Reflections as an ECR on ISBE2019 – Michaela Hruskova

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Michaela Hruskova’s bio

Michaela Hruskova is a PhD Researcher in Management in the Adam Smith Business School at the University of Glasgow. In her doctoral research, she is studying the governance of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem in Scotland. Prior to her PhD, Michaela completed an MRes in Management and an MA in Business and Management, both at the University of Glasgow. In recent years, she has worked at multiple entrepreneurship support organisations in the Scottish ecosystem which inspired her current research project. Outside of her PhD, Michaela is the Director of a local award-winning Startup Grind chapter at the University of Glasgow which aims to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurially-minded students and staff.

Making the most out of ISBE 2019

Navigating the academic conference scene as a PhD researcher can be a pretty intimidating experience. There are usually hundreds of people, most of whom you don’t know, and they all seem much more knowledgeable than you which makes it difficult to genuinely connect with others. Fortunately, the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference wasn’t one of these conferences. On the contrary – I met many friendly and approachable academics who were happy to talk to me about research and nerd out about all things entrepreneurship! I was genuinely surprised by the very warm welcome given to PhD researchers and early career researchers. To my delight, these weren’t just empty words but the entire conference was actually full of developmental opportunities for us at the early stages of our research careers. In this blog post, I’d like to reflect on my experience and share some tips and tricks on securing one of the highly coveted complimentary places for early career researchers, preparing and delivering paper presentations, and discuss the key takeaways from one of the many developmental workshops taking place at the conference.

This November, thanks to the support of the ISBE Early Career Researchers Forum I had the opportunity to attend the 2019 conference taking place in Newcastle. I had my eye on the conference for several years, but I never managed to go. One of the biggest challenges holding me back was my limited conference budget so when the opportunity arose to apply for a complimentary conference place, I did not hesitate to put forward my application. To my delight, the ISBE Early Career Researchers Forum selected me to cover my place which allowed me to finally attend the annual conference!

Unsurprisingly, the process was very competitive with 40+ applications submitted and only 13 places available. Whilst I cannot speak for Andrea Lane and Dr Kayleigh Watson who convene the ECR Forum and reviewed the applications, there are a few tips I would highly recommend to anyone considering applying for the place. First and foremost, it is very important to clearly outline how you would benefit from the opportunity and why attending this particular conference at this particular stage of your career is critical to your development as an early career researcher. This could range from reasons around developing your paper for publication, improving your soft skills around presenting your work, or perhaps increasing your network of fellow entrepreneurship researchers. Secondly, if you are going to present a paper at the conference – which I would highly recommend – explain how it fits with the overall conference theme. This will help you make sure that you have a relevant contribution to the conference. Thirdly, do not forget to emphasise what you bring to the conference and how you can contribute. In my case, I highlighted an online Slack community which I co-launched earlier this year called Entrepreneurship Scholars in order to help fellow early career researchers navigate the very confusing world of academia. Overall, I think that it was this balance between benefiting from the complimentary place and sharing this useful resource with others that made my application stand out.

The conference was my first academic conference and I was really keen to maximise the value I would get out of it which is why I applied with two abstracts – an empirical study which I carried out as part of my MRes dissertation, and a conceptual paper based on my PhD. Each presented its own challenges. In both cases, however, I tried to tell a story – this was much easier with an empirical paper but not impossible for a conceptual one either. My typical strategy is to explain three to four key points: (1) what we already know about a given topic, (2) what we don’t know, (3) why is this gap important and how it will help us going forward, and possibly (4) how I’m going to address it empirically. These are hardly ground-breaking points, but following them helps me keep a clear narrative throughout without digressing into too much theoretical background of my study. In the case of the empirical paper, I found it quite easy to follow the data to explain the phenomenon of entrepreneurship support organisations in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Glasgow. On the other hand, the conceptual paper challenged me to clearly outline my thinking, assumptions, and benefits of combining the theories of governance with ecosystem theory. To make this easier, I used some visuals to illustrate my arguments which proved incredibly helpful in making sure my audience was able to follow my points as they developed.

Following my presentations, I had a great discussion with the track chairs and fellow attendees who gave me some valuable insights to strengthen my work and provided me with a fresh perspective on my work. Best of all, both my papers were nominated for a Best Paper Award and my conceptual paper on the governance of entrepreneurial ecosystems won the Award in the Entrepreneurial Governance track! This is a great accomplishment and one I am very proud of because I found it very challenging to write the paper with clear, coherent, and compelling arguments. All the time put into it has clearly paid off!

Once my presentations were out of the way, I was able to enjoy the conference experience without worrying about presenting my work. There were multiple workshops scheduled throughout the both days and I was particularly intrigued by the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship session delivered by Prof Julia Rouse. In summary, here are some of the most important points highlighted by Prof Rouse. Firstly, the awarding panel is looking for candidates who have already established their credibility in their field so high quality publications are very important. Two, the best applications tend to propose projects which aim to address the society’s greatest challenges and be aligned with the UK’s Industrial Strategy. Three, it is advisable to have an ambitious, innovative, and ideally interdisciplinary research proposal. Finally, there is an expectation for the Fellow to develop a research group so the leadership ability of the candidate is also important. Overall, this is a highly competitive scheme and although it is intended as a springboard for early career researchers, the candidates are expected to have an excellent track record already.

As I am finally counting down months as opposed to years until the end of my PhD, there is an increasing pressure to think about life after the PhD and how scarce the funding opportunities are. Whilst the Future Leaders Fellowship is quite unlikely at this point in my career (as I need some publications under my belt first), I found the session very motivational because it gave me a goal to strive towards. Given that it is aiming to support rising stars at the rather early stage of their careers, it appears to be a great scheme to accelerate early research careers. One final tip from Prof Rouse was to consider an alternative scheme – the ESRC New Investigator Grant – as a stepping stone towards the Future Leaders Fellowship.

Overall, my time at the ISBE conference was incredibly beneficial to my development as an early career researcher. In preparation for the conference, I wrote up two papers which are now much closer to submission for publication than they otherwise would have been. At the conference itself, I had thought-provoking discussions with many other researchers in my discipline, received helpful constructive feedback on my work, and made some new friends. I don’t think my experience could have been any better and I would highly encourage fellow PhDs or ECRs to try to apply for the funded space in future years.

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