Reflections as an ECR on ISBE2019 – Aviel Cogan

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Aviel Cogan is a Doctoral Researcher at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, University of Strathclyde. Her doctoral research explores the identity processes of social entrepreneurs. Aviel earned her MA (Hons) in History from the University of Edinburgh and MSc in Information Management from Robert Gordon University, before undertaking a PhD in Entrepreneurship. Her interdisciplinary background has informed her research interests and approach. In addition to her doctoral research, she is also currently researching coopetition and ideation within the board game industry and teaching undergraduate courses at Pace University.

As an early career researcher attending the ISBE conference for the first time, I learned a great deal from my experience – both what to do and what not to do. Here, I share a few lessons from my mistakes and good fortune in the hopes that they will help you, my fellow ECRs, have a successful, stress-free and fun conference.

First, if you are a doctoral student, go to the doctoral day. I know this may seem like a no-brainer, but I think it still needs to be said. Yes, it’s an extra, very full day and it adds another item to your request for funding from your department; no, not every session will be entirely relevant to your personal situation. However, there is a lot to take away from attending. While the insights you will gain regarding completing your PhD and pursuing an academic career depend on the year you go – the programme always changes as it is organised by whoever hosts the conference – I personally think that the connections you can make during the day will always make it worth your while.

When you do attend, please, please engage in conversations in your assigned groups and seek out PhDs from other groups to talk with during the breaks. I did this to an extent, but wish I had done so even more. The doctoral day provides an amazing opportunity to spend some real time getting to know your peers, which you won’t otherwise have during the rest of the conference. This not only gives you a chance to share experiences, questions, advice and sympathy (and practice speaking about your research!) with fellow PhDs in a comfortable, judgement-free environment, but will also help you recognise a lot of friendly faces over the next two days of the conference.

It can feel very isolating and awkward to navigate a conference on your own without knowing someone you can eat lunch with or sit with during sessions and the gala dinner. Going to the doctoral day gives you a boost in making the personal connections which will make socialising much easier (heads up: networking is really one of the most important things you can do at conferences!). And once you know a few doctoral students, they can introduce you to other researchers they may know, such as their supervisors, other attendees from their institution, and anyone they’ve managed to meet themselves at ISBE. The doctoral day is a great starting point for growing your academic network – don’t pass up any opportunity which makes this easier!

Second, while it is definitely easier to stick to one track for the whole conference, especially if your selected track runs the full two days, it is definitely worth exploring sessions outside of your comfort zone. Though I ventured to a few other sessions outside of my track this year, at my next ISBE, I will definitely examine the programme more closely before the conference to determine where I want to be and when. When I do plan my schedule, I will also take into consideration these lessons:

  1. Attend at least one session in the Enterprise Education track

If you plan to pursue an academic career (which necessarily involves teaching), I would highly recommend attending some paper presentations in the Enterprise Education track. Not only will they give you ideas for how to design your courses, tweak your assessments and approach students, but they are also the most likely to demonstrate fun, engaging ways of delivering presentations (and lectures), since they are given by scholars who spend their time reflecting on and practicing effective and engaging pedagogy. I went to only one Enterprise Education session, but my notes from that hour and a half almost equalled what I took down during all the other sessions combined.

  1. Look at the nominations for best papers and pick some to attend

I happened to attend a few presentations of papers that were nominated for and won best paper in their tracks and it was an enlightening experience. On the one hand, it helped demonstrate what pushes a paper from a conference acceptance to a nomination, and from a nomination to best paper. This is extremely helpful if you are looking for examples of good scholarship practice to emulate (which you should always be on the lookout for!). The nominations list is a good guide to cutting edge topics, inventive analytical approaches, interesting ways of communicating findings, etc. which is helpful when you can only see a fraction of the papers presented and want to make the most out of your time.

On the other hand, attending presentations of nominated and best papers also showed that even work which is considered exceptional has room for improvement. I do not mean that in a negative way at all. What I mean is that, as an ECR (at least for me), it is easy to be devastated by any criticism of your work. Criticism makes you think that your research, your approach, your findings are all wrong and that you’ve made too many mistakes for the paper to ever be published. But seeing a best paper presented, seeing some of its flaws for yourself and hearing critical debate from other researchers is actually grounding and reassuring. You may intellectually know that everything presented at a conference is a work-in-progress and needs development, but it makes it much easier to take that to heart when you see for yourself that even best conference papers aren’t perfect … yet.

  1. Don’t be hesitant to go off-book

It may seem like counter-intuitive advice after I just suggested how to strategically schedule your time, but I think preparation and flexibility are both important. You do want to have a plan, so you don’t end up wandering around not knowing where to be, or trying to search through the schedule last-minute before a new block of sessions begins. However, the reason I happened to attend other tracks and some best paper presentations was because I wasn’t too strict about staying only in my track. That was my general plan, but when I met someone who was really engaging, had an insightful conversation that revealed shared research interests, or a new friend was excited about a particular paper, I adapted and followed my nose.

Obviously, you’ll need to make decisions – if you decide to suddenly go to an Entrepreneurship in Minority Groups session, you can’t be in the Gender and Entrepreneurship session you wanted to attend. But if, in your planning, you highlight a few papers you definitely don’t want to miss, and note down the time/location of those sessions, it’ll make it easier to make quick decisions when you are presented with a new opportunity. Remember that you can always contact people for their papers and engage them in conversations about their work during and after the conference if you weren’t able to catch their presentation.

Lastly, remember to connect with people you met after the conference, either via email or social media. As I mentioned earlier, networking is one of the most important aspects of attending a conference, and the people you will meet at ISBE are especially friendly and willing to connect with and support ECRs, and especially PhD students. While speaking with people at the conference is the most important step, maintaining that contact – even if it’s just through following them on Twitter or Instagram or friending them on Facebook – is crucial in securing these connections and continuing to build them over time. You and they will meet a lot of people at the conference and a conversation here or there is not really enough to form a full relationship. Remember to engage with your new friends online, and the next time you see them you’ll not only remember each other, but also have made deeper bonds.

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