in which one discrete project leads naturally to another
  • One-off projects are refreshing but may not make a convincing narrative
  • Build in ‘read around’ time (vital for the long-term health of your research)

Career trajectory

  • Research is one element in your career trajectory; you will teach and do administration as well as research
  • Different career trajectories emphasise different activities at different times
  • At most points you must balance these 3 activities (you will have annual meetings to discuss this balance with senior colleagues)
  • Find out what the expectations are at each stage (familiarise yourself with career progression guidelines)
  • We must think about the potential long-term impact of our research on non-academic users, and of Knowledge Transfer opportunities; this, too, requires planning

Short-to-medium term planning: the local dimension

Time management is crucial

  • Protect and regularise your research time
  • Establish a clear routine and divide up your time between your various duties accordingly, setting aside clearly defined slots for each
  • Set yourself targets for the week, month, year
  • Read the School’s policy on probationer loads

So are people …

  • Make good use of any senior mentor assigned to you
  • ALWAYS get other people to read your work before you present or submit it
  • ‘Put yourself about’ by offering to present papers at internal seminars, or to initiate or join discussion groups etc
  • Seek as much advice as you can about publishing outlets, grant schemes
  • Talk to other probationers/new academics
  • Collaboration is the life-blood of good research  

Opportunities

  • We are expected to apply regularly for external funding for our research; ask in the Research Office about opportunities relevant to you
  • Familiarise yourself with research support funds and opportunities within SALC;
  • don’t be afraid to enquire about particular kinds of support: be creative
  • SALC makes an effort to prioritise the needs of ‘Early Career Researchers’; take advantage of this
  • A grant application or joint publishing project with a more senior researcher is an excellent way of getting on the research income ladder
  • But make sure your contribution is properly recognised 

Threats

  • Not knowing what is expected of you (be clear about the targets you are set and the opportunities available to you)
  • Lack of self-discipline (don’t get sidetracked into activities which prevent youfrom meeting your research goals)
  • Loss of sense of priorities/perspective (remember what it is you are going to be judged on)
  • Overcommitting yourself in lower-priority areas (do you REALLY need to be on that new committee?)
  • BUT never forget that you are part of a team; team-players are always highly valued
  • Perfectionism (that new course unit needs to be very good, but it is unlikely to be perfect in its first ‘outing’)
  • Writer’s block: it is a good idea to be writing something at every point  

Short-to-medium term planning: the external dimension

Establishing a profile

  • Make sure your web page is up-to-date and makes a good impression on potential new PhD students, external collaborators etc

Stay smart!

  • Find out about schemes and ‘allowances’ for Early Career Researchers (e.g. the AHRC’s ECR scheme for grants – up to 200K)
  • Start small and build; the BA Small Grants Scheme (up to 7.5K) is a first rung on the research income ladder
  • Know what is going on in your research community at large, and at a national level (THE). The environment is changing rapidly and predictably  

The wider picture

  • Have confidence in what you are doing: you must be getting something right or you wouldn’t be here!
  • But listen very carefully to all advice you get
  • Departments look to new academics to revitalise the research environment and renew the agenda
  • This is an opportunity for you, too
  • Be bold and willing to challenge the status quo
  • Learn to handle and make use of criticism: it is the lifeblood of academia

The creative freedom and flexibility an academic career offers also presents a dilemma - how to keep your research out of places it doesn’t belong.

  • Draw clear dividing lines between 'work' and 'home' (even if you do much of your research work at home)
  • A healthy work/life balance is going to make a better scholar and a better colleague of you - Remember the old adage: 'It's only a job!'

Maximising research quality and impact

There are two forms of impact relating to research which you might have heard mentioned in recent discussions at the University and the national level:

  1. impact on fellow researchers in your subject field
  2. impact on the wider community beyond academia, and on society more generally. 

These notes deal with type (1) only.

Choosing when and where to publish

  • The surest way of achieving academic impact for your research is to generate publications of outstanding quality and depth.
  • The REF requires 4 publications per individual and will place most weight on these publications when arriving at a quality profile for the unit to which you submit. You should clearly prioritise quality over quantity. This effectively means one high quality, high profile publication per year. Early Career Researchers are allowed (though not compelled) to submit fewer than the standard number, depending on how many years they have been in post.
  • In many areas of the humanities, the research monograph is likely to remain the ‘gold standard’ of excellence and the primary route to achieving academic impact. This is, however, not the case for all areas and, in consultation with senior colleagues, you should identify the best form of output for maximising impact. The REF allows for the ‘double weighting’ of monographs, and, if you are in a field in which the monograph is predominant, you should construct your long-term research plans around the writing of major works such as this, building in institutional leaves, and external fellowship applications, at the appropriate point.
  • In order to achieve the necessary focus, and to prioritise your most important publications, – those which will have the most impact – you will need to be disciplined and to learn to say ‘no’ to many of the numerous requests you will receive for contributions of a lesser order: book reviews, encyclopaedia entries, text books, etc. As your career develops this becomes harder and harder, yet more and more important. Get into good habits early!
  • The standing and quality of outlets are important, especially in the context of the REF, in which it is unlikely that everything will be read, but also more generally, in terms of enhancing your profile and performance. You should discuss the appropriate output for each piece of work with your mentor from the very point that you begin planning the research for it.
  • Aim high – for the most prestigious publishers and the most highly regarded refereed journals in your area. You will need to talk to you mentor and to other senior scholars in order to get a sense of the ranking of particular outlets. The ‘easy route’ (publishers which give contracts without sending manuscripts out to referees; journals which do not subject contributions to rigorous peer reviews) is always tempting, but not in your best interests in the long run, and in terms of maximising your research impact.
  • Achieving the goal of influencing wider research domains may, or may not mean publishing in a more ‘generic’ journal. It will depend very much on your field. Slavic Review, for example, whose focus is limited by region, is considerably more prestigious for a Slavist than Modern Languages Review which covers work across all European cultures. Here again, it is crucial to talk to senior scholars in your field.

Preparing your manuscript

  • Build in a contingency plan for the ‘revise and resubmit’ response, and, indeed for rejection (the very best journals reject the majority of the submissions they receive). Remember that, even in the case of a rejected piece, you will have received 2-3 peer reviews of your work for free and you can incorporate the feedback into a revised submission.
  • To stress again, feedback on your research should be sought and used at every stage. Plan for this in your annual cycle of work. So, for example, an internal seminar paper at which you outline some ideas in the broad sense, might be succeeded by a conference presentation, following which you write up the first draft of a journal article which, in turn, forms the basis for a larger topic leading to a monograph. It is rarely a good idea to present at a conference material that has already been published.
  • Discussing your ideas, and those of others, internally is invariably helpful. Reading groups, for example, may seem to require an input of time that you can ill afford, but in the long run they may pay dividends that solitary hours at a keyboard may not.
  • Equally, however, it is good to train yourself into the writing habit, and to try to organise your research in such a way that you never go for longer than a month or two without being engaged in drafting or writing up something, whether a conference paper, a journal article, or a book chapter. It is all too easy to develop ‘writer’s block’, but not if you don’t allow it to happen.
  • Make good use of institutional leaves. We are very lucky to have a leave scheme at Manchester; many universities do not have them. It will be expected that you generate at least one publishable output from your semester’s leave. The dedicated time you have for this is precious and comes around once every 3 years. You should reserve this time for an output of significance, not to ‘catch up’ on book reviews and other odds and ends you have promised.
  • Get your work read by as many people as possible; it is often helpful if someone a little outside your field takes a look, along with a subject specialist. The former may sometimes be able to convey a better sense of the wider relevance of your ideas than the latter. Readers will, of course, always find fault with your writing, and may therefore delay your timetable for submission. But, first, addressing feedback should be incorporated into your research planning, anyway, and second, dealing with potential problems with your work at the pre-submission stage may well save you lots of time in the long run.
  • The School has a pool of experienced academics across all fields willing to read and comment on your work and you are strongly encouraged, via the Research Coordinator for you Division, or the School Director of Research, to draw on this resource.
  • Equally, however, try to read the work of others when asked to do so. You can learn from it and make the same request in return.

Impact

  • For most fields, your goal should be to ensure that your publications are read by, and influence thinking in, not only your own research domain, but in other, wider domains. The criterion of ‘significance beyond the immediate research field’ is important when your research is assessed in the REF, for promotions, and in other formal contexts. (There are exceptions to this rule; the degree to which it applies depends on the nature and scope of the field, and you are advised to discuss the issue with a relevant senior colleague.) So, for example, an ‘impactful’ analysis of the short stories of Chekhov might have implications for our understanding of the development of 19th  century Russian literature, and of European realism more generally, or for the way we theorise our approach to studying the genre of the short story. It is unlikely that you will achieve this impact at the very beginning of career, or in every publication, but it should remain an aspiration.
  • Note that ‘citation indices’ did not play a role for the humanities in REF 2014, but, used selectively and with care, can serve as a useful indicator of the impact your research is having on peers.
  • Whilst quality is by far the most important factor in contributing to maximising research impact, do not underestimate the value of ‘good publicity’; regularly giving papers at key conferences (but be careful when selecting conference venues and ensure that they have a high reputation in your field). Building a reputation takes a long time and is achieved incrementally. Little things like this will, over a period of time, pay rich dividends.

Balancing grant applications and research

Do not see the preparation of major research grant applications and the writing of excellent publications as being in tension with one another. A successful grant application is likely to maximise the quality and depth of your published outputs.

Remember that you can build into your application a dedicated period of leave in which you work on writing up your project findings, and that this period will still count towards the accumulation of semesters required for an application to the institutional leave scheme. And the benefits of collaborating with a co-investigator, and/or with a Postdoctoral Research Assistant, can only enhance your work. Having a major research grant will make it easier to promote and disseminate your research.