The Hero’s Journey – What PhD Students can learn from storytellers

The Hero’s Journey – What PhD Students can learn from storytellers

Are you an early educational researcher struggling with the three monumental philosophical questions – where am I, where do I come from, and where am I headed – regarding your project? Nice to meet you. I wrote this post for you.

Having experience as an educational researcher, I was recently asked to share it with my peers, who are also pursuing a master’s degree in pedagogical supervision – the majority of whom are teachers, and for whom this is a first-time experience undertaking educational research.

I revisited my PhD Hero’s Journey to share with them the joys and hardships of an educational research project. The hero’s journey refers to the mythological narrative archetype that has inspired storytellers throughout time and tale, and which can be summarized in three quintessential moments (Campbell, 1949):

Departure

Initiation

Return.

I hoped to acquaint my colleagues with some of the hero’s trials and troubles that are sure to come their way. I gathered ten lessons, which I also share with you, early educational researchers out there.

1. Be prepared for multitasking. Think of Camões, the 16th-century Portuguese poet, swimming for survival after a shipwreck while holding the manuscript of his epic poem, Os Lusíadas, above the waves, arm stretched out (legend says). While you’re trying to swim (for) your (personal, family, and professional) life, you will have an arm stretched out holding your opus.

2. Take care to conduct your research project and dissertation/thesis seriously, but without taking yourself too seriously. Despite all the swimming, your opus will not be perfect and will not change the (scientific and academic) world. Alas, the day after the public defense of your dissertation/thesis and after all your labors, the (scientific and academic) world will remain unaltered.

3. Learn to master the logistics. Get your tools together so you may: organize yourself; work daily on your research; write unabashedly (fear not the mystical blank page); avoid procrastination; and also, find your motto and put it to good use (remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so keep calm and breathe,because the journey is the reward).

4. Drop the baby analogy. Your research project and your dissertation/thesis are not a human being whose life is in your hands and with whom you are emotionally attached. It is an opus, which should and shall be open to questioning, discussion, and rebuttal.

5. Know when it is time to turn off your computer. If you struggle with this, ask a few good friends to be kind enough to ask you out for ice cream or a hike, and a good dose of ranting. Any excuse to make you get out of your sweatpants, comb your hair, and leave the house is more than welcome.

6. Create a support group. I am not referring to your “out-for-ice-cream-crew”, but to those who are making the same journey as you, and who understand what you are going through and what you are up against. Your mom, husband, kids, spiritual leader, and pets (the list goes on) are empathetic, and yet they cannot fully understand your hero’s journey. Reach out for your travel companions; this is a collaborative (not competitive) process.

7. Trust yourself. Your supervisor is in that rowboat alongside you, yet you are the one sculling in the first seat, the one responsible for steering the vessel; your supervisor’s job back in the stroke seat is to keep pace for the rowboat. If nobody rocks the boat, you both are rowing in the same direction, but you have better visibility and the duty-right to participate in the decision-making processes.

8. Cultivate positive attitudes – like curiosity, rigor, ethics, persistence, bravery, pride. You are making Science, so your point of arrival shall become the starting point of another researcher. Deliver a fine map. Instead of leaving the room as you found it, leave something beautiful behind. Contribute with something relevant.

9. Enjoy yourself. If you are too afraid to make mistakes or take steps back, you are missing out on the thrill of the adventure. Very often, in educational research, you will find the unpredicted. If your data differs from your hopes and dreams, it does not mean that you did something wrong; it means that you are doing it right.

10. Be ready to untangle the ball of thread and pass it on. You untangle as far as you can, and then you pass your ball of yarn on to another researcher, for them to unravel some more, and so on, in this craft that is to make Science. At the end of your research, you will have found some answers, and you will have found plenty of questions, and that is how it goes.

Each hero’s journey is unique, and while some of these lessons emerged for me, they may not save another hero’s life (metaphorically speaking). Perhaps conducting an educational research project is one of those things that you have to experience in order to fully understand the depths of its impact on you. Many factors influence an early researcher’s well-being and satisfaction during the research process (Levecque et al., 2017;Schmidt & Hansson, 2018; Sverdlik et al., 2018).

Regardless, early researchers out there on the heroic journey, with you, I share the one thing I know for sure regarding one’s trip down the educational research lane: at the end of the journey, the hero returns home. Wiser, tougher, smarter. More resilient, analytical, and courageous. Ready for another round. So, gather your tools, hold on tight, and just keep swimming.

Dr. Amanda Franco

Dr. Amanda Franco

Postdoctoral Fulbright scholar at North Carolina State University, USA

Dr. Amanda Franco is currently a postdoctoral Fulbright scholar at NC State University (USA), and her research aims to analyze the perceptions of faculty who participated in TH!NK, a program on critical thinking and creative thinking held at NC State, in the frame of faculty development, and its impact on their teaching practices. Her doctorate (2016) and post-doctorate (2020), both in Science of Education, focused on critical thinking and its promotion in higher education. She is pursuing a master’s degree in pedagogical supervision at University Aberta (Portugal).

References and Further Reading

Campbell, J. (1949). The hero with a thousand faces. Bollingen Foundation.

Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868-879. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048733317300422 

Schmidt, M., & Hansson, E. (2018). Doctoral students’ well-being: A literature review. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 13(1), 1508171. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17482631.2018.1508171 

Sverdlik, A., Hall, N. C., McAlpine, L., & Hubbard, K. (2018). Journeys of a PhD student and unaccompanied minors. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 13, 361-388. http://ijds.org/Volume13/IJDSv13p361-388Sverdlik4134.pdf 

World Education Research Association: A Global Community of Educational Researchers

World Education Research Association: A Global Community of Educational Researchers

In April 2009, representatives from 24 education research associations around the world unanimously affirmed their commitment to establish a global network of educational scholars to advance education research worldwide. The establishment of the World Education Research Association signaled an ambitious commitment to work together as a global community of organizations to undertake initiatives that are global in nature and celebrate the diversity of traditions of local communities of educational researchers.

As an international, non-profit, non-governmental association of associations established for scientific and scholarly purposes, WERA seeks to forge new collaborations and cooperation at a global scale on such issues as:

  • building capacity and interest in education research,
  • advancing education research policies and practices,
  • promoting the use and application of education research around the world.

The ambition is to transcend what any single association can accomplish in its own country, region, or area of specialization.

WERA is situated to promote and stimulate such a worldwide perspective and is committed to doing so to inspire excellence and inclusiveness in education research and thereby serve the public good around the world. 

For more information about WERA and its member associations and institutions, please visit the website.  

What are the WERA activities and initiatives that researchers can benefit from?

WERA undertakes the following initiatives and activities to increase its support to educational researchers and research communities, particularly with respect to strengthening their international network and research capacity.

  1. INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH NETWORKS (IRNs)

International Research Networks (IRNs) aim to advance education research worldwide on specific academic topics. IRNs are temporary collaborative networks of educational researchers working on a particular scholarly topic, primarily through virtual communications. IRNs produce knowledge, analyze the state of research, and stimulate partnerships or otherwise identify promising pathways in research areas of worldwide significance. Primary products for IRNs are substantive reports that integrate the state of the knowledge worldwide and set forth promising scholarly directions.

 

  1. TASK FORCES

The WERA Council establishes WERA Task Forces to address education research or research policy issues where WERA may wish to disseminate information or present a view about sound research policy. Task Forces undertake a synthesis of the relevant research literature and prepare a report and recommendations, with the goal of providing an overview of the state of the empirical knowledge, core trends and issues, future research directions, and relevant policy based on extant research. Here is the list of current Task Forces with the links to their websites:

WERA and the response to COVID-19

World Education Research Association responded to the global Covid-19 crisis by establishing the Global Challenge and Education Taskforce in 2020. The taskforce coordinates the activities to disseminate education knowledge in the WERA community which can serve as resources to advise and assist educators and educational researchers around the world in responding to global crises, particularly to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Armed conflicts, forced migration, and climate change crises have already disrupted the education of millions of children and youth around the world. And the number has been increasing in an unprecedented way during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing a ‘pile-on effect’ of existing crises being exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic, leading to interruptions in education that can have long term implications — especially for the most vulnerable groups including girls; refugees and migrant children; children and youth with disabilities; and children with low SES status. The task force has developed an action plan with short, medium, and long-term strategies to demonstrate how educational research can contribute to the efforts of solving the challenges faced during the time of global crises.

For more information about the COVID action plan, please visit our website.

 

  1. FOCAL MEETINGS

Each year, WERA holds a Focal Meeting in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of a WERA member association. Focal Meetings consist of a strand of paper and symposia sessions, lectures, and other substantive activities focusing on issues of significance to education research through a worldwide perspective. Research that is comparative, cross-cultural, international, or transnational in conceptualization, scope, or design is emphasized.

 

The World Education Research Association (WERA) 2021 Focal Meeting was held virtually in collaboration with the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela and Sociedad Espanola de Pedagogia (SEP), an EERA member association.  The 2022 Focal Meeting will be held in San Diego, USA in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Previous WERA Focal Meetings were held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (November 2010); Kaohsiung, Taiwan (December 2011); Sydney, Australia (December 2012); Guanajuato, Mexico (November 2013); Edinburgh, Scotland (2014); Budapest, Hungary (September 2015), Washington DC, USA (2016), Hong Kong (2017), and Tokyo (2019). In 2018, the first-ever WERA World Congress was held in Cape Town, South Africa.

 

  1. DOCTORAL AND EARLY CAREER NETWORK (DEC)

WERA Doctoral and Early Career Network (DEC) aims to provide doctoral and early career scholars with the opportunity to network with and meet each other, as well as to build relationships with expert researchers in the field of education.  

The Doctoral and Early Career Network established three important initiatives for the members:

  • Visiting Researcher Awards:  In collaboration with the International Evaluation Association (IEA), University of Hamburg; Leibniz-Institute for Research and Information in Education in Germany, and American Educational Research Association (AERA), WERA offers three Visiting Researcher Awards. 

There are two important aims of the award program:

    1. Provide young scholars with direct access to big data and resources to help them carry out their research projects
    2. Provide the opportunity to collaborate with IEA, AERA, and Hamburg University research staff and promote networking within a global research community.
  • Online Seminars: World Education Research Association is dedicated to capacity development and recognizes the importance of equal access. Therefore, our online seminars allow researchers from all over the world to access these opportunities. The seminars are organized in collaboration with our Member and Institutional Associations.

  • Online MentoringWorld Education Research Association aims to develop an innovative, online-based Mentorship Program that links senior scholars and postdoctoral educational researchers who share a common research interest.

 

  1. PUBLICATIONS

 One of the aims of the World Education Research Association is to advance education research as a scientific and scholarly field. By publishing the WERA 2015 Yearbook, the two-book series, as well as research articles and books authored and edited by WERA Individual Members, International Research Networks (IRNs), and Member Associations, WERA contributes to the body of scholarly knowledge of education.

 By clicking on the links of the WERA publications below, educational researchers can access WERA-generated and WERA-related knowledge on education research: 

Which research associations are part of WERA?

WERA is an association of major national, regional, and international specialty research associations dedicated to advancing education research as a scientific and scholarly field.

WERA member associations include education research associations from countries around the world, including: Brazil, Cyprus, England, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Kosovo, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United States.

The European Educational Research Association (EERA) is also a prominent member, further reaching out to scholars across all EERA countries. The founding president, Ingrid Gogolin, the current president, Mustafa Yunus Eryaman, and the current vice president, Joanna Madalinska Michalack, of the World Education Research Association have served the EERA community many years in the capacity of a member of the EERA council or executive committee.  

WERA conducts outreach to education research associations and groups of scholars around the world, particularly from developing nations in Africa, Asia, and the Global South.

Inclusiveness is a key goal of WERA. WERA promotes initiatives to cultivate and support education research associations in developing regions of the world.

How can I become a member of WERA?

In addition to the Association Membership, WERA provides two different types of membership to the public: Institutional Membership, and Individual Membership.

Institutional Membership includes non-profit research centers and institutions, higher education institutions, and other research organizations while Individual Membership is open to scientists, scholars, students, and other professionals.

Professor Dr Eryaman

Professor Dr Eryaman

President of the World Education Research Association

Mustafa Yunus Eryaman is professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Turkey. Professor Eryaman currently serves as the president of World Education Research Association. He was the past-president of the International Association of Educators (INASED) and Turkish Educational Research Association. He has worked as a DAAD-TUBITAK professor at the Institute for International Comparative and Intercultural Education in the University of Hamburg, Germany for two years.

He was a visiting Professor and Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Education at London Metropolitan University, UK in 2011. He received his MEd from the University of Missouri-Columbia and his PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA.

Professor Eryaman has served on the EERA Council as the representative of the Turkish Educational Research Association (TERA) from 2009 to 2018. He currently serves as the series editor of a Springer Book series entitled “Evidence, Science and Public Good in Education”and as the regional editor of the “Bloomsbury Education and Childhood Studies” series of Bloomsbury Publishing.

He is the managing editor of International Journal of Progressive Education; the author of Teaching as Practical Philosophy (2008), and the book editor of Evidence and Public Good in Educational Policy, Research and Practice (2017), International Handbook of Progressive Education (2015); Accountability and Transparency in Education: Global Challenges and Local Realities (2014) and Peter McLaren, Education, and the Struggle for Liberation (2009).

5 Tips for Emerging Researchers to get more involved with EERA and its Networks

5 Tips for Emerging Researchers to get more involved with EERA and its Networks

In this blog post, ERG Group Convenor, Dr Saneeya Qureshi addresses some of the frequently asked questions that she has received from EERA’s emerging researchers. A number of these have arisen from responses to the following question in the annual survey ‘What question(s) about the Emerging Researchers Group (ERG) or EERA still remain uppermost in your mind?’

Before we get to the responses, it is worth flagging the Emerging Researchers Group page, which links to various activities that are offered throughout the year.

“The early researchers are eager to learn beyond their field of research. For example, we would appreciate workshops or blog posts that would introduce us to research methods (so we can better understand, appreciate and link to the work others are doing). In addition, we are aware that we lack skills in presenting our work in a way that would be the most beneficial for our career progress. Where can we find information or resources for this?”

 

Answer: We know that early researchers are eager to learn beyond their field of research, to be introduced to research methods that would help them better appreciate and link their knowledge to the work others are doing. To address this need, we regularly share via the ERG mailing list information about workshops, seminars, summer schools, call for papers, and various other research-related opportunities are shared via the ERG mailing list. Join the mailing list by sending a blank message to erg-subscribe(at)lists.eera-ecer.de).

During the annual Emerging Researchers’ Conference (ERC), multiple capacity-building workshops and network workshops are also offered across the programme, in addition to the Annual EERA Summer Schools on Methodology.

Concurrently, the EERA Blog (to which anyone is welcome to subscribe at no cost) publishes regular posts on a diverse array of topics, ranging from research methods to educational engagement activities. The EERA Blog also provides tips on academic publication and conference attendance for emerging researchers. Further local opportunities for emerging researchers are available via the activities of their respective country’s National Associations.

Answer: There are a multitude of ways to get involved with EERA. You can do this via engagement with the ERG activities – including those highlighted above, the Best Poster Award, Best Paper Award, the ERG Mentorshipopportunities (access for which individuals must attend the ERG annual meeting at the ERC each year), or the respective EERA Network activities.

My advice would be to go through the EERA Networks, see which one(s) are most relevant to your research interests, and then join their mailing list. During the EERA Conference, attend their Network meetings to learn more about the senior academics who lead and engage with these networks and small communities, and build your own connections with them.  

It is worth noting here that Emerging Researchers and those who participate in the activities of the Emerging Researchers’ Group need to be members of their respective National Associations to qualify as members of EERA. Members of a national association that is a part of EERA can claim the lower fee for the annual conference, the ECER (European Conference on Educational Research). In addition, their associations can grant them free access to EERA’s scientific journal, the European Educational Research Journal (EERJ).

More information about being a member of EERA via one of its National Association members is available here.

Answer: Being involved with an EERA network does not require you to have any prior engagement with a specific network or Special Interest Group (SIG) that may or may not exist within your relevant national association. Your engagement with an EERA Network happens directly (see my tips in the answer above), without the need for pre-existing membership of a group, other than that of the main national association itself.

Answer: The answer to the first question in this blog covers information about networking opportunities between researchers at all career levels that are disseminated throughout the year via the ERG mailing list. The design of the wider ERG activities, and the ERC itself is purposefully done in a manner to afford emerging researchers the opportunities to meet and connect with researchers at all career levels, for instance, the exponentially successfully mentoring opportunities, as outlined above.

However, in a more focused approach to the issue raised in this question, the Annual ERC, when in-person, offers two lunchtime sessions dedicated entirely to a protected time and space for emerging researchers to engage and network with more experienced, senior academics, and EERA representatives. Since the onset of Covid and online events, the Annual ERG meeting has been combined with what would otherwise have been the first ERC lunchtime session on ‘Making the most of the ERC and Getting to know EERA’ session. It provides an opportunity for EERA’s emerging researchers, their supervisors, and research leaders to engage in interactive discussions which support:

    • broadening professional development opportunities and research dissemination experiences internationally;
    • exchanging experiences and ideas about research and researcher development;
    • actively participating in a European research community for Emerging Researchers.

All ERC participants are invited to this informal session which is jointly facilitated by experienced academics and the ERG co-conveners to enable those attending the ERC to understand the EERA structure and chart their way through the ECER conference program.

 

The following themes are covered during the session in the breakout groups, for informal discussions pertaining with the experienced academics and the ERG co-convenor teams:

Doing Educational Research:
The session included representation from the Editors of ‘Doing Educational Research: Overcoming Challenges in Practice’. This SAGE/EERA book was developed as a result of feedback from PhD students and addresses challenges researchers have encountered in their projects. In this session, we heard accounts of how experienced researchers handled entry into the research field, how they discussed and managed research results that posed problems when accounted back to the field, and how doing research in a second language, i.e., English, creates a complex set of challenges from interpretation to the communication of your research.

Networks, Networking, and Development Opportunities:
Discussions around how emerging researchers could connect with experts in their field by identifying their network and attending their programs. Also discussed were opportunities and strategies for building professional networks during ECER and beyond.

Converting a conference paper into a publication:
Participants were given insights into the unique opportunities available to them after the Emerging Researchers’ Conference, to maximise their publication success. Also discussed were the multitude of possibilities that the ERC offers for emerging researchers to receive feedback on their work, for example, during and after their conference presentations.

ERG co-convenors:
Meet the Emerging Researchers’ Group co-convenors who shared their recent experiences as Early Career Researchers and provided helpful tips for making the most of the conference experience.

 

Moving forward, we hope to return to face-to-face ERCs, in which case we will offer the following dedicated opportunities for emerging researchers to network with those at all career levels, backgrounds, disciplines, and experiences:

    • First day of the ERC lunchtime session: ‘Making the most of the ERC and Getting to know EERA’
    • First afternoon of the ERC: ERG meeting, which is attended by numerous PhD supervisors
    • First evening of the ERC: Dedicated social activity for key ERC stakeholders at all career levels
    • Second day of the ERC lunchtime session: ‘Lunchbreak with Local Academics’

As such, colleagues are advised to engage with upcoming ERCs to avail the opportunities of these dedicated networking events.

I would like more information about research design issues and the European perspective – it is obviously an important agenda to seek transnational European mutual understanding and try to team up on important educational issues. However, we also need to talk about differences. Schools are not alike all over Europe. So many little things such as teacher-pupil-relations etc. need to be explored. How to balance quality standards and innovations, which go beyond standards? How to maintain, cultivate and acknowledge cultural and linguistic diversity beyond the Anglo-Saxon mainstream and the one-dimensional notion of the ‘international’? How can I find the space and time for a relaxing and inspiring intellectual experience?

 

Answer: At EERA, we couldn’t agree more about the need for time and space to further educational research, debate, and discussion for the benefit of society! This is at the heart of who we are and what we do, and is why we provide the various opportunities as outlined in answer to the first question in this blog.

The flagship world-renowned Annual European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) attracts about 3000 participants from more than 70 countries. It is the primary forum to meet and engage with researchers from a broad field of academic traditions, themes, and cultural backgrounds – 1000+ sessions across EERA’s 33 Networks are facilitated over the course of one week, and include a mixture of oral, video, paper, and poster presentations, Ignite Talks, panel discussions, symposia, research workshops, network meetings, social events and more – all designed to facilitate and share cutting edge research designs, projects, effective practices, information, debate, and discussions on the whole spectrum of educational topics.

To learn more about the ERG, ERC, and ECER, visit the EERA website, which is updated regularly with information, news, guidance, and job opportunities related to educational research: https://eera-ecer.de/  

Saneeya Qureshi

Saneeya Qureshi

Head of Researcher Development and Culture at the University of Liverpool, UK

Dr Saneeya Qureshi is the Link Convenor of the Emerging Researchers Group for the European Educational Research Association (EERA). She is also the Head of Researcher Development and Culture at the University of Liverpool, UK. She is responsible for the University’s provision for researchers at all stages of their careers. She manages activities related to the University's European Commission's HR Excellence in Research Award, liaising with stakeholders regarding Liverpool's commitment to the development of its Early Career Researchers.

She holds a PhD in Inclusive Education, and has over 15 years of experience in teaching and educational management in the UK and internationally.

Since 2015, Dr Qureshi has been a co-opted member of the EERA Council where she represents emerging researchers' interests. She leads an annual programme of EERA's developmental and capacity building activities for emerging researchers, including the annual Emerging Researchers Conference. She is also an Editorial Board member and a reviewer for several international educational journals. She can be found on Twitter 

Organising Global Conferences for Early Career Researchers

Organising Global Conferences for Early Career Researchers

Organising a global conference for Early Career Researchers isn’t a simple task. So we asked ERG  convenor Saneeya Qureshi to share her experiences in leading teams of ECRs on the design, organisation, and execution of two major conferences – the global EERA Emerging Researchers Conference (ERC 2021) and the UK National Postdoc Conference (NPDC21).

These conferences followed on the heels of the fourth year of the thriving Making an Impact Series, which she led for the University of Liverpool since 2018, and which has recently received the recognition of being shortlisted for the ‘Academic Engagement of the Year’ category in the prestigious UK PraxisAuril Knowledge Exchange Awards.

For each event, the ECR teams engaged 2000+ individuals across various associated activities and sessions. Each flagship activity is co-created and co-designed with a community of Early Career Researchers (ECRs) and internationally recognised thought leaders.

So, what’s the secret of organising successful global conferences for Early Career Researchers? For Saneeya, the skills learned during her PhD were critical.

 

Working to such a scale, on time and on budget, juggling coordination with multiple individuals who are sometimes spread across continents, demands an entirely unique set of academic competencies for which my PhD had nominally prepared me. However, having now been the lead organiser for these exponentially growing events since 2015, it’s fair to say that I am now an old hand at the helm. In this post, I share my top tips for designing, planning, and executing conferences for ECRs, which I think are worth particular consideration by any conference lead – however small or large-scale an event may be.

Reflect on your Intended Return on Investment

Using the base of genuine co-creation and co-design of activities with those from whom they are intended, i.e. ECRs, it is advisable to ensure that all aspects of planning and organisation from the outset take into account the post-event benefits to participants and to their organisations/ research associations. Focus on the short-term and long-term outputs, outcomes and impact upon ECRs’ practice, knowledge, skills, and attributes. Allow time during a programme (and encourage post-event protected time) for participants to have dedicated time and space for reflections during and after an event – you could even provide your own self-reflection logs. These are examples of how to ensure that you plan for the best possible return on investment (Bromley & Warnock, 2021).

Consider Value for Money (but don’t compromise on quality!)

This is especially important in the post-Covid context of reduced financial capacities for institutions and educational associations. I am very aware of the expected versus final development cost per participant for all the events I lead. This usually involves discussions with session speakers and facilitators about pre-and post-session open access resources, along with a fair bit of pre-event negotiation about sessions with number caps, to account for high no-show rates.

With the advent of the online-pivot arising from the pandemic, and future hybrid and hyflex working approaches (Gaebel et al., 2021), it is worth being even more mindful of the pressures on ECRs’ time and the resultant impact on their abilities and best-laid intentions to engage with planned activities. This means ensuring that the programme design respects participants’ time and meets their needs simultaneously.

Shine a Spotlight on Accessibility and Inclusion across Every Aspect of the Event

The NPDC21 has been hailed as a sector-leading example of how accessibility, inclusivity and equity of access and engagement were at the forefront of every single aspect of the participant experience. This accessibility ranges from pre-event communications and networking activities to the manner in which speakers introduced themselves during sessions, and the use of sign language interpreters and professional transcription as the norm, to the post-event resources and sharing of best practices.

It is worth noting the difference between equity and equality (Hardie, Fernando and Turbill, 2021) – and that inclusivity considerations must also be reflected in the profile of the speakers and facilitators who lead sessions, and in the pre-and post-event resources that participants can access freely at any time, for instance, the NPDC21 Virtual Delegate Pack.

Don’t Lose Sight of Networking and Engagement Opportunities

Related to the above point about how time-poor we increasingly find ourselves, it is important to consider the immeasurable hidden benefits of conferences that result from ECRs’ networking and engagement activities (Merga and Mason, 2020). This includes not just the provision of opportunities for ECRs to network with each other and senior academics (such as this ERC 2021 session), but also incentivised activities that happen during and post-events, such as the EERA Best Poster Award and the Best Paper Competition.

Prioritise the Human Welfare Aspect

Mental health and wellbeing should be a cornerstone of any ECR event.
Johnson and Weivoda (2021) affirm that the “need to elevate and support ECRs at all stages to ensure they have access to peer networks, supportive mentors, mental health resources, information about alternative career options, and appropriate career-stage opportunities.”
Building on the excellent tips offered by Byrom et al. (2020), for the NPDC21, we created a Wellbeing Oasis that was signposted before, during, and after the event. These self-led resources include guided meditations, yoga sessions, relaxing music, nature observation, and more, coupled with active wellbeing sessions that were specifically facilitated during the event, showing participants how we prioritised their overall sense of wellbeing. We even included aspects of wellbeing in the Conference Bingo activity to ensure this priority message was communicated in different ways.   

Listen to the Voices of the Community

It goes without saying for any activity, organisers must put the individuals for whom the event is meant at the heart of all the planning, design, and execution. As one example that informs this aspect, the UK has recently witnessed a burgeoning focus on nurturing positive and inclusive research cultures and research environments. Indeed, the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers provides a framework around aspects of employment, culture, and environment, professional and career development for researchers.

To further bolster community voices, each event was led by a steering group consisting of a cross-section of diverse disciplinary, career-level, and geographically spread representatives who meet regularly to feed into and support every stage of the event from conception to post-event reflections.

Expect the Unexpected

It goes without saying that for flagship events, as lead organiser, you should have a backup plan for your backup plan! For me, part of the preparations involved:

Comprehensive pre-event briefing sessions with key stakeholders, speakers, and the wider team behind-the-scenes, supplemented with notes and useful resources that would help them add value to the overall event.

A regularly updated FAQ section to empower participants to troubleshoot any issues themselves first. We signposted the NPDC21 FAQs in every single communication that went out before and during the event, whether via email, social media or in-person meetings and sessions. We did the same for EERA’s use of the OnAir Platform via an eminently visible and accessible ‘Help’ Button, through which participants could video call a support colleague, or simply type in their queries for an interactive chat.

For wholly online events, plan for backup platforms, in case the main platform goes down.

A constantly-manned helpdesk and email address, which has a pre-scheduled auto-response message answering commonly-asked questions, and flagging the FAQ page.

And Finally, Enjoy the Event! 

A well-designed and well-prepared event means less stress for you on the day, and more opportunities for you to engage with participants, whether in person (via Zoom or face to face), or via social media. By having the time to dip in and out of all the 100+ Zoom-based parallel sessions during the ERC 2021, and the 30+ sessions of the NPDC21, I was absolutely delighted to meet participants, chat with them and understand even more about what the event meant to them.

It was, for instance, through conversations such as these that I talked with 3 ECRs who were between 7-9 (yes 9!) months pregnant, and who were so happy that the online programmes meant they could participate. Some sessions were also chaired by ECRs who themselves has small babies in their laps – upon whom I was able to bestow the titles of ‘Cutest’ or ‘Most Adorable’ or ‘Most Endearing’ ‘Baby EERA Emerging Researcher Award’!  

The impact of a well-organised and well-designed event is inestimable – not only on the participants and key individual stakeholders – but on the overall national and international reputational gain for an institution or national association. Having an engaged and committed steering group that makes teamwork and organisation easy is half the battle won, and I am constantly reminded of this quote,

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” – Helen Keller

As with a PhD, the most challenging parts of making any activity or initiative go smoothly are always the ones that are most satisfying at the end. Or in the words of the renowned  American opera singer: 

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills

 

On a closing note, there is no better last word to be had than by the participants themselves across these events. The participant feedback for the NPDC21 can be found in this MURAL Board.

For the ERC 2021, feedback could be summarised in this testimonial,

 

“The Emerging Researchers’ Conference was useful in creating bridges and connections between students, researchers, and teachers, promoting open and critical reflections, discussions, and dialogues about educational research. I think that the experience of participating in ERC was very rewarding, since I was able to share my Ph.D. research work in a free and plural environment of critical reflection and collective debate.”

References and Further Reading

Bromley, T., & Warnock, L. (2021). The practice of the development of researchers: the “state-of-the-art”. Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Educationavailable at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/SGPE-12-2019-0084/full/html

(accessed 26th October 2021).

 

Byrom, N., Jackman, P., Zile, A., James, E., Tyrrell, K., Williams, C. J., Haughey, T., Sanderson, R., Priestley, M. and & Cogan, N. (2020). Call to Action: How can universities support doctoral and early career researchers during COVID-19 (and beyond!), available at: https://pure.ulster.ac.uk/ws/files/91095601/Article_Suggestions_for_Institutions_and_Supervisors_FINAL.pdf(accessed 26th October 2021).

 

Gaebel, M., Zhang, T., Stoeber, H., & Morrisroe, A. (2021). Digitally enhanced learning and teaching in European higher education institutions. Survey Reportavailable at: https://eua.eu/downloads/publications/digi-he survey report.pdf (accessed 26th October 2021).

 

Hardie, G., Fernando, M., & Turbill, J. (2021). Equity, Equality and Digital Inclusion: Evidence of practice from an Australian University. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2021, No. 1, p. 12677). Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510: Academy of Management, available at: https://journals.aom.org/doi/abs/10.5465/AMBPP.2021.12677abstract(accessed 26th October 2021).

 

Johnson, R. W., & Weivoda, M. M. (2021). Current Challenges for Early Career Researchers in Academic Research Careers: COVID‐19 and Beyond, available at: https://asbmr.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jbm4.10540 (accessed 26th October 2021).

 

Merga, M., & Mason, S. (2020). Early career researchers’ perceptions of the benefits and challenges of sharing research with academic and non-academic end-users. Higher Education Research & Development, 1-15, available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07294360.2020.1815662 (accessed 26th October 2021).

 

Vitae Concordat (2019), “Concordat to support the career development of researchers”, available at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/policy/concordat  (accessed 26th October 2021).

Saneeya Qureshi

Saneeya Qureshi

Head of Researcher Development and Culture at the University of Liverpool, UK

Dr Saneeya Qureshi is the Link Convenor of the Emerging Researchers Group for the European Educational Research Association (EERA). She is also the Head of Researcher Development and Culture at the University of Liverpool, UK. She is responsible for the University’s provision for researchers at all stages of their careers. She manages activities related to the University's European Commission's HR Excellence in Research Award, liaising with stakeholders regarding Liverpool's commitment to the development of its Early Career Researchers.

She holds a PhD in Inclusive Education, and has over 15 years of experience in teaching and educational management in the UK and internationally.

Since 2015, Dr Qureshi has been a co-opted member of the EERA Council where she represents emerging researchers' interests. She leads an annual programme of EERA's developmental and capacity building activities for emerging researchers, including the annual Emerging Researchers Conference. She is also an Editorial Board member and a reviewer for several international educational journals. She can be found on Twitter 

How to prepare for your first ERG conference

How to prepare for your first ERG conference

The Emerging Researchers’ Group holds an annual conference, the Emerging Researchers’ Conference (ERG), preceding the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). We asked Estella Ferraro for some tips on preparing and attending your first ERG Conference.

Going to an international conference for the first time can be overwhelming and exciting at the same time. It is an excellent opportunity to meet fellow colleagues from all over the world – I have met colleagues from Europe but also from Australia, Asia, South America, and Africa.  It also gives you feedback on your research from outside the own academic framework, which can really open your eyes to entirely new perspectives.

You can’t just show up on the first day of the conference. There are a number of preparations you should undertake, and some of them start months before the conference even takes place. Especially when planning to go to ECER for the first time, it is easy to lose track of the upcoming necessary deadlines. So here are some tips on how to prepare for your first (or second or third) ERG conference.

Deadlines and preparations in advance to the conference

The Proposal

Many reasons may have led you to want to attend the ERG conference. Perhaps the topic is of great interest to you, or you have always wanted to travel to the place ECER takes place that year, or maybe your supervisor asked you to come along. The first decision is if you wish to present yourself or if you are attending to watch, learn, and network. Both have their advantages: it can be very inspiring to participate for the first time without being nervous or stressed about your own presentation, especially if your funding permits that.

On the other hand, I would suggest that if you have a chance to present you should go for it! The ERG conference is a great place to practice your presentation skills and get helpful feedback on your research in an extremely friendly atmosphere on an international scale.

Submission usually starts in December before the conference and ends in January. You can find the current deadline here. This timeline is something you should keep in mind and plan for so you can write the proposal and hand it in in time.

Funding

With that in mind, you might also consider funding opportunities. There are many opportunities for travel grants and funding you can apply for (from EERA, your home country, or home university). It is worth researching the conditions and deadlines for funding opportunities so that you don’t miss a chance! Make sure you can get all necessary documents in time, especially if you need something from others who might take some time such as a recommendation letter.

Accommodation, Visa and Flights

Obviously, this won’t apply if the conference takes place digitally. In April review results are usually announced, and this is when things get real! It can be advisable to book accommodation even before results are announced if you have an option to cancel free of charge. ECER is a huge conference and often in small cities so affordable accommodation can be booked out quickly. Don’t leave this to the last minute. Similarly, if you need to apply for a visa, check the deadlines so you don’t miss anything.

Deadlines and Preparations Closer to the Conference

Preparing your Presentation

Once time draws closer to the conference, you should start preparing your paper if you have been accepted to present one. Here it is important that you don’t overload your presentation as timing can be tricky. Participants often want to include too much information, while often it’s better to keep it simple and clear. Don’t be scared about presenting in another language.  Your English doesn’t have to be perfect and, in my experience, everyone at the ERG conference is really helpful even if you forget how to say something. If you have questions on your research or about something you’re stuck with, it’s fine to ask for that in the discussion too, so that you can really get the most from your experience and presentation at ECER.

Scheduling your conference

Look at the schedule and think about what interests you, and what you want to get out of the conference. Be prepared to pick out some sessions in advance but also accept that sometimes you might end up spontaneously changing your mind. Don’t overschedule yourself Leave some space for networking opportunities and meeting other academics as well.

Finally, all I can say is the emerging researcher conference is an amazing platform to learn, engage and network, so: Enjoy your time there!

Further Information

Find out more about the ERG Conference, including deadlines, programme, and accepted presentation formats on the EERA website.

Want to know what to expect? Have a look at the previous ECER and ERG conferences and check out our YouTube channel for videos of the ECER keynote sessions in 2020. 

Dr Estella Ferraro

Dr Estella Ferraro

Dr Estella Ferraro (née Hebert) is a Post-Doc researcher at the Goethe University in Frankfurt at the chair for theory and history of education. She is also a co-convenor for the Emerging Researchers Group and for Network 6 Open Learning: Media, Environments, and Cultures of the European Educational Research Association (EERA). Her research interests focus on questions of media education including teaching and learning with new media, datafication and big data, digital surveillance, identity in the light of personal data, and questions of digital ethics. Her PhD thesis published under the title of „Willful Blindness – on the relationship of identity, agency and personal data“ exemplifies the intersection of a bildungs-theoretical perspective with post-digital theories that characterise Dr Ferraro as a researcher.

She has over six years of experience in teaching and researching media education and has worked and studied internationally. For more information on her research and work go to: https://www.uni-frankfurt.de/55826755/Estella_Hebert