Thanks to the rapid development of the research community in Hong Kong in recent years, researchers now have more career advancement opportunities. The question is, what does it take to become an outstanding researcher and what should you do to prepare for it? Read on to find out more about a researcher’s career.
In Hong Kong, higher education institutions are the cradles of researchers because most research is conducted in these institutions. Undergraduate students who wish to enter the field of research should prepare well in advance, for example, by conducting research on topics of interest or writing a research-oriented graduation thesis. Upon graduation, one may continue to pursue postgraduate and doctorate degrees and participate in different research opportunities to explore one’s fields of interest. It is also important to take part in academic exchange, internship, and competitions to gain more experience. The more one participates, the better. Some people choose to study abroad, which allows them to accumulate different experiences and broaden their horizons. It is common for people who finish their doctorate degree to start as a postdoctoral fellow and devote themselves to research work.
Required Skills / Qualities
The job duties of a researcher vary and depends on the scope. In general, it includes conducting research experiments, data analysis, information collection, project management, budget formulation, report writing, and record-keeping and archival work.
In addition to academic requirements, different disciplines have different requirements for researchers. For example, researchers need relevant mathematical skills to process, integrate, and analyse data, and good reading comprehension skills to analyse and study literature for conducting humanities research.
In addition, there are also qualities vital to a good researcher. As the research journey is full of unforeseen challenges, it is important for a researcher to stay positive and motivated at all times. Having a curious, open, and innovative mind also favors a career in research work.
Regardless of the discipline, researchers need a solid professional foundation. In general, a researcher have to be good at:
Most researchers in Hong Kong work in the higher education industry, the industrial and commercial sector or governmental organisations. According to the Census and Statistics Department, the number of researchers who work in these 3 sectors continues to rise in recent years with most of them working in higher education institutions. Indeed, some government departments, research institutions, commercial organisations, start-ups, non-governmental organisations, think tanks and laboratories are also recruiting researchers. Researchers can try working in different environments to find a career path that suits them the most.
Academic researchers have a clearer career ladder in terms of career path. There are different performance indicators for different aspects of their work such as researching, report publishing and teaching. Researchers will have the opportunity to be promoted if they reach certain goals. However, it is difficult to quantify the work performance of researchers in the industrial and commercial sector. Therefore, it is suggested they consider changing the research topic to gain more experience and build a broader vision to increase competitiveness. On the other hand, there are some other indicators that reflect the ability of a researcher, such as awards, international recognition, and scholarships. These indicators tell us a researcher has been evaluated and recognised. Researchers with limited experience can also look for more opportunities like these which will be beneficial to their career development.
Researchers should have gained a certain level of experience after working in the field for 5 to 10 years. Hence, they are given more career advancement opportunities. Intermediate researchers will start taking on the lead role and join the management team. They are responsible for supervising researchers with limited experience, leading a small team and assist in planning. They also have other job duties such as writing proposals, seeking research funding, promoting research results as well as teaching and cultivating the next generation of researchers.
The scope of work of academic research includes basic research, applied research and translational research. Many of these research studies are based on academic discussions. Higher education institutions provide researchers with a free workspace to conduct different types of research independently and keep on acquiring new knowledge. To make the most out of it, researchers should always be curious and conduct research in areas of interest to enrich their resumes, which will help them develop in different areas. Active participation in international exchanges is also a good way to motivate researchers. They will be assessed by different schemes, and at the same time establish an international network to lay the foundation for future participation in transnational or inter-academic research. Along with their accumulated knowledge, if researchers keep an open mind and always learn the latest knowledge in their field, chances are they will stand out from many of the competitors and perform better at work.
Diverse Development Opportunities
Some researchers will choose to continue their research work in the non-academic sector. The research work in the industrial and commercial sector focuses more on applied and translational research, which covers development research projects, problem-solving, patent development, innovation etc. Unlike academic research, research conducted by industrial and commercial organisations is mostly driven by external factors, such as market demand and policy changes. Most research topics are drawn up by superiors rather than the researchers themselves. It enables them to participate in different areas of research instead of focusing on the same field. Product development and technology application in response to market demand is central to the business. Researchers often need to complete research within a relatively short period of time to qualify for economic support.
Apart from industrial and commercial organisations, some non-governmental organisations, think tanks or non-profit organisations will also hire researchers to conduct research. The development of innovation centres has been more vigorous in recent years. The government has invested more research funds. This has facilitated the development of the research community in Hong Kong. More importantly, it has created more opportunities for researchers in the fields of science, engineering and medicine. Researchers who are interested in non-academic research, in addition to industrial and commercial organisations, can look for job opportunities in the Science Park, Cyberport, Productivity Council or other government-funded organisations.
Senior researchers who have worked in the field for 10 or more years mainly take a leadership role in the research team. They are responsible for exploring new research directions, planning and leading research teams to conduct different research.
In academic institutions, senior researchers will often cooperate with other researchers, companies and research centers in the school. Their responsibilities include writing plans, developing research centers, leading large-scale research across institutions and ensuring that the research direction is correct. Their roles are more inclined to planners or team managers.
Apply Research Experience to Other Industries
Some senior researchers will consider working in other industries or research institutions after some time. With the rapid development of the high-tech industry, some high-tech companies or start-ups will also hire senior researchers to take part in product development and business management, etc., to transfer their knowledge and skills to other industries.
Senior positions (such as chief researcher, chief engineer, and technical director, etc.) are not only responsible for research and technology development but also for designing research, solving technical problems and opening new markets. Some senior researchers will also be employed in laboratories, think tanks, commercial organisations and non-governmental organisations to conduct research in the fields of their expertise or serve as consultants in their respective fields.
Since academic researchers have rich experience in specialised research, it is easier for them to adapt to non-academic research work. On the contrary, since non-academic research work may not have performance indicators, non-academic researchers rarely transfer to academic work.
In addition to research, some senior researchers will choose to make use of their expertise in other areas and work in business management. Their background allows them to handle research projects more effectively. They are more likely to consider technical aspects when making business decisions, giving them a unique advantage in business management. If a researcher intends to join a non-research-related industry or position, they can think about how to apply their experience to the new position.
Career development in research is very diverse. Some researchers have shared their career stories with us.
Researcher with a multidisciplinary background: JIANG Peiyong, Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The key of leading a research team: YUNG Kai-leung, Chair Professor of Precision Engineering and Associate Head, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Below are talent training programmes and recruitment information from different organisations. People who are interested in research might want to keep an eye on them.
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