Are you a leading researcher?

You may not realise it, but PhD students and early career researchers often take a leading role and are the star performers during the creative production of “academic research”. Taking command of the stage and your audience can mean quite literally that when you get the chance to present your work at conferences and meetings; you are in the limelight, leading the script and influencing your listeners. Similarly, when you write and publish a paper – or any piece of writing for that matter – you are at the forefront, reporting on your results, offering your interpretation and giving your perspective.


Recently, I ran a career workshop on “Leading and managing your career” at a scientific meeting held in Prague in which the PhD student and early career researcher participants identified their own leadership attributes and activities – see their results in the instagram showing personal disposition at the centre connected to people- and project-centred activities. You can probably offer your own examples to add in to the mix.

Leadership is a team activity, with the leader playing their role, whilst others take on theirs. Your position as leader is likely to be a temporary situation so make the most of any opportunities when they arise. You may be managing and supervising students, mentoring them and taking responsibility for the success of their dissertation. You may have some teaching duties alongside your research, where students are looking to you for inspiration, encouragement and other attributes which constitute that of a leader. Meanwhile, you will most likely be taking advice and instruction from your supervisor and working within your research group in a variety of ways depending on the situation: Belbin identifies nine distinctive team roles; you might be the ideas person, the specialist or the implementer at various times during the course of research post or PhD studentship.

No matter how minor or short-lived an experience of leadership might be, it adds to your personal profile and demonstrates your growing professionalism and expertise, as you develop. Depending on your particular situation, you will have differing opportunities to take the lead within or outside of your research role. Volunteering to get involved in activities such as meetings, sports, social events and departmental committees, for example, can help you to enhance your leadership profile and enrich your CV, especially if you are aiming for a non-academic career.

Related content: Don’t plead for your career, take the lead

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