Growing a community of early career researchers

Jessica Lazarus, PhD candidate and 2014-2015 Co-Chair of the NeuRA Early Career Committee, enthuses about research, networking, and building professional skills.

I began my PhD at NeuRA in March 2014 after finishing a Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours) at the University of New South Wales. My current research focuses on the potential role that epigenetic modification plays in extreme longevity. I hope to contribute to the wider scientific understanding of the processes involved in human ageing, and to potential therapeutic avenues for managing and treating age-related neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. My project follows on from work I completed during my Honours program, which was also based at NeuRA, and from which I am fortunate to have published a first-author paper in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Shortly after beginning my PhD program I was elected as Co-Chair of the Early Career Committee (ECC). My decision to run for this position came from my desire to gain new skills in a leadership role and become more proactive in my position at NeuRA.

The ECC is a representative body for all early career researchers (ECRs) at NeuRA. It works collaboratively and proactively in response to ECR needs and interests, in concert with existing structures in the institute. The ECC aims to promote smooth career transition into a PhD program; from PhD into postdoctoral status; and from postdoctoral status into lab group leadership.

Moreover, the ECC provides networking opportunities and a strong social culture by facilitating a host of activities that help ECRs feel supported and a sense of belonging in the NeuRA family.

So far, my experience as Co-Chair for the NeuRA ECC has been fun and rewarding. I have developed new skills in leadership and met many new people at NeuRA, both junior and senior. I have also faced the reality of the various challenges to ECRs, including the accessibility of PhD scholarships, fellowships, grants, and conference travel opportunities. Fortunately, organisations like the ECC are committed to providing support and a voice for ECRs in order for them to achieve their research goals and gain opportunities in the competitive career path of academia. I am especially pleased to be part of this committee that supports NeuRA’s ECRs, many of whom will make valuable contributions to science.

Recent ECC activities include:

  • Seminar Series – designed to encourage professional growth and stimulation through the knowledge and wisdom of senior researchers, seminars include invited speakers from a range of academic institutes who present recent innovative research. This series is also an opportunity for ECRs at NeuRA to showcase their research or discuss topics like using social media in science communication.
  • Methods Workshops – specifically designed sessions that share peer-to-peer knowledge about techniques and methods used in research. These provide accessible and ongoing regular support to ECRs in a comfortable learning environment.
  • Coffee Meet-ups – monthly social events at which early career researchers discuss a research-related theme over coffee, such as completing a PhD by publication or by thesis. These allow ECRs to discuss any qualms and possible solutions with peers.
  • Monthly Happy Hours – a relaxing and social end to each month of hard work. These are a perfect way to meet other ECRs.
  • NeuRA Football Team – a fortnightly social game of soccer at a local reserve, allowing ECRs to gain a healthy dose of exercise.

In other words, we work hard and play hard!

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