I would advise any early-career researcher to be brave in their choices, and take any opportunity to present both their findings and themselves to a wider field.
Winning the Irene Manton Prize for best student talk at the 62nd annual British Phycological Society conference was an amazing experience. I had given many talks before, but the BPS meeting in Galway was my first international conference. I was three years into my PhD and had kept my head down collecting huge amounts of data which pointed to an interesting pattern never before recorded in algae. I had only shared my findings with my supervisor, and although he was very excited about the results, a big part of me felt that maybe I had missed something or jumped the gun with my conclusions.
Although I had plenty of other ‘safe’ research to present, I decided the annual BPS conference was a great opportunity to present this big idea to a large group of very experienced academics and see how they responded. I poured a lot of effort into the presentation itself, because I wanted any criticism to reflect the story I was telling, and not the way in which I was telling it. In the end, there was no criticism at all. Any hands up at the end of my talk were attached to excited researchers who had seen subtle hints of the same pattern before, and were kept to find out more about my methods and future plans. Winning the award was then the icing on the cake.
Since then I have focused on completing my PhD, and the largest discussion in my Viva centered on the very research which won me the Manton Prize. Having already presented the data to dozens of experts, discussing it with only two was much easier. I may have been surprised to win the Manton Prize, but I wasn’t surprised when I passed the Viva.
Now I am working on papers, job applications, and grants. Having the Manton Prize is a great boost to my CV, as it demonstrates my ability to work under pressure and communicate complicated findings. Both highly desirable qualities in a researcher. I am very pleased that I took the risk and made best use of the BPS conference. I would advise any early-career researcher to be brave in their choices, and take any opportunity to present both their findings and themselves to a wider field. With research-funding becoming increasingly competitive and upwards of fifty applicants to even post-doctoral positions, we all have to shine as brightly as possible. Winning the Irene Manton Prize has helped me do that, and my career looks that bit brighter for it.