An ECR reflects! (Paul McCrorie)

Published: 16 February 2023

Over the next few months, the SHW Athena SWAN early career researcher group will be showcasing interviews with some of the wonderful ECR community in SHW, starting with co-chair of the group, Paul McCrorie...

Over the next few months, the SHW Athena SWAN early career researcher group will be showcasing interviews with some of the wonderful ECR community in SHW, starting with co-chair of the group, Paul McCrorie.

Photo of a desk with pen, notepads and a cup of coffee

Paul is a Research Fellow in the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (SPHSU) and lead researcher on the SPACES study (Studying Physical Activity in Children's Environments across Scotland). Paul is interested in how local neighbourhoods and the build and natural environment shape child activity levels and health.

What is your favourite and least favourite part about working in academia?

My favourite thing working as a researcher is I get paid to do what I’m genuinely passionate about. It’s a cliché but I love to learn and want to make a difference in people’s lives. Working as a researcher provides this amazing opportunity. As a parent of young children the inherent flexibility of my job is also incredible and has made a huge difference over the last few years. Unfortunately, my least favourite thing is the uncertainty and instability of contracts. I often think academia, especially those early in their career, houses the largest cohort of extremely well educated and qualified professionals with very little long term job security. The academic/research environment is a precarious path to walk and needs to be improved if we want to keep and develop the best people.

What is the biggest mistake you made as an ECR?

My biggest mistake was I probably didn’t ask enough questions of the far more experienced colleagues I had. Part of that is grounded in my own personality flaws, particularly not wanting to ask what might be a stupid question and inevitably be perceived as unknowledgeable – my imposter syndrome is very real!!! I think many ECRs struggle with this, and we perhaps need to do more to support researchers in the early stages of their careers. Have I improved on this now I’m more experienced? I’m getting better at it but it’s still a work in progress.

What are you most proud of from your career so far?

I’m really proud of the networks and teams I’ve created and worked with so far in my career. My founding principle to success in any walk of life is grounded in relationship building, working/being with people who make you a better researcher/person.

Do you have any go-to routines or habits that you find helpful for writing/reading/other research activities?

Having attended an intense but thoroughly productive residential writing retreat a few years back I have been part of a team who have tried to translate these into ‘day retreats’ within the confines of the university setting. I need time and space to find my ‘flow’ with writing and we have organised these sessions to take place twice each month with formalised writing sessions and breaks scheduled throughout the day. These are blocked out in my diary and I don’t accept any meetings allowing me focused time for writing. I always feel like I’ve accomplished something at the end of each session.

What would you be doing if you weren’t working in academia?

My initial plan growing up was to be a professional rugby player, but injuries scuppered those plans whilst doing my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. One part of that life I loved was working out in the gym and I continue to lift weights even though I don’t play rugby anymore. As a researcher exploring how to make people and populations more active, I think I may have been a personal trainer/gym owner if not working in academia. The gym would need to combine my other passion – COFFEE. So, it would definitely need a really good coffee shop attached. Business partners welcome.

Thank you to Paul for kicking off our interview series! Keep an eye on HAWKEYE and the Athena Swan ECR website for the next iteration.

Find out more about the aims and activities of the SHW Athena Swan ECR group

First published: 16 February 2023