Early Career Researchers are not all ‘young’

We should be careful about conflating early career researchers with young researchers.

An article in the Guardian on how to take the pressure off young academics made me question why people conflate early career researchers (ECR) with young.

I turned 21 years in my 1st year of my undergraduate degree.  By the time I graduated with my PhD I was 30.  The idea of ‘young’ varies.  My dad was 40 when he had me, so when I got my PhD he was 70 and would very much call me young.  Indeed, now I’m just into my 40s he still thinks of me as young.  Interestingly, I think of him as a young 80, given he has a full head of curly hair, and golfs three times per week! So, I appreciate the idea of ‘young’ is hard to pin down.

However, in the context of dealing with people in academia at a certain point in their career, it is rather foolish to hold the view that all ECRs are young in the sense of chronological age.  Some are at that point after working in a different sector prior to doing a PhD or perhaps life took over and their entry into that stage of academia came a bit later in life.  What I’m saying is that we cannot assume ECRs are all fresh-eyed 20-somethings.  (Not that one is necessarily fresh-eyed in one’s 20s either!)

I have friends who did their PhD a bit later in life so technically they are ECRs in their late 30s, and I was PhD supervisor to someone in their 50s. One issue I found was the age cut-off for certain funding.  Not only did you have to be a certain time period since gaining your PhD you also had to be under age 35 years.  By the time I did a few research contracts and thought about applying for my own money I was too old.    If I’d gone straight to university from school, I’d have been under the age limit. I felt penalised.

I’ve always recoiled a bit at ‘young academies’ for their age-limits.  By putting an age cut-off, you’re excluding people and not fully embracing the fact that people enter academia through various routes.  Some leave school and go straight through the system, so to speak; others gain professional experiences before moving into academia (e.g., being a health practitioner).  Indeed, others may move in and out, with periods of time between degrees spent working outside of academia.  My own experience has taught me to think of ECRs as a heterogeneous group. It’s a bit ignorant to think of ECRs as ‘young’.

Being a member of Young Academies

a sociologist, a philosopher, a chemist and an engineer walk into a room….no it’s not the start of a joke, it’s a young academy meeting

I became an inaugural cohort member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Academy of Scotland back in 2011 and then joined the Global Young Academy in 2013. Each of these young academies has a 5-year membership term, so I’ve become alumni of the Young Academy of Scotland and I’m in my final year of my membership of the Global Young Academy. It is, therefore, perhaps a good time to reflect on what it has been like to be a member of these organisations and whether it has been worthwhile. I’m not doing this simply to naval gaze; currently, there is an open call for members for the Global Young Academy (deadline 24th September 2017) and I wanted to offer an insider perspective for any prospective members.

A major benefit was the opportunity for leadership experience. Whilst each Young Academy will differ in how it is organised, a common theme is that they are run by the members. The Global Young Academy for example, has two Co-Chairs, and an Executive Committee consisting 11 members; this is the leadership team. A Managing Director and a small office staff help the organisation to run, but decisions are made by members for members (it’s in our constitution!). Members can also lead a working group.  Of course, leadership takes many forms, so being able to represent the organisation at events, give talks etc., and representing us well – talking us up – is leadership.  To do this not just for yourself but for the good of the organisation is leadership.

When I joined the RSE Young Academy of Scotland, I was a Research Fellow (or, Assistant Professor to those outwith the UK!).  At my home institution I was not leading anything in the ‘traditional’ sense, well I’d been principal investigator on grants and started an online network for sexual health but I hadn’t yet taken on a lead role in my institution.  So, at that time, I found I had a pathway to leadership much more readily available, and immediately in front of me.  It was for me to grab the opportunities if I wished.  So, I led a working group on health and wellbeing.  Being a working group lead meant you attended joint meetings with the 4x Co-Chairs and our contact person in the RSE.  So straight away I was at meetings where the word ‘strategy’ was used a lot.  This was pretty new to me at that time. In the Global Young Academy, I led a working group called Global State of Young Scientists (GloSYS), which focuses on gathering data on the barriers and facilitators to the career development of young scientists and scholars.  I contributed to the initial precursor study, then to the follow-up GloSYS ASEAN study, and then helped write the grant application for a follow-up study across countries in Africa (successfully gaining 300,000EUROs funding).  I found myself presenting findings from the precursor study to the President of the European Research Council.  I travelled to Bangkok for the ASEAN project, and met amazing folk from other young academies we’d involved.  In May 2017, I was elected by my fellow members of the Global Young Academy to the Executive Committee.  In my final year I wanted to give back in a different way.

I have enjoyed being with my peers throughout these experiences.   It has felt like we were all learning skills together, learning from each other and so forth.  Reflecting back, I wonder if I had a leadership opportunity back in 2011 at my university then chances are that I would be in meetings with more senior academics and ‘imposter syndrome’ may have crippled me.   Instead, I’ve had opportunities for leadership in safe environments where I wasn’t really expected to know it all.  I’m not sure, looking back, that I can put a value on this.  If I did, it would be pretty high!

Next, being exposed to so many disciplines in one go was truly one of theeeeeeeeee best things I can ever say about young academies. I love interdisciplinary work, and strive for it in my own work.  I often joke that a sociologist, a philosopher, a chemist and an engineer walk into a room….no it’s not the start of a joke, it’s a young academy meeting.  Honestly, even if you think you’re interdisciplinary you are unlikely to be surrounded by this many folk from across so many disciplines at the same time. I truly believe that some of the world’s biggest problems will not be solved by science alone.  I’m not knocking science in any way, but often it simply cannot be the silver bullet.  We need to work together and crucially, we need to respect each other’s expertise and listen.  Enter a young academy with an open mind, be willing to listen and learn from your peers and, importantly, be willing to be challenged.  Something you think you’ve believed for a long time may be challenged because you’ve just never really been exposed to that discipline.  If we can ensure the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences all work together I believe THAT is how we will solve problems.

At one GYA annual meeting I was sitting at a dinner table with a group of folk from different countries and I thought what we all shared was a similar sense of humour.  We laughed until I was almost in tears.  It may be a cliche, but we do have more that unites us than divides us.  When we are willing to listen, to appreciate, and to respect each other then so much is possible. Every member will have their own experience of being in a young academy, but you will get out what you put in. This is not a line on a CV; this is about helping to build a community.  I bet you’ll make lots of new friends too!

Join a young academy if you are prepared to be open to new ways of thinking, to collaboration, to our own (‘youthful’!) style of leadership and dare I say if you want to be little bit disruptive! After all, we’re not our parent academies and we do have our own voice. Let it be heard.


My podcasts on various topics of sexual health

I initially started a podcast series on the Sexual Health Research Network as I wanted to learn new skills…well that and I really enjoy talking to people (I am mostly a qualitative research!)

  • Podcast 01: Mark Davis on technologies and sexual health

Podcast 02: Rosie Webster on technologies and condom use

Podcast 03: Jamie Frankis on social and sexual media and MSM

Podcast 04: Kirstin Mitchell on sexual function, from Natsal-3 data

Podcast 05: Marina Daskalopoulou on ‘chemsex’

Podcast 06: David Stuart on ‘chemsex’

Podcast 07: Aiden Collins on HIV self-testing

Podcast 08: Martin Holt on recreational drug use among people living with HIV

Podcast 09: Adam Bourne on recreational drug use and MSM

Podcast 10: Ingrid Young on treatment as prevention in relation to HIV

Podcast 11: Sarah Woodhall of Public Health England, on chlamydia screening and testing

Podcast 12: Louise Jackson on quality of life outcomes for women testing for STIs

Podcast 13: Jenny Dalrymple on older adults and STIs

Podcast 14: Nicola Boydell on gay and bisexual men’s personal communities

Podcast 15: Britta Wigginton on women’s changes in contraception

Podcast 16: Rebecca MacGilleEathain on young people’s sex education experiences and sexual health knowledge

Podcast 17: Rachael Eastham on women and contraception

Podcast 18: Carrie Purcell on abortion (Scotland)

Podcast 19: Lesley Hoggart on abortion (England)

Podcast 20: Fiona Bloomer on abortion (Northern Ireland)

Podcast 21: Rak Nandwani on PrEP (with a little on the Scottish context)

Podcast 22: John Saunders on PrEP (and England)

Podcast 23: Kelsey Smith on HIV and stigma

Podcast 24: Katrina Roen on diverse sex development

Podcast 25: Adam Jones and Zoe Cousins

Podcast 26: Janey Sewell on ‘chemsex’ and HIV among HIV negative MSM

Podcast 27: Tom Nadarzynski on digital sexual health

Podcast 28: Tristan Barber on frailty and HIV

Productivity – intro

I recently started looking into various options to try try to improve my productivity. I have been an Evernote user for a while and I also use the 2Do app, and keep my calendar appointments electronically. I’m a Mac user so I like the way my calendar is synced across my devices, which feels like I’m not doubling up effort. It is also handy when you find yourself at a meeting and everyone gets their paper diaries out but you don’t need to worry as you can check on the phone, iPad or laptop – whatever you have with you at the meeting. Despite all this, I felt I could improve on what I’d been doing. I mostly wanted to feel sure I was being productive, but also efficient with my time. If I can’t get a whole day to write then when do I? If I have a 2 hour window then what do I do with it?

I tried the Getting Things Done (here is a Lifehacker post about it) and the 12 week year approaches but they never really stuck. I’ve no criticisms of them, but as many others who write, blog and vlog on these matters say, it’s really down to what suits you. These didn’t really suit. I then tried the Bullet Journal and perhaps because it appeals to the stationary geek in me (!) I really liked it. Not only that, having used it for a few months now I really do feel that it has helped me to be more productive. The grants and the papers were written. One aspect of the GTD approach I liked was putting everything down on paper so that it is not clogging up inside your head and possibly leading to stress. I feel this way about the Bullet Journal. If you’ve never heard of this then have look on YouTube – there are LOADS of videos about it. But here is the webpage to find out more. I also liked the 12 week year’s argument that if you try to plan for a whole year you may end up panicking at the 3 months to go mark, whereas if you break it down you keep momentum. As an academic, it can be easy to fall into planning a year (Sept/Oct – Aug/Sept), but by the time you reach May have you enough time to get your yearly goals done? I have a yearly PDAR (Personal and Development Review) roughly every September, so I want to make sure that the goals I set at the start of the academic year are being met.

So I’ve used my bullet journal to get as much out of my head and on to paper, and I’ve also broken my year (12 months) down into 3 month goals.  The bullet journal approach suggests you have a future log, which is for the whole year.  I do this, but I added 3 monthly plans too: Oct-Dec; Jan-Mar; Apr-Jun; Jul-Sept.  Where many bullet journals have a monthly plan followed by weekly, I have a 3 month plan followed by my month, then weeks, then month then weeks then month then weeks then back to 3 month plan and so on.

Is this just procrastination? Some may think so, especially if you’re really great with your time management without using any of these approaches. But I do feel I am liable to drift:  I’ll take time to read before committing to writing that grant or paper, but I’m likely to take too long unless I have something to keep me on track.  I am also easily distracted with stuff that I can do and set aside the difficult (it just looms in the background, building stress).  Focusing on small manageable tasks has helped me move away from taking too long and from feeling stressed by my own body swerve to the difficult or lets say not very enjoyable tasks.   Breaking tasks down is something I advise my doctoral students to do.  I’ll suggest they don’t write on their to do list “write chapter”, instead break it all down into small tasks, and see the daily, weekly and monthly achievements much more clearly. It may take 6 weeks to draft a chapter, but in those 6 weeks they can see they are making progress and at 5pm each day they can stop and engage with their personal life with reduced stress (hopefully!)

Lots of great folk have been blogging about these approaches, and indeed their own, so I’ll go into a bit more detail, and link to them, in another post.  For now, I wanted to get down my appreciation of thinking about what you do and to finding an approach that works for you.  I echo what many others have said, so if you’re new to all this then do have a search for what may work for you.  (And if you’re a stationary geek like me, then have fun!)


Measuring patient experience and outcome in health care settings on receiving care after sexual violence: a systematic review

Measuring patient experience and outcome in health care settings on receiving care after sexual violence: a systematic review

PI: Dr Rachel Caswell (University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust)
CI: Dr Karen Lorimer, GCU; Prof Jonathan Ross (University Hospitals Birmingham NHS)
Funding: Sexually Transmitted Infections Research Foundation

The objectives of this review are

– to determine how patient reported outcomes measures (PROMS) and experiences (PREMS) have previously been defined and measured for men and women attending health care settings after experiencing sexual violence.
– to identify whether a “gold standard” measure of PROMS and PREMS exists for this group of patients, and if so how has it been defined in terms of reliability (are the results reproducible and consistent), validity (has an assessment been made of what patients consider to be important measures of quality and are they accurately evaluated), acceptability and feasibility;
– to identify key themes regarded by patients as priorities for delivering a high-quality service for individuals who have experienced sexual violence