Challenges and opportunities for Early Career Researchers

Last year we organized an online early career event during the ECSCW 2021 conference. The event was attended by approximately 20 people, in addition to the three of us who organized it. The focus for the meeting was to provide an introduction to EUSSET to our new members of the community. We also wanted to discuss current and planned EUSSET activities and services for early career researchers.

We dedicated the last part of the event to collecting feedback from the participants. We divided ourselves into three groups and worked on a Miro board to comment on existing and planned activities. Here we will try to give an overview of some of the topics we discussed.

Community building under pandemic

Some PhD students started their studies more or less when the pandemic started, which is a bit frustrating. One of the main joys of being a PhD student is to be able to travel and meet new people and network with future colleagues. Such get-together meetings are much more important for early career researchers, who normally lack an extensive network.

Some of the participants in our event talked about taking part in online events such as speed-dating. There were however mixed opinions about how useful these events are due to their lack of real face-to-face contact. Some already participate in local events such as academic paper development workshops. But even these local events might have to be done online due to the pandemic. Therefore, many feel isolated and unmotivated.

There were some suggestions to make local events such as seminar series more visible in the EUSSET online community so that researchers may come and present their work. Another suggestion was that EUSSET members could get together and co-organize an international CSCW lecture series. This can be an informal arena for learning something but also for networking.

Merging online and offline collaboration

It helps to already know the people you meet online, and having worked with them for some time, online or offline. One participant talked about how it was to work on a research project with other more senior people. This she found was useful – even though it was purely online – mainly because she knew the people she was working with. Issues of trust, getting to know others gradually, and developing working relationships seem to be important. These are also the exact aspects of collaboration that need a mixture of online and offline meetings. Online on-off networking events are useful but should have a clear value, e.g. finding co-authors for a future paper, or organizing some research-related event. 

Support from an established and well-known community such as EUSSET can mean a lot to find exactly the right person to talk to.

Match making in specialized and narrow areas of research can sometimes be difficult and time-consuming, especially when one is working with wicked problems. There are often very few people in the world who work exactly on the theme of your PhD thesis! This might result in getting professionally isolated. Support from an established and well-known community such as EUSSET can mean a lot to find exactly the right person to talk to.

Support from senior academics is deeply appreciated, even when talking about early career! There is a need for an online network, but this network requires involvement from not only early career researchers but also seniors. Subject area experts and experts who can help with reflection on methods are crucial to create a feeling of value in online networking.

We also discussed that transitions—e.g. from PhD to Postdoc—can usually feel abrupt. People who go through transitions can find themselves alone, without people around them to discuss and exchange at the level they were used to with e.g. their supervisors.

When travelling will be possible again after the pandemia, we will need to find a good balance between online and offline/on-site interactions. Sustainability and travel time are issues that need to be taken into account.

Academic mobility

In our relatively small community there often are only a few or even no experts in our vicinity. Sometimes we need to find peers elsewhere, and sometimes we need to talk to others other than our own supervisor. Even though the pandemic has made academic mobility challenging, being able to visit other institutions for longer or shorter periods of time is important for inspiration and new ideas, and for receiving feedback on your own research. We envisage that once the pandemic is under control, academic mobility will increase and reach pre-pandemic intensivity. 

Moving is often challenging. For some of the participants, mobility was difficult due to family issues. Who can go? What about the childrens’ school? What about taxes? Who pays for extra expenses? Some institutions might have local resources to help, but most don’t.

Several participants expressed that a map of EUSSET members’ sites and their research fields would be helpful for increasing visibility and awareness, and would lower the threshold and the hurdle to get in contact for arranging visits. Long-term (months) and short-term (day/s) visits are all interesting. Short stays could be arranged easily and e.g. be linked to regular lab talks. Even a couple of days visiting a new lab can be very inspiring and a life-changing experience!

We note that there are different practices and policies in our community regarding academic mobility for PhD students. In some institutions this is a pre-planned and funded part of a PhD study. In other institutions the PhD candidate is in charge of arranging the timing and funds. This is definitely an area where our senior members can play an active role, i.e. facilitating mobility among PhD students. 

Long-term (months) and short-term (day/s). short stays could be linked to collaborative projects. A good tip is to remember to add a dedicated budget and associated activities for researcher mobility when applying for new projects! Besides ECSCW and other more formal conferences, it would be nice to have other, local and reachable (by train) networking events.

Summer school

Most early career researchers who have attended the summer school have good memories of it! Here are a couple of suggestions that might help to make the EUSSET summer school even better: 

  • Early career researchers—e.g. Postdocs—could serve as contributors to the summer school.
  • We should tackle the problem of too many applicants for the places available: two week summer school or a summer and a winter school?
  • Family-related support during the summer school needs to be considered – e.g., for single young mothers who might want to attend.
  • COVID-19 impacts on next summer school and future summer schools – regarding number of attendees, specific regulations, support with visa, etc.

Inclusiveness

Finally, the inclusion aspect cannot be emphasized enough! Inclusion is important, so that everyone—regardless of their seniority/juniority and also the people “in the middle”—can get involved and contribute to the community! Inclusion could be raised as a dedicated area within EUSSET, not only isolated to early career.

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Babak Farshchian is an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology ((NTNU) in the lovely town of Trondheim approximately half the way north of Norway. At NTNU he teaches research methods and software engineering. His research interests are currently related to platformization processes in the public sector, in particular in the area of healthcare and social/welfare services. He is also interested in participation and empowerment processes in digitalization. He is a member of the EUSSET steering committee where he is currently helping develop early career services with a focus on academic mobility. You can find out more about him in his NTNU profile page.

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Fabiano Pinatti is a Research Associate at the Institute of Information Systems and New Media and Deputy Director of the Chair of Computer Supported Cooperative Work, both at the University of Siegen. He currently serves as EUSSET Community Building Chair and Competence Network Co-Chair. His interests span Human-Computer Interaction, Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Practice-centred Computing, Software Accessibility, Cyber-Physical Systems, Mobile and Nomadic Work Practices, and Informatics in Education. He has published several articles on related topics in prestigious international conferences and journals and has been teaching related subjects since early in 2004.

Claudia Müller

Claudia Müller is an assistant professor currently at University of Siegen, doing research in the field of health & ageing with focus on inclusive, participatory, and practice-based design.

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