26 Jun 2014

The recent Regional Studies Association European Conference in Izmir, Turkey was a great success. The conference also hosted an Early Career Session. During this session, Professor Margareta Dahlstrōm, one of the panelists kindly responded to the questions of the participants. The groups consisting of PhD candidates and early career researchers were vividly involved into discussing the topics related to academic as well as policy practitioners’ careers. The variety of issues raised by the attendees of the plenary sessions can be divided into subjects, which will be briefly described in the following paragraphs, thanks to the notes of Anna Sznajder.

Between research and practice

One of the most sensitive issues for many of the participants was the usefulness of their research for policy makers, consultants, regional and local government, communities. The often asked question ‘How to make practitioners read your paper?’ required a detailed explanation from Professor Dahlstrōm. She highlighted the importance of communication and the need for adjusting methodologies used by researchers in academia to ordinary life demands. This could happen in multiple ways, such as:
  • writing/presenting short papers adapted to the audience;
  • organizing panel discussions open to everyone in the region;
  • meeting with a key representative for the region and convincing him/her first;
  • using action research as a way to engage the community or leaders;
  • building good relations through various actions and activities; and finally,
  • teaching students is a way to train future practitioners, who will understand the importance of collaboration between academic and practice realities.

From PhD to profession

According to Professor Margareta Dahlstrōm post-doctoral studies are a good way to develop the career of young researchers. Starting early allows the building of contacts and networks necessary for future progress. This is also the best time to prepare some publications resulted from the research. Sometimes having the experience in another country, where there are funds to conduct the required studies is a good idea. For example in Sweden there are special funds for international students accessible to post-doctoral candidates.

Getting published

Professor Dahlstrōm advised also regarding writing a paper (or papers) from doctoral dissertation. Her first publication appeared in the Journal of Rural Studies. It was a result of cooperation with editor and recognized author of rural studies at that time, Jo Little, who interested in the subject provided multiple suggestions on how to construct the paper and improve it in order to get published in a journal. This experience boosted Margareta’s confidence, and provided the needed encouragement for future career in research.

Thanks to the peer-review mechanism, of submission and re-submission of corrected paper versions according to editorial advises, young researchers have a chance to publish their research and adjust it to the journal and academic standards. Thus, Professor Dahlstrōm strongly recommended the publication of papers resulted from the PhD thesis as a way to build one’s careers path.

In order to be more effective in the number of publications, she strongly recommended co-authoring as a way to publish, network and ensure a level of complexity of the academic career. However, she did not fully agree with a concept to publish only in high quality journals. One publication in an excellent journal might not be equal and cannot be compared to ten publications in average journals. Even so, there are different careers paths and various institutions that recognize the quality of a researcher’s work not only through his/her selectiveness in choosing journals to publish.

Interdisciplinary research

Interdisciplinary research is both an advantage and challenge for early career researchers. Professor Dahlstrōm advised for the researcher to first recognize his/her own position in the discipline, i.e. how much one is close to one discipline: geography or economy. She considered borrowing concepts between disciplines as good practice. Multidisciplinary practices are also an opportunity to come up with something new and creative concepts and ideas. However, conducting this research depends from on the traditions existing at each university and the ability of one to be flexible with this idea.

Organization of work

Organization of work and good time management are crucial for a successful academic career. High demands from institutions regarding number of publications and teaching duties were a concern for the participants, as these can come in conflict with family life. Professor Dahlstrōm agreed that to keep a healthy work-life balance whilst working in academia is very difficult and highlighted the importance of breaks for efficiency and progress. By breaks she meant different experiences, such as motherhood or temporary change of profession, i.e. dropping academia for participation in practical projects. Also, shifts between various tasks, which stimulate creativity and innovation, help to organize time and be more productive. 

Anna Sznajder is a PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Business and Creative Industries, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley, UK. 
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