Special issue


The COVID-19 pandemic created unique challenges for early career researchers, especially those based in higher educational institutions (HEIs). Online teaching and learning, and remote working, resulted in HEIs not being in their usual social space, which is generally more conducive for learning, collaboration, reflection and reflexivity, and critical thinking in their professional and personal development. A systemic lens approach is adopted to identify key elements for optimising research output that is aligned with ethical practice; strengthening individual researcher capacity through digital writing support, facilitating research collaboration, and building leadership in research. These identified elements are intended to provide support for early career researchers to achieve optimal levels of motivation and career satisfaction. Early career researchers also need to consider the more personal elements that could impact their research career such as self-motivation, including the driving forces behind these decision-making processes. This requires self-reflection and introspection so that researchers engage more meaningfully with the complexities in research and leadership, as well as develop skills that would support communication and collaboration, both within and outside of HEIs in South Africa.

Practitioner Notes

  1. Academics and early career researchers have had to become flexible and be prepared to work in disruptive environments, beset with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA).
  2. Much emphasis has been placed on how the COVID-19 pandemic shaped teaching and learning and impacted students in Higher Education.
  3. We do however need to explore the multiple impacts of the pandemic on academics, postgraduate researchers, and early career researchers, in particular.
  4. The COVID-19 pandemic provides unique opportunities to re-examine how the early career researcher can be supported through digital writing initiatives.
  5. We argue for mentorship to become a priority to assist in the development of early career researchers, to guide them in becoming well-rounded academics within a changing higher education landscape, characterised by online teaching and learning, research, and remote working.