Dr Anna Wambach is the outgoing Chair of the UACES Graduate Forum, the international network of PhD and early-career European Studies scholars. Here, she reflects on how the Graduate Forum fosters collaboration, collegiality and interdisciplinarity in European Studies, and what she’s gained from being on the Committee.
In November 2014, I first stood for election to the UACES Student Forum Committee (as it was then known). It was a spur-of-the moment decision, made after speaking to one of the Committee members, Viviane Gravey (who happened to be elected to Chair the same day). There I was, half a year into my PhD, clueless but enthusiastic, asking people to vote for me based on a few questionable attempts at humour and competence. It worked.
Four years on, I have completed my PhD, my two years as a Committee member and, for good measure, two years as Chair of what is now the UACES Graduate Forum.
Looking back, I am very glad that I took up the courage to stand in the first place. I gained experience in event organisation, learned how to lead a committee, gathered skills in editing blogs, built a network of academics in similar fields, attended eye-opening UACES Executive Committee meetings, appeared in a lot of UACES videos, and, most importantly, found a group of like-minded peers who provided companionship and advice.
However, it is not only me who has evolved over the past four years.
The Graduate Forum itself has changed quite significantly, not least in changing its name from Student Forum. Coinciding with the introduction of the new Early-Career category for membership of UACES, we were keen to involve not only PhD students but also Early Career Researchers (ECRs) in our activities in order to provide useful synergies for both groups. ECRs, often employed precariously, can now access UACES travel grants to join our events, and PhD students benefit by learning from their experiences in the first years post-viva.
Often, there are only a handful of European Studies scholars at a university. The Graduate Forum provides a space to meet other PhD students and ECRs working in related fields. ECRs and PhD students learn about cutting-edge research from their peers and find ways to collaborate. For both groups, this is a chance to build an international network of people who are at a similar career stage and who you will likely encounter throughout your academic career.
Furthermore, our Doctoral Training Academies address issues of interest to both groups, such as publishing and funding applications. They provide a space to learn and ask questions – this is particularly useful if this training is not offered or tailored to European Studies at your institution. Our conferences are a great place to present your research the very first time – or to practice a presentation before a larger conference such as the UACES Annual Conference.
During my time in the Committee, we also launched our very own blog, Crossroads Europe, the brainchild of Anthony Salamone and Viviane Gravey, which serves as an outlet for research conducted by our members.
Often the blog posts derive from presentations at our annual conference. Crossroads Europe has become a great platform to give airtime to research at various stages and to translate it into a publicly accessible blog format. We also started producing podcasts based on research presented at our events. Again, this is a great training opportunity for both PhD and ECRs in collaborating and disseminating their ideas. And of course, we are affiliated to JCER, a peer-reviewed open-access journal which is going from strength to strength. JCER is particularly supportive of PhD researchers and ECRs who are trying to get published.
In an increasingly competitive job market, the UACES Graduate Forum Committee has striven to provide resources, advice and training opportunities for our members to ensure that they are well-prepared for the challenges ahead. I am also proud to have served an organisation which recognises the often financially-trying times PhD students and ECRs have to go through and which provides travel grants and scholarships.
To me, one last point is crucial. Yes, we are all trying to enhance our CVs but sometimes we get too hung up on improving our profile. The UACES Graduate Forum provides companionship when the desk at home or in the office seems too lonely. It brings together an international group of people with different backgrounds: some – like me when I attended my first event – only just at the beginning of their PhD, others – like me now – trying to build a career post-PhD. Collectively, we can draw on an immense pool of experience and wisdom.
The Graduate Forum has always been a cooperative and friendly space for researchers in the early stages of their careers – academic or otherwise – to exchange experiences, support and solidarity, as well as constructive criticism and feedback.
As a Graduate Forum Chair it has always made me proud when delegates at our events tell me that they felt welcome, found the atmosphere inclusive, enjoyable and collaborative, that they had taken away something positive and even made friends.
I am sure my successor will feel the same.
UACES Graduate Forum Elections 2018
Nominations are open for:
- UACES Graduate Forum Chair
- UACES Graduate Forum Committee member (Communications role)
Nomination Deadline: 16 Nov 2018 | uaces.org/gfelections