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Do you have what it takes to be the next Secretary of the PSA ECN?
This blog speaks to Dr Nick Kirsop-Taylor, the current Secretary of the ECN, and asks all about his role, what he’s enjoyed over the last two years, and about the challenges faced during the pandemic.
Since its foundation, the Early Career Network has been a vital institution of support for early career researchers (ECRs). We host events, we provide a space for networking and promotion of our members, we represent our members to the wider PSA, and more recently, we have been undertaking important work in measuring the impact of Covid-19 on ECRs. This work is undertaken by a team of five ECRs, just like you. The ECN’s committee members are those that run the whole show, with support of, but not controlled by, the wider PSA. It is a unique institution in the normally overly hierarchical world of academia. This summer four of our five current committee members are finishing their two-year terms. This means, very shortly, there is an exciting opportunity for four new ECRs to take up the mantle and shape the direction of one of the PSA’s shining jewels. In this interview, we hear from current Secretary, Dr Nick Kirsop-Taylor, about what it is like to be a member of the committee.
What made you want to become part of the ECN committee?
I hadn’t even heard of the PSA, let alone the ECN before finishing my PhD; which on reflection seems crazy now. I only heard about the ECN through their annual conference that was held at my University (the University of Exeter) in 2019. I was looking for conferences where I could start the journey of publicising some of the forthcoming work from my PhD and was introduced to the call for papers through my supervisor who’d heard that the conference was taking place on campus. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having had no experiences of the PSA before, and just put in my abstract hoping for the best. Luckily (for me) the abstract was accepted, I joined the ECN, and had a brilliant conference. Most importantly because I had no idea up till then how many of my colleagues had been and were active and engaged supporters of the PSA!
I had such an amazing time at the conference, in terms of networking, getting feedback on my work, and being part of a likeminded community of political science ECRs; that straight after I started looking into opportunities for playing a more serious role with the ECN. Just a few months later I saw the advert in Political Insight for new committee position I knew I had to throw my hat in the ring. I had a look through the different positions on offer and thought that based on my background in professional project management and partnership working that I could probably offer the most value to the ECN as its Secretary. After some email trading the outgoing Secretary (Joe Hau-Greenwood) and I met up and talked through the role – and a month later I was in post!
Can you give a profile of the work requirements?
The Secretary role is 50% defined at the outset and 50% yours to create and shape however you like. Starting with the prescribed elements, the Secretary is the organising force behind the ECN, it’s up to you to work closely with the PSA Memberships and Programme Manager to organise the monthly committee meetings, take notes at the meetings, and ensure effective reporting and organisation of committee. You collate all the relevant documents and control the committee’s dropbox folder where they store all the key information and resources needed to run their annual programme of activities, conferences and events.
In the 50% that isn’t prescribed it is very much up to the Secretary to lead on the agenda that they think they ECN should be focusing on. At the start of my tenure I was keen to make my tenure focused on supporting and developing the ECNs role as a leading space for the publication interests of early career researchers (ECR). This was going to include writing workshops, special issues in journals focusing on ECR perspectives/contributions and working to re-orientate the committee as a locus for ECR publication activity in collaboration with PSA sister journals. But, you might have guessed it, Covid-19 put paid to these plans!
The pandemic revealed how important it was the ECRs from across the PSA community felt that they were being listened to and that their issues and concerns were being raised and given the daylight they needed. Instead of using my discretionary time to pivot the ECN towards a more explicit publications for ERCs focus I blogged about key issues relating to ECRs in the pandemic and led outreach efforts with other early career associations – to build bridges and collective positions to address the real and emergent challenges that the pandemic threw up.
Overall – the role of Secretary takes up about an hour to two hours of my time each week, it takes excellent organisational skills and an interest in the development of the ECN as a committee representing the interests of early career researchers.
What are you most proud of in your role?
I am most proud of my work in trying to lead the national debate about how the pandemic was affecting ECRs. Through our blogs and outreach work we tried really hard to make sure that the voices and concerns of ECRs were being represented in the discourse about Universities and research.
The role is 50% defined at the outset and 50% yours to create and shape however you like
What have been the main challenges associated with running the ECN during the pandemic?
The biggest challenge has been around organising and staying of top of a group of ECRs at different University’s around the country. It’s really important that ECN committee members are good communicators – and the pandemic has made the need for communication more important than ever. It was all too easy, especially when we were all individually facing a host of professional and personal challenges, to drift apart and lose our focus around the core issues and interests we were hoping to deliver. Keeping the ECN together and on track has been one of the hardest yet most important parts of the tenure.
What advice would you give to the next Secretary (whoever that may be)?
You have to juggle the well-established needs and duties of the role with a ‘project’ of your own. This project needs reflect the current state of interests for the ECN membership and has to something that both excites you and brings value to the members. This might be focusing on critical role of building professional networks through networking and brand building, it might be focusing on expanding the ECN through key (or under-represented) partner Universities and doctoral training institutions; it might involve trying to truly internationalise the ECN or as already discussed pivoting the ECN towards an more publication-focus as a way of helping ECRs secure the research agenda and publication record. The choice will be yours – just make sure it matters to our members and to you!