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How organising ECR events led me to Leverhulme ECR Fellowship

Here we have a very informative blog post by Dr Gang Wang, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering, Heriot-Watt University, on the career benefits of organising ECR events. Thanks Gang, and well done on your fellowship!:

This post is for early career researchers (ECRs) who might be considering organising research-related events. I was lucky enough to be awarded the Leverhulme ECR fellowship on gas storage right after my PhD viva.  In this particular post, I would like to share my experience of organising ECR events during my PhD journey and how it substantially strengthened my fellowship application.

What event did I organise?

Back in 2018, I was awarded funding from the ECR Activity Fund by the UKCCSRC to organise a webinar series on CO2 capture and storage (CCS). This webinar series entailed inviting both ECRs and industrial experts working on CCS to Heriot-Watt University to deliver talks, which were broadcast live. The keynote talk was given by a director-level industrial professional with abundant working experience on CCS.  Two ECR speakers were selected from an abstract competition throughout the UK institutions.  This webinar series covered a number of timely topics essential to CCS including geology, engineering, economics and legal aspects.  I have successfully organised two webinars in 2018 and 2019 respectively and will have a third one in the fullness of time.

How has my fellowship application benefitted?

  • Get inspired by multiple-disciplinary professionals – As the organiser of such an event, I had an unparalleled opportunity to have interesting discussions with those excellent speakers from various backgrounds. Those inspiring discussions have motivated me to think outside the box and enabled me to be aware of the major barriers of progressing gas storage for decarbonisation, including cost reduction and the difficulties of getting different scientific disciplines and business models working together. In fact, this thought has eventually led to the research strategy of my proposed work in a way that appeals to the Leverhulme Trust, ie: multi-disciplinary research on gas storage involving geology, engineering and economics.

Photo taken at the webinar event of 2019. From left to right: Mr Alan James, Dr Maxine Akhurst, Dr Gang Wang, Ms Catherine Spurin, Dr Saeed Ghanbari, Ms Alice O’Brien, Dr Gillian Pickup and Prof Eric Mackay.

  • Foster useful and active professional relationships – Organising an event is a unique and highly effective way of networking for your career development. For example, the abstract competition featured in this webinar series requires multiple stages of advertising via various organisations, abstract review by senior academics and feedback on presentations of the selected ECRs. I was in direct contact with all these people who were kindly involved and provided enormous support. This can potentially establish long-term and mutually beneficial relationships for your career. In fact, Prof Andreas Busch, who helped the selected ECRs with their webinar presentations, kindly reviewed my fellowship proposal and provided very useful suggestions to improve the robustness of the proposed research.
  • Secure small funds to get prepared for a fellowship application – It is good practice to develop some creative ideas while trying to pursue some ECR funding. The success of securing some funds and organising events can be indicators of your eagerness and enthusiasm and put extra weight on your grant applications in the future. In my opinion, this is particularly important if you wish to build a smooth path from your PhD studentship to Leverhulme ECR fellowship (or achieve any larger research funds).
  • Enhancement of soft skills – The importance of soft skills is often undervalued among ECR researchers and therefore there is much less training provided for them than hard skills. In fact, soft skills such as communication, teamwork and emotional intelligence, are undoubtedly the key to boost your career and especially critical when your competitors have similar expertise (ie, hard skills) to you. The invaluable hands-on experiences of coordinating with my team has enabled me to develop a much stronger awareness of empathy, team spirit and being a clear communicator than before.

Acknowledgements

Although it might sound a bit of overwhelming to organise events during your PhD journey, it is truly not – if you manage to assemble a great team consisting of the right people. I cannot take the sole credit for successfully organising this webinar series, which turned out to be a great contribution to securing my Leverhulme ECR fellowship.  Many thanks go to Mr Alan James from Pale Blue Dot Energy; Dr Marcella Dean from Shell; Ms Katie Johnson, Ms Carys Blunt, and Ms Rachel Money at UKCCS Research Centre; Ms Indira Mann at Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage; Dr Maxine Akhurst at British Geological Survey; Dr Gillian Pickup, Prof Andreas Busch, Prof Sebastian Geiger and Prof Eric Mackay from Heriot Watt University for their tremendous support.  I also want to thank the UKCCSRC for the invitation to share my joyful experience via the blog. Energi Simulation, Petronas and Uzma are thanked for their financial support for my PhD.

 

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