Any young researcher I speak to today I would say to do three things:
1) Write as much as possible, online and off, in as many different ways as possible. Writing is the transferable skill and people who do it well will always find good employment.
2) Become as good a programmer/software engineer/web developer as possible. A great way to contribute to any project is to be able to take existing tools and adapt them quickly to local needs.
3) Be as open as you can (or as your supervisor will allow you to) about communicating all of the things you are doing. The next stage of your career will depend on who has a favourable impression of what you’ve done. The papers will be important, but not as important as personal connections you can make through your work.
In concrete terms:
1) Start a blog (ask for explicit guidelines from supervisors and institutions about limitations on what you should write about). Contribute to wikipedia. Put your presentations on slideshare, and screencasts and videos of talks online.
2) To the extent that it is possible maintain your data, outputs, and research records in a way that when a decision is taken to publish (whether in a paper, informally on the web or anything in between) that it is easy to do so in a useful way. Go to online forums to find out what tools others find useful and see how they work for you. Include links to real data and records in your research talks
3) Get informed about data licensing and copyright. Find the state of the art in arguments around scooping, data management, and publication, and arm yourself with evidence. Be prepared to raise issues of Open Access publication, data publication, licensing and copyright in group discussions. Expect that you will rarely win these arguments but that you are planting ideas in people’s heads.
So that’s what I did: I started a blog (else you wouldn’t be reading this). Actually this step wasn’t really hard for me, since I’ve played already a long time with the thought of starting a blog.
I hope you enjoy the stuff I will post here.