Early Career Researcher Conference

posted 11 May 2014, 14:08 by Bodeker Scientific   [ updated 15 May 2014, 19:45 ]

Early Career Researcher Conference, Royal Society of New Zealand (5-6 May 2014, Wellington)

Stefanie Kremser recently attended the Early Career Researcher conference hosted by the Royal Society of New Zealand in Wellington. The focus of this conference was on Early Career Researchers (ECRs), providing them with advice and support on the issues that impact their careers, in other words: on how to make an impact, challenging the world. This conference aimed to serve a foundational role in establishing lasting research connections and networks, facilitating the development of mentorship relationships and initiating dialog among ECRs and the Royal Society of New Zealand as a means to increasing involvement of ECRs in the decisions that impact their future and the future of New Zealand.

The conference comprised Keynote talks, 7 minute overviews from ECRs about their current science projects, one Panel discussion and several Breakout sessions as an environment to initiate discussion among the ECRs. The overall take home message from this conference was clear: “Be vocal, be proactive/show initiative, learn how to communicate and present well and setup networks/collaborations.” One major outcome of this conference is that there will be an attempt to initiate a Royal Society ECR forum (RSNZ ECR forum) so that the ECRs community becomes visible and vocal. There will be an email to everyone who attended the conference about the next steps that need to be taken towards establishing the RSNZ ECR forum and every ECR can and should contribute as there will be a lot of work that has to be done. New Zealand needs that forum so that the interests of the ECR community can be communicated to the Ministry. Dr Prue Williams from MBIE was very supportive of that idea and encourages ECRs to initiate such an ECR forum similar to the Australian Academy of Science ECR forum. 

Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea (Founder of the Australian Academy of Science ECR forum) presented a very motivating and interesting overview on how National Academies successfully and actively engage with an ECR community. The Forum provides a vital connection between Australia’s most eminent scientists and tomorrow’s future scientific leaders. 

Dr Nick Lewis from the University of Auckland emphasised the importance of networking and creating your (as an ECR) network and collaborations. 

Prof Linda Tuhiwai Smith (University of Waikato) gave a very encouraging talk about Mentorship, what to do and what not to do as a mentee. This talk led into the Breakout session about Mentorship. The main messages from her talk and the Breakout sessions were: (i) be proactive and get out to look for a mentor, just ask; it is their choice to say yes or no; (ii) take responsibility for your choices and for your career, if it doesn’t work get out of there; (iii) be clear what you want from your mentor, don’t expect the mentor to decide for you. What do you think you need from your mentor? But at the same time don’t be too needy. Overall message: “Be proactive and take responsibility for your decisions and for your career. Find out what you want from your career (where do you want to be in 40 years), get the education you need to archive that goal and finally get VERY good at it.” 

Dr Williams gave a presentation from the government perspective and was supposed to talk about the dough, i.e. funding avenues and strategies that are emerging in New Zealand with the focus on ECRs. The message I took from her talk was, that there isn’t much funding available, especially if you are an ECR. She said that the “Good News” is to be in New Zealand since the funding for science has increased. But that begs the questions “where is the money going?”. She mentioned the Marsden Fast Start Fund and the Rutherford Fellowship which are basically the only funding options an ECR can apply for to fund their research. She acknowledged that those schemes are very competitive. Not to mention that being successful is like winning in a lottery. Dr Williams introduced the National Science Challenges (NSCs) and mentioned the importance and requirement of ECRs to be involved. However, in the Breakout discussion about the NSCs it became clear that no ECRs within that group had an idea about how to get involved in the NSCs. Everything happens behind closed doors and nothing (not much) gets communicated to the outside or to the ECRs. The leader of the Breakout discussion, Dr Susan Schank, advised us (the ECRs) to do what we can to get involved. Find out which NSC your research can contribute to, find out who is on the committee for that challenge and write them an email. She, however, also acknowledged that this is quite a task as no-one knows who is on the committee of the specific NSCs. This overall frustration about the NSC and how ECRs can get involved was taken to Dr Williams the next day and she took that input onboard. Let’s hope that this will lead to something. 

Prof Jim Metson presented an overview talk about his role as the Chief Science Advisor to MBIE. He presented an overview of what an independent Advisor is and what an Advisor is not. 

The Panel Discussion (moderated by Bryan Crump (Radio New Zealand) was all about “innovation” but drifted quite a few times off to the NSC. Dr Williams stated again that MBIE is at the beginning of the NSCs and that it is a long process where we want New Zealand best teams to work on those challenges. General concern and frustration about the NSCs was expressed during the panel discussion. 

Dr Mihi Ratima (Director Taumata Associates) presented the importance and benefits of including (engaging) with knowledge from the Maori community. She encourages us to think about how Maori knowledge might contribute to our research and to value a partnership that can better enable us to maximise research impact. The take home message: Don’t be the captain on the battle-ship… i.e. don’t be ignorant.

The importance about ‘communicating science’ was highlighted by Dr Siouxsie Wiles (University of Auckland). Her take home message was all about using social media such as facebook, twitter, WordPress to create blogs, slideshare etc. to communicate what you are doing but even more importantly communicate WHY you are doing what you are doing. A blog can be a very useful tool to use for communication. But, learn first how to communicate well. 

The last talk of the conference was given by Associate Prof Robin Peace (Massey University). She illustrated ways in which a researcher can break out of the academic mind-set and career and the rewards and pitfalls that come with it.

The conference was very informative and helpful. Now it is all about getting the RSNZ ECR forum up and running and getting involved to make a difference for the ECRs in New Zealand, for New Zealand and to become vocal.


S. Kremser thanks the Royal Society of New Zealand for inviting her to participate in the ECR conference and for the offer of one year free membership of the Royal Society of New Zealand, which she gratefully accepted.

The official summary from the ECR Conference is available here.