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Writing and publishing challenges early-career researchers face and how to overcome them

When you begin your research career, there are many challenges that face you. Balancing all aspects of your new role can be overwhelming. But there are also many supports that exist to help you be successful. Knowing what supports to look for and where to find them is key.

Managing workload

When you start a career as a researcher, you have to balance many different professional tasks. Early-career researchers are often teaching, mentoring students, engaged in community and institutional service, conducting research, presenting and writing. The first five to six years of your academic career is a time when you are expected to build up your research profile and professional resume. There is pressure to secure research funding, perform well on teaching evaluations, and publish articles. All of these count toward decisions about promotion, retention and tenure. Since teaching, mentoring students, and committee service involve specific times when you have to be present, it often feels like writing for publication is an unrealistic and unattainable goal. But there are ways to approach the process which can help you successfully meet your publishing goals.

Seek out collaborative writing opportunities. If you can find opportunities to co-author papers with other researchers, this will help reduce the workload and keep you motivated and on track. If you have been assigned a mentor, ask about any opportunities to conduct research and co-author with more senior researchers. Even if you have no mentor, connect with more senior researchers. You could form a writing group with other early-career researchers at your institution, or within your professional organizations. Sometimes, early-career researchers connect with some of their peers from graduate school, even though they are in different institutions, and collaborate on academic publications. 

Finding resources

Beyond having no time, lacking other resources can become an obstacle to academic writing. A lack of opportunities to conduct research can mean you do not have data to write about. Funding can be key for conducting new research, and applying for grant funding as an early-career researcher can be challenging. Depending on your area of research, you may need support in identifying participants for studies you are conducting, or support in developing an Institutional Review Board proposal so you are approved to conduct the research. 

Many successful early-career researchers write papers based on the research in their dissertation and use this approach to publish some papers early in their career. This allows them to start publishing while they secure opportunities and funding to begin new research. Look for opportunities to collaborate on research projects that colleagues are conducting. Researchers in institutions submitting grant proposals will often be looking for co-principal investigators with specific expertise to work on a large research project. If you are at a smaller institution, without many colleagues in your discipline area, seek out these opportunities with researchers at other institutions. Seeking out these opportunities can help you to start conducting research quickly, which can lead to co-authored publications. 

Investigate what resources exist at your institution to support your research. Institutions often offer grant funding specifically aimed at early-career researchers. In fact, many academics negotiate starting research funds when they are applying for their first position. Professional organizations and funding agencies often put out a call for proposals that is geared toward early-career researchers. Finding these opportunities and pursuing them can provide you with the resources you need to launch your research agenda. Get to know the staff in support offices at your institution. Many institutions and departments have staff in place to support grant development and submission. Staff in these roles are generally very knowledgeable about the funding opportunities that can help support early researchers as they launch their careers.

Develop a research career plan

Sometimes at the beginning of your research career, or as an early academic, you may feel like you were just thrown in at the deep end. There are so many different aspects and responsibilities in your new role. So it can feel like you are just jumping from one task to another without much of a direction. Having a plan for conducting research and publishing is very important. 

Set some research and publications goals that include how many publications you want to have over the first five years and where you might submit for publication. Set aside dedicated time for writing and try to keep with that schedule. Get advice on your plan from other, more seasoned researchers. Be realistic about your time allocation so you can keep with the plan. Make sure you understand the requirements of the promotion, retention, and tenure process at your institution so that your plan is aligned with these. If you have an assigned mentor, ask for their guidance in developing your plan. If you do not have an assigned mentor, reach out to more seasoned researchers to provide you with mentorship.

As you develop your research plan, note the areas you need to prioritize. Teaching, mentoring students, conducting research, and publishing are key to a successful research career. Institutions expect that academics will engage in institutional service, serving on a variety of committees at the institution within their department. Often early-career researchers are invited to serve on numerous committees and to participate in several academic events. While doing this is certainly a part of your role, you need to know how many to participate in and when to decline. Speak with your department chair or mentor and ask them to explain what the expectation is. Include in your plan how many of these types of activities you will engage in.

Engage in professional networking

Early-career researchers often describe feeling isolated. It is true that they are engaged in many social activities including interactions with students, interactions with research subjects, and serving with peers on committees. However, it often feels as though there is a lack of opportunity to dialogue about the very thing that is at the heart of this role, the research itself. 

Belonging to a professional organization in your discipline area is of huge value as an early-career researcher. Participating in research networks is also worthwhile. These can provide you with colleagues who are conducting similar research. You can often share your early research within these networks and receive feedback that helps you move from research findings to publication. Presenting research and preparing papers for conferences can also support your publication journey. Professional organizations also provide workshops specifically geared to supporting early-career researchers. These networks are places where you can discover current research that is happening in your area, and develop research and writing collaborations with other researchers. 

Starting your career as a researcher can be both exciting and stressful. Sometimes you feel you should know how everything works, even though you do not. Many early-career researchers feel as though they can to be successful on their own and without the support of others. However the most successful researchers will tell you that the support they received through collaboration, mentoring, and funding played a key part in their success. So as you begin your career, seek out that support wherever and whenever you can.


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