Scaling new heights at ECER 2018: reflections of an emerging career researcher

This is a guest blog post from Joyceline Alla-Mensah, a third year doctoral student at the University of Nottingham, UK.

The 2018 European Conference on Educational Research took place in Bolzano from 3 to 7 September. The theme for the conference was ‘Inclusion and Exclusion: Resources for Educational Research?’. As an international conference, it brought together about 3000 educational researchers from Europe and other parts of the world. Sessions were organized through the European Educational Researchers Association’s 33 networks, which made it possible for many themes and research interests in education to be covered. Some of these included themes on teacher education, vocational education and training, and inclusive education among many others.

An Emerging Researchers Conference (ERC) was organized from the 3- 4 September. It provided the platform for doctoral students and early career researchers to present their work. At the ERC, Omolabake Fakunle and I shared findings from our U21 collaborative research project on the networking experiences of doctoral students in four universities, namely, the University of Edinburgh, University of Nottingham, University of Connecticut and the University of Melbourne.

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My first paper presentation at an international research conference

It is interesting to note that doctoral students in our study perceived conferences as important sites for networking and learning, and there were many opportunities for this at ECER. One significant event was organised by the U21 Forum for International Networking in Education (FINE).

On 5 September, U21 FINE held a networking breakfast at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel. This was the second time such an event had been held in Europe, thus providing the opportunity for more PGR and ECR colleagues in the European region to participate. This year’s networking event focused on ‘the dreams, possibilities, and necessities of inclusive research’. Guest speakers for the event were Prof. Simon McGrath, UNESCO Chair in International Education and Development in the Centre for International Education Research, University of Nottingham and Prof. Julie Allan, Head of School of Education at the University of Birmingham, and Dr. Gillean McCluskey and Prof. Do Coyle from Moray House School of Education, Edinburgh.

Alison Milner and Omolabake Fakunle, members of the U21 FINE leadership team, opened the event by introducing the speakers, FINE and its work over the years. This was followed by brief presentations from the guest speakers. A central theme that ran through all the presentations was inclusivity. Prof. Julie Allan spoke about inclusion in higher education. She began by asking us to reflect on what we need and want as academics. From this, she expressed concern about the ‘troubling context of higher education’, which does not provide the enabling environment for all to thrive. She cited the gender pay gap in higher education and social model of disability to remind and encourage us of the need to promote equality. She questioned policies that understand equality as the same for everyone. For me, this brought to mind the capability approach, which advances equality of capability and not resources. Equality of capability means that we need to go beyond ensuring equal distribution of resources to take into consideration the personal, social and environmental conversion factors that each person will need to convert resources into what they would like to be and to do.

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Slide from presentation on policy and social inclusion in higher education by Prof. Julie Allan

Prof Simon McGrath stated that our right to research comes with responsibilities, especially towards those we research. As a result, there is the need to reflect on these in our research design. Prof. Gillean McCluskey added the importance of demonstrating originality and significance in our quest for quality research. Overall, the presentations provided the platform for discussion amongst participants, with some sharing their thoughts on how they addressed issues relating to inclusion in their research.

ECER was my first international conference and I was happy to have the opportunity to learn more about educational research in the European region, especially in the field of vocational education and training. Even more exciting was the moment in my paper presentation where I shared both contextual findings from my research on informal apprenticeship in Ghana, and demonstrated the contribution of my research to theorization in education.

The FINE event enhanced my conference experience as it provided the opportunity to spend quality time engaging with doctoral students and academics from the University of Lund, University of Edinburgh, University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham. This was refreshing when you consider how impersonal international conferences can be, especially for new researchers. I look forward to networking with students from more U21 institutions in future FINE events.

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