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The Value of Early Career Workshops

Post by Kimberly Jamie

On Tuesday 18th June, I went to an event for early career researchers (ECRs) organised by the British Sociological Association’s Early Career Forum. I’m not an early career researcher anymore but I was invited to sit on a panel to chat with PhD students and ECRs about “doing” academia.

This wasn’t an event to share research findings or pitch a paper. It was, instead, a supportive space to talk about academic life and the particular challenges that ECRs can face when trying to navigate it.

There’s a risk that events like this turn into a pity party. After all, we’re all under a lot of pressure in academia and being offered a platform to complain about that can feel like an opportunity to vent some frustrations. However, the organiser (Dr Sarah Burton, City University- thanks Sarah!) was able to keep the atmosphere light, supportive, and positive. That’s not to say there wasn’t some complaining but, mostly, the day offered ways to support each other and made clear that ECRs (well, any of us!) aren’t alone in the fug of academic stress.

The day started with a writing workshop.

Unlike traditional academic writing workshops, though, we didn’t focus on impact factors, rigour, significance, rankings, citations, or metrics. Instead, we thought about what motivates us to write, what keeps us writing, and what stops us from writing. To do this we used buttons as an example of what the facilitator, Dr Viccy Adams, called “tethers”, things that keep us at the desk, keep us tapping those keys; as long as the button is on the desk, we’re writing. Viccy also got us writing in different ways, through reflection and poetry, to show the value of relaxing and letting your voice speak for itself.

In the afternoon, there were two panel sessions. The first, which I was on along with Drs Vikki Turbine and Radhika Govinda, focused on navigating academic life. Rather than repeating the well-worn mantras about publishing, presenting, getting grant income, we instead questioned metrics, and thought about how to do the work we are passionate about while also balancing performance pressures. The second, with Prof Sue Scott, Dr Aarti Ratna and Prof Kate Sang, panel followed nicely and focused on how to make the transition from PhD to post-doctoral early career researcher and beyond. This panel advocated for kindness, support, and mentorship.

Though the day wasn’t really aimed at me because I’m not an ECR anymore, I came away feeling refreshed, motivated and supported; I’m now telling anyone who’ll listen about the value of getting together with a few nice people and just chatting about academic life, support, kindness and buttons!!

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