Author: Dr Serena FitzGerald, University College Cork, Ireland and mySupport study Co-Investigator and Early Career Research Committee Director
Date of Publication: July 2021
Keywords: Early career researcher, Peer support, Capacity building, Mentorship, Knowledge transfer and exchange
What is an early career researcher?
An early career or early-stage researcher has been defined as an individual who is within five to seven years of completing their PhD and continues to progress in an area of research and/or academic appointment1, 2. An early career researcher is often in a vulnerable position after completing a PhD2. During the transition from graduate to expert, early career researchers can face many professional challenges if support structures are not in place to encourage continuous collaborative learning opportunities.
An educational intervention called the Family Carer Decision Support (FCDS) intervention has been developed to assist nursing home staff in supporting family carers when they need to make difficult decisions about end-of-life care for their relative with advanced dementia. The main aim of mySupport study is to adapt, implement and evaluate the educational intervention in six countries: United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Netherlands, Canada, Czech Republic and Italy.
Why establish an Early Career Research Committee?
A core activity of mySupport study is to build the capacity of the early career researchers working as part of this project. To achieve this goal an international Early Career Research Committee (ECRC) was established. This Committee was created to ensure that the projects’ early career researchers were provided with the opportunity to collaborate with peers and share learning experiences across the six sites participating within this study.
Managing an Early Career Research Committee
Dr Serena FitzGerald, a co-investigator of the mySupport study research team was appointed the ECRC Director. She leads on the development and progression of committee objectives and activities and co-ordinates the mentorship programme (details below) as part of her directorship role. During the initial stages of establishment, the members explored group expectations. To promote ownership among members they were supported to actively engage in the design of their own Committee. Committee roles included a Chair, Co-Chair, Secretary and Social Media Officer. To continue the promotion of ownership and development of members leadership skills, roles and responsibilities of its members alternate every six months.
Benefits to Committee members
mySupport study Early Career Research Committee has monthly virtual meetings and presentations, as well as guest speakers and workshops which facilitate developing specific skills and knowledge exchange between members. Workshops developed for and delivered to members to date include how to successfully hold an international online research webinar, navigating the world of publishing and mastering your best self towards research leadership and career aspirations.
A mentoring programme was also setup to support collaborative opportunities between the early career researchers and senior project members across each participating site within the study. mySupport study mentorship programme ran for one academic year and included three distinct phases: an establishment, progression, and evaluation phase. Online resources were provided to each mentor and mentee group to ensure that key actions and activities were achieved during each phase. mySupport study mentorship programme was approved for a digital badge* accreditation through University College Cork (UCC), Ireland.
mySupport study Early Career Research Committee promotes outreach and engagement within the research team, across each of the six participating sites within the study. The international Committee has a unique design that encourages and nurtures collaborative learning. Watch this short video which details how the international Committee is supporting its members: LINK
To hear Committee members’ experiences read the following blog: LINK
* A digital badge is a micro-credential that represents an informal learning experience.3 mySupport study ECRC members who completed the mentorship programme received an interactive digital badge showcasing their achievement in professional learning and development. Digital badges can be shared on professional social media networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter or attached to email signatures.
1Bosanquet, A., Mailey, A., Matthews, K.E. and Lodge, J.M., 2017. Redefining ‘early career’ in academia: A collective narrative approach. Higher Education Research & Development, 36(5), pp.890-902.
2Carey, D., Guiry, P., Maher, J. and Ní Shúilleabháin, A., 2018, November. Scoping the current system of support for early career researchers in Ireland. Royal Irish Academy.
3Dyjur, P. and Lindstrom, G., 2017. Perceptions and uses of digital badges for professional learning development in higher education. TechTrends, 61(4), pp.386-392.
Meet the author: Dr Serena FitzGerald, University College Cork, Ireland and mySupport study Co-Investigator and Early Career Research Committee Director
Dr Serena FitzGerald is a Lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, University College Cork (UCC). Serena is programme coordinator for the MSc in Nursing Studies. She teaches and coordinates modules at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, mainly in the areas of research methods and evidence-based nursing practice. Serena is a Fellow of the Centre for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL), UCC. As part of this role, she supports staff and postgraduate students who teach in higher education. Serena is currently involved in a number of national and international research projects in the areas of palliative care, health behaviours and end-of-life decision making.