Research tips and strategies

Developing a fruitful research career: impact and quality

Over the years, I have tried to pick up research tips and strategies from a diverse range of academics that I encounter. I see feedback seeking as being a key role for the feedback literate academic, so I regularly try to elicit ideas that might be helpful for myself, my colleagues or my broader network. Below I have summarized 25 tips and strategies for developing a promising research profile. They are intended to provoke thought, reflection and discussion rather than claiming to be suitable for professoriate staff in all circumstances. In terms of main target audiences, I am probably envisaging Associate Professors or early/mid-career researchers in research-intensive universities but the intention is to offer ideas for researchers at all levels. Finally, I hope they don’t seem too performative, well-being is important.

  1. Try to engage in research activities that you enjoy and bring you some satisfaction and happiness. Develop relationships and friendships.

  2. Strive to write even better then you will enjoy it even more. Try to produce something that makes you feel proud. Be ambitious yet realistic, aim high.

  3. Aim to become known internationally for a particular concept or line of inquiry i.e. a clearly demarcated specialism & contribution. This may take planning and time.

  4. Try to be high-profile and dynamic, even if that doesn’t fully match with your personality or dispositions. At the same time, show humility.

  5. Develop a balanced portfolio: sole-authored, first authored and co-authored journal articles; books with premier publishers; competitive grants; keynotes; editorial boards; leadership & service.

  6. Strive to build up a productive co-authoring network and an international reputation.

  7. Engage in slow(er) scholarship – rich ideas need time to gestate (cf. longitudinal research); take a break by doing something else and then come back to your research with a fresh eye.

  8. Consider publishing a bit less, but making those outputs even better or deeper. Think originality, rigour, significance.

  9. Collect plenty of critical feedback before you submit your article or grant application. Consider imposing less on your network by just eliciting advice on a single carefully selected section, rather than the whole manuscript.

  10. Develop resilience: rejection is the norm but how you regroup and move forward is the key. Be positive, avoid complaining too much over perceived injustices.

  11. Choose a good title for your output; craft a strong abstract; and provide a few ‘citable soundbites’.

  12. Seek to derive more value and impact from the outputs that you have published: develop an integrated strategy to promote your research. Review your citation trajectory and draw inferences.

  13. High impact journal articles are the gold standard. Perhaps only write book chapters when they present an excellent prestige or networking opportunity.

  14. When you have a particularly strong output accepted for a high impact journal, use some research funding for Open Access publication = more readers and citations. Plan for this.

  15. Build up a Twitter profile, promote the research of your network, and occasionally your own work. Articles promoted on Twitter generate more interest/debate/citations.

  16. Strong article + attractive topic + international co-authors + good journal + open access + well-promoted on Twitter = citations gold.

  17. Try alternative forms of dissemination: The Conversation, Times Higher, etc. Write a guest blog, do a video for an academic networking site or a podcast.

  18. Keep your webpage up-to-date and organized in a user-friendly way. Highlight your main achievements clearly, avoid clutter. Consider developing a complementary website of your own.

  19. When you see a good article published in your area of expertise, e-mail congratulations to the lead author. Start a conversation.

  20. Develop a research team around you. Identify good Research Assistants (possibly part-time) and try to retain them over the longer-term.

  21. Instead of reviewing for lots of different journals, target a smaller number in your specialist area where you might eventually have a realistic chance of joining the Editorial Board.

  22. Teach well but consider carefully whether it is profitable to spend inordinate amounts of time on materials preparation or unproductive forms of marking. Integrate teaching and research whenever possible.

  23. When you say ‘yes’ to something, you are probably saying ‘no’ to something else: choose wisely. Volunteer for roles of interest to you.

  24. Take on a facilitating or leadership role your organization or internationally and try to do some good. Participation is how you become known.

  25. Support, encourage and mentor the next generation of teachers, scholars and researchers.