by Mengyuan Mu and Clara Vives
With the drama and instability of 2020, many of our ECRs have faced unprecedented challenges including loneliness, homesickness and the mounting uncertainties for their future careers.  

That latter concern may be why the majority of ECRs wanted this year’s virtual ECR workshop to focus on the Future in academia and planning your research career. With this in mind, the ECR committee arranged this year’s workshop as an interactive discussion panel where five professionals with diverse backgrounds introduced their career trajectories.

Over 50 ECRs asked more than 20 questions of the five speakers – Nathan Bindoff (AAPP), Matthew England (UNSW), Terry Bailey (IMAS), Amelie Meyer (IMAS), and Ailie Gallant (Monash Uni). Their different backgrounds in academia and industry meant they answered these questions from a variety of perspectives ranging from complex oceanography to environmental and climate change policy.

Before the workshop, few ECRs had any idea that even these most successful professionals faced the same confusions, dilemmas, disappointments as they did. Afterwards we found many of the ECRs who attended the discussion were impressed by how relatable the speakers’ experiences were and became motived by their encouragement to chase personal dreams when making career choices while still understanding the need to embrace a more flexible career trajectory.

The panellists responded with nuanced and considered answers to questions such as when ECRs should decide to stay in academia or move to a different area; how ECRs should balance the expectations of publishing a lot of papers required by academia; and the need to develop other skills required by industry. The five panellists concluded the discussion by sharing a general piece of wisdom on developing a career plan. 

After the workshop, the ECR committee organised an online ECR trivia game. Five online teams and an ANU offline team attended the trivia. After being challenged by dozens of questions covering climate change, sports, and movies we found ourselves with two winning teams that shared the spoils of a trivia victory.

Between two rounds of trivia, the ECR team also added another challenging game to discover which ECR had the healthiest lifestyle. Each participant was challenged with a series of questions about their lifestyle (eg. Did you order takeaway more than twice this week? Did you exercise at least twice this week?). As each participant admitted to a less healthy activity, they had to switch off their video feed, just leaving the audio. In the end, two participants who lived perfectly healthy lifestyles, Charuni Pathmeswaran and Hannah Dawson, still had their videos on. Even though we could not physically get together for this ECR day, we still had plenty of fun and felt connected to our colleagues across all five nodes. As this year comes to a close, we all look forward to the next physical reunion of CLEX ECRs in 2021.