Key take-home messages and the impact of two boot-camps organized by FIT FORTHEM

During the first funding reporting period, FIT FORTHEM has organized two online boot-camps for researchers, research managers, students, support staff and external guests to openly discuss joint activities at alliance level, to develop new ideas for cooperation and to provide the different stakeholder groups a platform for exchange.

Originally planned as one-week on-site events for multipliers at two of the seven FIT FORTHEM partner universities, the two boot-camps were organized remotely. In fact,this turned out to be an advantage as more people than originally assumed could actively participate in the events. The project gained much more visibility and invited a large number of people to engage with FORTHEM in the field of research and innovation.

The first boot-camp in November 2021 was dedicated to The Social Sciences and Humanities – Strongholds of the FORTHEM Alliance! In total 42 people, mainly researchers, research managers and staff from support units, participated in the camp, either presenting their successful research projects, or identifying common strongholds in research, and discussing the role of SSH in European research funding as well as possibilities and barriers for participation.

As SSH disciplines are to some extend still underrepresented in European research programmes, a full session was planned to present the work of three lobbying initiatives on the national and European level: 1) The European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities (EASSH, represented by Gabi Lombardi), 2) Net4Society (represented by Nina Braun), 3) Research on Societies in Europe (ROSE, represented by Nicole Birkle and Ursula Schlüchter).

With Andrei Terian-Dan, Vice-Rector for Research, Innovation and Internationalization at Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, for the first time FIT FORTHEM could feature a speaker from one of the two new FORTHEM partner universities, by having him present on his on-going ERC Grant on A Transnational History of Romanian Literature (TRANSHIROL). (To see the full agenda and check for all the speakers, use this link).

 Key take-home messages from boot-camp 1:

  1. Experienced researchers must be much more in the focus of FORTHEM activities.
  2. You mainly get them involved by giving them a platform to exchange with colleagues, present their projects and ideas, and brainstorm together in open formats online and on-site.
  3. It is not enough just to identify common strongholds in research, but to actively promote the cooperation by inviting the researchers to informal match-makings.
  4. Early career researchers especially need a forum to gain visibility and networks to collaborate. 
  5. SSH disciplines may join forces with lobbying organizations on the European level to be better integrated in European Funding schemes, to have a voice when new programmes are planned and to properly establish their role in addressing the most urgent societal challenges from local to global.

Boot-camp 2 took place in May 2022 under the title  GET fit FOR YOUR FUTURE - The FIT FORTHEM online boot camp for Early Career Researchers (ESRs). The response to this event was overwhelming, withmore than 160 participants and speakers registering., On each of the days very lively discussions with the ESRs on their specific experiences  and needs related to international and multiple career pathways and possible networks have taken place. 

New ideas on what FORTHEM may provide to this vulnerable group were presented and further developed. Participants got hands-on information by their peers (e.g., Bogdana Milic, a Serbian PostDoc now working in Spain after stopovers in Mainz, Istanbul and Vienna) and by more advanced researchers and research managers (e.g., Angela Kölling and Mark Bajohrs, JGU, and Sandra Vlasta, Bologna). Cross-overs between research, science management and applied research in a company were highlighted, as in the case of  the former FIT FORTHEM contributor Riikka Reitzer from Jyväskylä (for the full agenda and all the speakers click here).

In addition, ESRs got deep insights in possible self-coaching methods provided by Małgorzata Adams-Tukiendorf (UO), in co-tutelle procedures by Frédéric Debeaufort (UB) and Open Science practices  by Jürgen Schneider (Tübingen). The invitation of Eurodoc to the bootcamp resulted in  launching a possible future collaboration between the FORTHEM Alliance and organisations for PhDs and PostDocs on national and international level, e.g., related to skills training, research assessment, networking and policy issues.

Key take-home messages from boot-camp 2:

  1. As an ESR, don’t be shy and work proactively on your networks and skills together with supervisor(s) and peers.
  2. If you want to go abroad, only go when you are ready to go and check carefully where to go, so it fits your needs best. Being mobile can be defined in multiple ways nowadays.
  3. Always make sure you take care of your mental health and a good work-life balance.
  4. Be open to multiple career paths and always make sure you go “your way”.
  5. Joining forces with other ESRs or networks  often prevents you from having to “reinvent the wheel” yourself, especially when it comes to Open Science or other hot topics, either research driven or organizational.
  6. Always have a plan B for your career, be open-minded and goal-oriented at the same time, but bear in mind that not reaching a goal is not necessarily a failure.

The impact of both boot-camps:

On the final day of each of the two boot-camps, a roadmap towards future and targeted initiatives was set up and summaries of key take-home messages were provided. The major impact of the two boot-camps is that very concrete action plans for the future Research, Innovation and Transfer Mission of FORTHEM could be developed.

The boot-camps have explicitly shown that FORTHEM needs to focus even more on the group of experienced researchers on the one hand - and in particular those of the SSH - as well as on the involvement of external partners and, above all, on ESRs. Based on experiences from the camps, additional ideas collected by FIT FORTHEM core members, and a comprehensive survey among ESRs, targeted measures for these groups are planned in FORTHEM starting in its new funding period, hopefully in November 2022 (given that the funding is granted by the European Commission).

When it comes to a more timely and already tangible impact, we can conclude the following:

  • The two boot-camps have significantly strengthened the (FIT) FORTHEM networks between the partner universities, expanded them to include previously little-involved stakeholder groups, and increased the visibility of both the alliance and the project.
  • Common strongholds in research could be presented and first project ideas are under development already (joint MSCA doctoral network, MSCA postdoctoral fellowship, etc.)
  • The targeted number of participants was significantly exceeded with a total of almost 200 people, which shows a great interest in the aforementioned topics.
  • An online format with a total of five 2-hour sessions has proven to be appropriate and attractive and can be repeated with other thematic focuses.
  • Boot-camps initiated a bottom-up mind-setting, agenda-setting, and forum for exchange, and led directly to two work packages and targeted actions within the alliance.
  • The invitation of external associations, speakers and guests laid the ground for fruitful collaboration in the future and the establishment of pan-European networks for specific groups, such as the ESRs.

Although the respective work package with the boot-camps will be completed at the end of June 2022, FIT FORTHEM considers keeping the format alive and integrating it in future action plans.

Nicole Birkle, JGU FIT FORTHEM Managing Coordinator

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