Posted on 14th October, 2022, under Book Reviews
In response to the unanswered question of how to succeed as an academic researcher, fuelled by the awareness that academic skills are the cornerstone to a successful career in research, Joseph Roche has offered valuable guidance to support students reach academic success and, in particular, develop the essential skills that are the foundation to a career in research. The book’s publication is timely with increasing literature emphasising the value of positive academic outcomes to 21st-century learning in the modern complex and global society (Parker, 2016). Roche makes good use of his extensive knowledge of the strengths and challenges when undertaking the role of a researcher to guide students to reach their full potential. As the book shows, he is interested in students’ academic potential while reminding readers of the crucial need to prioritise health and well-being as they embark on the somewhat challenging world of academia.
In Essential skills for early career researchers, Roche brings together a collection of chapters that can be read in isolation or as a unit. While focusing on early career researchers, the book proposes to offer guidance for anyone interested in improving academic skills. This book is accompanied by downloadable templates related to the corresponding chapters available at: https://josephroche.ie/essentialskills. This review will assess the organisation and style of the book, its contribution to research, some limitations and strengths and its value for different audiences. The review will finish with a final evaluation and recommendations.
very chapter includes an overview, sub-headings, researcher views, a chapter summary, further reading and a well-sourced reference list. New researchers should find the references and further reading recommendations at the end of each chapter helpful.
The book contains the following chapters:
Throughout the chapters in this book, you will find real people sharing challenges they faced at different stages of their research journey. In these sections of the book, it is made visible to the reader that the research journey is not a piece of cake; instead, it takes time and effort, yet, the author uses language that empowers and motivates. For example, on the subject of academic writing, the author states, ‘You are a writer. The sooner you recognise that and either make peace or – ideally embrace it, the better’ (p.24). Here the author infers accountability by suggesting that if a student’s goal is to improve academic skills, then the initial hard work will have great rewards.
Additionally, the author suggests that basic research skills can be improved with practice through collaboration and learning from others (p. 17). I would add that learning with and from others develops the professional researchers’ skills along with the student because supporting others provides the opportunity for academics to continuously develop their teaching, supervision and learning skills. Furthermore, the book addresses parts of the research journey that are not core modules in a Ph.D., including how to publish an academic paper and what role you may wish to pursue during and post Ph.D. In opening up these conversations, the book provides guidance and insights on where students can seek answers to these unanswered questions. For these reasons, the quality of this book’s contribution to academic research is notably beneficial to a broad audience.
Unlike other books on skills for early researchers, there is only one chapter, Chapter 2: Research, devoted to the characteristics commonly associated with researching. Chapter 2 covers the basic skills every academic researcher needs, including research questions, research methods and the literature review. While this was initially surprising, after completing the book, I realised the focus was on discussing the academic skills that are not core modules within most research programs. To this end, the book focuses on the real-world challenges of early career researchers.
The Researchers’ Views element of the book is written by researchers navigating real-world challenges relating to the preceding topic. Adding snapshots of theory in practice delivers at a personal level allows the reader to put the often complex concept within the chapter into real-world terms.
For a broad audience, the book describes concepts with academic terminology before putting the concept into a more practical context and offering researcher views to help clarify what research is to real people. It also emphasises that academic skills are transferable skills that are a valuable consideration when seeking employment across various disciplines.
For students new to research, it offers guidance and a concrete starting point with ready-to-go templates making the journey less daunting. For example, in purchasing this book, readers get valuable research content and access to a variety of templates on the website, including a systematic review template, a research proposal template and many email templates.
For students thinking of applying for funding or wishing to publish a journal article and do not know where to start, this book will be an instrumental resource that could save time, add structure and improve the quality of early academic writing.
For Ph.D. students well into their career but not yet sure what they want to progress onto (I include myself here), the book offers career choices. For example, Chapter Six: Teaching, looks at how early career researchers can find their way into teaching by pro-actively pursuing teaching opportunities rather than waiting for them to be offered. The chapter is written in a style that inspires and motivates by positioning teaching in higher education as a noble profession if one desires to help students reach their full potential. In addition, the chapter highlights that teaching is something you improve over time. Hence, you do not need to know it all on your first day, it is very much about professional development within a teaching and learning community.
This book makes a meaningful contribution to new knowledge by providing important information that is not easily sourced on other platforms. This includes information regarding: academic publishing, seeking funding, career progression, and teaching and supervision. In addition, the sample templates provided on the book’s companion website are a generous support to early career students.
In addition to the author’s view on who would find the book useful, I would add:
Roche, J. (2022). ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR EARLY CAREER RESEARCHERS. United Kingdom, Sage Publications.
Parker, J.L. (2016). Academic success for 21st century learner: Intrapersonal intelligence and resilience, Walden University.
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