Early careers site aims to end isolation

Website offers young researchers information and networking opportunities, writes Olga Wojtas

September 11, 2008

A website that aims to combat the "isolation" often felt by early career researchers, and to help them forge links with their peers, has been launched by two graduate researchers at Durham University.

Daniel Colegate, in the third year of a PhD in chemistry, and Esther Dingley, who will shortly complete a masters in education, have set up The Graduate Junction, www.graduatejunction.com, to let masters, doctoral and postdoctoral researchers in any discipline meet and discuss their work.

The Graduate Junction differs from existing subject-specific, or institution-specific websites, as it transcends disciplinary or national boundaries.

"You go to the lab day after day and think 'Why am I here? Who am I helping?'," said Mr Colegate. "This is to give people that awareness of not only where you sit in that particular field, but also where you sit in the wider world."

Ms Dingley said researchers often had no departmental colleagues in their specialism. But a search mechanism on the website could be used to track down people working in similar areas, whatever their discipline and wherever they were.

"We think this is a new way of letting people find the information that is most relevant to them. It gives students an opportunity to see what current research is being done across disciplines by people of a similar level as themselves, and they can share experiences, discuss their ideas and exchange useful information," she said.

During an initial trial of the website in May, more than 2,000 researchers registered within the first fortnight, and news of the site spread to more than 40 countries. By the end of July, the site had attracted 40,000 unique visitors, with more than 500,000 page views logged.

Ms Dingley said: "It really should be the community itself that builds the site."

Once students have registered, they can log a mixture of general and specific keywords describing their own research interests. They can search for other users by keywords, institution, department, supervisor or name, and can create research links, bookmarking profiles they are interested in. These are shown on their research profile, helping others who visit a particular profile to find even more potential contacts.

The newly launched site has added facilities for universities and employers to list conferences, academic events, degree programmes, scholarships, and research and professional posts.

"We're very strong in terms of not having advertising. All we want is enough money to keep and maintain the site," Ms Dingley said.

They hope to charge only a nominal administrative fee, and are also seeking sponsorship from universities. They developed the website with support from Durham's Graduate School.

Extra search, listings and information-exchange features will be added in the coming months, and Mr Colegate and Ms Dingley hope to expand the team of volunteers helping to develop the site soon. They currently spend all their free time on it, with Mr Colegate frequently working on it from 6pm to 2am.

"We definitely believe it's too much for two people. Anyone who shares our vision and values, we welcome their input and help," Ms Dingley said.

olga.wojtas@tsleducation.com.

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