Reflections as an ECR on ISBE2019 – Daniel Roberts

I am Daniel Roberts, a PhD student at Swansea University researching the relationship between entrepreneurship policy and attitudes in Wales. Originally from north Wales, I graduated with a degree in History and Economics from Cardiff University in 2015, working in the European Parliament and for the National Union of Students before beginning my PhD in 2017. Alongside my PhD, I work for the cross-party Welsh think-tank Gorwel, which aims to explore ideas for innovation in economic policy and public affairs in Wales. My research interests include interpretations of entrepreneurship in political discourse, attitudes towards entrepreneurship in economic peripheries, and the internal brain drain in the United Kingdom.

I was delighted to attend the ISBE Conference for the first time this year. It was a very useful and inspiring experience; to meet interesting people I could learn a lot from, to present my research to experts in their fields and gain their insights, and to develop my understanding of the role of academic research into entrepreneurship and small business in wider society. It is easy to see why the ISBE conference was so well attended by Early Career Researchers, experienced academics, policymakers and practitioners. It was an opportunity for people of many different perspectives to gather and contribute to the development of effective and fruitful research.

The first recommendation I would make to an Early Career Researcher attending the ISBE Conference in the future would be to make sure to attend the Doctoral Day. Rather than being an “add-on” to the wider conference experience, the Doctoral Day was clearly tailored to the genuine interests of PhD researchers, with sessions on the role of impact, publication, funding, and even how to work in a way that is efficient and maximises your potential, but in a way that is self-caring and sustainable. But crucially, it was the attitude of co-operation and sharing among the attendees, hosts and facilitators that ensured that the experience was more than a promising agenda, and a genuine opportunity for collaboration and learning. From my fellow PhD students who I spoke to about our research journeys, to the esteemed figures who were there to share their experiences of a career in academia, it was the people and environment who made the day a success.

It was a similar atmosphere of collaboration and co-operation that made for a positive experience of the ISBE conference itself. At the beginning of the conference I was, as I’m sure most Early Career Researchers presenting papers at the conference for the first time were, nervous about how my research would be received. I was delighted that my presentation provoked keen interest, discussion and questions. I think it can be easy to associate the format of presentations of your work with being examined, but it is much better to view presenting your paper as an opportunity to gather new perspectives on your work, with thought-provoking questions from experts in your field being an opportunity to make your research the best it can possibly be. So, seek out constructive criticism, as it’s much better than disinterested silence. Again, as well as the array of fascinating papers being discussed, what truly made the conference a fascinating experience was the openness of the presenters and their audiences, with the result being a fruitful exchange of knowledge.

Finally, a key and unexpected element of the conference was the running theme of impact on policy and practise. This came in a variety of forms. Firstly, it was a key element of the Doctoral Day, as different types of impact were considered; from the traditional measures of publications and citations, to more personal ambitions like “making an impact”. But throughout the conference, the role of the academic researcher in producing impact was questioned. Are we answering the right questions? What can we do that practitioners and policymakers can’t? Are our underlying assumptions relevant to the real world? These types of questions go to the core of why we undertake PhDs and develop an interest in academia, and the discussions that followed were thought-provoking and made a lasting impression. I was delighted to be invited to take part in a panel discussion with the Practice and Impact Special Interest Group, to give the perspective of an Early Career Researcher looking at effective policy development. It was an opportunity to re-assess how we as researchers interact with practitioners and policymakers, and what we offer to the entrepreneurship ecosystem. Finally, the SIG arranged a session on communicating your research by Research Retold, which was a thoroughly useful and interactive seminar on how to ensure that your papers or other outputs are accessed by those who can use it to make a difference. Again, this is exactly what the majority of Early Career Researchers I met at the conference wanted to do, and I was delighted that the conference understood this.

The conference was successful because of 2 main factors; the willingness of the attendees and facilitators to openly engage in discussion of their work, and the awareness of the organisers of what Early Career Researchers need and want from the conference. These two factors combine to make my experience of ISBE 2019 wholly positive. Discussions with fellow ECRs and established and respected academics have given me a new perspective of my work, and the theme of impact has given me a new perspective of how my work can make a difference to wider society. I look forward to attending more ISBE events in the future.

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