4TU.CEE is co-organisor of the SEFI2020 conference. This blog is part of the SEFI2020 blog series.

Blog by Xin Ming, PhD candidate University of Twente

Due to the worldwide Covid-19 outbreak, the SEFI2020 conference moved online. This is not a favourable situation for newcomers, especially for starting PhD students who are new to the academic profession as well as to the particular field of engineering education research (EER). Apart from broadening and deepening your knowledge at the conference, it is crucial for us to get into the field by meeting and socializing with other researchers. I was sceptical of online meetings, because the lack of engagement from face-to-face communication makes this social aspect of conference exceptionally hard. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised participating in the conference’s prologue—the doctoral symposium on the 20th September—which successfully brought novice PhD students and experienced researchers together in an interactive, relaxed, and well-organized online setting.

Room for discussion

The symposium was elaborately designed to overcome the limits of online meetings, helping us newcomers to benefit from the get-together as much as possible. During the full-day symposium, two extensive sessions were arranged with the same members, including peer students and seasoned researchers. These sessions offered adequate time and room to dive into the particular research of each student, refine our projects, address uncertainties or confusion, as well as develop more in-depth connections. In addition, several rounds of speed dates grouped all participants in pairs for short talks. In the random grouping, we got the chance to meet unexpected peers or experts, which provided precious opportunities to explain our own research, receive interesting ideas and suggestions, broaden perspectives, and create new contacts.

Some of the participants of the SEFI2020 doctoral symposium

Sense of community

As a relatively new PhD student, I feel greatly inspired by the helpful and supportive atmosphere of the EER community. The supportive culture manifested both when talking about research content and when sharing experiences about academic life. Content-wise, researchers and students generously shared their knowledge, experience, and fresh ideas. From seniors, we not only learned about valuable references, but also received advice regarding writing, publishing, and conducting research. Peers also gave constructive and useful input. More engaging was the sense of community beyond particular research. In the round of sharing the take-home message of each participant at the end of the symposium, I heard about “not being alone in the PhD journey” several times. Seniors also emphasized the importance of attending to our wellbeing besides the academic achievements. I think this kind of support means a lot for us students who are dedicated to quite lonesome work, especially in the current social context where disconnection happens much more often than integration. Moreover, the dedication of experts was extremely appreciable. Despite the inconvenience caused by time difference, many of them joined the session very early in the morning or late in the evening at their local time. This supportive stance towards juniors is truly motivating.

Openness and opportunity

The diversity and inclusiveness of the EER community has also impressed me. The internationalisation was nicely presented in the online meeting, which allowed students and researchers from different ends of the world to come together and share experiences. For a newcomer like me with backgrounds neither in engineering nor in education, I also came across seniors who had similar experience and was reassured to persist in my particular approach in the field of engineering education. Peers, as well, shared with me their feelings of transitioning between different contexts and audiences. I have come to see that different cultural and academic backgrounds can find a place to realise their ambitions. As an emerging research field, EER offers great openness and opportunities to novel research ideas and designs. And as a community, EER is welcoming with its friendliness and hospitality.

Along with my impression on the doctoral symposium, I hereby thank its organisers – Jonte Bernhard, Kristina Edström, Maartje van den Bogaard and Tinne De Laet. And I want to express my gratitude to my peers and senior researchers taking part today. Thank you for all the wonderful input and inspiration. Although the online meeting today was remarkably fruitful, I hope to meet you in person in the near future!

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