Highlights from our Early Career Development Session


Written by Dr Magda Bucholc and Dr Michele Veldsman, National Early Career Development Leads

Early Career Researchers (ECRs) face a number of challenges at a critical time in their academic careers, no more so than now, in the midst of a pandemic. Lab closures have stalled experiments, funding is tight and many universities and institutes have hiring freezes. The DEMON Network recognises the important role of ECRs in developing research capacity in dementia, and has initiated a unique cross-institutional platform to help foster effective communication among ECRs, and provide opportunities targeting their research interests and concerns. As National ECR leads for the DEMON network, we thought this was the perfect time for a (virtual) coffee and a chat with our ECR network to find ways to support our community. On Monday 13th July we held our first virtual ECR session to introduce ourselves and for our members to meet each other. 

The group really showcased the interdisciplinary nature of the DEMON Network. We had ECRs working in clinical trials, psychologists, neuroscientists, biomedical and electrical engineers, geneticists, artificial intelligence (AI) and data scientists and clinicians. They all face many challenges with funding, publishing and career progression – many around the job market and the challenges of getting published when under the pressure of balancing different elements of career development and building up an academic profile. As well as facing similar challenges in their careers, our ECRs had a lot in common. They all showed a passion for innovation in dementia research, enthusiasm to collaborate and an interest in opportunities to improve their professional and technical skills. 

“ECRs pitched some great ideas for how we can support them and facilitate truly multi-disciplinary research to answer some of the grandest challenges in dementia research”

Our ECRs pitched some great ideas for how we can support them and facilitate truly multi-disciplinary research to answer some of the grandest challenges in dementia research. Many of the ideas fit very well with the DEMON Network’s National Strategy. For example, making resources and training available to cater for the different levels of skill in data science and AI across our ECRs. Our ECRs also expressed a need for mentoring and help with grant writing. As part of our National Strategy, we are committed to sponsoring and mentoring ECRs, giving them an opportunity to contribute to or lead grant applications. There was a lot of interest in working with industry, from collaborating to developing translational and entrepreneurial skills. Sustained support for collaborative approaches was also seen to be an important issue, especially in the context of overcoming challenges to cross-sector, cross-disciplinary collaboration that could help tackle dementia research gaps, such as those related to the translational work challenges.

As part of our National Strategy, we are committed to sponsoring and mentoring ECRs, giving them an opportunity to contribute to or lead grant applications”

As National ECR Leads, we are committed to highlighting the amazing multi-disciplinary work of our ECRs, including providing opportunities to showcase their work and facilitate networking. In the coming weeks we will be providing a space for the ECRs on the DEMON website to share our skills, interests and experience. We will run an ECR conference designed to foster new collaborations as well as organise networking and mentoring events at major national/international conferences. We will also enable ECRs to share their research by regularly profiling them on the DEMON network newsletter. In the future, we plan to organise a wide range of workshops that will foster professional development of ECRs and give them opportunity to develop across their institutions and main area of interest. We will also organise informal, thematic sessions bringing together established academics with ECRs. These events will be a great opportunity for ECRS to engage with the insights that more experienced researchers have gained over the years. And most importantly in these difficult times, we will work together as a community to support each other. We have a dedicated Slack channel to keep up in touch. If you are an ECR, please feel free to join.

“Most importantly in these difficult times, we will work together as a community to support each other”