EBN Highlight – Early Career Researchers

In this month’s ‘EBN Highlight’ Deputy Editors Jane Wray and Lisa Kidd introduce our theme for March and April 2024 – Early Career researchers (ECRs).

During the next few months, we will be sharing blogs and journal content related to this theme and this will include an upcoming Editorial by Dr Helen Sisson and an EBN Resources Page. Throughout March and April 2024 there will be blogs from early career researchers on their experiences including being a part-time clinician and PhD student, an international ECR and keeping a research career going whilst working in the NHS.

We will also be sharing some of our excellent resources to support early career researchers including the popular Research Made Simple series Research made simple Archives | Evidence Based Nursing (bmj.com). These research articles offer a straightforward guide to undertaking research using a range of methods and methodologies with some practical examples from research studies and published work.

One of the key topics that has arisen when preparing for this theme is “How we define an early career researcher in nursing and midwifery?”. This can, for example, be determined by funders who define the period of being an ECR on the length of time since the individual completed their PhD. This can up to 5 years or longer.  Teaching, caring and other commitments may mean that the period during which you build your skills and your career as an ECR varies. Doctoral theses make a significant and important contribution to evidence based care1,2. Currently, few nurses and midwives have a PhD despite calls for ‘nurses at doctoral level should be part of the clinical workforce’3. For some nurses and midwives, research may be part of their clinical role.  For many, their career in research often starts after a period of time in clinical practice, and a move into a academic role. Many start their PhD at a mid-career stage, and complete this part-time alongside their clinical or academic roles.

Within nursing and midwifery, a more inclusive definition of early career researcher is needed that encapsulates our diverse research and academic community.  ERCs  may include a wide range of researchers in clinical positions (e.g. research nurses, clinical fellowships and schemes), clinical academics, post-doctoral researchers, and those new to academia all of whom are at varying stages in their research careers.  UK Research and innovation (UKRI) consider ERC as someone who is within  eight years of their PhD award and/or also “within six years of their first academic appointment (the first full or part time paid employment contract that lists research or teaching as the primary function)”4. Those new to academia may also be on teaching, clinical or research focused contracts, part-time or in permanent positions.  This transition is challenging5and staff may consider themselves ERCs but may not fall under a funders ‘traditional’ definition.

Where the organisational culture is inclusive in its definition and approach to early careers, this supports development into research roles and pathways for nurses and midwives, as well as beyond a PhD6. We know that effective mentoring is a key mechanism for a successful research career, particularly for those in their early stages7.  Mentoring can offer many benefits for mentees (and mentors) including psychological and emotional support, career advice and guidance, and skills development and increased confidence, and can take the form of mentorship from senior colleagues in a similar or dissimilar field or from peers.  This supports an individual to grow their research career to independence and also the develop the skills to successfully mentor the next generation.


  1. Health Education England (2015) The Shaping of Caring Report (Willis Report). 2348-Shape-of-caring-review-FINAL.pdf (hee.nhs.uk)
  2. Wilkes L, Cumming J, Ratanapongleka M, Carter B (2015) Doctoral theses in nursing and midwifery: Challenging their contribution to nursing scholarship and the profession. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing 32(4) 6-14.
  3. Hampshaw S, Cooke J, Robertson S, Wood E et al (2022) Understanding the value of a PhD for post-doctoral registered UK nurses: A survey Journal of Nursing Management 30(4) 1011-1017 https://doi.org/10.1111/jonm.13581
  4. Early career researchers: career and skills development – UKRI
  5. The Nursing Academic; supporting the transition for clinical practice to Higher Education – Evidence-Based Nursing blog (bmj.com)
  6. Enhancing research culture in academia: a spotlight on early career researchers | BMC Neuroscience | Full Text (biomedcentral.com).
  7. Dickson et al, 2021 Value of peer mentoring for early career professional, research, and personal development: a case study of implementation scientists – PMC (nih.gov)



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