Researchers at conference

The importance of networking for Early Career Researchers

By CEP Early Career Researchers Long Zhou and Abdoul Karim Zanhouo

Attending the recent Early Career Researcher (ECR) net zero conference was incredibly useful. As ECRs who joined the Centre for Energy Policy almost a year ago, this conference was an exciting opportunity to meet other ECRs working in the field of public policy in general and particularly in policies for delivering Net Zero. Having the opportunity to attend the two day conference that included keynote speeches, plenary and parallels sessions, we came back to Glasgow enriched with new knowledge and an extended network.

Research and innovation as key for delivering net zero

The first thing we realised when we arrived was the diversity of participants who were all actively researching Net Zero actions and policies. Indeed, in the opening keynote speech, Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer mentioned the importance of having the right expertise and skills for delivering net zero and that academia had a critical role in the transition.

Professor Maroto-Valer argued that the world did not have a great history in terms of decoupling economic growth from global emissions, however with the current ongoing actions the future can be very different. From this keynote speech, it was interesting to learn that sectors responsible for 50% of global emissions still do not have mature low carbon technology ready to be deployed, and research and innovation will be important to bridge this gap. The talk also reiterated the importance of having a whole system approach and international collaboration for delivering Net Zero.

The importance of knowledge exchange and stakeholder engagement

The conference also allowed us to reflect on the importance of knowledge exchange and stakeholder engagement in our work. The public policy workshop held as part of the conference was particularly useful. The crucial importance of knowledge exchange was highlighted especially for ECRs in the context that ECRs still face considerable challenges, including career instability due to short-term contracts, continuous mobility, and limited funding opportunities, under the profound challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the current cost of living crisis. The value of knowledge exchange is widely recognised, including by research funders. Demonstrating engagement with your research is now a requirement for almost anyone seeking funding for their work. It is also crucial in the context of national higher education quality assessments.

Based on a literature review regarding knowledge exchange practice, the presenters highlighted the concept of co-production/co-generation between researchers and research users. The standard definition for this can be explained as a two-way exchange between each, to share ideas, research evidence, experiences and skills. The process is described as a non-linear interaction, through multiple loops of evidence generation as the most practical way of delivering impact, with a goal to generate mutual benefit.

In terms of stakeholder engagement, which is an integral part of the knowledge exchange and the most we deal with in our daily research activities, the presenters highlighted the importance of language used. In participating in the two-way interactive process, researchers need to disseminate their findings through writing papers and attending conferences, and get knowledge and evidence ready at hand, before putting them out to the wider world. However, because the terminology we use within academia is very different from what is used elsewhere, it is essential to make sure that the language is suitable for a wider audience.

Moreover, it is not only the language that needs to be translated, but also the content of the research. We need to ensure the relevance of our work to stakeholders including policy makers, those working in industry and civil society representatives. It was also noted that the engagement process is not just a one-off interaction, rather it should be a continuous process, which could potentially last months and years. This is definitely an integral part of our work at the Centre for Energy Policy. Through continuous engagement, trust can be built between the research user and the research provider. We also learnt about the ‘elevator pitch’, which gives our audience an idea of who you are and what you do, and can be delivered in less than two minutes, in a persuasive and concise way.

In summary, attending this ECR conference was a valuable experience and provided an opportunity to meet other researchers and stakeholders, to build networks and share thoughts, and to generate inspiration. We also developed theoretical and practical knowledge around our roles as researchers, which will contribute to our ongoing and sustainable progress in the future.