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How to Build Developmental Networks for Early Career Researchers: A Practical Guide

By Somefun Dolapo Oluwaseyi | Jan. 29, 2024  | Mentoring Collaboration


According to Sandra Day O’Connor, Former Associate Justice of the United States' Supreme Court, “We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone, and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something”. Embarking on a successful career journey doesn't happen in isolation; it thrives within the rich framework of developmental networks. Experience has shown that research is the outcome of collaborative efforts, with developmental networks playing a vital role as contributors to this collective endeavour. In this post, we'll explore practical examples to help early career researchers build robust developmental networks.

Research is the outcome of collaborative efforts, with developmental networks playing a vital role.

Defining Developmental Networks

Developmental networks are not merely professional connections. They are intricate webs of relationships designed to enhance skills, broaden perspectives, and navigate the complexities of one's personal and professional life.


Understanding Mentoring in Developmental Networks

Mentoring within developmental networks involves dynamic processes of guidance, support, and knowledge transfer. Such networks offer a multitude of perspectives.

Spider webs on a green background

Consider a young environmental science researcher based in Kenya who is actively engaged on social media platforms like X, which is widely used for content sharing. Additionally, participating in forums like AuthorAID's TeaTime provides access to fellow researchers both within and beyond the continent. Early career researchers can actively seek mentors from different African countries, representing diverse fields such as economics, public health, and computer science. Through engagement with this network, the researcher can gain insights into the economic implications of environmental policies from a mentor in Nigeria, learn about public health aspects from a mentor in South Africa, and explore innovative technological solutions from a mentor in Ghana. These diverse perspectives not only enrich the researcher's understanding but also provide a holistic view of the interconnected challenges facing the African continent. One practical example:


Alex, a graduate student in Demography at a University in South Africa, was passionate about conducting research and exploring innovative approaches for his studies on youth sexual behaviour. He actively participated in academic discussions on the social media platform known as X, sharing insights and engaging with peers in his field. One day, he came across a tweet by Mark, an assistant professor at a different university in Nigeria, discussing his interests in a similar area of research.

Recognizing the potential for collaboration, Alex replied to Mark's tweet, expressing enthusiasm for Mark's research interests, and sharing a bit about his own work. They exchanged direct messages to delve deeper into their respective projects and discovered a common research question they both wanted to explore.

Recognizing the synergy between their skills and interests, they decided to collaborate on a research project. They crafted a proposal, outlining the research goals, methodology, and expected outcomes. Both Alex and Mark saw opportunities to present their findings at a conference and submit their work for publication.

Throughout their collaboration, they used various online collaboration tools, such as shared documents and virtual meetings, to coordinate their efforts, despite physically being at different locations. The collaborative effort led to a successful research project, and they presented their findings at national conferences, gaining recognition from their academic peers.

Not only did Alex and Mark enhance their research portfolios, but the collaboration also opened doors for future joint projects and networking opportunities within the academic community. Their engagement on social media continued to grow, attracting attention from other researchers interested in their work.


This example illustrates how academics can leverage social media platforms to connect with peers, identify potential collaborators, and initiate meaningful research partnerships that contribute to the advancement of knowledge in their respective fields.

Early career researchers can leverage developmental networks through peer-to-peer mentoring, where peers serve as valuable mentors. By forming peer groups, researchers can exchange insights, experiences, and constructive feedback through activities like journal clubs. For example, a diverse group of researchers from various disciplines who may have initiated connections at an AuthorAID TeaTime event might convene regularly to discuss challenges and successes, fostering mutual support and guidance.

Early career researchers can acquire new skills both formally, by enrolling in MOOCs (massive open online courses) such as those offered by AuthorAID or edX, and informally, through collaborations within their newly developed networks. Such informal interactions play a crucial role in fostering continuous learning within the network. Developmental networks flourish when members bring diverse skills to the table. Envision a network where each member contributes their unique expertise. For example, a researcher proficient in data analysis may exchange skills with a colleague who has expertise in science communication. This reciprocal exchange enhances the collective capabilities of the network and results in further collaborations.

Open laptop with Unit 1 of AuthorAID's Mastering Grant Proposal Writing MOOC

Developmental networks play a pivotal role in supporting researchers during career transitions.


Developmental networks play a pivotal role in supporting researchers during various career transitions by showcasing adaptability. As early career researchers develop, their professional needs inevitably shift. For instance, a researcher might pivot from a primary focus on data analysis to a keen interest in public policy. Within a developmental network, they have the flexibility to seek out new mentors who specialize in the specific field of public policy, ensuring that the support they receive remains continuous and relevant to their evolving career trajectory.


This adaptability underscores the significance of having expansive networks. Engaging in mentoring relationships within developmental networks inherently expands one's professional connections. Consider a scenario where a researcher collaborates with a mentor. This collaboration may open doors to other mentors within the mentor's network, potentially leading to a cascade of opportunities and valuable connections. The expanding network not only facilitates smoother transitions during career shifts but also enriches the researcher's overall professional network by introducing them to diverse perspectives and expertise.



Building effective networks is not only beneficial but essential.

As early career researchers navigate the developmental landscape, building effective networks is not only beneficial but essential. Beyond conventional professional connections, developmental networks form intricate webs of relationships crucial for enhancing skills, broadening perspectives, and navigating the complexities of one's personal and professional life. The practical examples provided here illustrate how early career researchers can actively build and leverage these networks, highlighting the dynamic process of guidance and knowledge transfer within mentoring relationships. Whether engaging with peers on social media, participating in forums like AuthorAID TeaTime, or exchanging skills within diverse peer groups, these networks contribute not only to continuous learning but also offer a holistic understanding of interconnected challenges. The adaptability of developmental networks shines through in supporting researchers during career transitions, ensuring that evolving needs are met through relevant mentorship relationships. Ultimately, this exploration underscores that success in the journey of an early career researcher is a collective effort, allowing the researcher to thrive within the collaborative and supportive framework of developmental networks.

Dr. Oluwaseyi Dolapo Somefun (Seyi) is a social demographer with over eight years of experience. She enjoys thinking and learning about new ways to conduct research that influence youth holistic health and wellbeing. Seyi is an INASP Associate and an AuthorAID Steward.

1st photo: by Shannon Potter on Unsplash

2nd photo: by Victoria Musyoki, MOOC participant.

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