The number of early researchers and academics within the higher education sector worldwide is declining. In many areas around the world, the poor replacement rate of academics and researchers within the sector puts the next generation of learners in jeopardy. In order for universities (and by extension society and the economy) to maintain a sustained level growth of knowledge leadership, transformational research, new academic ideas and relevant innovation, early career researchers need to be supported and developed. Societies gain a competitive advantage when they are able to nurture new ideas and create effective knowledge generators.
Increased competition for talent within and outside of the sector means their development cannot be neglected by their institutions. The pressing issue is that many researchers and academic leaders are not adequately prepared for the challenges of research in a new era— where leadership and communications play an ever increasing part of what they do. The ‘sink or swim’ method is more harmful than good, highly ineffective and does not give early career researchers the necessary and broad range of skills required for future leadership within their career trajectory.
Early career researchers (ECRs) are largely thought of as students first and employees second.
Investment in ECR needs to be the top priority. Skills training in areas around fundamental research skills—planning and time management, presentation skills, communicating research are key to guiding future successes. Other training in areas such as research collaborations, teaching methodologies and managing workloads as well as building a personal profile for your research or academic career, brings another dimension to supporting those at the beginning of their research and academic careers.
The responsibility of the development of ECR should not fall solely on the shoulders of their academic supervisors and managers, but something institutions as a whole need to embrace and be committed too. Policies need to be in place that encourage and support research and academia as viable career options and that the success of these individuals matters to the success of the institution. By creating the appropriate conditions to assist current academic and research leaders we strengthen the ability to create the universities for the future.