Fostering the next generation of researchers

Ella Rhodes reports from the British Psychological Society's Research Day at Senate House in London.

The British Psychological Society recently held its second Psychology Research Day at Senate House in London. Aimed at improving research skills and methods, the day featured a programme of useful talks for postgraduate students and early-career researchers, covering topics such as getting published, securing academic jobs, and blogging.

Psychology publisher for Wiley, Rebecca Harkin, gave some useful tips for publishing with impact. She pointed out the way impact is now measured, using metrics not only from the number of citations a person’s work gets but also how far afield research has spread online, has changed how authors should approach their writing.

One of the best ways to write to achieve impact is to consider one’s narrative, and Harkin suggested splitting work into subheadings to make it easier to read and digest. In the digital world it is also worth considering how easily your paper may be found online. To ensure search engines pick up on your research it is useful to have a title that features keywords, preferably within the first 65 characters – as these are used by most search engines – and also to include those keywords within an abstract.

Harkin pointed to recent controversy over using impact factors, or the average annual number of citations a journal has; she argued these are only useful up to a point, revealing little about individual pieces of research. Altmetrics have been developed as a response to this – they track when a certain paper is reported on in newspapers, on social media, in reference management software such as Mendeley and in government documents, giving a better idea of how much impact a paper has really had.  

Rejection in academia is not unusual, to say the least, and Dr David Ellis (Lancaster University) gave some hints on how to avoid this when securing a first academic job. He said while a person’s number of publications was important, there are many other factors to consider. Being a good academic citizen, and good person, will assure any job interview panel you are happy to work within a research team rather than just for individual gain.

Ellis encouraged PhD students to update their CVs regularly, even including applications for grants that have been rejected. He said if the idea for a grant was interesting an interview panel would acknowledge this even if it was unsuccessful. Applying for an academic job will usually also require competency questions, a cover letter, interview, presentation and a research plan – which usually outlines your plans for the next five years. Ellis pointed out that it is well worth planning for competency questions and presentations, even though many consider them something of an afterthought.

Dr Christian Jarrett, Editor of the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, spoke of the merits, and potential pitfalls, of blogging about research. Jarrett started his blogging career around 17 years ago with contributions to MindHacks before the Research Digest launched. Blogging, he said, helps academics overcome the ‘curse of knowledge’ whereby they can assume others share the same level of background knowledge when writing about a topic. Jarrett said that writing about one’s work in plain English for the general public presents a completely different challenge to academic writing. Academics are faced with an increasing expectation to share their work, and blog posts about studies can lead to greater exposure in the mainstream media. He pointed to The Conversation and The Mental Elf as good platforms for academics to blog about their work.

Blogging also provides a way to clarify or defend one’s research with critiques of studies increasingly taking place in the online world. The exposure blogging offers, however, comes with some dangers. Jarrett specifically pointed to occasional backlash from readers who rarely choose their words carefully – people behave very differently online, he said.

The Research Day, jointly organised with Senate House Library, also featured one-on-one clinics with librarians, technicians and postgraduate students on a wide range of topics including how to challenge gender inequality within research careers, using qualitative research methods, research ethics and conducting literature reviews. 

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