Empowering Early Career Researchers to Improve Science
Brianne A. Kent1, Constance Holman2, Emmanuella Amoako3, Alberto Antonietti4, James M.
Azam5, Hanne Ballhausen 2,6, Yaw Bediako7, Anat M. Belasen8, Clarissa F. D. Carneiro9, Yen-
Chung Chen10, Ewoud B. Compeer11, Chelsea A. C. Connor12, Sophia Crüwell2, Humberto Debat13,
Emma Dorris14 Hedyeh Ebrahimi15, Jeffrey C. Erlich16, Florencia Fernández-Chiappe17, Felix
Fischer18, Małgorzata Anna Gazda19, Toivo Glatz20, Peter Grabitz 2, Verena Heise21, David G.
Kent22, Hung Lo23, Gary McDowell24, Devang Mehta25, Wolf-Julian Neumann26, Kleber Neves9,
Mark Patterson27, Naomi C. Penfold 28, Sophie K. Piper 29,30, Iratxe Puebla31, Peter K Quashie32,
Carolina Paz Quezada33, Julia L. Riley34, Jessica L. Rohmann20,35, Shyam Saladi36, Benjamin
Schwessinger37, Bob Siegerink38, 39, Paulina Stehlik40,41, Alexandra Tzilivaki23, Kate D. L. Umbers42,
Aalok Varma43, Kaivalya Walavalkar43, Charlotte M. de Winde44, Cecilia Zaza45,
1. Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Canada
2. Berlin Institute of Health at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, QUEST Center,
Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany
3. Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Cape Coast Teaching Hospital, Ghana
Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, School of Medicine. University of Cape Coast,
4. Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering, Politecnico di Milano, Italy
5. DSI-NRF Center of Excellence in Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis, Department of
Mathematics, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
6. Department of Paediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin,
7. West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens, University of Ghana, Legon,
8. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY USA;
Society for Conservation Biology, Washington, DC, USA
9. Institute of Medical Biochemistry Leopoldo de Meis, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro,
10. Department of Biology, New York University, USA
11. University of Oxford, Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, United Kingdom
12. Clemson University, USA
13. Center of Agronomic Research, National Institute of Agricultural Technology (IPAVE-
14. Conway Institute for Biomolecular and Biomedical Research, School of Medicine,
University College Dublin, Ireland
15. Non-Communicable Diseases Research Center, Endocrinology and Metabolism Population
Sciences Institute, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Iran
16. NYU Shanghai, China
17. Instituto de Investigación en Biomedicina de Buenos Aires, Consejo Nacional de
Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Partner Institute of the Max Planck Society, Buenos
Aires C1425FQD, Argentina.
18. Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, Center for Internal Medicine and Dermatology,
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, corporate member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-
Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health, Berlin, Germany
19. Institut de Biologie de l’ENS (IBENS), Département de biologie, École normale supérieure,
CNRS, INSERM, Université PSL, France
20. Institute of Public Health, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany
21. Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (Institute for Advanced Study), Delmenhorst, Germany
22. York Biomedical Research Institute, Department of Biology, University of York, United
23. Neuroscience Research Center, Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany; Einstein
Center for Neurosciences Berlin, Germany; Neurocure Cluster of Excellence Berlin, Germany
24. Lightoller LLC, Chicago IL, USA
25. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Canada
26. Movement Disorder and Neuromodulation Unit, Department of Neurology, Charité-
Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany
27. Retired, eLife (formerly), Cambridge, United Kingdom
28. eLife (formerly), Cambridge, United Kingdom, https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0568-1194
29. Institute of Biometry and Clinical Epidemiology, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin,
Charitéplatz 1, D-10117 Berlin, Germany
30. Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), Anna-Louisa-Karsch 2, 10178 Berlin, Germany
Berlin Institute of Health, Berlin, Germany
31. ASAPbio, Cambridge, United Kingdom
32. West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens, University of
Ghana Ghana; Francis Crick Institute, United Kingdom
33. Centro Integrativo de Biología y Química Aplicada (CIBQA), Universidad Bernardo
34. Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Canada
35. Center for Stroke Research, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany
36. California Institute of Technology, USA
37. Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Acton, ACT 2601
38. Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the
39. Directorate of Research Policy, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands
40. Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare, Bond University, Robina, Australia
41. Evidence-Based Practice Professorial Unit, Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service,
42. School of Science, Western Sydney University, Penrith NSW, 2751
43. National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore,
Karnataka 560065, India
44. Department for Molecular Cell Biology and Immunology, Amsterdam UMC location VUmc,
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
45. Centro de Investigaciones en Bionanociencias (CIBION), Consejo Nacional
de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), Argentina
Address for correspondence: Tracey Weissgerber, email@example.com
Early career researchers (ECRs) are important stakeholders leading efforts to catalyze systemic
change in the conduct and communication of science. Here, we summarize the outputs from a
virtual unconventional conference (unconference), which brought together 54 invited experts
from 20 countries with extensive experience in ECR initiatives designed to improve science. The
event was focused on why ECRs are needed to improve science and the obstacles they face when
trying to promote reform. Our discussions also highlighted the additional obstacles that ECRs in
countries with limited research funding experience when working to improve the scientific
system. We provide the lessons learned from successful ECR-led or ECR-focused initiatives and
outline actions that individuals and organizations can take to further support ECRs who are
working to improve research culture and practice.
Scientists around the world are working to improve research culture and practice. Figure 1
summarizes the core aspects of the scientific enterprise that are the focus of reform efforts,
grouped broadly into six categories: (1) publishing, (2) reproducibility, (3) public involvement
and science communication, (4) diversity and global perspectives, (5) training and working
conditions for early career researchers (ECRs), and (6) rewards and incentives. Science
improvement work can take many forms, including initiatives, events, committee activities and
meta-research. Meta-research applies the scientific method to study science itself. This is a
powerful approach for identifying common problems and developing targeted solutions to
improve research culture and practice . While many stakeholders have highlighted the need
for scientific reform, there remains a lack of consensus about what needs to change, how we can
introduce systemic changes, and who should support, fund and conduct this work. This creates
challenges for scientists who are working to improve science.
Figure 1: Themes of scientific reform efforts
Efforts to reform science focus on many different topics. Common themes include publishing,
reproducibility, public involvement and science communication, diversity and global
perspectives, training and working conditions for ECRs, and rewards and incentives. This figure
provides a general overview of some of the themes included in each topic and areas of overlap,
although it is not possible to comprehensively display all themes and areas of overlap.
As the largest and most diverse cohort of scientists , ECRs play an important role in science
improvement. While definitions differ by country, ECRs include graduate and medical students,
clinical researchers, postdoctoral fellows, and recently appointed independent investigators.
Problems with the scientific system directly affect ECRs, who have a vested interest in
improving the scientific system that they are inheriting.
ECRs have led many successful initiatives to improve the scientific enterprise and research
culture. Reproducibility for Everyone is an ECR-led organisation that was launched in 2017 and
has developed resources and workshops to teach best practices for conducting reproducible
research . To date, more than 2,000 researchers have received training through 25
Reproducibility for Everyone workshops across six continents. Members of the ECR think tank
Young Science in Transition have spearheaded the adoption of PhD evaluation policies that
emphasize personal growth and reproducible research practices over bibliometric measures .
These policies have been officially adopted by the University Medical Center Utrecht and may
be expanded to more PhD evaluation programs. Black Birders Week, a social media campaign
started by ECRs to raise awareness for Black scientists’ work and the challenges they face, led to
the creation of courses and fundraising initiatives for young researchers of colour, as well as
related social media campaigns for other fields [5-7]. Table 1 lists these and other examples of
ECR-led or ECR-focused initiatives to improve science.
This paper summarizes the outputs from an international virtual unconference focused on the
role of ECRs in catalyzing systemic change in science . Unconferences are participant-driven
unconventional conferences designed to maximize the informal, stimulating discussions and
networking that typically happen during coffee breaks at conventional conferences. The event
included 54 experts who were invited because of their leading roles and expertise in ECR efforts
to improve science. Attendees from 20 countries, predominantly working in biomedicine and
biology, actively participated in asynchronous online discussions at times that were convenient
for them. The event started with two virtual networking events, which were followed by a 2-day
asynchronous virtual brainstorming session. The brainstorming session was accompanied by
a virtual open space where participants could lead or participate in small-group discussions on
key points of interest as they emerged throughout the unconference .
Here we provide an overview of the insights gained from discussions amongst this group of
highly engaged individuals, most of whom were ECRs. Importantly, this paper does not discuss
all challenges that ECRs face; nor does it examine problems that ECRs encounter when
implementing more reproducible practices in their own research. We instead focus on a small
subset of ECRs who are working to improve research culture and practice at a systemic level by
launching initiatives, creating peer networks, or advocating for change within organizations (e.g.,
academic and healthcare institutions, journals and publishers, scientific societies, and funding
agencies). We summarize why ECR involvement and leadership is important in efforts to
improve science, and the obstacles they face in improving research culture and practice. We also
highlight some additional obstacles that ECRs in countries with limited research funding
experience when working to improve the scientific system. We conclude with lessons learned
from successful ECR-led or ECR-focused initiatives to improve science. While the discussion
focuses primarily on biology and biomedicine, some recommendations may be relevant to other
Table 1: Types and examples of ECR-led initiatives
Description and Link
Advisory board that represents ECRs at the life-science publisher eLife and supports
eLife’s work to catalyze broad reform in the evaluation and communication of science
Advocacy organization for ECRs that provides evidence-based resources to improve the
scientific research enterprise; https://www.futureofresearch.org/
Medical student advocacy group that works with institutional leadership to ask instructors to
include conflicts of interest (COI) in curricula and disclose COI while teaching
ECR-driven organization, providing tools and resources to enable researchers to adopt best
practices in reproducibility, and to teach others;
Peer-review training program for PhD students and recently graduated postdocs
Blog for ECRs to share stories, ideas and experiences about their journey in science
Community-driven platform for sharing and finding funding opportunities for ECRs
The Black Hole
Column in University Affairs magazine on issues affecting ECRs
ECR-driven initiative that helps researchers create local journal clubs at their universities to
discuss ways to improve science, reproducibility, and Open Science
ECR-driven platform for crowdsourcing preprint reviews; https://www.prereview.org
ECR-focused program to create an advocacy network & promote responsible behaviors in
science ; https://elifesciences.org/inside-elife/263fa4d1/elife-ambassadors-a-celebration-
ECR-driven hashtag campaigns to showcase minoritized and marginalized groups in science
and draw attention to systemic racism ;
Abbreviations: ECR, early career researcher; STEM, science, technology, engineering and medicine
2. Why do we need ECRs to improve science?
There are many reasons why ECRs are critical players in the quest to improve science. First,
ECRs are future leaders in the research community and they should be involved in shaping the
future of that system. Second, ECRs are a far more diverse cohort than senior scientists [2, 10,
11]. Diversity of age, sex, gender identity, sexuality, race, ethnicity, disability, culture,
socioeconomic status, language, national origin, and geography bring new perspectives and more
creative and generalizable solutions for improving science [12-15]. Diversity decreases with
advancing career stage due to prejudicial factors like ableism, classism, racism, sexism, and
heterocissexism . Eradicating racism and other biases is essential to maintain this diversity
across all career stages, while ensuring that minoritized communities benefit from scientific
progress . Third, ECRs may be more open to new solutions than more senior scientists, who
are accustomed to conventional approaches and have succeeded within the existing system [17,
18]. Fourth, ECRs who are at the start of their careers, may have a yet unchallenged idealism
about what the scientific enterprise should be, motivating their reform efforts. Fifth, the technical
skills that ECRs gain from performing data collection and analysis with the newest tools places
them at the forefront of advances. Because ECRs often rely on their large peer-to-peer networks
to learn the skills needed for everyday activities, they are an integral part of implementing best
practices on topics such as reproducible and open methodology. Sixth, while the experiences of
ECRs differ, some can invest time and energy in science improvement. Finally, ECRs form the
majority of the scientific workforce and therefore need to be a part of efforts to implement
widespread change, ideally in collaboration with established investigators and other stakeholders.
3. What obstacles do early career researchers face in improving scientific publishing and
We identified six main obstacles that ECRs face when working towards systemic improvements
in science (Figure 2). The first obstacle was that work to improve science is rarely rewarded or
incentivized and does not traditionally contribute to career progression. The factors that are
rewarded and incentivized determine who stays in academic science, secures faculty positions
and obtains leadership roles. Faculty positions for meta-researchers, who study the science of
science, and others who specialize in science improvement (such as scientists with expertise in
equity, diversity, and inclusion) are extremely rare. While universities around the world have
departments for fields like biology or epidemiology, only a few centers focus on meta-research
or research improvement. With the possible exception of psychology , meta-research and
research improvement activities are not widely valued when hiring faculty. Instead, conventional
career advancement criteria prioritize obtaining grants and publishing in journals with high
impact factors. Those working in science improvement may have difficulty succeeding by
conventional metrics, as finding grant funding for meta-research and science improvement work
to improve science is challenging. These activities may actually be seen as detrimental to career
progression because they take time away from other more ‘valued’ activities. Until rewards and
incentives change to include meta-research and science improvement, ECRs who excel in these
areas will continue to drop out of the system. This contributes to an endless cycle, where ECRs
who work to improve science are pushed out before securing faculty positions or leadership roles
where they gain more ability to implement systemic changes.
Figure 2: Challenges that ECRs face when working to reform science
Unconference participants identified six main challenges that ECRs face when working to reform
A second obstacle faced by ECRs is the lack of resources and funding for systemic efforts to
improve science publishing and research culture. With notable exceptions (e.g., Wellcome
Trust’s Research Enrichment - Diversity and Inclusion grant), most major funders do not offer
grants for science-improvement work. When federal granting agencies (e.g., National Institutes
of Health) do have focused grant opportunities for improving science, the eligibility criteria are
often similar to traditional research grants and exclude most ECRs (e.g., postdoctoral fellows and
graduate students). ECRs then often have to look for foundations, special calls, or other niche
A third obstacle faced by ECRs trying to improve research culture is that organizational
hierarchies often exclude them from decision-making roles. Decision-makers play a crucial role
in implementing change, so without decision-making power, ECRs struggle to improve science
at a systemic level. As ECRs make up the majority of the scientific workforce, they should be
involved in the decision-making process.
The fourth obstacle is that ECRs often lack protected time for research improvement activities, in
part because they lack independence and job security. ECRs whose supervisors or mentors are
not supportive of research improvement efforts often confine these activities to evenings and
weekends, which can make collaborations challenging. The lack of protected time for improving
science especially affects those with care responsibilities and inhibits interactions with key
stakeholders who are available only during office hours. Many ECRs change labs, institutions
and sometimes countries every few years . Short-term contracts in different places expose
ECRs to different environments and new people, which can stimulate ideas. However, this
instability and constant change makes it difficult to build relationships with decision-makers.
The fifth obstacle is the perception that ECRs lack the experience and expertise to improve
science, which is often used to justify excluding ECRs from decision-making roles. While
experience and expertise vary amongst highly diverse ECR cohorts, the many innovative and
successful initiatives launched by ECRs demonstrate the depth of understanding within the ECR
community and show that ECR activities enhance those of other stakeholders working to
improve science .
Finally, the structures, institutions, and the Eurocentric culture of science pose added challenges
for ECRs who are members of minoritized and marginalized groups. ECRs are a very diverse
group, therefore empowering ECRs also means tackling the systemic and structural prejudice
that make it harder for members of marginalized groups to advocate for themselves and lead
reform efforts. Examples of the impacts of racism in science include stark disparities in grant-
funding for Black investigators in the U.S.  and Black and Minority Ethnic Scientists in the
UK , and the increasing underrepresentation of minority ethnic scientists at successive career
stages . Persistent sexism also contributes to the underrepresentation of people identifying as
women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers globally [24, 25]. The lack of
representation in leadership roles perpetuates prejudicial disparities and further alienates
scientists from underrepresented groups. Scientists from marginalized groups bring unique
perspectives and experiences to science reform efforts and may also have more experience in
dealing with unequal power structures and other systemic problems. However, the scientific
community must recognize that members of these groups face greater obstacles than others when
working to improve scientific culture. Scientists that hold minoritized and marginalized identities
are rarely provided equitable rewards for their disproportionate roles in advancing diversity and
inclusion . Experiencing prejudicial behaviour and structures in science and in society,
without sufficient support, can be detrimental to mental health and career progression [27, 28].
4. How can early career researchers be supported in systemic efforts to improve science?
During the unconference, participants identified several actions that organizations and
individuals can take to contribute to the success of ECR initiatives. These efforts have been
summarized in Figure 3, with outstanding examples presented in Box 1. We begin with activities
or measures that organizations, including institutions, funding agencies, scientific societies,
journals and publishers, and peer networks, can take to support ECR efforts to improve research
practice and culture. ECR-led efforts benefit these organizations and the scientific community.
Figure 3: Actions that organizations and individuals can take to support ECRs in improving science publishing and research
Examples of actions that organizations (institutions, funding agencies, journals and publishers, scientific societies and ECR peer
communities) and individuals (mentors, supervisors and allies) can take to support and amplify ECR activities to improve science.
Box 1: Examples of solutions for challenges faced by ECRs working to improve science:
1. Reward and incentivize work to improve science within organizations (Stakeholder:
Institutions/Peer Networks): The Open Science Community at the University of Utrecht
provides community organizers and faculty ambassadors with protected time for organizing
activities related to open science activities in addition to their main research topics .
Young Science in Transition, a group ECRs at the University Medical Center in Utrecht,
redesigned PhD evaluation documentation to incorporate personal growth and responsible
research practices in addition to publication records. These changes are currently being adopted
by other graduate schools in the Netherlands .
2. Including ECRs in decision-making (Stakeholder: Publishers and science publishing
interest groups): The eLife Early Career Advisory Group consists of ECRs from around the
world. This group advises the journal on efforts to improve scientific publishing, as well as
matters related to ECRs. The advisory group also assists with running the eLife Ambassador
Program and ECRWednesday webinars. Other organizations such as the Dryad Scientific
Advisory Committee and ASAPbio Board of Directors have created similar ECR roles [30, 31].
3. Providing resources (Stakeholder: Funding agency): Mozilla Open Leaders grants include
funding and mentorship with the goal of providing open leadership in the internet health
movement. These grants have supported innovative programs that support and train researchers,
such as the Open Life Science program (https://openlifesci.org).
4. Providing protected time for research improvement activities (Stakeholder: Funding
agency): The SPOKES program, a new initiative funded by a Wellcome Trust Translational
Partnership at the QUEST Center of Berlin Institute of Health at Charité, is a protected time
program for senior postdoctoral researchers and junior groups leaders who are working on
improving science (https://www.bihealth.org/en/translation/innovation-enabler/quest-
center/projects/spokes). Fellowship program awardees are funded for one day a week to work on
their individual initiatives and meet regularly for group problem solving sessions and
5. Challenging the perception that ECRs are not informed/experienced enough to improve
science (Stakeholder: Peer Networks/Scientific Societies): Since 2013, members of the Young
Scientists Network of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia have been designing and conducting
workshops on responsible conduct of research . Recently, they partnered with the Malaysian
Ministry of Higher Education to release an educational module and are also expanding an
instructor training program for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Young Scientists
Network and the regional office of the International Science Council.
6. Champion efforts to support marginalized ECRs (Stakeholder: Peer Networks): The
Animal Behaviour Collective is a group of researchers devoted to reducing socioeconomic
barriers to participation in science. Their work, inspired by the organizations Sportula and the
Black Trowel Collective, organizes mentorship opportunities for researchers from traditionally
marginalized communities and microgrants for all animal behavior researchers in financial need.
Provide a path for career progression by rewarding and incentivizing science
improvement: Creating faculty positions or institutional centers for meta-researchers and other
scientists who work on research improvement is essential. Institutional centers focused on
science improvement can serve as incubators for testing initiatives to improve science publishing
and research culture at the institution and in the broader scientific community . Hiring and
promoting committees should value systemic efforts to improve science as an important service
to the community.
Organizations can shift incentives by offering awards for ECRs or ECR-led initiatives aimed at
improving research culture and practice. For example, the Berlin-based Einstein Foundation
recently launched an award specifically designed for ECRs who are working on initiatives to
improve research . Funding agencies should recognize and reward work to improve science
when evaluating grant and fellowship applications. This may include encouraging applicants to
address efforts to improve science in training or career development plans or include specific
questions about other contributions to the scientific community.
Journals can shift incentives and aid in dissemination by welcoming meta-research papers and
papers presenting tools, initiatives or resources for science improvement and creating open
access collections to make these papers accessible. The PLoS Biology Meta-research Collection
is one example . Providing added support for ECR authors who are inexperienced in writing
papers, but who have strong ideas or important initiatives to share, benefits both ECRs and the
scientific community. Research improvement papers require editors and reviewers with unique
expertise, who are rarely a part of a journal’s established networks. Editorial boards can work
with scientists involved in research improvement to identify qualified editors and reviewers.
Provide ECRs with grants and resources for systemic efforts to improve science:
Institutions, scientific societies and funding agencies can offer “science improvement” grants,
including seed grants designed for ECR-led initiatives. For example, the Open Research Fund by
the Wellcome Trust provides funding to researchers (including ECRs) to promote more open,
accessible, and reusable health research . Journals and publishers can also offer small grants
to ECRs who have ideas about how to improve the quality of scientific publishing in their
journals. Institutions, journals and scientific societies may also provide other forms of support to
ECR-led initiatives to improve science. This may include logistical or administrative support,
hiring a community manager for programs targeting ECRs, or publicizing programs and outputs
that are valuable to the ECR community. Journals, publishers and societies can also offer
opportunities for collaborative innovation, including opportunities for ECR-led efforts to access
specialist skillsets and support that they may not otherwise have access to. One example is the
eLife Innovation Sprint , where scientists join complementary specialists (designers,
software developers, and other innovators) for a two-day hackathon to develop new tools to
enhance scientific publishing. In return, societies and journals learn about new ideas and
opportunities while building relationships with their core community members.
Integrate ECRs into decision-making processes: Organizations should integrate ECRs at
different career stages into their decision-making processes . This includes graduate and
medical students, postdoctoral fellows, and new PIs. Options include creating an early career
advisory group, adding ECR representatives to committees or combining an early career
advisory group with ECR committee representatives. Each option has unique strengths and
Consultation with ECR advisory groups offers a wide variety of ECR perspectives, however one
disadvantage is that ECRs are not at the decision-making table. Advisory groups require a
consistent, strong dialog with leadership to be effective. An organizations’ leadership team must
regularly solicit ECR advice early in developing new ideas. ECR advisory boards need to feel
comfortable raising issues and proposing solutions to leadership. Leadership must collaborate
with advisory boards to set priorities, refine ideas, and implement new initiatives. An example of
this approach is the Early Career Advisory Group created by eLife . This diverse advisory
group advocates for ECRs and advises senior editors and journal staff on strategies to improve
science publishing and level the playing field for ECRs.
The absence of ECRs in decision-making can be addressed by including early career
representatives on leadership committees (e.g., ). One disadvantage of this approach is that a
single ECR voice can easily be suppressed or overlooked. Committees who integrate ECR
representatives should ensure that the committee environment is welcoming and inclusive and
that ECR members are encouraged to speak up and engage with other committee members.
Having at least two ECR members per committee offers different perspectives, while providing
peer-support that makes it easier for ECRs to actively contribute. Committee work should be
distributed equitably to avoid placing undue burdens on ECRs.
Combining an early career advisory group with ECR committee representatives may be most
effective. ECRs from the advisory group can serve on committees that align with their interests
and expertise, while soliciting input from other advisory group members to obtain a broader
perspective. Organizations should ensure that ECRs have the resources needed to fully
participate in committee or advisory group activities. This may include covering all costs
associated with attending committee-related events or traveling to committee meetings.
When selecting committee members, committees should avoid using career stage as a proxy for
expertise. Researchers at the same career stage can have vastly different skills due to differences
in mentorship, discipline, access to training or time spent in their current position. Organizations
should consider outlining specific skills that are needed and offering candidates an opportunity to
explain their skills and experience, rather than restricting applications to specific career stages.
Provide opportunities to obtain protected time for systemic efforts to improve science:
Institutions and funding agencies can offer ECR grants that provide protected time for research
improvement activities and encourage ECRs to include these activities in their career
development plans. By requiring training on topics such as reproducible research practices and
science communication, organizations can support ECRs in developing skills to improve
research culture and practice. Giving ECRs time to explore the strengths and limitations of
existing systems will provide opportunities to develop innovative solutions.
Raise awareness of successful ECR efforts to improve science and provide training:
Institutions, journals, funding agencies, scientific societies and ECR peer networks can address
the perception that ECRs lack the experience and expertise to improve science by increasing the
visibility of successful ECR-led initiatives and amplifying these efforts. This may include
organizing symposia or seminar series on successful ECR initiatives, inviting ECRs to write
commentaries on their initiatives for scientific journals, or including information on successful
initiatives in blogs and newsletters for institutions and scientific societies. The scientific
community should also invest in training scientists in implementing systemic efforts to improve
science. This may include creating an online community where ECRs who work to improve
science can network, find collaborators, and share experiences in lessons learned. Organizations
could also offer training, fellowships, or hands-on courses in topics such as policy change or
Mentors, supervisors and allies can support ECRs: Mentors and supervisors can encourage
ECRs to integrate training on topics related to research improvement into their career
development plans and provide ECRs with the time and freedom to independently work on these
activities. This may include training on rigorous and reproducible research practices or implicit
biases. ECRs can learn valuable skills, which can subsequently benefit their research teams.
Supervisors and ECRs can collaboratively explore opportunities to use research improvement
activities to enhance existing projects. Field-testing possible solutions, such as pathways for
reproducible research, in one’s own work provides insight into the strengths and weaknesses of
existing proposals and may lead to innovative solutions. While ECRs often introduce new
technical skills into their research environment, these skills are frequently lost when ECRs leave
the lab. PIs can work with ECRs to ensure that new practices are implemented in a sustainable
way. This includes integrating skills into the research group’s standard operating procedures and
providing training to other team members. Mentors and supervisors can also advocate for science
improvement initiatives and create opportunities for ECRs to share these initiatives. This may
include inviting ECRs to present their research improvement activities at lab meetings, seminar
series, or conferences. Mid-career and senior researchers and administrators who are working on
policy changes should seek out ECR collaborators and form meaningful partnerships with them.
ECRs gain valuable experience and their input may strengthen proposals while attracting added
support. Finally, mentors, supervisors and allies can ask ECRs what kind of support they need,
and provide honest, constructive feedback to help ECRs to troubleshoot, refine their ideas and
explore creative solutions. Anyone can be an ally by supporting and championing ECR-led
efforts to improve research culture and practice.
Champion efforts to support marginalized ECRs: Scientific institutions, journals, funding
agencies, societies, and supervisors and mentors must support efforts to improve equity,
diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in their communities. The interests and memberships of ECR
cohorts and marginalised groups frequently intersect, and efforts to promote both can directly
empower ECRs from marginalised groups (in terms of gender, sexual orientation, disability,
ethnicity, or other aspects of identity) and create environments that foster efforts to improve
science. For the genuine improvement of science, it is critical that each of the actions listed
above to support ECRs include measures to empower members of minoritized and marginalised
groups within the ECR community. This involves enacting policies that ensure that minoritized
and marginalised groups are represented in leadership positions, that structural barriers are
dismantled, and a culture of equity and inclusion is in place at all levels to combat and prevent
bias and discrimination .
5. What additional obstacles do ECRs in countries with limited research funding face
when working on efforts to improve the scientific system?
During the event, we placed special emphasis on discussion with ECRs who run initiatives to
improve research culture and practice in countries with limited research funding. ECRs in these
countries often face added and unique challenges in conducting and publishing their own research,
compared to ECRs in countries with higher levels of research funding [41, 42]. To tackle these
inequalities, ECRs are driving efforts to combat the colonialism, bureaucracy, and the focus on the
Global North that reinforces systems of power and privilege in science. They are also working on
regional, national, and international initiatives to improve science. PanLingua, for example, is a
free online tool that uses Google Translate to enable researchers to search for bioRxiv preprints in
their own language . The Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises of India on the India Biodiversity
Portal is an ECR-led initiative to aggregate data from citizen scientists while providing free, open-
access biodiversity information [44, 45]. Members of the Young Scientists Network of the
Academy of Sciences of Malaysia have developed a grassroots-based science integrity curriculum
based on regional context and culture . This program has recently been expanded to the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations Young Scientist Network. While economic, geographic,
and political differences between countries make it difficult to generalize experiences, the added
challenges for ECRs in countries with limited research funding are often amplified when ECRs
work to improve science. For example, conducting research with limited resources (e.g., no
laboratory/technical assistants, inflated costs for reagents and shipping) and infrastructure
challenges (e.g., unreliable electricity and/or internet), creates extra workload for the ECRs and
limits their “free time” to commit to other initiatives – including those focused at improving
research culture and practice.
One of the specific challenges that ECRs in countries with limited research funding may
experience when working to reform science is limited networking opportunities, because of
barriers to travel (e.g., lack of travel funding, visa requirements), or poor internet access. In some
countries, postdocs and occasionally PIs lack institutional affiliations, which can be an added
challenge when trying to initiate systemic change. Racism, xenophobia, bias, and colonialism, as
well as language barriers for those from countries where English is not widely spoken, also
create unequal access to opportunities to network and to take part in training and initiatives
focused on reforming science. Efforts to raise awareness about equity, diversity, and inclusion in
academia should aim to increase representation of ECRs from countries with limited research
funding, in addition to increasing representation of marginalized groups in countries where
research is well funded. Sometimes these efforts only create the appearance of equity and
inclusion, while prejudice restricts the involvement of scientists from marginalized groups to less
influential or non-decision-making roles. This practice of including minorities at a purely
superficial level, known as “tokenism”, should actively be prevented.
Solving global problems requires global perspectives and solutions. While solutions will vary
depending on the specific challenges faced in each country, there are several steps that scientists
and organizations in countries with more research funding can take to support ECRs from
countries with limited research funding. One way is to host more virtual or hybrid networking
events and conferences, with reduced registration fees. Virtual events can help overcome the
disproportionate obstacles to travel that ECRs face in countries with limited research funding
. When planning virtual events, facilitating participation from scientists in different time
zones is especially important. Organizers may offer multiple or repeat sessions for those in
different time zones. Alternatively, organizers can create a video archive of sessions and plan
added networking and moderated discussion times where participants who were unable to attend
the original sessions can ask questions. Virtual brainstorming events [8, 47], such as the one used
for this paper, can be particularly useful because they accommodate different schedules and time
zones by enabling asynchronous participation. To overcome language barriers, organizers can
employ “bridge-makers” who speak multiple languages to facilitate conversations between
Funding agencies can promote diversity by creating dedicated grants for ECRs in communities
or countries with limited research funding to work on initiatives to improve science. Grants
could also support efforts to make events and initiatives more accessible to marginalized ECRs.
ECRs from communities or countries where research is comparatively well-funded should also
look for opportunities to amplify the efforts of those with fewer resources. This may include
inviting ECRs from communities or countries with limited research funding to share their
activities internationally or collaborating to expand successful initiatives from underrepresented
countries to other regions.
International organizations that add ECRs to boards and committees should include
representatives from communities or countries with limited research funding. However, relying
exclusively on ECRs to increase diversity can introduce structural inequalities. Diverse
representation amongst all committee members creates a more welcoming environment for ECRs
from countries with limited research funding and increases the likelihood that their perspectives
will be considered. ECR committee members should be recruited through open calls, advertised
through targeted international channels, rather than through recommendations from individuals
with connections. This may partially level the playing field for qualified ECRs while extending
the organization’s reach. Finally, organizations should ensure that ECR representatives from
countries with limited research funding can fully participate in committee activities. This
includes scheduling meetings during waking hours for members in all time zones (rotating non-
daytime meetings if necessary) and paying travel or other expenses for ECR representatives to
attend committee meetings.
6. Lessons learned
Over the years, there have been many ECR-led and ECR-focused initiatives to reform research
practice and culture. Participants in our virtual unconference highlighted several factors which
contributed to the successes of the ECR-initiatives that they had taken part in. Table 2 provides
some ideas for ECRs who are interested in improving research but are unsure where to start. The
table includes links to specific resources for starting a local or institutional activity. The "Tips
and tricks for ECRs organizing initiatives” document in our online repository
(https://osf.io/ad57e/) provides additional advice on developing initiatives striving to reform
research. This includes detailed guidance on themes such as understanding organizational
structure, developing a communication strategy, and making initiatives sustainable.
Know what has been done before: ECRs should do their research before starting a new
initiative, just like they would if they were planning a new research project. A thorough search
can save time and help to build one’s network by identifying collaborators and allies. Organizing
structured conversations to identify solutions to problems is one way of attracting allies within an
organization who share one’s priorities for change . ECRs may also find materials that they
can use or ongoing initiatives that they can join or amplify. Understanding why previous efforts
didn’t work is especially important – this will help ECRs to anticipate obstacles and develop
plans to succeed where others have failed.
Start with a feasible goal: While ECRs may have an expansive vision and many innovative
ideas for their initiative, pursuing many ideas concurrently often leads to frustration, feeling
overwhelmed and failure. Starting with stepwise, feasible goals allows the team to refine their
ideas, approach and materials while building experience and momentum. Once the team knows
that their approach is working, they can build on their success by expanding the initiative to new
communities or adding new goals (Figure 4).
Table 2: Ideas for getting started
Resources & Examples
Join a community for training and
Learn skills and meet like-minded
Join a committee or advocate for
ECR representation on a committee
Increase the number of ECRs in
Research Culture: Why scientific societies
should involve more early-career
Participate in a public outreach
Raise awareness of science and why it is
Skype a Scientist
Write a blog or opinion piece for an
Highlight important issues and opinions
The OpED Project
Organize Reproducibility for
Everyone workshop for your lab,
department or institution
Train others on best practices for
Reproducibility for Everyone
Start or join a social media hashtag
campaign (i.e., #LabWasteDay)
Activate a network of like-minded
researchers interested in a specific topic
Organize a preprint journal club
Discuss new findings and draw attention
to preprint manuscripts; post your review
in the preprint’s comment section or to a
public review platform
Point of View: Journal clubs in the time of
Create a committee for ECRs at
Generate a political body to advocate for
UBC Postdoctoral Association
Organize structured conversations
to identify solutions to problems
Identify like-minded individuals who
share your priorities for change
Shaping the Future of Research: a
perspective from junior scientists 
Abbreviations: ECR, early career researcher
Figure 4: Balancing effort and impact in science reform initiatives
When planning and developing an initiative, ECRs should consider the amount of effort that
each stage will require, as well as the potential impact of each stage. Actions that allow outside
groups to re-use materials and resources to start their own initiatives can amplify the impact of
the initiative by expanding its reach to additional communities. This conceptual figure illustrates
the relationship between effort and impact at each stage of developing the ReproducibiliTea
journal club initiative . The effort and impact values shown here are subjective.
Furthermore, it is difficult to determine which specific actions have had the greatest impact,
especially for amplification. Organizers may implement several new approaches within a short
period of time. There is often a lag period between implementation and impact, as awareness of
initiatives builds over time. Finally, it is important to note that this diagram was based on a
successful initiative. Not all initiatives are successful and increases in effort do not always
translate into proportional increases in impact. Organizers need to strategically prioritize
actions that they think are most likely to increase impact; then adapt their strategy based on the
Collaborate wisely: The initiative may require skills and expertise in many different areas (e.g.,
scientific expertise, education, policy change within an organization, software development), so
it is important to connect with the right people and build a strong team. The team should also be
diverse and representative of the community that the initiative plans to work within. Ensure that
the team includes people with the time and expertise for the tasks at hand. Seek out new team
members if the team is missing a particular skillset or perspective, or the person with those skills
can’t complete the work alone.
Work towards equity, diversity, and inclusion: Replacing biased, prejudicial and exclusive
systems and behaviors with inclusive and just alternatives is essential . Initiatives should
seek out individuals from minoritized and marginalized groups, remove barriers to participation
and ability to thrive, and learn about the impacts of implicit and explicit biases. We encourage all
scientists to adopt inclusive and equitable approaches, disseminate these approaches within their
initiatives and research environments, and adopt a mindset of being a lifelong learner: initiatives,
language, and needs surrounding equity and inclusion evolve over time. Table 3 provides an
overview of several excellent resources for inclusion of minoritized groups. Initiatives should
create and disseminate materials in an inclusive and accessible manner. This may include using
inclusive language, organizing webinars for different time zones, providing closed captioning for
recordings, or offering materials in different languages.
Table 3: Resources for inclusion of marginalized groups
Academics for Black Survival and Wellness
Provides healing resources for Black folx* and information on anti-racism training and
accountability for non-Black folx, including webinars on whiteness in academia and practicing
Black allyship. There are also resources related to race and disability.
Ten simple rules for building an antiracist lab
Discusses concrete steps that scientists can take to adopt anti-racist policies and actions in their
research groups, while promoting diversity and inclusion .
Addressing racism and disparities in the biomedical sciences
Provides a brief overview of the effects of racism and bias in science and medicine for BIPOC
scientists and citizens. Table 1 lists suggestions for institutional and national initiatives to
create an anti-racist environment .
500 Women Scientists
A professional advocacy network for scientists who identify as women. Includes tools on
mentorship, inclusive scientific meetings, and the Request A Scientist service to identify and
promote experts from traditionally marginalized groups.
An online community for R programmers from minority genders to network, find like-minded
international peers, and build their programming skills.
Disabled Academic Collective
A support network created during the COVID-19 pandemic for academics who identify as
disabled to chat and share experiences. Includes resources on teaching and curriculum design
for non-disabled allies.
A safe space blog for researchers who are neurodiverse, disabled, and/or chronically ill to seek
advice and share resources to help each other succeed.
Online community for LGBTQ+ researchers with a blog, conference opportunities, and
directories for LGBTQ+ staff associations worldwide.
500 Queer Scientists
An online community and visibility campaign for LGBTQ+ people and allies working in
STEM and STEM-supporting jobs.
LGBTQ+ Advocacy in STEM
Provides training and resources for LGBTQ+ researchers and allies, with a focus on building
safe and inclusive working environments.
* “Folx” is a spelling of the word "folks" adopted by some groups to explicitly show support and
inclusion for traditionally marginalized populations.
Build a positive and inclusive team dynamic: Implementing a code of conduct may help to
clearly define expectations for behaviour and communication. Ensure that there is a strong
moderator to encourage balanced discussion, center and amplify marginalized voices, and
transparently communicate the reasons behind team decisions. Get to know people so that the
team dynamic is social and enjoyable, but also do the work to be aware of how sociality varies
among cultures and identities. When delegating tasks, agree on roles based on strengths and
Anticipate concerns or resistance to change: Learn about the process for making changes at
the institution and anticipate objections and roadblocks. Build support by preparing responses to
common concerns. Engage with the target audiences to understand problems, interests, and
solutions. Design solutions that are achievable and compelling and refine these solutions in
response to feedback.
Be persistent: Systemic change takes time. Talk with people at different career stages and
within distinct parts of the organization. Don’t be discouraged if some of the people approached
are uninterested or unwilling to help. Adapt the team’s strategy to get around roadblocks. There
are often many paths to reach a particular goal; the team only needs to find one path that works.
Share your work: Identify your target audience before creating materials and develop an
effective communication strategy that resonates with this audience. This may include
collaborating with and amplifying the efforts of complementary activities that share similar
goals. Choose platforms for dissemination that will reach your target audience (e.g., the Open
Science Framework for documents, GitHub for code, social media for raising awareness).
Consider potential barriers to fully sharing your message such as language, access to the team’s
materials, and dissemination outside the team’s usual networks. Be open to opportunities to
amplify the team’s work and/or adapt materials for other groups. Your team may need a different
communication strategy to pitch your initiative to decision makers or potential allies.
Plan for sustainability: Given the transient nature of ECR positions, it is critical to have a plan
for how the initiative will live on after the organizers leave. Systemic change takes time and
persistence. The team may need to approach the problem from several angles, or collaborate with
other groups who are working on distinct aspects of the problem to ensure that the initiative’s
long-term goals are met. Explore opportunities to partner with other organizations and have a
plan for sunsetting the initiative if it is no longer needed.
ECRs are important stakeholders working to catalyse systemic change in research practice and
culture. The examples presented reveal that ECRs have already made remarkable progress.
Future efforts should focus on incentivizing and rewarding systemic efforts to improve science
culture and practice. This includes providing protected time for individuals working in these
areas and amplifying ECR voices and meaningfully incorporating them into decision-making
structures. ECRs working on improving science in communities or countries with limited
research funding should be supported by organizations with access to greater resources to
improve science for all. We hope that the tools, lessons learned, and resources developed during
this event will enhance efforts spearheaded by ECRs around the world, while prompting
organizations and individuals to take action to support ECRs working to improve science.
CRediT authorship statement
Conceptualization, methodology, project administration, and writing of the first draft were
performed by BAK, CH and TLW. TLW created the visualizations, with feedback from other
authors. All authors participated in the virtual brainstorming event used to generate ideas for this
paper and reviewed and edited the manuscript.
AMB lives and works on the dispossessed Indigenous Land of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' (Cayuga
Nation), who are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. DM respectfully acknowledges
that he works on Treaty 6 territory (Canada), traditional lands of First Nations and Métis
people. CACC currently works and resides on the dispossessed Indigenous Land of
the Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo) and Nʉmʉnʉʉ (Comanche). PS would like to acknowledge the
Yugambeh language people, Traditional Custodians of the land on which she works, and pays
her respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. She extends that respect to all Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples. GSM is based in Chicago, IL on the traditional unceded
homelands of the Council of the Three Fires (the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations) and
a number of other tribes such as the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac, and Fox.
Conflict of Interest
It is important to note that many authors were associated with initiatives described throughout
this manuscript. This was by design, as participants/co-authors were specifically included
because of their leading roles and expertise in ECR efforts to improve science, but this may
contribute to perceived or real conflicts of interest in descriptions of initiatives.
CH and TLW were funded via the SPOKES Subproject of the Wellcome Trust Translational
Partnership at Charité and Berlin Institutes of Health (218358/Z/19/Z).
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