Starting a Career in Research

Thinking about starting a career in research?  If so, hear from Moving Ahead’s Chief Investigators on their advice to aspiring early career researchers here.


Moving Ahead actively encourages clinicians and students to become involved in research. There are a number of ways this can happen:

  • Many researchers allow undergraduates or graduates to get involved in their research projects on a volunteer or ‘intern’ basis. This is a great way for students to see what research is like on a day-to-day basis. Many students are unaware of the work and dedication that goes into producing a mere 4-page journal article, so it’s a great way to gain practical skills in research design, ethics applications, recruitment, data collection and data analysis. It is becoming increasingly common for students to volunteer for research projects, so get in touch with members of staff or research groups (and early!) to see if there are any opportunities for casual research experience.
  • Feel free to take a break between your undergraduate/postgraduate degrees and higher degree research. Many people finish their undergraduate/honours/masters degrees and feel pressured into continuing with research without knowing what they want to do or how. Working as a research assistant or project officer can help build up your research skills and can reinforce or focus your research interests. It is also a great way to get your research track record underway so that you will be competitive for postgraduate scholarships and early career funding schemes prior to commencing higher degree research. Research assistant positions are typically advertised on university or employment websites (e.g. SEEK) or can be sought through networking and direct contact with individual researchers.
  • For clinicians, working in clinical settings can help prospective researchers identify where gaps currently exist for their clients and support systems. It can also help clinicians gain perspective on the importance of their job in the health care system, so they can identify research priorities for their discipline. Understanding where the evidence-base is lacking, can ultimately help a clinician quickly develop a research project. It is also rewarding for a clinician to know they are going to further evidence-based practice and assist individuals lead more fulfilling and meaningful lives. Apart from research degrees, Moving Ahead encourages participation in its research by clinicians. Moving Ahead’s research programs in Australia engage clinicians actively on site. To find out more about our research projects, click here.
  • The conventional route to a research degree is to embark upon a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in your specific discipline. Normally this involves finding a suitable supervisor and enrolling in a Doctor of Philosophy program at their university. It is important to find a supervisor and university that are experts in your interested area of research. For example, at Moving Ahead, our Chief Investigators are world leaders in a range of disciplines in the field of brain injury and recovery. By working with a member of Moving Ahead, you will have an enriched research experience, as you will become part of the CRE multidisciplinary network and you will be provided with the opportunity to learn how to solve problems and conduct research across a number of academic specialties. All of the Chief Investigators at Moving Ahead are potentially available for PhD supervision and can be contacted via email. For more information on our Chief Investigators, their research and their professional journeys, click here.
  • To assist with doing a PhD, Australians can apply for an Australian Postgraduate Award (APAs). These are tax-free scholarships (currently valued at approximately $26,000 a year) available on a competitive basis for full-time enrolments (3 years). Universities may also have their own scholarships available to PhD students while supervisors may have funding allocated for research scholarships from their research grants. For international students, scholarships are available that are also awarded on a competitive basis through specific universities. Part-time enrolments are feasible and may allow clinicians to continue practicing whilst commencing a research program.
  • Most students will have some degree of funding allocated to them throughout their candidature to complete their research studies. However, it is important for students to try and continue procuring funding from additional sources. For example, Moving Ahead provides seed grants on an annual basis. These small grants ($2,000) are provided to help early career researchers or clinicians to work on a specific aspect of their research project. These have been used across a variety of disciplines to kick start projects and even careers.
  • While completing a research degree, it is important for students to actively engage in peer support and networking opportunities. A PhD can be lonely at times, particularly when you are researching topics that are so specialised that your family and friends don’t understand what you are talking about. It is therefore important for you to build a network of colleagues who are able to support you through your research and to provide feedback on your ideas. Supervisors tend to be very busy, so it will be important for you to develop connections with other students and early career researchers (ECR) internal and external to your institution. Early career researchers are also a great source of knowledge concerning the PhD process and starting a research career after your degree, so don’t hesitate going to them for advice. You never know what networking and social events will turn into collaborations and job opportunities in the future!
  • Students are actively encouraged to present their research at national and international conferences. This is a great way to disseminate your research findings to get feedback on your design, analysis and interpretation of results before you try to publish through peer-review. It is also a great way to network and get your name known by your specific research field. Students should always apply for travel grants and awards to assist in funding for their travel (international flights can be expensive!). Many research societies offer some form of financial aid to students and ECR, so make sure you check out conference websites thoroughly before you decide to attend. Many applications for travel grants close many months before the conference, so it’s good practice to look and plan conference travel early.
  • Moving Ahead encourages students, ECR and clinicians to utilise great resources like PsycBITE and speechBITE which are freely available databases that index papers that provide evidence for non-pharmacological treatments of psychological and cognitive disorders arising from traumatic brain injury and other disorders. Specific papers can be searched using key terms and each paper is rated based on its methodological rigour, i.e. how reliable the evidence is for the treatment. These websites also provide on-line training on how to use these resources appropriately.

Any further questions about how to start your career in research, please contact us directly at movingahead@unsw.edu.au.