Written by: Susi Sadler (@SusiSadler) and Sarah Walker (@Sarah1003Walker)

“You need to show you can get funded, so start small”

“Publications are important, make sure your work is published, but also collaborate with others as much as possible”

“Work on something you’re interested in”

Words of wisdom were thrown out like sweeties to attendees at the Institute of Health Research Early Career Researcher Network’s recent Focus Day. The theme being “Things the University is Doing that you Don’t Know About, that you Might Want to Know About, that Might Help you Progress your Career. Plus Helpful Career (and Life) Advice from People who’ve Been Where you are and Survived”. Or something like that.

Other, more (or perhaps less) practical advice included…

“Don’t follow your dreams [like I did]”

“Don’t work weekends [like I did]”

And even “You may not want to return to work three weeks after childbirth, but it worked for me”

On arrival to the Focus Day, attendees were given a copy of “Self-care for academics: a poetic invitation to reflect and resist” by Siobhan O’Dwyer, Sarah Pinto and Sharon McDonough. After a gentle start to the day, with colouring and refreshments, the thirty-five attendees were inundated with useful advice on a range of career-related topics, including: The Exeter Academic and how it relates to progression and promotion, the University of Exeter Doctoral College and how it supports development for early career researchers, the purpose and achievements of the Positive Working Environment Board and how to get the most out of mentoring and other one-to-one career support.

But equally valuable was the insight into the somewhat stochastic and unexpected career paths of those who have, somehow, navigated the world of the early career researcher and made it to the heady heights of mid-career researcher or even senior academic. Most would not have been able to predict where they have ended up, had they been asked. Many described similar traits which they identified as important for career success – being proactive enough to pursue your interests and ambitions, getting good support structures in place, and being bold enough to make the first steps into job and funding applications despite the seemingly universal “imposter syndrome”. Although difficulties with work-life balance were a common theme, all the contributors found their academic careers rewarding, interesting and challenging.

The highlight of the day was, without doubt the very hotly-contested Cake Competition, with eight delcious entries shared by attendees and presenters after a buffet lunch, ensuring that everyone left with full minds and full stomachs at the end of the day.

The IHR Early Career Researcher Network would like to thank all the presenters: David Llewellyn, Katharine Harris, Jo Thompson-Coon, Angela Shore, Karen Leslie, Andrew McRae, Kate Lindsell, Nicky Britten and Sarah Dean. The Focus Day was funded by a Researcher Led Initiative Award, applied for by Sarah Walker, Becky Whear and Susi Sadler. Thanks also go to members of the IHR ECRN for their input in planning this event.

The impressive cake competition winners were: 1st Krystal Warmoth, 2nd Paulo Landa and 3rd Rachel Burn – Congratulations all! Each winner received a Princesshay gift voucher; Krystal also received a ‘Star Baker’ cake tin.

Dontations were also collected for Sands (https://www.sands.org.uk/) throughout the day. A £30 donation has been made in memory of Hamish Robin Wilkins and for all those other families who have lost their babies too soon.

As well as bi-monthly meetings which are open for all early career researchers to attend and discuss any issues or concerns, the network is planning to arrange a number of more focussed seminars and workshops over the next few months, so please contact Tristan Snowsill (t.m.snowsill@exeter.ac.uk) to be added to the mailing list and find out about future events.