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?