Five ways to have a successful research career (Day 169)

SuccessWhen I meet with up and coming chemical engineers – and via this blog – I often get asked for advice on what career route they should take.

My guidance is always to look at all the options; do your research; talk to family and friends; gain work experience if possible; and analyse your own strengths and weaknesses. In some cases you may even seek professional careers advice.

But, importantly, the decision must be yours, especially as it may prove to be the most dominant and consistent feature of your life for 50 years or more.

However, one of the options is a career in academia and I hope you find this information useful background to any decision you make.

Relatively few chemical engineering graduates continue on into further study; for example in the UK, 33.1 per cent of chemistry graduates carry out postgraduate study compared with 16.5 per cent of chemical engineering graduates.

Geoff Maitland with some members of the IChemE UK Research Committee

Geoff Maitland with some members of the IChemE UK Research Committee

Recently I have been working with a number of IChemE members in the UK to set up a Research Committee to encourage academic-industry research collaborations and the wider exchange of knowledge and ideas.

One of the most important (and fun) things about being a researcher is the chance to do something new and revolutionary. However to be successful in this you have to not only get your work published, but noticed.

Before we delve into my five tips to ensure that your research is a success and you get noticed, you may want to watch this video of Paul Shearing, who was recently awarded the Young Chemical Engineer of the Year Award in Academia at the IChemE Global Awards on 6 November 2014

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My five ideas for success

1. Be aware

Being a successful researcher is about having a plan and knowing what the research landscape looks like. You need to be organised and aware of what is going on around you to ensure that you don’t fall into the common research career pitfalls.

This YouTube video made by Elsevier is a good guide to the early career pitfalls of research and just how competitive it can really be:

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2. Publish

Journals in a libraryThis probably seems incredibly obvious, but you would be amazed by how many researchers struggle to publish their work.

As I mentioned in my previous post ‘Five things you need to know about journal Impact Factors’, sometimes we dwell too much on the prestige of the journal we publish in, rather than ensuring we get our research published in the most appropriate place.

The key piece I would offer is that before you write your paper decide where you want it to be published and then tailor your paper to fit.

3. Communicate

SignpostIf you want your work to be noticed, it is not enough to just publish it. You need to tell someone about it.

Researchers like me often have a bad reputation for being able to communicate. And this is something I want to change.

And you can do it for yourself too. Since starting this blog 169 days ago I don’t think I have ever learnt more about what is going on in the world of chemical engineering research and what my fellow chemical engineers are doing.

Some universities and companies have excellent PR departments that can help you with communication, whether helping you to put your work into a press release or putting it up on their websites.

4. Network

social mediaNetworking is more than just attending conferences; it offers the chance for you meet people with similar interests and expertise that could benefit your career enormously.

‘Soft skills’ like networking are often thought to be less important, but in the world of research your success is often dependent on your ability to collaborate with others. The best way to make new collaborations is to network.

IChemE recently gave this very useful webinar on effective networking. It is well worth listening to.

5. Manage your time

TimerBeing realistic about how long it takes you to get something done is the first step in succeeding in any workplace.

In research in is crucially important as we all must work to deadlines, whether it is working out how much time you have to complete a grant proposal, or how long you need to book a space in the lab for.

Try writing down how long you spend doing all your tasks for a week, and then review it. I guarantee you will be surprised at how long you spend doing certain activities. Success is all about being able to prioritise.

If you have just started out on your research career why not get in touch and share your success stories… but remember, I won’t be able to give individual careers advice.

Thanks for reading my blog!

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