Rebecca Broadbent, Aston University, The UK
The idea of the Newer Researcher Network was born in 2015, when I was a PhD student taking my first steps into the field of Engineering Education Research (EER). The Newer Researcher Network is part of the UK and Ireland Engineering Education Research Network (EERN) and it supports the development and voice of newer researchers within the field of engineering education. It is a community of those who are new to educational research, no matter where they are on their career journey.
I began my PhD in 2012, transitioning from engineering research to Engineering Education Research (EER). My background is Mechanical Engineering but I found that my passion is engineering education during outreach activities I helped to deliver as a student. I went on to undertake a part-time PhD, focused on the influence of engineering education activities on children’s engineering career aspirations, whilst working on educational projects across the UK that engaged a range of communities with engineering.
I loved that transition in my studies but it was not easy; I remember sitting with a dictionary looking up so many of the words I read as I delved into papers from the fields of sociology, psychology and education. It was like a new language to me. I was incredibly lucky to have had supervisors who encouraged me to participate in EERN activities which gave me a place to explore the concepts and methodologies I was reading about, and I was later invited to be a PhD student representative on the network committee. Something that I find fascinating (and heart-warming) about EER is the diversity of those involved in this endeavour. Scholars from a range of backgrounds including engineering, sociology and education, all come together with the objective of understanding and developing education for engineers globally. With this in mind, how could I as a single PhD student represent all those different voices? More importantly, how could the EERN support this group who all take such different routes to this field? Thus, the Newer Researcher Network came into being formally, with myself and Dr Folashade Akinmolayan Taiwo co-founding and launching this community at the EERN Symposium in May 2018.
Our community began by hosting Meet and Greet events at the annual EERN symposium, providing a friendly and informal space for researchers who were new to EER to find each other and discuss their work, celebrate successes, access resources, and find support. This led to the network running workshops focused on specific topics identified by our members, including mental wellbeing for newer researchers and making your voice heard in online conferences. In addition, the network also organised online events where newer researchers could present their work and gain feedback from a range of different people within the field, thus supporting individual’s development and EER outputs. I became the first Chair of the Newer Researcher Network Committee in 2017 and stepped down from this role in 2021, with Professor Mo Zandi taking on the role and continuing to support and develop the community we have built.
Watching the Newer Researcher community grow over this time, as well as hearing the feedback from members of the community and seeing their progress, has been an incredibly rewarding experience. The community comprises incredibly talented, passionate, compassionate people. Being part of this network continually provided me with support and opportunities for growth and challenged the way I thought, not only enabling me to develop my research but also my teaching, through bringing innovations and improvements to my classes.
In addition, it has enabled me to develop my aspirations within academia. Leading a network of such a supportive, empowering community helped me understand the role that I wanted mentoring and the development of others to play within my career. The opportunities to learn and develop these skills through my role on the EERN have been instrumental in helping me develop as a leader and step-up to the opportunities and challenges that academia has provided me so far. Being involved in the EERN as a PhD student provided me with a research community who welcomed me and made me feel as though I belonged. I am glad that I have been able to give my time and energy to do the same for others and I hope that the network continues to provide this community of critical friends for years to come, continuing to forge wonderful professional relationships and friendships across the diverse community of researchers within EER.