eulogy of the notebook

I have been looking at some of my old notebooks. I am a notebook scribbler. Whether I attend a meeting, a seminar, or a conference, I like to make notes on paper. With the advances in technologies with multiple genres in tablet devices, many colleagues have shifted their note taking to the very professional looking tablets where every pieces of writing or notes can be catalogued into the right file, shared in a diversity of digital remote spaces and accessed by an ever more increasing number of devices. Ok, maybe I should just admit it, but I am a bit of a dinosaur with technology and I still like my messy notebooks. I have many of them with random and unorganized notes gathered from diverse encounters. photoThe issue I have had with many of my trials in digital note taking is that the notes are there beautifully organised in many computer files and folders, but do I ever bother looking at them again?….rarely unless I really need something specific. The beauty of note-taking in the rather archaic mode of writing on paper is that ideas and pearls of wisdom can pour out of the pages by happenstance. By leisurely flicking through the pages of old notebooks, you may come across an interesting idea you had taken from a seminar or words of wisdom from an invited speaker. With the information overload in which we live, knowing what to pay paying attention to is an everyday challenge. Knowing how to best capture flickering ideas, bits of information and threads of thoughts in a format that will become useful is a task in itself. Many softwares are facilitating the process of capturing thoughts, ideas and resources, whether you like recording your thoughts in an audio format, taking notes and gathering useful websites with EverNote, or whatever other software it is up to you. I am interested to hear from you about your best devices and tools for capturing ideas- send your comments, whether you are like me a notebook scribbler or a proficient digital guru. What is your style? What do you swear by? So, going back to my old notebooks, I will share with you in what follows a few of the ideas and comments I recorded during some of the workshops and events I have organised in the last year. During these events, invited academics and early career researchers discussed their own experiences of becoming academics, shared their mistakes, reflected on what they wished they had known before, or pointed out the key actions or decisions they took.


So, imagine that you are flicking through some of my old notebooks. I am writing narratives based on some of these notes. I am sharing just a few random ones. I have many more in stocks. “I would say to early career researchers that you need to be agile and persistent when planning your career. Sometimes taking a temporary lectureship can become a stepping stone towards transition to more secure academic positions.” “Your need to make time to publish during your Postdoc, not when the contract is finished. I would encourage Postdocs to have a publication strategy that goes as follows: have something in Press, something in Preparation and something in Planning” “Make sure you publish all the work you have done. It is so easy to move between contracts and leave work unpublished.`’ “The best thing about being a Postdoc is that you are able to learn lots of new things. We often forget about the privilege that this is when we think too much about the competition to progress into more secure positions. As researchers, we are always students of some kind.” “After my Master, I was told…you will never be a thinking leader in your field, well I have proven them wrong! If you want this, you first need to believe it.” “I was encouraged to write a review…this is still my best cited publication!” About pursuing an academic career: “don’t do it for somebody else, do it for yourself.” “What you may need to hone or consider in building your research career: resilience, confidence, tenacity, sometimes selfishness, and weighting opportunities.” ”I went to ask my head of department what was missing on my CV to be appointed as lecturer. He told me with great honesty the weaknesses of my CV and we discussed how I could realistically improve my chances of being recruited as an academic. This helped me developed a plan of actions and not waste any time on activities where I had already a good track record. I was able to focus on what really mattered within my own context. In my case, I had no formal teaching experience, although I benefited from a decent publication record. I became a tutor on an Open University course and built my teaching portfolio without detracting too much from my lab work. I am sure it contributed to my later recruitment as a lecturer.” “I did not wait to be encouraged to apply for a Marie Curie fellowship. I was interested in working abroad, so I thought I might as well try it. I looked for a lab and a PI that seemed the right match for my interest. I contacted the PI and he was prepared to support me. It was really important to me to meet the PI before making the decision to apply for the fellowship with this group. I had to be sure that the environment was right and that we would develop a good collaborative relationship. My first application was not successful but the process of applying was extremely valuable. I applied a second time and took the time to seek a lot of feedback from many people. Not being scared of asking for help from senior academics is really important. People will really give a lot of support if you are engaged in seeking feedback. If someone does not, just ask someone else!” “Having a champion made a big difference for me in my academic progression. Someone who was not my PI or supervisor, someone whose work was different from mine, someone who just had my interest at heart. This person I call my Big Brother gave me lots of time to discuss ideas, introduced me to members of his network, suggested opportunities I should take. Someone who could encourage others to get me involved, who could recommend me as a speaker.” I went back to my old notebooks and shared ideas I had captured on white pages. What are the ideas you have forgotten and left inside the old pages, maybe key authors you were suggested to read, maybe an interesting contact you met at a conference and never re-contacted, maybe a research idea you had and lost on paper somewhere in a notebook. Go back in your notebooks and see whether you have hidden treasures! Happy hunting….

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