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Guest Post: How to Build a Career as a Researcher in a Developing Country

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By Barbara Gastel | Jan. 2, 2016  |

[Dr. Haseeb Md. Irfanullah, who wrote this post, is a biologist turned development practitioner with keen interest in research and its communication. He is the programme coordinator of IUCN in Bangladesh and has been the executive editor of the Bangladesh Journal of Plant Taxonomy (BJPT). Haseeb is available at hmirfanullah@yahoo.co.uk.]

Recently, at the first Career Summit of the British Council in Bangladesh, I was talking with a group of young Bangladeshis about research careers.

To make the session engaging, I asked the youth a few questions and drew a flow-chart with their responses.

I started with “Why become a career researcher?” The main responses were to contribute to a country's development, understand and solve problems, create new knowledge, innovate, and reduce unemployment.

My second question was “What does success look like for a researcher?” Responses included receiving awards, having one’s research used by others, having the government seek one’s advice, and getting more funds for research. One participant proposed an interesting success indicator: bringing countries together through research.

Of course, transforming a motivated young researcher into a successful one requires intermediate successes—receiving a PhD; getting a relevant job; and, of course, publishing good papers. 

This career path indeed is full of challenges. Such challenges include balancing social functions and job responsibilities; limited funds; limited access to data and journals; limited job opportunities; and changes in policies of home, host and donor countries.

Despite shrinking opportunities in some traditional sense, new opportunities are opening up. For example, one participant branded Bangladesh, with many people living in a small area, a 'research laboratory' for climate change and other disciplines.

In concluding, I drew the youths' attention to issues in two areas: research communication and research & innovation.

Researchers need to go beyond journal papers or conference presentations. They need to use novel media, like social media and blogs, to communicate their work to a wider audience as journalists and advocates of their own work.

Researchers also need to be innovative in designing and conducting research—for example, seeing an old issue from a new angle or applying new methodology through interdisciplinary approaches. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by our leaders this September give us a fantastic opportunity to do this.

Innovation and communication can help a researcher to develop a persona (a personal brand), which is nowadays very important in building a research career.

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