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Breaking boundaries with new support for early-career researchers

A new initiative at the Brain and Mind Centre

The Brain and Mind Centre’s new Early-Career Researcher Development Initiative supports young researchers to become the next generation of brain and mind research leaders. Associate Professor Kay Double explains. 

Why do you think it’s important to develop Early-Career Researchers (ECRs)?

Australia is at the forefront of research in brain and mind sciences but we need to develop younger researchers to ensure succession. There are very bright and engaged researchers in this space – we want to help them. We want to attract new researchers to collaborate with Brain and Mind Centre as well as retain the excellent researchers we already have. We want to be a place where young researchers want to come – so they can not only do excellent work but be supported in that. 

Tell me about how this initiative came about.

Many universities have programs to support their young researchers. But what makes this stand out is that it’s a multi-site initiative. It crosses over all the different locations where Brain and Mind Centre research takes place. It’s very multi-disciplinary and it’s also multi-faculty, so we’re covering all sorts of areas. 

And while the committee is chaired by me and Professor Phil Robinson, it’s actually made up of ECRs. So we’ll be talking directly to them to ask how we can support them. That way, we can address exactly what they need and want rather than doing what we think they need and want.  

If you could offer a piece of advice to an ECR what would you say?

I think it’s important for ECRs to not only do their research, but also be open to embracing opportunities in many fields. Get involved in the intellectual life of the institution, put your hand up to be on committees, get involved in professional societies, and engage with the lay community. Take advantage of these opportunities – they teach you all sorts of skills that are very useful in your career but also very attractive to employers when you finish. I often find it’s the people that go and seek out these opportunities that are usually the very good early ECRs.

Also don’t forget that research, while it can be great fun and very satisfying, shouldn’t be everything that you do. You need to maintain a balance. I think we’re in an area where it’s expected that you work very hard. Most people do because they’re interested and engaged in what they do, which is great. But on the other hand, I think it’s important that you balance that with other things in your life. Make sure you have time for family, do things that you enjoy, have a hobby, see your friends - don’t spend every weekend doing your research! 

You’re setting up a mentoring program pairing ECRs with experts in their field. Did you have a mentor early on in your research? Why are mentors important in brain and mind science research?

Absolutely - I have had lots of mentors and I still do. I have learned so much from them. One of the reasons I’m interested in mentoring and run a couple of programs is because it was so beneficial to me and I can see how beneficial it is to other people. I would encourage everyone to have a mentor. You’re never too old to have one - my mentors have mentors! 

It’s important because mentors allow you to hear someone’s different point of view. Often they’ll have different experience and skill sets to you. Having someone that’s not in your exact area can be really beneficial. They have an objective ear that can look at what you’re doing as a whole. They’re not so caught up in that one experiment you’re busy focusing on, so they can give you more long term advice. 

One of the most important things that happens during the mentoring process is getting the mentee to actually sit down and think about what they’re trying to achieve. That’s always the first thing I ask - what is your plan? Where do you want to be in 12 months? Where do you want to be in five years? Then we can think about how to get there. 

What are you most excited about in terms this new initiative?

I enjoy seeing people that I think have really great potential, realise that potential. Seeing their successes and sharing in that - for me, that’s the most satisfying thing. 

I’d really encourage all ECRs to get involved and take advantage of the opportunities that are offered by this program - workshops, seminars, mentoring.

I’d also encourage more senior people to get involved. Mentoring is absolutely enriching for both parties – all the research shows that. If you can spare just a little bit of time to share that experience with someone, please get involved. 

Please be advised that in keeping with the University of Sydney Research Strategy and with the agreement of key stakeholders, the former Sydney Neuroscience Network (SNN) has transitioned into the Brain and Mind Centre Early Career Research Development Initiative (ECR DI).

The Brain and Mind Centre ECR DI is led by two academic co-chairs, Professor Phil Robinson and Associate Professor Kay Double, and will report directly into the Brain and Mind Centre Research Committee. Through this model, early career researchers at Brain and Mind Centre benefit from development pathways, workshops, mentoring programs and project funding to enable continued success as a researcher within brain and mind sciences. 

The first Brain and Mind Centre Early-Career Researcher Development Initiative committee meeting will be held next month. Watch this space for more information. If you have any questions contact Harrison Shtein, Brain and Mind Centre Project Officer.