Five skills to boost your research career

This week I use another sporting analogy to outline a concept that applies to how we work in research.

Success and survival is about positioning

You have probably seen those researchers, or maybe you are one of them, that always seem to get the opportunities and good things just come to them. I have to say, that as much as it may seem like things magically happen for them when you delve into it, you realise that it is to do with the way the person has positioned themselves. 

Take for example cycling, I must give full disclosure here to being an avid cyclist, cyclists ride in groups, sometimes very large groups, and this has all the advantages of providing a ‘draft’ effect making the cycling easier when you follow the person in fronts wheel. Now I can be quite competitive, and I really hate it when I get ‘dropped’ from the group, meaning I just can’t keep up anymore and have to watch them cycle away from me while slowing to a painful pace. This led me to think and developing strategies to survive the rides without getting dropped. Of course, sometimes it is inevitable that I can’t keep up, but I have found that there are some things I can do that give me a much greater chance of succeeding. I realised that being a fast rider and keeping up is often more about the strategy that I use rather than being a great cyclist. I believe this analogy holds true for research too, although the science has to be solid of course.

When riding in the pack I have found that survival is all about positioning, I deliberately ensure that I don’t ride on the front in the wind and that I position myself with the best protection and drafting possibilities within the group. Even simple things like being at the front of the pack at the base of a hill so that by the top of the hill I am still in the group, but now at the back!

How then can we ‘position’ ourselves in a strategic manner for our research career success? Here are five non-traditional suggestions that add value to the other research skills developed in your career.

  1. Surround yourself with people that stretch you mentally. Much like in cycling, where you surround yourself with people that push you physically, you should consider your mentors, advisors and connections.
  2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Think differently and do the things you know are of benefit that you always put off, could be public speaking or networking.
  3. Use opportunities for skill development, differentiate yourself from other researchers.
  4. Deliver your research in a dynamic and innovative way, make videos, tell stories, try crowdfunding.
  5. Use social media, whether it be Tweeting on Twitter, building a profile on ResearchGate to collaborate with other researchers, or getting on LinkedIn and making new connections. Perhaps you want to start blogging; there are an increasing number of researchers writing blogs these days.

Now consider again those researchers that seem just to strike it lucky, how many of these things are they doing? My guess would be that they are doing more than one of these. Now pick something, start slowly and give it a try.

Need help getting started with your strategies, get in touch for a chat and I will guide you.