In their own words – new essay collection sheds light on early career researchers’ experiences of UK higher education

29 Feb 2024

Young person sitting at a desk working from home

A pioneering essay collection showcases the personal stories of early career researchers (ECRs), shedding light on their experiences of UK higher education and proposing solutions to the challenges they face.

The essay collection, The lives of early career researchers (HEPI Report 169), published jointly by the British Academy and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), features eleven contributions from academics spanning a wide array of topics, from navigating parenthood as an ECR, comparing academic life in the US and UK, to addressing imposter syndrome in academia.

The resulting collection of varied and thought-provoking essays stands as a testament to the unique perspectives and invaluable insights offered by these researchers and serves as an essential resource for shaping the future of higher education in the UK.

Professor Simon Swain FBA, the British Academy’s Vice-President for Higher Education Research and Policy, said:

"In the face of an increasingly precarious higher education sector, we can’t afford to lose sight of those who will shape the sector’s future: the academics themselves. Their voices, particularly those in the early stages of their academic careers, play a central part in informing the decisions we take to futureproof our universities.

"This collection of essays offers vital insights and creative solutions to help steer a bright course for ECRs in UK higher education. The lives of early career researchers underscores the British Academy and HEPI’s shared commitment to support and advocate for the next generation of academics, ensuring their invaluable contributions continue to drive progress."

The essay authors are all members of the Academy’s Early Career Researcher Network (ECRN) – a researcher-led membership body accessible to UK-based early career researchers working in the humanities and social sciences and developed to specifically support them to address the challenges they face daily.

Funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and the Wolfson Foundation, the ECRN is the British Academy’s flagship initiative to support early career researchers and it facilitates opportunities for skill development and networking. Additionally, the British Academy has launched further schemes to enhance diversity and accessibility across its activities including an additional needs funding scheme and experimenting with partial randomisation in its Small Research Grants funding scheme.

Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

"Today’s early career researchers will go on to transform our lives and our society through their discoveries and innovations. So it is vital that we nurture them rather than demoralise them.

"This important collection records early career researchers’ lived experiences in their own voices and makes a series of constructive recommendations for a better future."

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