Discourses of research leadership define not only what quality research leadership can and should be, but also identify those who speak and act with authority. Similarly, these discourses construct particular professional identities and idealised ‘ways of being’. They provide possibilities for research leaders as well as those categorised as 'Early Career Researchers' (ECRs) to create alternative identities and representations of themselves. This study reports the views of 32 academics across 16 Australian universities in four States about research mentoring and leadership for ECRs. The primary interest was to explore how research leadership is conceptualised, implemented and negotiated in the disciplinary fields of business, nursing and education. Whilst a number of ECRs viewed formal research mentoring as taking a ‘tick the box’ approach that they believed of limited value, a number of research leaders had different views. Most senior research leaders viewed the systemic provision of assistance their universities offered in a positive light. The dissonance in views centred on the subject positioning of academics in research. The dissatisfaction expressed by ECRs, a number of whom positioned themselves as fringe-dwellers ‘on the edge’ of their institutional research culture, raises questions about research sustainability and succession planning in Australian tertiary institutions.