16 things you might not know about early career researchers

ECR in the libraryWhat do early career researchers (ECRs) really think about peer review, open access, or Impact Factors? What motivates them to undertake research, how do they choose which journal to publish in, and how do they build their reputation amongst the scholarly community?

Recent research from CIBER, an interdisciplinary and independent UK-based research group, analyzes interviews with 116 science and social science early career researchers from seven countries and eighty-one universities. The findings identify a number of key (and sometimes surprising) attitudes and behaviors which are commonly displayed by the ECR community in respect to scholarly communications. Here’s a snapshot.

  1. Career and motivation: the majority of early career researchers (ECRs) are tactically career planning, intending to continue doing their own individual research, and looking ahead to obtaining tenure in the future.
  1. Followers or forerunners: ECRs do not invariably follow the status quo of traditional scholarly practices. However, in many areas they have little choice but to follow established rules, such as striving to publish their research in highly ranked Impact Factor journals.
  1. Paper vs. digital: even in these increasingly digital times, early career researchers remain fixated by the establishment of traditional scholarship. Within the short-medium term, ECRs do not challenge the traditional picture of journal publication.
  1. Publishing practices: ECRs on average have published around ten articles each, and are typically the first author in one-third to one-half of all articles they contribute to. They are motivated to publish in highly ranked Impact Factor journals, and regularly use journal ranking lists such as Web of Science, PubMed, and government lists. If their research is not accepted by a highly ranked journal, they consider other journals based on acceptance rate, past experiences, turnaround time, efficiency of feedback, audience, and open access options.
  1. Peer review: there is a general satisfaction with peer review as it is; contrary to the widely held belief that early career researchers see peer review as ‘a closed club’.
  1. Social media and online communities: early career researchers favor ResearchGate, LinkedIn and Twitter, and their main uses are for finding information, communicating information, sharing research, profile building, and engaging in outreach activities.
  1. Mobile technology: ECRs still favor laptops and desktops for scholarly purposes, however there is a considerable increase in researchers using tablet devices in line with the advancement of mobile technology.
  1. Open access: open access journals are universally thought of to be a good thing, however there is concern regarding article publishing charges (known as APCs) which are often seen as too high for those who cannot pay to publish.
  1. Repositories: ECRs regard archiving their research in repositories as a non-priority, and many do not even know whether their institution has an institutional repository.
  1. Open Science: early career researchers display little understanding of Open Science, and do not currently want to give away their data and research due to the possibility of exploitation.
  1. Sharing and collaboration: the sharing of work and ideas is thought to be a reputation-building activity, and ECRs cite sharing as essential to the way they live their scholarly lives. Collaboration is also a constant objective of early career researchers, and the strategies of ECRs for getting a job and publishing more and better articles rely on it.
  1. Metrics: ECRs demonstrate little interest in alternative article metrics (known as altmetrics), although some do check their publication downloads. However, some ECRs tend to agree that altmetrics are a potential new method to evaluate researchers’ output and influence.
  1. Impact: most early career researchers think that the best way to make an impact and influence others is to undertake quality research and get it published in a prestigious journal.
  1. Publishers and libraries: ECRs generally demonstrate a lack of understanding of what publishers and libraries do. Library discovery systems have been surpassed by Google, and are perceived as offering little for early career researchers in the long term.
  1. Diversity of opinion: early career researchers who have reviewing experience hold different scholarly views from those who do not, and those who work in prestigious research groups feel more secure about their prospects and tend to be happier with the academic process. Generally, there is little evidence of differences between genders in the way ECRs see career progression.
  1. Attitudes to change: early career researchers regularly see opportunities for change and transition, but do not take these opportunities due to the constraints of the established research publication system.

CIBER’s report is funded by the Publishing Research Consortium. Taylor & Francis is a member of the PRC Steering Group.

Download the Full Report: Early Career Researchers: the harbingers of change? Year one (2016)