Image: Stock image



How to advance your career in science

Speed read

  • In this blog, we look at some practical ways to navigate and boost your career in science.

It might feel like there are lots of challenges to advancing your career in science, especially if you’re just starting out. The ability to find funding is an oft-cited hurdle. And the isolation of research comes up as a major obstacle too. Then there are heavy workloads to manage. And navigating the bureaucracy of publishing can feel like an impossible mountain to climb.

But modern academia doesn’t need to be such a big challenge. It’s possible to achieve your goals while avoiding pitfalls that might hamper your future. In this blog, we look at some practical ways to navigate and boost your career in science.

Finding funding for your career in science

It’s important to become familiar with the donor environment and research funding. Does your research tie into more extensive action plans like Agenda 2063 or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Such frameworks are excellent places to start. Aligning your research with them helps you to show donors how your research fits into a much wider context.

Don’t jump straight into a PhD when you begin your career in science. First, arrange your funding. Consider your timing carefully before starting your PhD, especially if there are scarce funds or resources in your field. Monitor calls for research. Watch out for financing that is specifically related to your field of study. Websites for Research Councils are a great place to start. Check out the South African Medical Research Council, for example.

Gain media knowledge to connect with funders. Speaking to the media can result in additional funds and partnerships. The media is a common source of information on science and technology for politicians. So, publishing helps you get noticed. If media relations feels daunting, SciDev.Net offers a free online media training course for scientists.

Developing your skill set for a career in science

The development of your skill set is crucial. Skills like public speaking and writing articles are often undervalued but can significantly advance your career. Think about your strengths and weaknesses. Which areas need the most improvement? Ask for advice from mentors and trusted colleagues if you’re unsure. This will help you prioritise the abilities and knowledge needed to advance your career in science.

You never know when or to whom you’ll need to present your findings. So, improve your communication skills and build the confidence you’ll need to discuss your research with anyone. For advice on enhancing your science communication skills, see our practical guides.

There’s a lot of knowledge available to you. Free online tools like AuthorAID, support networks and training are helpful. Attend lectures and short courses if you can.

At first, it might be difficult to juggle conflicting priorities. But there are lots of things you can do to improve your time management skills. This Science paper is jam-packed with helpful advice for academics and scientists, for example.

For your medium- and long-term goals, create a timeline. Separate what you already know from what you need to know. Determine what you must do to fill knowledge or skill gaps.

Get the right type of support and stay connected

Finding support from someone who genuinely cares about you and your job is crucial. A PhD supervisor can act as a mentor. Therefore, stay in touch with them after receiving your degree. Building contacts now will open up new opportunities later.

Use online tools to help people find your work, such as Google Scholar and ORCID. You can also use blogging and social media to promote your work. Check out this helpful guide, which is full of suggestions on this subject.

Instead of focusing your efforts online, use face-to-face networking to help you boost your career opportunities. Creating an online identity is beneficial, but conferences, seminars and other live events are still the best places to meet people. Discuss your ideas with others both inside and outside of your field.

Be organised when keeping track of where your work is cited – in the news, for example. Differentiate between traditional and non-traditional approaches to tracking the reach of your research.

Be smart about getting published

Be sure to publish a paper before your PhD is complete. Aim to have your master’s thesis published, for example. Additionally, take on only a few projects at a time to avoid wearing yourself out. Focus your time on producing papers and publishing.

Make every effort to have your research published in the best journal possible. Avoid giving into the pressure to publish in predatory journals, but also don’t just focus exclusively on ‘big name’ journals. Learn how to best present your findings and make sure you stick to the rules of the journal to which you want to submit papers.

Researchers frequently say it’s normal to feel overwhelmed when starting out. Put your health first and surround yourself with encouraging people who share your interests. And finally, build your confidence and don’t doubt your abilities. Consider how far you’ve already come so that you can continue to make progress.