travel diary – early-career or emerging researcher?

One of the best things about conferences is that you can learn a little something just when you aren’t expecting it. That happened to me at the conference I’ve been at. The conference is all finished now, whew, but the little surprise learning has stuck with me.

I was a speaker at the pre-conference postgraduate and early-career day. At one point our discussion switched to the prospects for early-career researchers. One of the conference participants, Dr Emily Nelson, told us that the term early-career researcher wasn’t used in New Zealand. Early-career was considered a deficit term.

Now of course it might sometimes be helpful to be called early-career. The term is often used in funding schemes, designating who is eligible for money and who isn’t. But the flip side of early-career, we were told, is an implicit assumption that the researcher has little to bring to the task of research. It’s just too soon. They don’t have enough experience, yet.

According to Emily, in New Zealand, it is common to talk of an emerging researcher. Rather than the emphasis being on beginning, being a novice, being new to the game, at the start of something, the idea of emerging suggests a change, a move from something else. It allows people who have already had a career to feel that they are engaged in a transformation from one kind of career to another. For those coming straight through on a university pathway, the idea of emerging also carries a picture of a scholar coming into being, a becoming visible, rather than a researcher of lesser status, a baby among grown-ups.

I wondered then, and now, what difference it might make if the New Zealand nomenclature were more widely adopted. Would it make researchers just post PhD feel any different, better, more capable, more respected even, to be known as emerging rather than early? What do you think?

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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10 Responses to travel diary – early-career or emerging researcher?

  1. Louise says:

    I like the idea! I think early sounds young, which is OK for some but does little justice to those of us who have already spent a lifetime building a career in another discipline; in my case nursing. Emerging feels like something big may be about to happen…yes I definitely like it!

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  2. Lucia says:

    We also use the term ’emerging researcher’ at my university in South Africa. I like it :-). It lends itself to self-definition, whereas time-related terms like ‘early career’ do not.

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  3. Judith says:

    ECR or emerging to me would not make too much difference- these researchers are on the cusp of their discipline (hopefully) – close to the methodological approaches and very aware of what they contributed to their field –

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  4. Lisa123 says:

    Hej, thanks for the post (and your blog in general)!
    As an emerging/post-professional career doctoral student looking at academic writing and enculturation processes, I find this practice of assigning career stage roles both interesting and unnerving, and I have a real issue with the center-dominance views on (as yet imagined) researcher trajectories. It seems pretty high-handed, and almost colonial, for those “career researchers” in the center to assume that EARLY career researchers are principally on a quest towards obtaining a center identity. In a sense, however, I find the “emergent researcher” phrasing even more troubling. While the early career concept is principally an expression of what the center regards as a desirable change in social membership, the emergence concept calls for a qualitative change in substance: from the depths of non-research emerges a researcher, not yet fully fledged, presumably to soar into the heights of academia. Isn’t this narrative even more hubris-prone than the first? Or is the idea more that this emergent person is someone who could almost be called/recognized as a researcher? And is therefore emergent not in the sense of rebirthing herself but more in the sense of becoming constantly more visible to the center? I suppose that would be a more comfortable interpretation for me.

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  5. mariajevans says:

    I agree with Louise – as a mature PhD student with an existing career (which I hope to integrate into an academic career) ‘early career’ suggests that I’m just starting-out and have nothing valuable to bring from nearly thirty years of prior experience elsewhere. Emerging researcher acknowledges that I’m relatively new to research but may make greater allowances for that prior experience elsewhere.

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  6. Tiffany Knight says:

    I am a mid-career actor and acting teacher, and am about to begin a PhD in Drama at an Australian university. The term “emerging artist” is common currency in arts discourse. I love the idea that I am about to emerge again in a new, but related, field. I am not “early career”: the skills and experiences I have had as an actor and teacher directly inform the work I am now about to pursue as a researcher and scholar. What is emerging is a new identity, which feels so much more exciting and appropriate than the description “early career”. I’ll be using it!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  7. Tiffany Knight says:

    I am a mid-career actor who is about to begin a PhD in Drama at an Australian university. The term “emerging artist” is common currency in arts discourse. I love the idea that I am about to emerge again in a new, but related, field. I am not “early career”: the skills and experiences I have had as an actor and teacher directly inform the work I am now about to pursue as a researcher and scholar. What is emerging is a new identity, which feels so much more exciting and appropriate than the description “early career”. I’ll be using it!

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  8. pamjoseph says:

    I suspect that if the underlying attitudes towards a recently-qualified researcher remain the same, changing the terminology is an exercise that will only serve to reduce the number of alternatives available that remain untouched by the initial underlying assumptions, whether they be affirming or demeaning.

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  9. HSH says:

    I too am unsure if a change in terminology would mean much beyond those who actually pause to think about the meaning of the term in the first place. I feel most just use these terms as placeholders to denote where a researcher’s at in a practical sense. If you’re a newly minted PhD working in a university, there are certain norms and expectations regardless of how you’re described. For example, I am pretty sure the “tenure clock” will not be any different for a early-career researcher or an emerging one.

    I can see the change in terminology being quite empowering as an individual, but the unfortunate reality is I don’t think universities will see any difference.

    I suppose the intention of the name change from “early career” to “emerging” might be precisely to invoke some sort of cultural change in universities so that they do indeed see a difference eventually. In practical terms, what might that difference be, though?

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