When two universities meet: Fostering research capacity among Early Career Researchers

Year: 2007

Author: Mann, Kathy, Moyle, Kathryn, Woolley, Gary, Reupert, Andrea, Wilkinson, Jane

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Between one-third and one-half of all presently employed academics will reach retirement age in the next decade. A challenge facing universities in this current environment is to continue to sustain their research capacities. Policy-makers and universities have developed various strategies to support ongoing development of different cohorts within the broader research community. One strategic approach has been to foster the research capabilities of Early Career Researchers (ECRs). This paper describes and analyses the features of one promising program collaboratively developed to support ECRs from education faculties within the University of Canberra and Charles Sturt University.

The program was initiated by senior researchers from both universities who identified a large number of ECRs on their respective staffs who worked in isolation and who would benefit from an expansion of their research and professional dimensions. While the program began as a "top down" initiative, sufficient autonomy was allowed for the ECRs to identify their own professional requirements and to develop an ongoing program.

ECRs have met regularly over the past two years to identify shared issues; organise and attend joint professional development activities (such as visiting scholars, senior researchers); and work on collaborative research projects and publications. Funding, ongoing senior management support, a variety of both senior and junior role models as well as working on common initiatives has provided momentum for the program.

The overarching aim of the program was to build a research community amongst the ECRs of both universities. An example of this collaboration has been a major writing project involving the production of a suite of articles by the ECRs concerning common ECR issues and support strategies. Outcomes also have included professional development and fostering cross university networks.

This paper analyses the characteristics underpinning the program and links theory with practice to generate valuable outcomes for the participants concerned. It foreshadows emerging changes to the culture of the two education faculties as a result of explicitly addressing ECR research issues. It concludes with suggestions for sustainable programs to support ongoing research capacity-building of ECRs in Australian universities.