ISBE Directors June Blog

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Dr Kayleigh Watson – Senior Lecturer of Entrepreneurship – Department of Enterprise, Innovation and Strategy; Northumbria University

Recent estimates indicate that one third of ISBE members self-identify as being an early career researcher [ECR].  My motivation to join the ISBE board in spring 2017, at a time when I had recently completed my own PhD, was rooted in a strong desire to represent and give a voice to ECR members. Given the great number of fellow ECRs I had met when attending ISBE conferences since 2013, it was surprising to see that more was not being done beyond the annual doctoral day to support the development of ECR members but also that there was limited ECR presence on the board itself. Realising the potential for ISBE to expand its support and offering for ECR members has subsequently been a strong focus of my endeavours as a board member over the past two years. 

The important role ISBE has in nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurship and small business scholars comes from recognition of the many pressures faced by ECRs.  Whether this is; securing employment in an ever precarious and competitive academic job market, publishing in ‘the right’ journals, developing networks, forging and sustaining equitable collaborations, establishing a research pipeline, finding money to fund research plans and/or protecting research time in the face of heavy teaching and administrative commitments. 

Inevitably the early stage of a research career can be fraught with fears and insecurities. The personal questioning about whether work is publishable enough, impactful enough, fundable enough is very real.  Particularly when there is always someone else who appears to be doing more and achieving more. In the face of this, the need to be resilient and confident of one’s own unique contributions can prove an ongoing challenge for the ECR to navigate. It is little wonder therefore that many ECRs are on the brink of or already suffering from stress and burnout. Recognising the wellbeing needs of ECRs has never been so salient.    

I am pleased to be able to say that there have been a number of achievements over the past two years toward the greater support of ECRs by the institute. 

  • An ISBE ECR forum has been established as a special interest group to serve as an outlet for supporting the career and personal development of those who consider themselves an early career researcher of entrepreneurship or small business. Since its inception in September 2018, the group has already attracted more than 300 members. Please do join at: https://isbe.org.uk/special-interest-group/ecr/
  • The ECR forum has started to establish a presence on social media, thanks to the efforts of Andrea Lane, PhD candidate at Newcastle University. The ISBE ECR forum twitter [@ISBE_ECR] and facebook [@ISBEECR] pages are used to signpost ECRs to opportunities for relevant conference, workshop, funding and job opportunities. 
  • In April 2018, the first ISBE ECR fully funded writing retreat took place on the Beara Peninsula, Ireland. The high quality and quantity of applications from ISBE and non-ISBE members was unprecedented, necessitating some difficult decisions to be made in allocating places. The retreat provided the ECRs with an opportunity to re-energise and re-engage with their writing projects away from the demands of their day-to-day routines and commitments, as can be seen in the reflections of one participant at: https://isbe.org.uk/ecr-retreat-blog/
  • Recognising that submitting abstracts can be a daunting prospect for ECRs, those submitting abstracts to the ISBE conference for the first time now have the opportunity to seek guidance prior to submission. This opportunity has been well received with more than 60 ECRs located in all corners of the globe receiving support and guidance to date.
  • Those submitting work to the ISBE conference now have the option to identify themselves as an ECR on the system. This change has allowed ECRs to benefit from more targeted developmental feedback on their submissions from reviewers. Similarly at the conference itself, ECRs have the option of wearing a ribbon which shows their ECR status. This a way of helping ECR delegates with networking. 
  • A further key development has been the reinstatement of the president’s award for best paper by an ECR to recognise and reward the high quality work that ECRs submit to the annual conference.   
  • Recognising the difficulties that ECRs can sometimes face in being able to access conference funding, a complimentary conference place initiative for ECRs has been introduced ahead of this year’s conference in Newcastle. Details of how to apply for one of these places can be found here: https://isbe.org.uk/isbe-2019/ecr-places/

Whilst great progress has been made toward supporting ECRs during the past two years, there are still many opportunities to add value and progress this agenda going forward; notably I feel in the form of the potential for targeted funding opportunities and increased support for paper development at the annual conference in future years. My own personal ambition is to bring forward opportunities for coaching and mentoring of ECRs, seeing particular value in a reverse mentoring type scheme. ECRs were recently invited to participate in a survey regarding their developmental needs and it is intended that the results of this survey will also form the basis for upcoming support activities and initiatives.

The ongoing support and retention of ECR members is undoubtably central to ISBEs continued sustainability and vibrancy as a membership organisation. It feels opportune to end this blog with a call for buy-in from members to contribute their skills and experiences to the ECR forum in whatever way they may feel able. To those already established in your career: might you be able to feed-forward support you might have received from others earlier in your career to help empower and build capacity in those coming up behind you? To ECRs, your involvement in the committee of the forum is very much welcomed, so please do get in touch. 

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