Our researchers share their experience of career development

Individual researchers share the responsibility for and need to pro-actively engage in their own personal and career development, and lifelong learning". 

Principle 5 of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers


Aston's early career researchers make valuable contributions to the University. In Assessment 2008 Exercise, 29% of our staff submitted were ECRs. The University is strongly committed to supporting them in their career development. For their part, Aston's  ECRs also proactively engage in their personal, professional and career development. Some of our researchers share their current or past experience of personal, professional and career development.

Gary Burke 2014

I came into research relatively late in life, having spent quite a few years in industry beforehand.  During my MBA studies at Aston, followed by a brief stint as a Research Assistant, I became convinced that a career in research and teaching was for me.  I secured an ESRC case studentship, completing my doctorate in 2010.  Since then my academic career has, I think, gone reasonably well, although it has evolved in some unexpected ways!  Following the completion of my PhD, I worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Aston before eventually securing a Lectureship here a few years later.

Regarding my experience of career development, there are two key things I would emphasise. Firstly, my career development has been heavily influenced by working relationships; working relationships with co-authors and colleagues who have successfully navigated the trials and tribulations of academic life. There is no doubt that working with more experienced colleagues has been instrumental in my career development, enabling me to learn through collaboration.  Secondly, I have supplemented this ‘experiential’ learning with formal development activities.  Aston courses and workshops – on grant writing, publishing, PhD supervision etc. – have proved very valuable. The Postgraduate in Professional Practice in Higher Education, in particular, has heavily shaped how I approach the design and delivery of courses.  More broadly, shorter external courses – seminars, conference workshops, research network meetings etc. – have also played their part, providing new skills, insights and networking opportunities.

A Watkins

I began my research career at the University of Southampton where I obtained my Ph.D and worked under 2 postdoctoral positions. Following these, I moved to the University of Nottingham under an Advanced Research Fellowship before taking up a research fellowship within the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing (ARCHA) in April 2014. These recent fellowship positions have provided me with the important opportunity to establish myself as an independent researcher as well as developing important skills such manuscript and grant writing. 

As an early career researcher, establishing and maintaining your own research output and profile are essential. However, to maximise these, additional support, training and collaboration are often essential. As such, constructive mentoring, University training courses and raising your profile become as important as your research. Therefore, the opportunity to gain additional qualifications (i.e. the Postgraduate Certificate of Professional Practice in Higher Education), training, under- post-graduate student supervision as well as attend grant writing courses and staff-away days becomes essential. The importance of career and personal development as well as the training provided by the University for early career researchers cannot be underestimated. 

Virginia Saez

 I completed my PhD in Chemistry of Materials and Surfaces in 2007. In the meantime, I gained two years of industrial experience as Research Assistant at Inasmet, a private research centre. During this period, my research focused on the synthesis and development of polymeric scaffolds for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Beyond my technical background, the more client-oriented research projects led me to study an MSc in Innovation and Technology Management at the University of Deusto (2007). I also spent a 1-year post-doc at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore) as part of the Biomedical Engineering Group. Since then, and until May 2013, I worked in the Department of Biomaterials and Nanotechnology in the Health Unit of Tecnalia, where my research experience was applied to European, national and private-funded research projects. I gained experience in manuscript and grant writing, as well as technical execution and management of R+D projects.

Currently, I am working as a Marie Curie post-doc Fellow at the Biomaterials Research Unit, Aston University. I am supervising projects of several undergraduate, postgraduate and Erasmus students. Aston University’s training courses have been very useful for the improvement of my skills in a number of areas, e.g. health and safety issues, public speaking and research grant application. My postdoc requires me to be updated not only from the scientific point of view, but also in project management procedures, intellectual property issues, tutoring and mentoring of students, and networking skills, where the University plays a key role by offering such specific training opportunities to early career researchers.

Dr Eric Hill

I have spent my entire research career at Aston University. I completed my PhD in 2004 and took up a postdoctoral position in 2005. Following two postdoctoral research projects I took up a research fellowship within the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing. This fellowship allowed me to establish myself as an independent researcher and led to my current position as a lecturer within the School of Life and Health Sciences.

The support and mentoring that I have been given at Aston has allowed me to develop as an academic and to raise the profile of my research. Peer mentoring has been of great importance in my personal development as I establish my own research profile. In addition the support offered to gain extra qualifications such as the Postgraduate Certificate of Professional Practice in Higher Education (PGCCPP) has enabled me to manage the transition to becoming a lecturer. The number of courses offered by Aston's Centre for Staff & Graduate Development has also enabled me to develop other skills such as grant writing, student supervision, Intellectual property issues, tutoring  and staff management. These courses have been very useful and have supported my development as an ECR.


I obtained my first degree in chemistry and a PhD degree in inorganic chemistry in Novosibirsk (Russia). After a short career break I relocated into UK and started working in CEAC, Aston University as a self-funded Visiting Research Fellow, while applying for an external funding to support my research. The University provided me with great support helping to draft my first research grant proposals. Finally, I was awarded an Intra-European Marie Curie Fellowship that started in May 2013.

The support that University provides for ECRs is outstanding, as it encompasses all aspects of personal and professional development that is essential to gain professional maturity. This includes not only development of research skills, but also a set of complementary skills, e.g. communication, mentoring, project and finance management, IPR and copyright. The University offers a great number of versatile courses and excellent mentoring support from staff. I believe that my experience at Aston University will help me to develop my career towards a position as a fully independent, successful academic. 

Xi Yu

I started my research career on particle technology (Chemical Engineering) at Sheffield University, where I obtained my PhD in April 2012. Then I moved to Aston University and took up a Leverhulme Trust research fellowship in May 2012 within European Bioenergy Research Institute. The current fellowship allows me to think and work as an independent researcher for undertaking a significant piece of publishable work and building a track record of research.

Apart from my own research, since moving to Aston, I have attended a lot of seminars and workshops to enhance my professional and career development. The most important course I have undertaken is the Postgraduate Certificate of Professional Practice in Higher Education. This course was very useful because it provided me with a great opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and experience in designing, delivering and researching teaching, learning and assessment. I wish to take other trainings on issues such as grant applications. Networking with other early career researchers at Aston also greatly interests me as it enables me to discuss with them issues related to career development. I am very proud to be part of Aston University as an ECR.