ECHER: Past, present, and future


On June 22, it will be exactly eight years since the inaugural ECHER meeting in Reykjavik. Since then, we’ve done some nice things together. We have organized several workshops, prepared and edited a book on higher education, were given a seat in the board of one of the well-established communities of higher education scholars, and, most importantly perhaps, we managed to keep the community connected.

ECHER blog, launched only six months ago, has been the latest addition to ECHER’s Curriculum Vitae. Those of us who have worked on creating and growing it are very proud of how it has turned out, especially given that we operate with no resources other than our own free time, which is scarce, and enthusiasm, which is abundant.

On the organizational side, we have kept things on hold for some time now. Recently, a generational change of sorts has taken place within ECHER, which is a perfectly normal thing in communities like ours. Yet, a proper organizational structure which would make this transition smooth was not really there. All of a sudden, there was a lot of uncertainty about the whole enterprise, concerning the “why,” the “what,” and in particular the “who” of ECHER.

“Early-career” is, from whichever angle you look at it, a transitory phase in one’s academic life. It’s not even a phase we are very keen on staying in for more than we have to. After all, don’t we all work very hard to be considered early-career as short as possible?

To make things more complicated, we are hardly the most “loyal” of species out there. Many of us will spend our early-career years “shopping around” in search of the “right” academic community. Maybe this is a generational thing, a matter of one’s disciplinary background, or simply of circumstances. As these things usually go, it’s probably a little bit of everything. For better or for worse, this is academia’s business-as-usual.

Yet this has important implications for our membership. I remember the heated discussion at that meeting in Reykjavik about how to properly define the early-career higher education researcher. Is it about age? Is it about academic rank (and lack thereof)? Or is it the length of one’s experience which we should look at? It was complicated. The issue was eventually left open and up to one’s own self-identification. It has remained so to the present day.

Eight years in, we believe that the time has come to address again the “who” of ECHER. When I say “we” I primarily refer to a handful of us who have been busy with the blog and related stuff for the past six months. But, we know all too well that ECHER is more that just a few of us and we want it to belong to all those who feel that they are, in one way or another, a part of the higher education research community or could become its part, even if it means for a year or two, shopping around and making sure they like it enough to stay.

So, with this story in mind, there are three things I am happy to share here, and they go as follows:

  • We have done some thinking on what most early-career academic people have in common and we have come up with a definition. It is not set in stone, but it’s a start.
  • There is a new mailing list, which will be open to all ECHER members. The purpose of the list is to share useful information, such as career opportunities and conference calls, as well as to discuss various issues of concern for early-career scholars.
  • And, finally, we have made a new membership form and attached to it a number of good reasons why you should consider becoming a member of ECHER.

If this is something you can see yourself to be a part of, join us!

Jelena Brankovic is a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Sociology, Bielefeld University, Germany. Currently she is trying to figure out how to get as many people as possible to help make ECHER a more relevant organization for the community. She is also one of the lead editors of ECHER Blog. You can follow her on Twitter.

Image by Eak K. from Pixabay

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