A photo of young researchers gathering for career advice at ESOF

Young researchers gather for career advice at ESOF

Credit: Wilkinson Photography

Career advice highlights from the EuroScience Open Forum

MANCHESTER, U.K.—Researchers from all corners of Europe have flocked to the biennial EuroScience Open Forum this week, where experts are showcasing scientific developments in a broad range of fields and discussing science policy issues—plus offering career guidance. Here are Science Careers’s takeaways from three of the careers sessions.

“Life after a PhD: Engaging supervisors in career development”

Young scientists should initiate conversations about their career plans with their supervisors, even when these aspirations deviate from a traditional academic path, emphasized the speakers at this session organized by Careers Advisers supporting Researchers in Europe. Trainees often fear starting these discussions because they worry that their principal investigators (PIs) will not be supportive, and that it could affect their working relationship. But, the speakers said, PIs are realizing more and more the importance of talking with their advisees about career aspirations, including those outside academia, and trainees often find that the conversation comes as a relief to both themselves and their PIs. Still, you need to navigate these discussions carefully. Here are the speakers’ tips for getting the most out of them. 

  • Think hard about where you want to be in your career and your life after you’ve finished your Ph.D. or postdoc. Discuss with your peers what is important to you as a researcher and as a person. This reflection will help you develop self-awareness and prepare you for your conversation with your PI.
  • Approach your PI with specific issues and requests. Starting the conversation with something broad like “I don’t know what to do with my life” will likely yield generic answers. Instead, you could mention that in 2 months’ time there is a conference you would like to attend because one of the speakers is someone from industry whose work and career are of interest to you.
  • Try to bear your PI’s perspective in mind. You will be more likely to get your PI to agree to send you to that conference, for example, if you can convince her or him that the money will be well spent.
  • PIs often struggle to give feedback to trainees who want to leave academia because they may not know what else you should or could do. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to them about it, but if your PI has no experience or contacts in the areas you’re interested in, find other mentors who do.

“Peer review: the nuts and bolts”

The peer-review landscape has changed rapidly in recent years, presenting new opportunities but also potential pitfalls for young scientists, said the speakers at this session organized by Sense about Science. Editorial and publishing consultant Irene Hames offered some advice about how to navigate the waters as a reviewer.

  • Public peer reviews, such as those that EMBO Reports publishes with its papers, can be a useful educational resource.
  • Sift through today’s many journals to determine which you can trust. Only review for reputable publications, not those that would use your work just to make money for themselves.
  • Don’t be afraid to approach journal editors and say that you want to be a reviewer.
  • Understand the whole range of what open peer review means. Junior researchers need to be careful about having their names published with their reviews, especially if the reviews are critical of senior scientists. If you’re unsure about the confidentiality of a review you’ve been invited to submit, ask the journal for more information.
  • Even if the process is confidential, assume that it could be made public. Stick to the facts and use neutral language.
  • If you are co-reviewing with your supervisor, make sure the journal knows about it so that you can get credit for your work and start building your own record.

“Opening up in the digital era: empowering early career researchers”

In the midst of a push toward open science, today’s researchers have at their disposal more tools than ever before to share their data and protocols, mine the scientific literature, and spread the word about their research. In a session organized by Elsevier and conducted with the participation of the U.K.-based researcher professional development organization Vitae, among others, speakers highlighted a number of these tools and offered advice for how to go about incorporating them into your day-to-day work.

  • Electronic lab notebooks such as eLabFTW, hivebench, labguru, and sciNote make it possible to not only keep track of your protocols, experiments, and data, but also to share them with others, which can be especially useful for PIs. But don’t try to keep both a handwritten and electronic notebook at once; it’s too much work.
  • What it means to publish your data and research is changing with the arrival and growth of platforms that allow researchers to describe citable scientific ideas in an open environment (the Journal of Brief Ideas), publish about the entire research cycle (Research Ideas and Outcomes) or single scientific observations (Matters), and comment on published papers (PubPeer).
  • New communication platforms can also help you reach out to other scientists (Mendeley) and potential collaborators (piirus.ac.uk), explain (Kudos) and disseminate (Publiscize) your research more broadly, and even look for potential funders through crowdfunding (experiment).
  • For literature discovery, tools such as Scizzle, Sparrho, SciCurve, and Meta can be useful, in addition to Twitter.

Some of these tools are free, while others require a fee, and there can be a bit of a learning curve involved in getting started. Which tools you should use often depends on your scientific field and discipline, so rather than testing them all, check out what your colleagues are using—perhaps by using an information crowdsourcing platform like LabWorm. You can also learn more at the Mendeley group Open Science toolkit for ECRs (or Early-Career Researchers), which was launched during the session.

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