Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Why would you join an ECR Network? (Compiled by Tseen Khoo)

Photo by Christian Bisbo Johnsen | unsplash.com
The first Early Career Researcher (ECR) Network conference took place last year. 

It was organised by a volunteer crew of La Trobe ECRs, who hatched the event plan and ran with it! The conference was supported by the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and the Research Education and Development (RED) team. 

With more than 60 delegates, and key research leaders featured on the program, it was an important, fun event that galvanised a lot of activity and focus for the campus’ ECRs. You can read up on what happened at the 2015 ECR conference (Storify collection).

One of the best things that I saw before, during and after the event, was the growing camaraderie of the conference committee, most of whom were total strangers to one another before working on organising the event. 

And remember that these are ECRs we’re talking about: researchers who are early in their careers, keen to make their mark, focused on getting all their teaching, research and service activities happening and balanced. That makes them even more busy than normal busy. 

So, why would they put their hands up to be a part of the ECR Network and event committee?

I’m a huge advocate of doing things because you can, so I was curious about how others felt on this score. 

I asked this year’s ECR committee why they got involved, and compiled their responses for this post. The reflections they’ve shared below reinforce the value of expanding collegial horizons and stepping out of our institutional silos. 

‘Veteran’ ECR Network committee member Jillian Garvey (DECRA, Humanities and Social Sciences) has been a part of it since 2013. She was on maternity leave for most of last year. She says:  
I saw it as a great opportunity for La Trobe ECRs from different disciplines and campuses to come together to support and inspire each other, share ideas and experiences, and potentially forge new research partnerships. I believe we achieved those outcomes with the inaugural conference in 2015.  
Personally, I have enjoyed getting to know the ECRs on the committee, have learnt valuable skills in conference organisation, and have had an insight into how the university works. It has certainly been a worthwhile experience, and one that I would encourage other ECRs to considering volunteering for if the opportunity arises.
Marcella Carragher (Research fellow, Community and Clinical Allied Health) joined the committee last year, and fits in her ECR work around a heavy schedule of clinical visits and data collection. She says: 
Being involved in the ECR network and conference has proven to be an effective way of expanding my network across the University. It is too easy to immerse yourself in your own research and for your networking opportunities to reflect an ever narrowing focus. Through the network, I have met other ECRs who I would not have met in the ordinary course of my work – I enjoy hearing about their research, finding the commonalities in our work or research approach, or just marvelling at the differences in how we think.  
Building a broad network of connections can only be beneficial in terms of widening our thinking and creating opportunities for collaborative projects and grants.
Sarah Hayes (DECRA, Humanities and Social Sciences) attended the 2015 ECR Network Conference just days after returning to work from maternity leave: 
It was just what I needed to get motivated and re-engaged with work! Spending the day with researchers at a similar stage in their careers and learning about some of the amazing ECR research happening at La Trobe was inspirational.  
The conference and subsequent ECR Network events have provided me with lots of practical advice and helped me engage with my work in new ways. When the opportunity arose to join the committee for the 2016 conference, I really wanted to help out on something that I have benefited from so greatly.
Hannah Schurholz (Hallmark Program) says that she joined the La Trobe ECR Network earlier this year, at a time when she felt quite isolated as an ECR. Her academic position is not affiliated with a particular discipline, and she goes on to share: 
Being part of the network has given me the opportunity to meet great people and be involved with activities that provide a stable platform of discussion and exchange between ECRs at La Trobe.  
To me, this affiliation has been contributing to building my confidence, and helped me plan out a more coherent pathway as an academic.  
Apart from learning more about the support program for ECRs, specifically at La Trobe, I can now actively help to create events that further build, extend and strengthen the interdisciplinary ECR network at this university. The La Trobe ECR Conference in September is a great opportunity for people to come together, share their research interests and network in a positive and supportive environment.
Genine Hook (Humanities and Social Sciences) became a member of the La Trobe ECR Network in 2015, and joined the conference committee to gain experience in conference planning and learn about the systems and opportunities at La Trobe: 
As a new staff member at La Trobe, being involved in the ECR conference committee has enabled me to meet great people and to contribute to the broader ECR community. 
The ECR Network conference committee aims to facilitate discussions about navigating an academic career, and positively sharing ways that early career academics can build careers in the academy.
And why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?

Next time an opportunity comes up and you’re about to immediately say no because of busyness, take a moment. You may be saying no to more than you realise. 

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The ECR Network conference is on 26 September this year and the Call for Papers closes Monday 1 August (extended deadline). You can submit an abstract, or register now (online form).

The other members of the ECR Network committee are Rachel Winterton (Research fellow, John Richards Initiative, Albury-Wodonga) and Elizabeth Read (Graduate researcher, Applied Systems Biology).

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Dr Tseen Khoo is a lecturer in research education and development with the RED team at La Trobe University. Melbourne. She has held research-only fellowships at the University of Queensland and Monash University, and was a research grant developer at RMIT University.

Tseen created and manages the Research Whisperer with Jonathan O'Donnell. 

She convenes the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN), and publishes on critical race studies, diasporic Asian cultures, and racialised academic identities. 

She's on Twitter at @tseenster.

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