Dr Igor Chernyavsky

Current position
Presidential Academic Fellow and Early-career Staff Forum Lead, Department of Mathematics, University of Manchester.

Details of PhD
Mathematics, University of Nottingham, 2011.

Year became PI
2016.

Years spent as a postdoc
2011-2016.

Total number of postdocs managed during career
5.

Case study conducted
February 2021.

Looking back, what were the pivotal moments in your career development? 

Developing collaborations during my postdoctoral years was pivotal for future funding and job applications. Getting experience of co-ordinating a specialist network and applying for research grants were also very instrumental for transition to independence. 

Did you ever consider a career beyond academia/other than academia? 

It is very important to be frank with yourself. The career in academia should not be a default choice, and it is certainly not the easiest path to take. I think that an academic role is the right choice only if, having carefully evaluated all options, one still cannot see themselves working in other sectors. 

Who has helped you along your own career pathway? Would you say there's a benefit to having a mentor? 

I am very grateful to many people who shared their experience and advice over the years. Finding a good mentor is critically important for any career path. The opportunity to have a fresh pair of eyes and ears to help you reflect on your own priorities and options is extremely valuable. 

What methods, skills and experiences do researchers pick up from postdoc positions? 

Beyond obvious specialist research and teaching skills, a postdoc becomes an increasingly advanced manager of their own project and develops deeper understanding of the academic sector. 

What have you learned from your international collaborations? How have these benefited your postdocs and their development? 

Collaborations open up new networking opportunities and stimulate ideas’ development by connecting to the leaders in a field. I also believe this helps my research team to broaden their perspectives on different work practices and cultures, building up their confidence in the increasingly diverse and interconnected world. 

What experience / development activities / training, in your opinion, are most effective in helping postdocs prepare for multiple career pathways, including positions beyond academia? 

I always recommend early-career researchers to engage in formal and informal mentorship opportunities and professional networks. Not only this helps meeting new people, sharing experiences and getting fresh ideas, but also prevents isolation and demystifies career progression. There is ample potential for improvement in this area of support for many postdoctoral researchers, who often spend their tenure at a research organisation while interacting only with their supervisor / PI. 

How do you balance postdoc career development with the demands of your research project? 

It is a difficult balance which depends on the project and on personal priorities of the researcher. I believe the key to success is to discuss all these aspects early on. I always encourage researchers to explore their long-term interests and develop own collaborations. It is a joy to see independence and initiative growing in my team members. 

What advice would you give to a new PI who is managing their first postdoc? 

I would recommend completing project management training and talking to more experienced colleagues. This should help with setting clear targets and being realistic about what you can achieve in limited time. Encourage postdocs to take ownership of their part in the project. Have a plan but be flexible, listen and be prepared to change. 

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