(Panel) Early-career researchers, how are you doing in academia today and in the future?

Activity: Talk or presentationConference presentation


In this interactive workshop we discuss different aspects of early-career researchers’ (ECRs’) wellbeing. By ECRs we mean researchers in the early stages of their (academic) career including doctoral researchers or PhD holders who have completed their doctoral degree recently and/or have not yet gained a senior/tenure position in academia. In the workshop, we focus on practical examples and experiences related to the multifaceted topic of wellbeing by
bringing together research, presenters’ views and participants’ contributions. We explore particularly the institutional, academic community and internationalisation perspectives.

In academia, wellbeing is affected by aspects including societal (like environmental concerns, COVID-19, war, migrations), institutional (career structures, academic cultures) as well as individual (aspirations, life circumstances etc.) (e.g. Kismihók et al., 2021). Wellbeing combines the structures of the working environment as well as social relations in academia
and individual professional skills (Laine, 2013). In the case of ECRs, wellbeing is often interlinked with uncertain career development and work-related stress (Signoret et al., 2019). Hazell et al. (2020) found that doctoral researchers experience higher stress levels compared to the population on average. This was connected to, for example, lacking social support or having a vulnerable position in academia. Experienced lack of institutional and supervisory support (in doctoral studies) have been shown to be related to experiences of stress, exhaustion, cynicism, and even lead to burnout (Cornér et al., 2017). Emotional challenges, mental health issues, and ill-being are often stigmatized and thus not discussed openly in academic work environments.

The workshop includes three brief presentations on the institutional, community and internationalisation perspectives that aim to invoke discussion on practical solutions for supporting ECRs’ wellbeing. Each presentation lasts 10 minutes followed by an open discussion with the workshop participants. The discussion points will be summarized in a blog post written by the presenting team.

Abstracts of the presentations in presentation order:

Mikko Kohvakka: Paradoxes and tensions affecting the wellbeing of early career

There are paradoxes and tensions that lie at the heart of higher education institutions (HEIs), which can be seen as creating (mental) wellbeing concerns for the university staff and especially for ECRs who are lacking a great deal of the field's social, cultural and economic forms of capital. These tensions and paradoxes manifest themselves in a variety of ways, but can be approached through dialectically related opposites such as change vs. stability,
networks vs. hierarchies, self-control vs. external supervision, blurred boundaries in work vs. fixed work patterns, and teamwork vs. competition.The argument in this presentation is that examining paradoxes/tensions affecting wellbeing within HEIs requires a sensitivity to and focus on the holistic approach. To be more specific, the presentation argues that examining how tensions/paradoxes impact on ECRs’ wellbeing cannot merely assume that these actors (re)act as individuals. On the contrary, the responses which emerge are outcomes of interplay between various internal and external stakeholders (ECRs, senior scholars, HEI managers, ministry/legislators, funding agencies etc.) who, in turn, are directly shaped by culture and social structure, including historical traditions, networks of social relationships as well as structures of power. This holistic way to relieve tensions and defuse paradoxes within a HEI is explored through practices adopted at the University of Eastern Finland, which are
especially aimed at increasing the wellbeing of ECRs.

Henna Juusola & Vesna Holubek: Online-coffees. Example of informal social networks

Finland-based early-career higher education researchers' network was established two years ago to provide an informal and dialogical forum for early-career higher education researchers doing their research in different HEIs. The informal network was initiated during the COVID-19, highlighting the need for social peer-support while working (mainly) remotely. During the last two years, the network has operated mainly online via informal monthly coffee-meetings.
The online-coffee-meetings are important community-building activities as they provide practical tips and advice on how to tackle research processes and consider different options for career development (see also Juusola & Holubek, 2022). In this presentation, we stress the importance of informal academic networks in supporting professional development and providing a platform to share tacit knowledge, thus enhancing ECRs’ wellbeing. Accessing tacit knowledge and practices of academia may help in navigating career choices and alleviate uncertainty-related stress.

Vesna Holubek & Golaleh Makrooni: Experiences and perceptions of international
early-career researchers

Being an ECR with an international background may add another dimension to the way one experiences their career progression and wellbeing. A recent study on experiences of international members of Tampere University (TATTE, 2022a & 2022b) showed the complex interrelations between the institutional context and personal experiences of being/becoming an academic in Finland. We will specifically discuss three aspects highlighted by the study participants (predominantly ECRs): language practices, career development opportunities, and work-life balance. The presentation will introduce concrete examples of these three aspects through study participants’ responses and presenters’ viewpoints. We will discuss these examples in relation to organizational responsibilities of HEIs. Namely, we see HEIs as having an important role and responsibility in developing supportive and inclusive attitudes, practices, and strategies within the organization as well as society in general. Inclusive practices will, in turn, empower ECRs and improve their wellbeing socially, emotionally and psychologically (Gräbel, 2017). A supportive and encouraging climate in an academic environment can positively affect performance and wellbeing which enhances the sense of belonging to academia (Makrooni & Ropo, 2021).
Period16 Aug 2023
Event titleStructure, operation, agency – XV National Symposium on Higher Education Research, Consortium of Higher Education Researchers in Finland
Event typeConference
LocationJyväskylä , FinlandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational

Country of activity

  • Finland