Building your track record

Deb Brian works at the Office of Sponsored Research at The University of Queensland, where her focus is on helping researchers to write better funding applications, and supporting early career researchers and women in science and research.

She can be found on Twitter at @deborahbrian, where she talks higher education policy, research strategy, Australian politics, social justice, and cats. Mostly cats.

A version of this article first appeared in Funding Insight on December 14, 2017 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


Photo by Ravi Roshan | unsplash.com

Photo by Ravi Roshan | unsplash.com

As the year begins, many of you will be planning your research for the coming year and identifying funding schemes to target. Some will have received the outcomes of last year’s grant applications and will either be breathing a sigh of relief or girding their loins for the next attempt.

This can be a difficult time, both professionally and emotionally, for early career researchers in particular (see Tseen Khoo’s recent post on academic disappointment).

This is especially so for those in fields where there is an expectation that salaries will be sourced from grant and fellowship funds.

In this era of short-term contracts and reduced security of employment, there has never been more pressure on early career researchers to establish a research track record.

Couple this with declining grant success rates across the board and increasing competition and the situation can become quite daunting. Those who are not successful in becoming one of the 1 in 10 researchers awarded a major grant or fellowship can easily become disheartened.

Some tell me the major funding bodies just don’t care about their field, are biased against their particular methodology, or that it is all a lottery anyway. None of this is true, of course, but – more importantly – it isn’t helpful.

So, what can you do if you are an early career researcher struggling to break into the big leagues of research funding?

Here are five tips for you to help build your track record:  Read more of this post

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This wasn’t always me

Photo by Tseen Khoo

Photo by Tseen Khoo

There’s a post I tend to share when major grant round results are announced.

It’s ‘Picking up the pieces‘. In it, I emphasise that “I can say that I truly understand how you feel. I threw my hat in the major grants and fellowship rings many times; very few times was I successful.”

I always thought those sentences failed to convey the howling disappointment, derailment of career, and emptying out of all confidence that these results can bring.

It is hard, after all, to capture the sound of your professional self decomposing in half a second after realising you’re not a named awardee.

This post, below, was originally published on my personal blog at the end of 2010, seven years ago. It felt like my lowest point, career-wise. I was not in a good place.

I wanted to re-publish it to the Research Whisperer audience as a collegial artefact, to share my thinking about academic identity and scholarly life at a very raw time. Read more of this post

The gift of record-keeping: A tool for future promotion

Dr Bronwyn Eager works as a Lecturer, Entrepreneurship at Swinburne Business School, Swinburne University of Technology.

Her research focuses on stress, coping and time-orientation in entrepreneurs and integrating entrepreneurship education into STEM domains.

She tweets as @bronwyn_eager, and is always up for a coffee and interesting conversations.


Photo by Max Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash.com

I was recently asked by a colleague to help edit her application for a Professorial role.

As a recently minted PhD, and academic Level B (i.e. the bottom of the academic food chain), I was honoured. The process of reviewing her application gave me some insight into academic promotion, which I want to share with you below. Namely, the importance of record-keeping and a gift of a simple spreadsheet to help you capture your data now, so it will be on hand for when you need it in the future.

Reading my colleague’s application, I felt exhausted. Not from the editing process (which was minimal – she is a brilliant writer), but from living vicariously through the vast number of publications, supervision roles, teaching activities, grants, and engagements that were laid out in her documents.

I looked up more than once from my screen and wondered how she’d had time to sleep since completing her PhD. Read more of this post

Postdoc pathfinding (Part 2)

Dr Beth Linas is the Manger of Research and Science at Vibrent Health, a health technology company whose goal is to use data-driven and evidence-based solutions for preventing, monitoring, diagnosing and treating diseases.

Prior to this role, she served as a fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) with the Smart and Connected Health Program, and the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research effort at the National Science Foundation.

Beth completed her postdoc fellowship in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where she also completed her PhD (2014) and Masters of Health Science (MHS, 2010). Her research and policy interests include the application of computer science to advance health as well as understanding how to develop and scale evidence-based digital and mobile health platforms to improve health outcomes.

Beth is passionate about and works to promote scientists who communicate science. She tweets from @bethlinas.


The Research Whisperer was approached by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to feature a couple of their great fellowship stories. We were happy to showcase the fantastic opportunities available to scientists through their programs. If you’re interested in applying for the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowshipapplications are due November 1! Please note: you must hold US citizenship, or dual citizenship from US and another country.

If you know of non-US programs that do similar things, please comment with links so that your colleagues can be aware of them and follow them up!


[Part 1 of Beth’s story appeared last week]

Photo by Mike Enerio | unsplash.com

Photo by Mike Enerio | unsplash.com

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowship (STPF) application process is in-depth, challenging and long.

I submitted my initial application 1 November, 2014, and it wasn’t until July 1, 2015 that I knew where I was going to be placed. The placement process is much like a medical residency match. The office must choose you, and you must indicate that you are interested in serving in that office (after an extensive week of interviews in Washington, DC).

I was most interested in working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It was the agency I was most familiar with, given my training. I was taught very specifically the process and methods for crafting a grant to match NIH guidelines and regulations, I had been on the campus, I knew people working at the NIH, and I knew those who worked there were trained in public health.

But, to my surprise, I interviewed in the Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering at the National Science Foundation with a program entitled Smart and Connected Health. Read more of this post

Postdoc pathfinding (Part 1)

Dr Beth Linas is the Manger of Research and Science at Vibrent Health, a health technology company whose goal is to use data-driven and evidence-based solutions for preventing, monitoring, diagnosing and treating diseases.

Prior to this role, she served as a Science & Technology Policy Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) with the Smart and Connected Health Program, and the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research effort at the National Science Foundation.

Beth completed her postdoc fellowship in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where she also completed her PhD (2014) and Masters of Health Science (MHS, 2010). Her research and policy interests include the application of computer science to advance health as well as understanding how to develop and scale evidence-based digital and mobile health platforms to improve health outcomes.

Beth is passionate about and works to promote scientists who communicate science. She tweets from @bethlinas.


The Research Whisperer was approached by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to feature a couple of their great fellowship stories. We were happy to showcase the fantastic opportunities available to scientists through their programs. If you’re interested in applying for the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowshipapplications are due November 1! Please note: you must hold US citizenship, or dual citizenship from US and another country.

If you know of non-US schemes that do similar things, please comment with links so that your colleagues can be aware of them and follow them up! 


Photo by Mike Enerio | unsplash.com

Photo by Mike Enerio | unsplash.com

I am a trained infectious disease epidemiologist. I attended graduate school to gain a specialised understanding of the theory and scientific method of this cornerstone of public health, whose goal is to analyse patterns, causes and effects of human health and disease conditions in population; to understand epidemics.

PhDs are trained to be professional thinkers. We are expected to think big, study difficult, extensive and puzzling scientific questions that require tenacity, patience and extreme focus. Traditionally, to do this, many trained epidemiologists remain in the halls of academic institutions funded customarily by federal grant dollars.

As a graduate student, I trained under individuals who did just that. In fact, my mentor was an MD, PhD; he had completed both medical and graduate school, and the subsequent training required to be a licensed physician researcher. Today, he remains faculty at the institution that granted him his PhD, first as junior faculty and now as a full professor. Academia is what he lives and breathes (although, he does see patients in a clinic). This is not a knock on my mentor. I received excellent training in epidemiologic methods, social and behavioral determinants of infectious diseases, as well as critical thinking, manuscript writing, grant development and more. I was fortunate to have such a focused and present mentor.

However, I was never interested in remaining in academia. Read more of this post

Vice-chancellors redeemed?

Dr Muriel E Swijghuisen Reigersberg is a researcher development manager (strategy) at The University of Sydney, Australia, and previously worked at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK.  At Sydney, she oversees the development of a University-wide researcher development training program in collaboration with researchers, faculty staff and professional service units.

In her spare time, Muriel maintains an academic profile in applied and medical ethnomusicology, regularly presenting at academic conferences, penning academic texts, peer reviewing and blogging. She has also offered consultancy support to specialist research institutes in arts and humanities in Slovenia and Japan. Muriel is a keen supporter of the responsible sharing of academic knowledge.

 She is on Twitter as @murielSR. Her ORCID is 0000-0003-2337-7962.


Arc (Photo by Andreas Levers - flicker.com) Shared via CC 2.0

Arc (Photo by Andreas Levers – flicker.com) Shared via CC 2.0

This article is a response to Tseen Khoo’s great post Nowhere to hide (29th August) where she wonders whether vice-chancellors are capable of understanding the current struggles and working conditions early career researchers face in today’s modern university.

I’ll unpack some of the issues Tseen raises, using my third-space hat: the research manager/ researcher hat.

First, I should say that perhaps I am lucky. Not all vice-chancellors are the same and my encounters with senior staff, including the odd vice-chancellor every now and again, have been strikingly positive. I say ‘strikingly’ because when I was a junior administrator and early career researcher, I never had access to the upper echelons of the university.

Now that I do more regularly, and have had some conversations with senior colleagues, I have come to understand that issues such as fixed-term contractual arrangements; metrics; the ‘enforced’ mobility questions and definitions of what an early career researcher is (in terms of age, etc.) are rather more complex than I’d first imagined.

So this article is as much about my personal learning as it is about the lamentable state of affairs. Read more of this post

Do I have to move up the ladder?

Photo by Geran de Klerk | unsplash.com

Photo by Geran de Klerk | unsplash.com

My last post about sharing hard truths in the academy seemed to really strike a chord, particularly with early career researchers who confirmed that hearing the truth was better than being placated with false assurances. People contributed some great comments: well considered and sometimes sad.

One of these comments, from Megan, included an interesting question:

I have one, maybe slightly odd, question. I did a PhD so I could work in research, not to scale the heights of academia. I love my job but I love other aspects of my life just as much (!) and am not keen to have to put my job above all else as it seems is necessary to progress (from what I have observed anyway). Basically I would be more than happy to keep working as a level B, say, on different projects and feel confident enough in my general skills (I had a career before academia) that I could do this. I also know that senior academics need good people at that level to actually deliver their projects.

However it seems to me that staying at the one level is not possible as a career path – the institution kind of forces you to look and move ‘upward’ because of the need / desire for high performing researchers. And while I know some projects have non-academic project managers I’m not as interested in that as would still like to use my academic skills / write a bit and so on. Just wondering if anyone had any thoughts on this.

This prompted so many thoughts that I had to write this post! My caveat for this is that it is drawn from my own experiences – I would be very interested to hear from anyone who knows of research into promotion patterns and aspirations in academia.

So, where to begin?

The short answer is that you could have a career as a Level B academic. If you manage to land a continuing Level B position (title of ‘lecturer’, 2nd step up from entry-level continuing academic appointments), you could – if you wanted to – stay at that level for as long as you like. That is, as long as you’re not made redundant by your institution, or ‘fail’ to do your basic job as an academic (in which case, you may then be ‘performance managed’ out of your role).

If you’re fulfilling the job of a lecturer (and probably beyond), and just don’t ever feel like applying for promotion, this becomes interesting. I’m writing a chapter for a book on ‘academic wellbeing’ that focuses on the very question: what it means when you know that fighting for your work/life balance means a direct compromise of promotion chances and track-record building opportunities. Read more of this post