New Eurodoc board members after the general meeting: in the first row (from left) Beata Zwierzynska, Auréa Chopignon, Eva Hnátková, Sharmin Ahmed and Giulia Malaguarnera. Mathias Schroijen is in the second row behind Hnátková.

Early career researchers getting ready for sustainable innovation!

Eurodoc 2019 conference and general meeting convened in Brussels to discuss early career researchers’ issues and future. Focus was especially on employability and career development of PhD holders, sustainable innovation, and problems in academic work environment.

Eurodoc – The European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers – is a federation that represents early career researchers on a European level. The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers (FUURT) has been a Eurodoc member association since 2008.

The biggest annual event of Eurodoc is its annual conference and general meeting. Last year, the event was held in Finland for the first time, as FUURT organised the event in Tampere (April 2018). This year, the event took Eurodoc members to Brussels. From Finland, Sanna Rantakömi and Miia Ijäs-Idrobo took part in the event as FUURT delegates.

The conference took place on April 1–2 under the title Employability of PhDs: Valorise your skills and reach your full potential! The fact that minority of PhD holders stay in academia and majority need to find employment in other sectors served as a starting point for the discussions. Thus, much attention was given to topics discussing transferable skills and how to articulate them, collaboration with non-academic partners especially during PhD training, and the growth of academic entrepreneurship and the possibilities it opens to researchers and PhD holders

Focus on sustainable innovation

Eurodoc president Gareth O'Neill (2017- 2019) chairing a panel of experts on sustainable innovation.

Director of the Research and Development Administration at the University of Liège, Dr. Isabelle Halleux, gave an especially interesting talk on the future of research from the perspective of sustainable innovation. Sustainable development has three dimensions: social, economic and environmental dimension. Research can contribute to sustainable development through sustainable innovation, for example.

In order to promote and support sustainable innovation, researchers must be trained for being innovative in new ways, they must be motivated to engage and be aware of the three dimensions (economy, society, environment) in their research, and they need to be able to discuss with different kind of stakeholders. To face and answer global and complex challenges, researchers must have access to and support in so-called 3i training, that is, research training and career development must include and provide access to international, interdisciplinary and intersectoral mobility.

Participants also took part in interactive roundtable talks to discuss various topics that have lately been in Eurodoc’s focus, such as transferable skills and employability of PhD holders, challenges and opportunities in intersectoral mobility, mental health issues in academia, open science, the role of academic alumni networks for professional development, as well as issues related to trans- and interdisciplinary research. Although the discussions were rather short on each topic, they were interesting as researchers and experts from different fields of study could share their views and experiences with each other.


The most vivid discussion during the conference took place on the second day in a session hosted by the Erasmus+ funded project Graduate SPIRIT. The session started with a 30-minute theatrical play #MeTooAcademia – The Learning Curve by The Actor Society (Het Acteursgenootschap). The play was about harassment and sexual abuse in academia. Although the story was fictitious, it was based on real interviews recently published in Science Guide, as well as confidential interviews conducted at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. The play included three characters: a young female PhD candidate, her male supervisor returning from his sabbatical, and a female head of the department.

The play showed how the interaction between the female PhD candidate and the male professor slowly developed from professional relationship to include improper behaviour and harassment, and finally a risk of serious sexual abuse. As the victim took her case to the head of the department, she was first faced with fear and hesitation to intervene in the matter as the department and university were not willing to lose their ”superstar professor”. Eventually, however, the institution started to defend the victim.

The play was followed by a panel discussion in which representatives of different universities and career stages discussed the matter of harassment in academia. Much of the discussion focused on the issue, what institutions need to do in order to create and ensure a safe environment to all students and staff. Especially eye-opening, however, was the notion that academia in itself is a potential risk environment as people are passionate about their work, they work long and irregular hours, and travel often.

Academic hierarchy is also an issue that can contribute to different kinds of harassment, as especially early career researchers are dependent on their supervisors and recommendations they provide.

The vivid discussion among participants concluded with an understanding that institutions need clear guidelines how to manage these un-wanted cases. In addition, more open discussion is needed on these issues in order to create a healthy and safe academic culture which will not leave any room to harassment, whatever form it may take.

Eurodoc in 2019–2020

The conference was followed by the Eurodoc general meeting. As annual goals for the term 2019–2020, the general meeting chose to promote especially career planning and development of early career researchers, mental health, open science, research integrity, as well as equality, democracy and sustainability.

Eurodoc continues to build a trustworthy and professional image of its organisation toward stakeholders and partners. Eurodoc’s visibility has increased during the last couple of years especially among European organisations. Now Eurodoc aims to continue to have high visibility via its own communication and in other medias.

The general meeting elected a new board and secretariat for the term 2019–2020. The board is as following: president Eva Hnátková (Czech Republic), vice-president Auréa Chopignon (France), treasurer Sharmin Ahmed (Sweden), secretary Mathias Schroijen (Belgium) and general board members Giulia Malaguarnera (Italy), Guillermo Varela Carbajal (Spain) and Beata Zwierzynska (Poland). Véronique De Herde (Belgium) continues as secretariat coordinator to support different working groups in their activities.

From the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers, Miia Ijäs-Idrobo continues as an advisory board member for a second term. She has previously served as secretary and working group coordinator for the organisation.

Currently, Eurodoc has about 30 member associations from states within the Council of Europe. Eurodoc’s vision and mission is to contribute to a European research and higher education area in which doctoral candidates and junior researchers are duly recognised as professionals and respected for the essential roles they play

text Miia Ijäs-Idrobo

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