Managing your first research staff position

Working as a researcher is a continuous learning curve. Research staff fresh from a doctoral degree may find they have much less guidance than during their doctorate. A good project supervisor or line manager will stay in close contact with them at the beginning, to make sure they are not overwhelmed. But the real key to success as a researcher is to take charge of your own professional development.

In the first few days

  • Departmental procedures: find out how these work, even if you did your doctorate in the same place.
  • Employment terms and conditions: understand your contractual rights and responsibilities.
  • Relationship with your principal investigator (line manager): establish a good working relationship from the first day onwards. Agree how you will work together.
  • Project outline: understand what is expected of you and what specific deliverables you should work towards.
  • Beyond the project: understand what is expected of you beyond the research itself.
  • Who is who: find out who to contact with any concerns.

Competencies to focus on from the start

  • Project planning: spend time familiarising yourself with the literature and planning the research project before beginning any new work.
  • Information and data management: establish good ways of keeping records in the early stages. Some records may be referred to many years later.
  • Research ethics: check whether you will need to apply for ethical approval; particularly relevant for those working with human subjects or tissues, animals, or confidential personal data.
  • Working with others: it is crucial to establish a good working relationship with your direct line manager as well as other members of your group or team and any collaborators.
  • Building networks: Effective networking will maximise your opportunities to share knowledge, ideas and opinions.  It will benefit your research and may open doors for future career opportunities.
  • Work-life balance: don’t forget to work on your social life and building a support network.

As you become established

  • Presenting your research: find opportunities to present your results, within and beyond your institution.
  • Publishing: during a doctorate, it’s likely that the supervisor had the biggest say in where and how to publish. As research staff become more independent, it’s important to learn about appropriate journals to publish in, decide what parts of research to publish and become aware of issues such as citation factors. Take opportunities to be involved in peer review and write review articles.
  • Intellectual property (IP): consider inventions, designs, concepts and other original creations resulting directly from your research. Be informed on IP rights and their implications.
  • Public engagement: researchers funded by public money are increasingly expected to engage the general public in their work. This can be challenging but rewarding.
  • Leadership development: as a researcher you will already have developed attributes desirable in a good leader, such as analytical skills, original thinking, innovation, creativity, effective communication and subject area expertise. Consider leadership development courses to help make the most of your strengths and realise your potential as a leader. This could be time well spent whether your future career lies in or out of academia
  • Self-reflection: make time to review your competencies and performance as a researcher. What can you do to be a better researcher?
  • Supervising others: it is common to be involved in the supervision of others, eg undergraduate and masters students, doctoral researchers, visiting researchers. Learn how to manage others well.