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A report on the Early Careers Programme at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the British Ecological Society (BES)

by Rachel White 

On the 11th December 2016, some 90 students and ECRs gathered at ACC Liverpool to actively participate in the Early Careers Programme – kick-starting the 2016 Annual Meeting of the  () – the biggest one to date, with over 1200 delegates attending from around the world. The Early Career programme, collaboratively organised by the BES and INNGE, comprised a series of workshops targeted at students and early-career researchers and supported by both panel discussions and presentations during the Annual Meeting itself. The bumper number of early-career sessions included the following: “How to make the most of meeting”, “How to set-up a productive Twitter account”, “Unlocking your potential”, “How to devise a question for a plenary speaker/senior ecologist”, “From PhD to Post Doc/From Post Doc to permanent position”, “Staying employable in and out of academia”, “Communicating effectively from CV to interview”, “How to get published”, “Managing an interdisciplinary career”, and “Building support networks” – phew! See below for a summary of some of these sessions. Tweets can be accessed for these events by searching for .

Due to its success, this Early Careers Programme will be built upon and repeated at next year’s joint BES Annual Meeting in Ghent, Belgium (Dec 2017) – so do come along if you can!  


The early-career delegates in all their glory!

Pre-meeting webinar series – A guide to scientific conferences for first-time attendees:

Before the BES Annual Meeting had even started, we decided to run several webinars targeted at ecologists who had yet to experience a conference environment. The panel of early-career conference veterans included Rachel White (University of Brighton, UK), Pen-Yuan Hsing (Durham University, UK), Simon Tarr (University of Nottingham, UK), Kate Luckett (BES), and Karen Devine (BES).

Some top pieces of advice included:

  • Plan what you want to get out of the conference in advance. Take the time to look through the programme and select which talks/workshops/socials you want to attend.
  • Take a look through the list of delegates and make a list of people you’d like to speak to. One of the best ways to arrange a meeting with someone at a conference is to email (ideally before the conference start) with a short intro, proposed day and time. Don’t feel down if you don’t receive a reply during the conference – instead email again once home using the conference as starting point.
  • Bring business cards along (you never know when they may come in handy).
  • Socialising and networking is often easiest at poster sessions.
  • Don’t try to attend everything at the conference – be selective.
  • Remember that every single person at the conference has been in your shoes/started in exactly the same place, so be brave and introduce yourself.

Do also take a look at Dynamic Ecology’s blog post on “” 

Unlocking your potential session

This session, a regular feature of the BES Annual Meeting due to its popularity, was organised as a panel discussion and provided an opportunity for attendees to question ecologists representing a breadth of careers and career stages. Speakers were: Sue Hartley (University of York, ), Marc Cadotte (University of Toronto, ), Will Gosling (University of Amsterdam, ), and Emma Sayer (Lancaster University, ). See their key points below: 

Sue Hartley

Will Gosling

Marc Cadotte

Emma Sayer

“Make the most of training opportunities during your PhD/Post-Doc” - SH

 “As best as you can, avoid comparing yourself to others” – ES

“Choose a subject you’re passionate about to build your career around” – SH

“Make use of BES career development resources” – ES

“Think carefully about whether you want an academic or research career” – SH

“Be flexible, resilient, determined, brave, and decisive!” – SH, ES

“Working on current world problems is attractive to funders and motivating” – SH

Don’t be afraid to use skills learnt in one area of your work to another – interdisciplinary is good! SH

“Find yourself a mentor(s)” –SH, ES

“Try and write your thesis by publications” – SH

“Get connected – network and be noticed” - SH

“Start searching/applying for applications early” – ES

“It is possible to find a work-life balance, but you need to be efficient with your use of time” – MC

“Do not be modest in applications – sell your achievements” – ES


For more on mentorship schemes, see:

Top tips - how to ask a good question for plenaries? Keep the question short, focused, ask for examples/priorities, and get them to stick their neck out!

From Post-doc to Permanent position:

Permanent positions within ecology certainly do exist, but how can you get one? Rachel White (University of Brighton, UK – ) and Maria Beger (University of Leeds, UK - ) spoke candidly to a number of ECRs during this breakout session. RW obtained her PhD at the Durrell Institute of Conservation & Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent in 2013 and, after a short post-doctoral position, obtained a permanent lectureship position in ecology and conservation at the University of Brighton in 2014. RW’s top tips were to (1) not undersell/hold yourself back, (2) apply for positions you’re interested in, even if you think you only hit most (rather than all) the position requirements, (3) gain teaching experience during your PhD if you know you want to go down the lectureship career path, (4) continuously build your network of ecological contacts/collaborators. RW also discussed the limitations of not having enough post-doctoral research experience before obtaining a lectureship position, and trying to find ECR funding that she’s eligible for. MB completed her PhD at the University of Queensland in 2008 and after a series of post-docs obtained a Research Fellow position at the University of Leeds in 2012. MB discussed the need for being adaptable and flexible with respect to the geographical location of advertised positions, and clearly discussing with your partner/family just how far and for how long you’re prepared to go. Look for opportunities which provide relocation assistance.

Communicating effectively from CV to interview:

During the session, tips were discussed on deciding when to apply for roles, what employers are looking for and the do/don’t guide to interviews. The panel comprised of: Kate Jones (UCL, ), Julia Blanchard (University of Tasmania), and Stefano Allesina (University of Chicago).

  • CV:
    • No page limit
    • Easy to scan = easy to read/understand
    • Not an essay
    • Should be tailor-made for each application
    • Keep a master CV that you add to continuously
    • Having an impact/outreach section on CV shows care
    • Limit listing manuscripts “in prep” to a maximum of two
    • Clearly signpost how you meet all of the criteria
    • If you want to avoid saying you’re an expert in x, instead use phrases like: I have working knowledge of x; x years of experience in y, competent in x…
  • Job application/Interview:
    • You will be Googled. Make sure your future employers see what you want them to.
    • Don’t be afraid to make contact – send pointed emails about your interests to PIs
    • Prepare interview and have a punchy elevator pitch ready
    • Don’t undersell yourself
    • Do email for feedback
  • BES Career development resources -

How to get published:

An interactive beginner’s guide to getting published was provided by the BES publications team and editors, including Katie Field (: Functional Ecology @ FunEcology) and Rob Salguero-Gomez (: Journal of Ecology ). Advice was given regarding:

  • How to choose a journal: who do you want to read your work? Choose the journal you and your colleagues/peers read? Don’t be obsessed with impact factors.
  • How to write your manuscript: write it as a story; use clear, accurate and simple language; keywords should be used carefully; statistics always checked clearly before submitting; use recent research to frame yours; use figures and tables effectively.
  • Get informal feedback from a variety of people before submitting.
  • Manuscript decision: A decision of major revision is very common and getting rejected with possibility for resubmission means that the editor has seen merit in your work but considerable revisions needed. Carefully draft letter of response using 3rd person and passive tense. Clearly highlight changes made and original strengths of paper in cover letter.
  • Once published, let people know about it! Twitter, ResearchGate, individual emails.   

Check out the !

– so keep persevering !

Exercise on how to pitch your manuscript to the most suitable journal

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