A Transformative Journey: Nurturing Emerging Researchers at the European Conference for Educational Research.

A Transformative Journey: Nurturing Emerging Researchers at the European Conference for Educational Research.

EERA is celebrating 30 years in 2024, and as part of our anniversary celebrations, we have invited people who have been at the heart of the association to share their memories and reflections. In a series of blog posts, which will run throughout 2024, we will share those precious memories, from the people who helped foster the global EERA community.

In this blog post, Professor Fiona Hallett looks back on her 18 years of engagement with EERA and ECER, and what makes this community of researchers so unique.

In the realm of academic conferences, the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) stands out as a unique and transformative experience, especially for international students. My first encounter with ECER in 2006 marked the beginning of a journey that not only shaped my early career but also fostered a sense of intellectual camaraderie that set it apart from other conferences.

As an early career researcher navigating the landscape of academic associations, I was fortunate that ECER was my first exposure to this world. Little did I know that this event would not only broaden my horizons but also provide me with a mentorship experience that would become central to my academic growth.

What makes EERA and ECER so special

The distinctiveness of ECER lies not just in its academic sessions but also in the supportive atmosphere fostered by the organizers. During my first presentation, the session chair, doubling as a mentor, played a crucial role in creating an inclusive environment. The network meetings, characterized by their inviting nature, quickly drew me in, prompting a desire to actively contribute to the initiatives established by others.

In 2008, I assumed the role of the convenor for the Emerging Researchers’ Network, succeeding a predecessor whom I had the privilege to shadow. Professor Ian Menter, my appointed mentor during this transition, guided me with wisdom and generosity. The experience of taking over as the main convenor opened other doors, leading me to become a Council Member of the European Educational Research Association (EERA).

The collaborative ethos within EERA extended beyond administrative roles. Other networks offered support across a range of activities from reviewing papers and organizing sessions for early career researchers (including insightful sessions led by the Editors of BERJ); this support was invaluable. The intellectual generosity displayed by colleagues at EERA is a distinctive aspect that I have not encountered in other associations or conferences.

My journey with EERA and ECER

EERA has, undeniably, been pivotal in the trajectory of my academic career. From being an invited tutor at summer schools hosted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the University of Hamburg, to being invited discussants at sessions at the ECER 2023 conference, the opportunities for growth have been immeasurable.

Reflecting on the past 18 years, the wealth of opportunities and the bonds forged with colleagues and friends stand out as a testament to the unique value of my engagement with EERA. The association continues to be part of my academic development, allowing me to contribute as a judge for the Best Paper Competition for the Emerging Researchers’ Group. This role enables me to support the next generation of researchers and assist emerging researchers at my own university in organizing their own research events.

In essence, the journey with ECER has been transformative, offering not only academic enrichment but also a sense of belonging within a community of scholars. As I continue to engage with EERA, I am reminded that this intellectual journey is a shared one, and the generosity of spirit within this community is something that I hope will endure for years to come.

Professor Fiona Hallett

Professor Fiona Hallett

Associate Dean of the Graduate School, Edge Hill University, UK

Professor Fiona Hallett is the Associate Dean of the Graduate School, Edge Hill University, UK. Professor Hallett is also Joint Editor of the British Journal of Special Education.

A Transformative Journey: Nurturing Emerging Researchers at the European Conference for Educational Research.

In our blog series celebrating 30 years of EERA, Professor Fiona Hallett reflects on the sense of belonging within a supportive community of scholars.

EERA and ECER – nostalgic reflections of a past love affair

In this blog post, Dr Peter Gray takes a rather light-hearted yet nostalgic look back over the meetings and encounters of EERA and ECER, and wonders whether the spark of a past love affair can be rekindled.

Maturing an association – EERA turns 30

For our series on 30 years of EERA, Associate Professor Emeritus Lejf Moos reflects on his involvement in EERA and ECER, and his time as EERA President from 2009 to 2014.

30 years of EERA – It’s the people who make EERA

For our series on the 30th anniversary of EERA, Dr Jani Ursin, reflects on his experiences as a Networks’ Representative on the EERA council, and the inclusive community of researchers he has engaged with over the years. #30YearsEERA #EdSci

Beyond Research: The transformative power of the Emerging Researcher’s Conference

Beyond Research: The transformative power of the Emerging Researcher’s Conference

EERA’s Best Paper Award is part of EERA’s strategy to promote emerging researchers and support high-quality research in the field of education. The award is specifically designed to motivate young researchers to turn their conference presentations into full papers suitable for publication in research journals.

We asked the winner of the EERA Best Paper Award, Aigul Rakisheva, to tell us about presenting her research at ERC 2022, the invitation to participate in the Best Paper Award (BPA), and the effect it had on her career and her life.

Participation in ERC 2022

The process of writing the manuscript began long before the competition. Initially, I prepared an application to participate in the conference, which resulted in two blind peer-review feedback. I am thankful for the feedback from the peer reviewers, which proved to be instrumental in effectively preparing my presentation. The feedback primarily focused on clarifying aspects of the research methodology, the conceptual framework, and adding a final section that highlights the significance of my work in the European context. While the overall feedback did not require significant changes to my work, it provided essential guidance as I continued to develop the paper based on my research.

Subsequently, I presented my research at the ERC 2022 conference. The disparity in educational outcomes between urban and rural students remains a pressing challenge not only in my home country but also in various regions, including Europe. The study aimed to explore the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in addressing this issue. By investigating the 2018 PISA data, the research sought to identify how ICT impacts Kazakhstani students’ academic performance in Reading, Math, and Science, potentially bridging the urban-rural education gap. This research adopted a fully quantitative approach, utilizing data from the 2018 PISA assessment, which includes a diverse sample of Kazakhstani students from both urban and rural schools. The statistical analysis revealed that access to ICT resources in schools is vital in improving students’ learning outcomes. Additionally, students’ interest in ICT and their perceived competence in using ICT are significant factors contributing to their academic success.

An invitation to participate in the Best Paper Award

About a month after presenting my work, I received a call inviting me to participate in the Best Paper Award (BPA) competition. Initially, I felt concerned that my manuscript was not fully prepared, and I doubted if I could meet the short time frame and the rigorous review process. However, after careful consideration, I realized that participating in the competition would be beneficial for several reasons. Firstly, the set time frame would motivate me to expedite the completion of my manuscript. The additional expert review would be invaluable in improving my paper, making it more robust and suitable for submission to a reputable journal for consideration.

Additionally, selected authors can submit their work published in the international peer-reviewed European Educational Research Journal (EERJ) and Studia Paedagogica journals which I believe to be a great opportunity. These platforms offer scholars an excellent opportunity to share their findings on local or national European studies, further amplifying the impact and relevance of their research within the scholarly community.

The process

Participation in the competition involves a months-long journey, during which emerging scholars tirelessly work on their articles, adhering to deadlines. During this process, I sought formative feedback, further enhancing my work and providing clear direction for improvement. I also engaged in discussions with my co-author Dr. O. Toskovic, which proved immensely beneficial in refining my ideas, strengthening my arguments, and ultimately producing a more polished and impactful paper. The iterative nature of incorporating feedback has been crucial not only for my paper but in my growth as a researcher and has allowed me to continually strive for improvement.

Winning the Best Paper Award

Winning the Best Paper Award increased the visibility of the study within the academic community. This award not only acknowledged the significance of our work but also drew attention from researchers and other emerging scholars. This recognition has paved the way for further dissemination and opportunities for my research to make a broader impact.

I encourage future participants in the Best Paper Award to embrace the spirit of competition and rise above any self-doubt that may hinder their progress. While it is natural to have uncertainties about the quality of the work, remember that what truly matters is the invaluable feedback you receive and how you utilize it to fuel continuous improvement. Embarking on the journey toward excellence entails an unwavering commitment to growth and lifelong learning.

Key Messages

  • Engaging with ERGs/ERCs provides valuable networking and collaborative opportunities with fellow researchers and education experts.
  • Participating in ERGs/ERCs can enhance the visibility of researchers’ work, potentially leading to broader dissemination and increased recognition.
  • Involvement in ERGs/ERCs cultivates better communication skills and boosts emerging researchers’ confidence as they interact with peers and present their work to diverse audiences.
  • ERGs/ERCs create a nurturing environment that encourages constructive feedback, paving the way for ongoing research enhancement and continuous improvement.

Read more

Aigul Rakisheva

Aigul Rakisheva

Third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, USA

Aigul Rakisheva is a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, USA.

She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership Department with Global Studies in Education concentration. Aigul is actively engaged in research and teaching activities at UIUC.Her research focuses on Virtual Exchange, Information and Communication Technologies, and Initial Teacher Education, contributing to various research projects in these areas.

 For more information about Aigul’s academic work and research interests, please visit her university researcher profile: https://blogs.illinois.edu/view/8837/329025165


Be different at ECER 2023 Glasgow with SERA-ECR

Be different at ECER 2023 Glasgow with SERA-ECR

The Scottish Educational Research Association Early Career Researchers (SERA-ECR) invites attendees of ECER in Glasgow to participate in a fun and thought-provoking video series.

We asked Hermione Miao and Carrie Walton, SERA-ECR network co-convenors to tell us more about their August action plan at ECER.

The SERA Early-Career Researcher (ECR) Network supports ECRs in Scotland to develop their capacity and capabilities as researchers within a supportive network and to share their research and connect with colleagues in education and the broader academic community.

The network co-convenor (Hermione Miao and Carrie Walton) organise monthly SERA_ECR events, currently featuring:

  • E for Edit your writing,
  • C for Conversations with scholars,
  • R for Reading club.

As a SERA Network, we have started making short videos with scholars talking about their research in plain words, making abstract concepts more accessible. We think this is a good way of sparking conversation, making connections and learning more about educational research.

We are now proposing to continue this short video series at ECER 2023, Glasgow (21-25 August 2023) as a fringe event.

An invitation to meet us at ECER Glasgow

Where to meet us

Our proposal is that during the networking time over tea/coffee breaks at ECER, we will take the opportunity to record some short video interviews. To gather questions for the interviews from conference delegates and ECRs we have developed a padlet that is now open for your questions.

How long would it take?

If you are willing to spend 10 minutes in conversation with the SERA_ECR network during ECER, please contact us, either in advance or at the conference. Or if we approach you for an interview at the conference, please, say yes!

It won’t be too formal, and it is not a research project, we just want to make a short video series, so that more people who are interested in education and educational research can hear directly from educators and educational researchers themselves.

In recognition of your contribution, and to get an idea of the international background of delegates, we will invite you to engage with the interactive posters we made for ECER. The first collaborative poster has a colourful world map and Scotland map for you to make connections between your place(s) and Glasgow.

The second collaborative poster invites you to reflect on “the value of diversity”.

Follow us on Twitter @SERA_ECR to track this fringe event.

As a network, we are interested to see how this fringe event unfolds and the potential connections it may create.  See you at ECER Glasgow!

Hermione Miao

Hermione Miao

PhD Student

Hermione Miao (she/they) is studying for her PhD at the University of Stirling, and is nearing the finishing line to submit her thesis this autumn. Her research is about curriculum making and teacher agency. She used to teach geography in Chinese schools and international schools. She is a certified interpreter, with a passion for bridging for intercultural conversations. Since February 2023, she has started a Mapping Inspirational Women initiative. She likes organising events to connect people from diverse backgrounds and sustain these connections to improve the visibility of diverse cultures.
Carrie Walton

Carrie Walton

PhD Student

Carrie Walton is in her final year of a PhD at the University of Sunderland. Carrie also works as a Special Projects Lead for NHS Education for Scotland and is researching the professional practice of educators in the NHS. She is an avid collector of qualifications and a passionate devotee of lifelong learning and the pursuit of personal and professional development.

SERA – Early Career Researchers Network

The SERA Early-Career Researchers (ECR) Network supports ECRs to develop their capacity and capabilities as researchers within a supportive network and to share their research and connect with colleagues in education and the broader academic community. The network reflects on education within and beyond Scotland therefore we welcome ECRs from within and outside Scotland

Our ECR network includes:

  • Postgraduate students (PhD and Masters)
  • Educational practitioners researching any area of Scottish education
  • Postdoctoral researchers within 5 years (excluding career breaks/maternity or paternity leave) of completing their PhDs
  • Researchers/practitioners new to the field of educational research

Network activities:

  • Estelle Brisard Award: The prize is awarded for the best research paper written by an early career researcher based in Scotland and is presented annually at the SERA conference.
  • Writing workshops
  • Conversations with scholars (short video series)
  • Collaboration with other ECR networks (e.g. EERA and BERA).
  • Reading club (followed by conversational events with authors/editors)
  • Rapid-thesis competition (masters and doctoral students) – prize awarded for most effective presentation of dissertation/thesis in 3 minutes
  • Seminars and workshops in collaboration with members, other SERA networks, and external educational partners (e.g. ECR networks in other associations).
  • Networking events at the annual SERA conference

If you want to be involved, please join our mailing list  or contact the convenors:


Hermione (Xin Miao), PhD candidate, University of Stirling

Carrie Walton, PhD candidate, University of Sunderland; works for NHS Education  Scotland

Our general contact email is: ecrsera@gmail.com

Other blog posts on similar topics:

Fostering collaborative educational research: An EERA Network case study

Fostering collaborative educational research: An EERA Network case study

The book ‘Research and Schooling in Rural Europe: An Engagement with Changing Patterns of Education, Space and Place’ by Gristy, Hargreaves and Kučerová, was published in 2020, with seminal chapters on educational research schooling in rural Europe. It was quickly and widely reviewed and praised. According to Redford(2021, p 633), it is a book ‘that sets a new standard for educational research and schooling in rural Europe.

This book is a hugely important contribution to the field. Its development and success are a direct result of collaboration through an EERA network. The book includes contributions from a wide range of authors from across Europe, for some their first publication in English.

We asked one of the book editors, Cath Gristy, and Link Convener of Network 14, Laurence Lasselle, to explain the process. They explained how at each stage of the book’s journey, the editors and authors made excellent use of the resources available within EERA (European Education Research Association) and its networks: Network Members, ECERs (the European Conference on Educational Research) and Network Funding.

Context – EERA Network 14 and ECER

As with all EERA Networks, EERA Network 14 (Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research) fosters communications between researchers and aims to facilitate collaborative research. Its major activity always takes place during the European Conference for Education Research (ECER), organised annually by EERA.

ECER is organised around 34 EERA Networks. Researchers from across the world submit their proposals to EERA Networks in the form of academic papers, symposia, posters etc. Proposals are then reviewed by reviewers within each network. Accepted proposals are subsequently presented at the annual conference. The format of the conference offers plenty of networking opportunities, as it has a packed programme of sessions of 90 minutes, breaks for tea and coffee and lunches and other social events, meetings with publishers and Network meetings.

Network 14 is one of the original EERA networks [1]. It was created by Dr Linda Hargreaves and Prof Rune Kvalsund in 1995. A group of European researchers started to share interests in the role and the place of small (or rural) schools in educational research. Over the years, the study of the relationship between school and community and place-based education would become one of the most popular thematic streams. More and more conference proposals regarding the topic were submitted to ECER, leading to more ECER sessions and more participants. An early collaborative work of the Network stream can be found in the special issue of the International Journal of Educational Research in 2009.

 In 2012, Cath Gristy – one of the current fourteen EERA Network 14 co-convenors, attended her first EERA conference and participated in EERA Network 14 sessions. Here she met a group of researchers, including Linda, Rune and Silvie Rita, who shared an interest in education in rural places.

Initial concept developed at the EERA network-funded seminar 2013 in Prague

Every year, EERA finances various projects fostering Network activities, including researchers’ collaboration and publication. This NW14 group set out to begin a publishing project.

With an awareness of the importance of including the growing number of researchers from Eastern Europe, they successfully bid for EERA network funding to finance a seminar in Prague in 2013.

The group of seminar attendees (which included colleagues from Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia) worked together on a plan to promote research and publications in the field. Indeed, it was clear that there was a significant body of research work on education in rural places from Eastern Europe that was not available in English. One reason for this was the financial challenges many researchers were facing. By the end of the seminar, the plan for collaborative work coalesced around a collective book.

An Informal Meeting within ECER 2015 Budapest

The outline proposal was developed by Cath, Linda and Silvie Rita at an informal meeting of the group who met with other international rural educational researchers from Canada and Australia while participating in ECER 2015 (Budapest). The goal of the proposal was to gather a unique set of European scholars from a range of social science disciplines, including education, geography, pedagogy, psychology, and sociology, who would elaborate on the context and challenges faced by rural (or small) schools and their communities in several European countries, including the Eastern and Central European countries.

The book proposal to the US publisher IAG (Information Age Publishing) ‘Current research in rural and regional education’ Series, managed by Michael Corbett and Karen Eppley in 2016, was successful.

Further development of the proposal at ECER 2016 Dublin

ECER 2016 (Dublin) offered the opportunity for the three book editors (Cath Gristy, Linda Hargreaves and Silvie Rita Kučerová) to meet some of the book contributors and to give an oral report of the book progression at the Network meeting taking place during the conference (cf. the Network report).

 At the same conference, Cath and Linda convened a two-part symposium entitled ‘Educational Research and Schooling in Rural Europe: An Engagement with Changing Patterns of Education, Space and Place’, focusing on a series of case studies located in Norway, Serbia, Czechia, Finland, and England., The three editors met and supported the contributing authors to ensure the good progress of each chapter. Contributions were now covering 11 countries: Austria, Czechia, Finland, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Second successful EERA Network Funding in 2017

The editors were keen to support authors who were publishing in English for the first time. All contributors had published their research findings in national academic journals or reports and/or regularly presented their contributions at English-speaking conferences, including ECER. However, some had not contributed to academic journals or books published in English for academic purposes.

The three editors were successful in their bid for Network Funding to support the book publication in 2017. Their application was in the spirit of Network 14 and EERA. It ensured the best development of a community of scholars from various fields and different countries, including enhancing their writing skills. It fostered scholarly collaboration and the dissemination of high-quality research.

After the Publication: Book reviews and Participation Activity in Network 14

By 2019, the 395-page, 16-chapter book was ready for publication. It was now time to make it known to the community outside Network 14.

 The editors approached key international journals in the field as well as potential reviewers, all with links to Network 14 and/or ECER. Within 18 months, six reviews – all recommending the book – were published: Hernan Cuervo for the Journal of Research in Rural Education, Paul Flynn for the British Journal of Educational Studies, Rebecca Ipe for the International Review of Education, Robyn Henderson for the Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, Laurence Lasselle for the Center for Educational Policies Journal and Morag Redford for the Journal of Education for Teaching.

Contributors continue to be active within Network 14 by submitting proposals to ECERs, and one of them joined the Network 14 co-convenors team in 2021!

Tips for publishing within the EERA Network

  1. Engage with a community of scholars within an EERA Network and beyond
  2. Build the community around a strong and topical idea
  3. Submit symposium proposal to ECER
  4. Identify publication opportunities
  5. Look for EERA funding opportunities
  6. Disseminate the publication
Cath Gristy

Cath Gristy

University of Plymouth (UK), Plymouth Institute of Education

Cath is a Lecturer at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, and her current research focuses on issues of inclusion and education in rural contexts. She is one of the co-conveners of EERA Network 14 (Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research).

Laurence Lasselle

Laurence Lasselle

Senior Lecturer, University of St Andrews (UK), School of Management

Laurence is a Senior Lecturer at the University of St Andrews in the United Kingdom, and her current research focuses on widening participation in Scottish Higher Education with a particular focus on access to Higher Education for Scottish rural and remote communities. She is the link convener of EERA Network 14.

Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading


Cath Gristy, University of Plymouth, United Kingdom, Linda Hargreaves, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, and Silvie R. Kučerová, Jan Evangelista Purkyně University, Czechia, Educational Research and Schooling in Rural Europe: An Engagement with Changing Patterns of Education, Space and Place, Information Age Publishing, INC, 2020; 406 pp, ISBN: 978-1-64802-163-3.

A volume in Current Research in Rural and Regional Education, Series Editors: Michael Corbett, University of Tasmania, Australia and Karen Eppley, Penn State University, USA, Series Editors

Link to book: https://www.infoagepub.com/products/Educational-Research-and-Schooling-in-Rural-Europe


Hernan Cuervo (2021) Book review of “Educational research and schooling in rural Europe: An engagement with changing patterns of education, space and place.”, Journal of Research in Rural Education, 37:5, 1–5, DOI:10.26209/jrre3705 

Paul Flynn (2022) Education research and schooling in rural Europe. An engagement with changing patterns of education, space and place, British Journal of Educational Studies, 70:2, 261-262, DOI:10.1080/00071005.2021.1978773

Rebecca Ipe (2021) Educational research and schooling in rural Europe: An engagement with changing patterns of education, space and place, International Review of Education, 67, 715–717, DOI:10.1007/s11159-021-09916-8

Robyn Henderson (2022) Book Review: Gristy, C., Hargreaves, L., & Kučerová, S. R. (Eds.). (2020). Educational Research and Schooling in Rural Europe: An Engagement with Changing Patterns of Education, Space, and Place. Information Age Publishing, Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 32:2, 151–153, DOI: 10.47381/aijre.v32i2.343

Laurence Lasselle (2021) Book Review: Gristy, C., Hargreaves, L., & Kučerová, S. R. (Eds.). (2020). Educational Research and Schooling in Rural Europe: An Engagement with Changing Patterns of Education, Space, and Place. Information Age Publishing, CEPS Journal, 11 (Special Issue), DOI:10.26529/cepsj.1301

Morag Redford (2021) Educational research and schooling in rural Europe: an engagement with changing patterns of education, space and place, Journal of Education for Teaching, 47:4, 632-633, DOI: 10.1080/02607476.2021.1928482

EERA networks:

[1] Maria P. FigueiredoIan GrosvenorMarit Honerød Hoveid, and Natasha MacNab (2014) The dynamic and changing development of EERA networks, European Educational Research Journal 2014 13:4404-417, DOI: 10.2304/eerj.2014.13.4.404

 You can find other blog posts from the EERA Network 14 here.

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.”

Other blog posts on similar topics:

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