Early career researchers: career and skills development


Resources for early career researchers and their managers

There are a wide range of resources available for early career researchers (ECRs) to draw from to improve their skills and career development.

Good practice to support ECRs in developing their careers

For researchers interested in a career in higher education, the report on support for arts and humanities researchers immediately post-PhD (PDF, 838KB) by Kay Renfrew and Professor Howard Green identified good practices which could be employed by ECRs and research organisations to aid career development.

The report identified that:

  • career advice and support should be made available at an early stage
  • advice should be provided on a broad range of possible careers
  • there should be a broad-based approach to identifying ECRs in the arts and humanities
  • advice and support should be tailored to the individual requirements of each ECR
  • senior academics need to be informed of support available, and be enabled to provide this
  • where mentoring is set up, mentors should be chosen who understand and have experience of the situation ECRs currently face
  • networks should be supported which enable ECRs to share experience, both online and face-to-face

Information about the potential career paths for ECRs

Sign up for the AHRC newsletter, where we on occasion feature career case studies which inspire early career researchers and doctoral students to explore pathways within and beyond academia.

The Career Paths of AHRC-funded PhD Students report is based on a survey of 233 former PhD students and highlights the value of skills gained during PhD studies. It also includes information about the career paths and salaries of PhD students between five and seven years after the end of their award.

If you are a Vitae member, the ‘what do researchers do?’ series includes analyses of researcher careers post-PhD, as well as information and case studies on career destinations. Vitae is a non-profit programme supporting the professional development of researchers.

Networking opportunities for ECRs

Engagement with networks raises the profile of ECRs collectively, as well as providing a development opportunity for the individual ECRs who take the lead within these networks.

There are opportunities for ECRs to network within university structures and the discipline.

ECRs should explore the routes that will work best for their career development needs.

ECR-focused networks include The British Academy Early Career Researcher Network, launched in September 2021 to support ECRs working in the humanities and social sciences.

Other organisations which may have ECR-specific resources and networks include:

  • subject associations and national academies
  • learned societies, such as the British Archaeological Association and The Society of Legal Scholars

University research staff associations

Many universities have research staff associations (RSAs) which are supportive networks, specifically for ECRs within the organisation, but which are connected at a UK level. They’re often focused towards the sciences, but general areas of concern are widely applicable.

Greater arts and humanities engagement in these networks will help to widen the focus and increase the benefits for arts and humanities ECRs through this route.

RSAs provide a forum for sharing concerns, but also a common voice for ECRs both locally and nationally. Engagement with networks such as these can raise the profile of ECRs collectively, as well as providing a development opportunity for the individual ECRs who take the lead within these networks.

Vitae and the UK Research Staff Association

The UK Research Staff Association, in association with Vitae, aims to provide a collective voice for research staff across the UK, through building researcher communities and influencing policy.

Vitae is an organisation which works in partnership with other organisations ‘to meet society’s need for high-level skills and innovation and produce world-class researchers’.

We recommend reading Vitae’s:

  • researcher development statement which sets out the knowledge, behaviours and attributes of effective and highly skilled researchers and is appropriate for a wide range of careers
  • researcher development framework designed to help researchers to plan their professional development, and to help managers and supervisors support the development of researchers

National postdoc appreciation week

You may also be interested in the UK National Postdoc Appreciation Week. This annual event sponsored by UKRI takes place in September. It’s for ECRs from all disciplines and provides an opportunity to get involved with the research community.

Expectations of the professional development and employment conditions of researchers

UKRI is a signatory of The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, commonly known as the Researcher Development Concordat. It is an agreement between employers and research funders on the expectations for the professional development and employment conditions of researchers in the UK.

The aim is to improve the UK’s research culture by encouraging more inclusive recruitment, better support for flexible working requests, promotion of researchers’ wellbeing and support for professional development activities.

The three principles of the concordat are outlined below.

Environment and culture

Excellent research requires a supportive and inclusive research culture. Healthy working environments attract and develop a more diverse workforce, impact positively on individual and institutional performance, and enhance staff engagement. Read about UKRI efforts to support healthy research culture.


Researchers should be recruited, employed and managed under conditions that recognise and value their contribution. Provision of good employment conditions for researchers has positive impacts on researcher wellbeing, the attractiveness of research careers, and research excellence.

Professional and career development

Professional and career development are integral to enabling researchers to develop their full potential. Researchers must be equipped and supported to be adaptable and flexible in an increasingly diverse global research environment and employment market.

The concordat clearly outlines the key responsibilities for the main stakeholder groups:

  • researchers
  • managers of researchers
  • institutions employing researchers
  • funders (such as AHRC and UKRI)

For full details, read The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.

International professional development and working conditions

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Global Science Forum 2021 policy paper ‘Reducing the precarity of academic research careers’ offers recommendations to improve working conditions and professional development of ECRs from an international perspective.

Career development for technicians

ECRs working with technicians in higher education may be interested in reading The Technician Commitment.

It is a university and research institution document which ensures visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians working in higher education and research across all disciplines, including the arts and humanities.

As members of research project teams, ECRs can contribute to appreciating and valuing the expertise of technicians.

Support for research fellows and future leaders

Research Councils UK (now UKRI) developed a statement of expectations for research fellowships and future research leaders (PDF, 44KB).

It sets out common principles for the support of all research council funded fellowships and future research leaders. This is to ensure that they are equipped and supported to be adaptable and flexible in an increasingly complex global research environment.

Last updated: 6 June 2024

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