The PhD has been completed and accepted. Now what?


Name: Dr. Stephen G. Brown
Title: Editor of The Ecumenical Review

So. The PhD has been completed and accepted, and a new “career” beckons as an “Early Career Researcher” – career in quotation marks as the conditions of work as an ECR can vary widely, from fully-funded postdoc programmes to precarious short-term contract after short-term contract.

In such a context it can often be easy to wonder whether and how as a younger academic it is possible to make a mark, particularly when working among long-established researchers who have a long and successful publications history behind them

When I finished my own PhD, I was just glad it had been accepted and that I could take a break – especially after the frantic last-minute late nights trying to fix problems that I hadn’t seen until then. Once I was able to get over the stress of actually producing a PhD, however, I was keen to find ways to take further aspects of the research with which I had been wrestling over the previous few years. Others may differ, and just want to put their PhD research behind them, but I had been working on a topic that gripped me and which I didn’t just want to end up on the library shelves (these days of course it would be in an open access repository …). I found two approaches particularly helpful.

“Another opportunity is being able to see things in different ways, and not necessarily having to follow the established consensus.”

The first was thinking of areas that would take the PhD further: I had focused on a relatively narrow part of a wider complex of issues, a specific aspect of the activities of Protestant churches in East Germany in the 1980s. So, could the approach I developed to look at this specific area be used in looking at other parts of society in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or other areas in which church and state came into contact?

The second approach was using research I had done that never made it to the PhD itself. In the final months I pruned the text radically of passages that stood in the way of the overall narrative. I had traced part of the conflict between churches and the GDR state to the emergence of environmental awareness in the 1970s. In the end, this formed only a paragraph in the PhD despite the amount of research and initial writing that had gone into it – so I was keen to find ways that I could use it in research, journal papers and academic presentations.

Another opportunity is being able to see things in different ways, and not necessarily having to follow the established consensus. In my case looking at some of the archival material suggested a different way of understanding the role of the East German security service, the Stasi, from many other portrayals. I never really had the chance to develop this in the PhD itself, but such insights can also offer possible directions for publication or presentation as an early career researcher.

Early career researchers today also have all the tools of social networking and media that do allow one to develop contacts with other researchers in the same or similar area. Some have turned aspects of their research into a set of blog posts that can be reposted or shared for different occasions, helping to strengthen one’s profile of expertise in this particular area.

As the editor of a quarterly journal, The Ecumenical Review, we are keen for early career researchers to be well represented among our authors. It’s worth taking the time, however, to understand the particular niche of a journal, and the type of articles it publishes. In our case, most issues are built up around themes, and many of the articles have been specifically commissioned. So rather than sending a finished article as a stand-alone, it might be worth enquiring whether any thematic issues are being planned in the coming year or so around specific areas of expertise. There is always the possibility of an opportunity that will make publication more likely as the article can be tailored to the needs of the journal – and even if there is not an immediate positive response, the journal may keep the names on file should a thematic issue be planned in this area.

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