Developing early-career researchers
The BOU may be over 150 years old, but it has never looked so young.
Right: The ECR event at the BOU’s annual conference provides access to experienced researchers in an informal format.
In recent years the BOU has changed its focus on young scientists. It is now more inclusive, more accessible and more proactive in seeking the involvement of early-career researchers (ECRs), which it sees as the future of the Union.
The BOU nurtures its early-career researcher community. The opportunities provided by the Union to fledging scientists are ever-increasing and show a deep understanding and true willingness to help ECRs navigate the sometimes seemingly daunting path of ornithological research.
Arguably, some of the most important aspects of research are, after a worth-while idea, finding funding to develop it and then communicating your results to a wide audience. The BOU helps ECRs in each of these steps. It has offered small project grants for a long time, but recently it introduced the BOU Career Development Bursary specifically aimed at young ornithologists who are between their first and higher degree or immediately after a higher degree. Why do young scientists need ‘special’ grants, one may ask, instead of competing with other fields? The answer is ‘skills development’. The guidelines specifically mention this all-important aspect, an example of one of BOU’s key aims: developing the next generation of ornithologists.
One of the key aspects of any union, by definition, is to have an inclusive approach to all its members, present and potential. The BOU has been subsidising conference places for ECRs for many years and it has turned the ever-popular themed annual conference into a ‘must’ for young ornithologists. It is not only a fantastic opportunity to present their work to a friendly and knowledgeable audience, but also a great way to meet more senior researchers, who are more than happy to share their knowledge and advise the younger generations. Apart from the subsidised membership and conference places, new initiatives have been developed to actively reach out to ECRs. The annual conference now has an evening session tailored to address a ‘hot topic’ that is relevant to young researchers, such as paper writing, grant application, etc, where a panel of experts are available for any questions. This is a great opportunity for young scientists, and one that shows how the BOU is actively thinking about ways to address the needs of, and especially develop, ECRs, who in turn respond with enthusiastic feedback.
ECRs are now embedded in to the BOU’s new Engagement Committee (a direct result of the York workshop) and are now helping to develop and deliver new initiatives such as the Talking Poster format (above) – a series of unmanned, narrated PowerPoint shows running continuously throughout the conference in a dedicated screening room – introduced at #BOU2015.
The first time I came across the BOU was in 2003 when, still an undergraduate, my placement supervisor suggested I attended their annual conference. Whilst I have always felt welcome, the conference was arguably tailored more towards senior researchers. However, in recent years under the recent presidency of Professor Jenny Gill (University of East Anglia) I have noticed positive changes and an active effort to include young scientists in BOU activities. A few years ago I was invited, together with other ECRs from a variety of organisations and academic institutions, to a workshop in York where a core of the BOU management, led by Jenny Gill and the BOU’s
Steve Dudley, sought our opinions on how to improve the accessibility of the Union to young scientists. What a great initiative! Discussing with the other ECRs present on the day we all agreed that we felt that the BOU really valued the active involvement of its younger members and that we could help shape our Union. Other initiatives followed, including opportunities to witness the work of the BOU’s Committees (I attended a meeting of the Grants Committee), as well as the encouragement to use social media to spread the word of the BOU. The key message is that if ECRs don’t learn how to run the BOU and don’t feel part of it, one day the BOU will cease to exist. If you feel you may want to take part in the activities but think that it is someone else’s task, I urge you to reconsider your view and be actively involved.
Right: BOU annual conferences have become a must go to event for ornithology ECRs.
I have benefitted greatly from many of the BOU’s initiatives. After my first annual conference I was ‘hooked’. I not only became a member, but I also attended virtually every BOU annual conference for the following decade or so, regardless of the theme. The variety of topics covered also meant that I could use the conference as a way to improve my knowledge and understanding of many aspects of ornithology. The annual conference has also been a great opportunity for me to meet people and establish links with many of the UK (and international) ornithologists, some of whom were at my same career level and with whom I now collaborate. I was only able to attend thanks to the BOU’s generous subsidised ECR conference places.
BOU conferences are a great place to network. The BOU also provides priority places for ECRs to present their work at BOU conferences in both the oral and poster programmes. For many ECRs this is the first opportunity outside their home institute to present.
To ECRs reading this, I strongly recommend attending as many BOU conferences as you can, before other constraints prevent you from taking part, and in short, get involved!
More from ECRs at the last BOU conference
About the author
Daria Dadam has been a member of the BOU since 2003. After her PhD on House Sparrow decline in London, she now works at the British Trust for Ornithology, UK, as research ecologist on land-use and bird population changes.
Become a BOU ECR
Join the BOU as an ECR for just £10 and get all this:
- Access to IBIS online – all issues back to 1859!
- Exclusive access to reduced rates to BOU and EOU conferences
- Exclusive access to BOU Career Development Bursaries
- Exclusive access to the BOU student community via our student reps
- Discount on BOU books
- 35% discount on Wiley books
Blog posts express the views of the individual author(s) and not those of the BOU.
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