Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 28 November 2018

By Hannah West

There is something about the status of being a postdoc and no longer a PhD student which creates a gap between the PhD community and the world of early career research. The idea for this knowledge exchange came out of realising how much we can learn from and share with our peers. So, I was delighted, in November 2018 at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute, to find myself in a room with PGRs and ECRs from across the field of defence research in the social sciences and to take a step back to think about the research experience.

The day represented a collaboration between the Defence Research Network (DRN) and the Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security (PaCCS). The Defence Research Network (DRN) is for PhD and early career researchers studying defence, security or the Armed Forces in relation to policy, strategy, culture and society. The Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research (PaCCS) is a research initiative to address threats to global security.

Dr Abi Dymond, a Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at the University of Exeter and the ESRC Future Research Leader Scholar, used her keynote address to share some really honest insights into both the professional and personal challenges of the transition from PhD to ECR and her tips to overcome them. Abi provided an engaging and illuminating perspective on her journey, showing us what is possible for life after the PhD.

Our next session brought together Sophy Gardner (University of Exeter), Colonel Ian Tinsley OBE, Dr Alex Neads (University of Bath) and Claire Lee (University of Bristol) to share their different insights into the research experience. Sophy shared her tips for accessing archives and cataloguing findings including how to embark on a research trip to overseas archives following her recent visit to the National Archives in Washington. Ian described how he embarked on a research study within the MOD in conducting the campaign analysis on Afghanistan.  Alex followed this with his reflections on what it was like to embark on the post doc world and what he had learnt on the way. And this session was rounded up by Claire who talked about how she had set up and conducted her research with children of Armed Forces families in a school setting.

We then decided to break with traditional formal proceedings and experiment with a new style of session, the campfire session, to encourage peer to peer sharing. We opened with the opportunity for participants to list questions they would like to cover and then, in a laidback setting, enabled everyone to contribute with what they could bring to these topics. We shared our experiences of getting through the Ministry of Defence Ethics Committee, opportunities for the funding of defence research, the challenges of presenting qualitative research in this field and how to get the best out of networking. We were particularly excited to capture the outcomes of this special session in the form of a short film to share all these tips with a larger audience on our website (watch it here).

The afternoon gave everyone the opportunity to informally share mini-abstracts/proposals in small groups, discussing and critiquing ideas as a platform to developing defence-related ideas for publication and exploring the route to achieving this. We followed this up with a publishing panel whereby participants had the chance to hear from ECRs about their experiences of publishing in this field (Dr Sophie Whiting, Dr Fran Amery and Dr Patrick Bury, University of Bath) with the addition of a journal editor’s perspective from Prof David Galbreath (Associate Editor European Journal of International Security). This final panel was particularly insightful: the panelists were able to share concrete advice, tips and encouragement for bridging the gap between PhD and ECR life. For example, trying to balance early career work-life balance can be a challenge, and the idea of getting your original research published can be daunting. So why not spend just half an hour or an hour a day on your article, and chip away at it?

Publishing Q&A

  • Aim high and pitch to high ranking journals first
  • Book proposals should have a well-ordered structure
  • Think about where you are sending the article: consider the aims/scope presented on the journal websites, frame your article as relevant to these and follow the journal’s style guide
  • Get as much feedback you can on your article – take onboard comments and address them: ask someone outside the field and non-academics, emphasise why it was novel, present at departmental support networks
  • Co-authoring: you can learn a lot from publishing with a more senior colleague but may do more of the work (so agree parameters including first authorship)
  • To achieve REF-able publications produce significant, original work and publish in highest possible impact factor
  • Highlight REF-able publications on job applications
  • For interdisciplinary publication: know journals and cite articles from that journal
  • You can ask the editor for clarification on comments especially if the reviews are conflicting
  • Indicate that you have taken the review seriously and address comments or justify if not
  • In selecting publishers for book publication consider whether it will be marketed, whether it will be published in paperback at an affordable price?
  • Post-doc can struggle to find time to write – recommend little and often e.g. 1hr/day
  • Not all journals are the same – some desperate for copy and others have a 36 month backlog
  • Decide what literate you are speaking to
  • The editor will know your identity but not the reviewers
  • Use social media to promote articles

We had a really good dynamic throughout the day with everyone being ready and willing to share their experiences, ask questions and get stuck in. It was great fun to meet a brilliant bunch of junior researchers from across the field of defence research, learn a bit about their research and share practical tips and lessons amongst peers. We look forward to hosting our next event, where we can foster similar spaces for sharing and networking.

Watch the video of the event here.