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ECR interview: Making the most of a unique opportunity

Alinka Greasley

Dr Alinka Greasley - Associate Professor in Music Psychology at the University of Leeds

Being an Early Career Researcher (ECR) can be nerve wracking time. But relax, ask for help when you need it, and use this valuable time and the unique opportunities it brings to build strong foundations for a successful future career, says Dr Alinka Greasley, Associate Professor in Music Psychology at the University of Leeds.

When you start off along the road as an early career researcher (ECR) there will be a number of things playing on your mind: How do you get into your field? How do you make your mark in a competitive environment? Are you publishing enough in the right places?

It can certainly be a difficult time with many challenges, but you can also see it as a period of grace when you aren't expected to be on top of your game, and you aren't expected to know everything. It’s a time to grow and find your feet.

For Alinka, Early Career research is very much a period for honing your research skills:

“ECR is a time for learning about focus, time management, and timelines for research projects. I would advise anyone embarking on a big research project for the first time not to be too over ambitious with what you think you can get done in the time available, and to build in additional time for things taking a bit longer than expected”.

“But above all, don't be afraid to reach out and talk to those with more experience. As an ECR it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you should know everything, and you really don't.”

The trick to making a success of your time as an ECR is using the freedom that you have to take time to learn what you need to take your career on to the next level – and even to make some mistakes along the way.

Dr Greasley notes: “I went from self-managing my own time while writing my PhD to getting my first grant. Suddenly I was managing a team for the first time.

“I had to make the shift from managing my own studies, to managing other people's time as well and thinking through what I wanted them to get done. I have to admit there were a few Monday mornings when I turned up at work and remembered suddenly that I needed to plan my team’s workload for the week as well!”

But being an ECR is actually a time of increased opportunity. Although it may, at times, feel like you have to fight for everything, there isn't so much pressure on you, and there is good support in place if you take advantage of it. There is a lot to learn and you need all the support you can get.

“On my research grant, I had an advisory board made up of experts in their field,” says Dr Greasley. “It took a little while to realise how I should be using them effectively. I was hesitant to get in touch until I had made what I felt like was significant progress. However, I should have reached out more in those initial months and simply asked ‘Can I have half an hour?’”.

“The insights the advisory panel were able to offer, their thinking on difficult issues, really helped make the project a success.”

In addition to experts, don't forget to talk to your peers. Dr Greasley said “For me meeting other principal investigators on other projects for a coffee and talking through progress was very helpful. Hearing their experiences of leading a project for the first time, and of some of the challenges it can bring, helped me gain confidence in what I was doing.”

Ultimately, being an ECR is a time of transition. Embrace the idea of change and development - and accept you can't do that all on your own - and these years will set the tone for the rest of your career.

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