Student involvement and input in (FIT) FORTHEM

On December 13, 2021, student representatives involved in FIT FORTHEM (MA or PhD candidates) were asked to reflect on their role in the project and consult the design of new actions.

Why meet?

The aim of the meeting was to discuss the ways in which FORTHEM students, not only delegates to the FIT FORTHEM General Assembly but also those from other student bodies and organizations,  could be involved more in the consultation and dissemination of activities provided within the Alliance. The focus of the meeting was put on young researchers and the possibilities the Alliance might offer to them in the fields of networking, facilitation of research concept building, presenting their results and widening their possibilities of future career.

 

What comes to mind when you think of FORTHEM?

The starting point was to find out what the students already associate the work within the Alliance with  and what options offered by the project they are aware of. Hence, the mentimeter poll was used type the keywords connected to “FORTHEM”. The illustration below shows the findings.

 

 

The labs as a departure point for student research activity

The word cloud indicates the focus on research, often done in and through FORTHEM labs so far. The fact that the participants mention labs is justified by their various engagements in the work on outputs designed and realized within the labs. The question on the opportunities and new skills provided to students through lab work was asked. The students pointed to the specificity of this form of widening and co-creating knowledge: some of them saw it as a chance of getting more knowledge of the things that are in the scope of their interest. This can, however, be a drawback for students who wanted to be involved, but found out that the topic and actions undertaken in a given lab is not exactly what matches their academic interests in the long run.

The students find the interdisciplinary character of labs valuable, but admit it might also be seen as a problem in getting their involvement “count” in their individual research career record. In general, they pointed to the labs being “a good starting point for more involvement” and most would agree that it is related to their general sense of internationalization. The question of the future developments of lab activities after the outputs are concluded was raised. All in all, students’ would like to be able to set their own research agendas a bit more in the labs, rather than only to follow in the footsteps of supervisors and leading academics.

 

(FIT) FORTHEM

The difference between FIT FORTHEM and FORTHEM sometimes needs more clarification.  Generally, the reason for this differentiation stems from the funding of both projects: FIT FORTHEM is funded by the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme of the European Union, while FORTHEM is financed by Erasmus+. However, both work in synergy to the benefit of the Alliance and the seven, soon nine, universities’ deeper integration and cooperation. In FIT FORTHEM the aim is mainly to enable joint research agenda, joint open science policy, widening outreach dimension, sharing infrastructures, strong joint expert services and international competitiveness. The importance of non-academic partners, human capital and external stakeholders is emphasized, too.

 

Students’ role

After the general discussion, Dr. Nicole Birkle started her presentation on the FIT FORTHEM research and innovation project, its focus and ways of involving students. The role of students representatives in the General Assembly (one MA or PhD student from each of the universities), their voting rights were emphasized. The typical term of being a member of the General Assembly is one year and the member of a FORTHEM Lab is quite likely to be appointed for that role. At the same time, the fact that the student representatives might advise the GA was highlighted. Even though they do not have voting rights to challenge the decisions of the project coordinators, they still play an important role in FIT FORTHEM and their voice matters to all the members. At all times they have a chance to introduce their ideas and make proposals to the General Assembly.

The benefits of involvement of the student community within FIT FORTHEM and FORTHEM were revisited. These include mobilities, lab outputs, and research assistants positions, Dr. Birkle emphasized the importance of helping future researchers in the development of their academic networks and shaping their career. In the upcoming years, FORTHEM “Research and Transfer Mission” might take efforts in organizing more student researcher-oriented activities than previously. This is due to the fact that the surveys completed by students gave an insight to their needs and interests. But there are still many upcoming events, including the professional skills up scaling workshops within the Work Package 2 (https://www.forthem-alliance.eu/fit-forthem/workshops/) that are open to students.

The possible ways of student research facilitation that the student representatives came up with include conferences, matchmaking activities (a portal for the alliance researchers to look for possible help and/or cooperation; developing networks), transversal skills workshops and working groups within given disciplines. The students emphasized the avoidance of field-specific orientation, which is replaced with interdisciplinarity in FORTHEM. The “hierarchy” during the meetings, which in some cases stops the students from bigger involvement, is a major obstacle. The problem might be solved by organizing meetings of the students before discussing the issues officially.

The proposals introduced to students for consultation turned out to overlap with their own ideas to a large degree. The ways of making the student activity more visible and potentially beneficial include:

  • joint supervision and mentoring of PhD students (also with postdocs mentoring PhDs and PhDs mentoring MAs);
  • networking and conferences within specific fields of research;
  • open access FORTHEM journal for student’s showcasing their research;
  • FORTHEM Buddy Program;
  • research stays at one of the alliance universities lasting up to 8 weeks;
  • joined activities with other institutions and associations;
  • online conferences and science slams;
  • the call for students-designed projects.

 

Student media

The ways of informing about the coming events were discussed at the end. Since relatively few students follow FORTHEM media and they are often not included in internal staff communications, they see the potential of adding FORTHEM information to existing newsletters, informing about the planned activities during orientation weeks/adaptation days, using student media to reach a bigger number of potentially interested students. The role of General Assembly members in spreading the information was emphasized.

 

Author: Michalina Mencel

 

FIT FORTHEM - 13th December 3:30-5:00 pm – the meeting of student delegates to the FIT FORTHEM General Assembly as well as other research-oriented student consultants

Organizers: Katarzyna Molek-Kozakowska, Nicole Birkle,

Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz: Edith Wittenbrink (student delegate),

Jyväskylän yliopisto: Venla Rantanen (student delegate), Wena Ho, Laura Castañe Bassa,

Universita' degli Studi di Palermo: Iolanda Roberta Sollima (student delegate),

Uniwersytet Opolski: Damian Tarasek (student delegate), Michalina Mencel.

 

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