Connecting Epistemologies: Final Event audio, powerpoints and storify

On 28th October 2014 we held an event to launch the final report from the Connecting Epistemologies project. The report can be downloaded from here on the blog.

The event was about reflecting on the project and putting it in the context of work done by AHRC and by other researchers.

We opened with a talk from Sue Carver, from AHRC. Her powerpoint presentation is available to download from this link CC presentation Without Notes Oct 2014 and the report she was discussing, Support for Arts and Humanities Researchers post-PhD can be found here

Peter Matthews (Stirling, @urbaneprofessor) then presented the findings of Connecting Epistemologies. His powerpoint can be downloaded by clicking ECR PPT and the audio from his talk is here.

All the issues and ideas he was discussing are more fully explored in the final report.

The final speaker was Bryony Enright (Bristol, @bryonyenright), dicussing ECR experiences as part of a much broader project she is working on for the Connected Communities programme. She concluded with a four part typology of ECR identities that generated much interest and debate in the room and is well worth listening to and reading about. The audio from her talk is here and her slides Bryony presentation

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The session concluded with an general discussion, with many points raised by the audience- they are captured in the the tweets from the day as a storify here

Finally One audience member mentioned an ECR network at UCL that might be a useful model for dealing with some of the issues raised at the event


Connecting Epistemologies: Final Report!

The report from our project, working with 11 ECRs to understand their experiences of working on the Connected Communities programme, is available here:

Connecting Epistemologies Report

The executive summary of the report is below. We hope the report will be downloaded, discussed and disseminated widely and we welcome feedback! Leave comments on the blog, tweet to us or drop us an email.

Helen Graham, Katie Hill, Peter Matthews, Dave O’Brien and Mark Taylor


Early career researchers (ECRs) are a vital part of the higher education landscape. However their experiences are often underrepresented in discussions about higher education. They occupy an uncertain position, often not securely settled into permanent academic jobs nor having fully completed their academic training. They are, however, essential to the on-going success of research in the UK, as part of Research Council funded projects.

This report contributes to recent attempts to rectify the under representation of the ECR in academic and media discussions. It focuses on a specific group of ECRs, those working on projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme. Connected Communities has funded over 280 projects, with over 400 community partners. The programme aims ‘to understand the changing nature of communities’ and to ‘inform the development of more effective ways to support and catalyse community cultures and behaviours’. The programme has been especially interested in funding methodologically innovative approaches, in particular those drawn from the arts and humanities.

Given this context Connecting Epistemologies sought to explore both the methods and the experiences of ECRs within Connected Communities. The project consisted of a research team who were themselves all ECRs (based on the RCUK definition) and reflected the variety of academic practice captured by the term. They also represented a range of methodological approaches, from quantitative studies of culture through to participatory work with communities.

The research took place between May and October 2014, with an initial workshop and later the involvement of eleven ECRs who were at a variety of career stages. The ECRs all worked with a member of the project team to record their experiences based on questions they developed and using methods with which they were comfortable.

The findings of the report are captured by four themes that paint a picture of the ambivalence of the ECR experience as part of the Connected Communities programme:

• The precariousness of ECR life
• Academic identity
• The role of the Connected Communities programme
• The ECRs’ research methods

All of the participants described their commitment to their work as academics. For some, Connected Communities was seen to have provided a space to very productively bring together different aspects of their lives as researchers, educators, professionals, practitioners or activists.

Others had experienced sacrifices as part of this commitment. For this group, questions were raised as to the suitability of many of their methods for an academic career within the rigid disciplinary frameworks of the university. This could be especially problematic for some ECRs working with participatory or co-creation methods as part of an RA role on a bigger project, in contrast to those that had consciously chosen these approaches.

The uncertainty around the ECRs’ academic lives is connected to the emergence of a new kind of academic and a new version of the meaning and practice of research. This practitioner is no longer the individualised researcher, but is rather a connected and communicative knowledge broker, translating between different worlds of academy, community and often also policy or general public. This identity is shaped as much by Connected Communities as it is by the ECRs’ recognition of the importance of academic impact and the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

The Connected Communities project had offered the ECRs the support and the space to develop both this new identity and their methodological innovations. As a result, the Connected Communities programme was seen in a positive light by all of the participants. However, the ambivalence displayed in the other areas of some of the ECRs’ contributions to the project was present in their understanding of the programme. This ambivalence stemmed from their uncertainty as to whether being part of this specific research programme would contribute to job security over the longer term, whether as an academic or not. This was more of an issue for those who had experienced a straightforward academic trajectory, had a clear disciplinary affiliation and traditional ideas of ‘career’. In contrast, those who had a professional background, activist motivations, or who were more relaxed about the different forms their future work might take, saw Connected Communities as providing a relatively secure and high status space to develop their practices.

Ultimately the question for research councils, universities and policy makers is how best to offer sustained support within institutional and funding frameworks for the passion and commitment of ECRs identified in this report.

Reflections on the Connected Communities Festival

Four out of the five members of the research team (sorry, Peter) spent the first part of July at the AHRC’s Connected Communities Festival. We were all there in various capacities, representing the different projects that we work on, attending the various breakout and off-site sessions that were taking place, as well as representing the Early Career Researchers project itself.

We had a poster displayed in the Motorpoint Arena on the 1st and 2nd of July, which moved to the St David’s Hotel on the 3rd for the dedicated ECR day. The poster summarizes what we’re doing in the project, and the discussion that followed on the 30th of May. You can see the poster at the bottom of this post (with English and Welsh versions).

The poster led to a lot of discussion with people who were attending the Festival; if anything, there was more discussion with more senior academics than with ECRs themselves. This discussion often focused on how these more senior academics, as PIs and Co-Is, were able to balance their roles as both managers and as mentors: whether they were able to ensure both that the ECRs they manage get value from the projects on which they work, and that their participation on Connected Communities projects won’t hinder their ability to get longer-term academic jobs further down the line. This discussion encouraged us that this balance is something that people are conscious of; hopefully it’s not limited to the people we interacted with near the poster.

One of our team, Dave O’Brien, was asked to participate in the final day of the festival as a mentor for ECRs developing research projects. The day was intensive and demanding, with ECRs asked to do large amounts of research development, thinking and networking in a comparatively short amount to time. Dave’s role was to comment, support and assist the ECRs through this process and offer his experience on the several ECR projects of which he has been a part, as well as bringing the perspectives that have developed from the ECR project to the discussions. The day was a fascinating experience for Dave, being on the other side of both project development and ECRs’ perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses of the Connected Communities project. The results of the funding decisions from the research development day will be announced early in 2015 and there will be come fascinating ECR-led projects taking place next year.

Our contribution to this year’s Festival was pretty cautious: some projects had large display stands with substantial printed material to take away; others organized a huge range of breakout sessions (as you can see from the programme); others balanced all of these activities with all sorts of activities off-site. We’re not sure yet what next year’s event will consist of, but we hope that we’ll be able to come to that with some substantive findings from the research process which is currently underway, and that those findings will feed into the way that Connected Communities will continue to work.

You can see Dave talking about the ECR project in the YouTube frame below.

ceposterenglish ceposterwelsh





Cultural Trends is inviting EARLY CAREER RESEARCHERS to submit to a special edition of the journal, which we hope to publish early 2015.


We also looking for an EARLY CAREER RESEARCHER to guest edit this special issue.



The ethos of Cultural Trends is that cultural policy should be based on reliable empirical evidence.


The journal’s emphasis is on empirical evidence and it champions the need for better statistical information on the cultural sector. Its readership is divided between academics, policy makers, funders, consultants and practitioners.

Cultural Trends is based on the assumption that cultural policy should be based on empirical evidence and it champions the need for better data on the cultural sector. It aims to:

•    stimulate analysis and understanding of the arts and wider cultural sector based on relevant and reliable statistical data;
•    provide a critique of the empirical evidence upon which arts and wider cultural policy may be formed, implemented, evaluated and developed;
•    examine the soundness of measures of the performance of government and public sector bodies in the arts and wider cultural sector; and
•    encourage improvements in the coverage, timeliness and accessibility of statistical information on the arts and wider cultural sector.



Submissions should have empirical issues at their heart – such as reporting on empirical results of research projects, discussing methodological issues in developing the evidence base for cultural policy, and/or reporting on developments in cultural indicators.


Submissions should be up to 5,000 words long and would need to be delivered in August 2014. More details about the journal and submissions are provided below


In the first instance we suggest that you submit an abstract of no more than 300 words to the Editor, Professor Sara Selwood ( no later than 30 June 2014. Please head you email, “Early Career Researchers”.


You will find a sample copy and more details about the journal at

Guidelines for submissions can be found at


Please note that publication in Cultural Trends is dependent on the outcome of peer reviewer.



Guest editor


If you would like to be considered for the voluntary post of guest editor for this special issue, please e mail the Editor with details of why you would like to be involved and what you could bring to the journal, together with a short CV (max 2 sides A4). Please head you email “ Guest Editor, Early Career Researchers”.


Experience of publishing reviews (in a peer-reviewed journal, in particular)  would be an advantage.


You may apply to both submit and guest edit.


Opportunities/precariousness, methods/mentoring

On Friday 2 May we had our first workshop of this project at City University in London. I have also been involved in a number of other ECR activities around Connected Communities.

Across this range of people and their academic identities the originality of research and the excellence in practice is very striking. However, on a more depressing note, what strikes me most is the precariousness of labour within this group of people.

Before I go on, I need to come clean, as I did with the community of ECRs at our event on Friday. I am still an ECR by the research councils (I think, within seven years of completion of my PhD anyway) however, apart from a brief stint as a civil servant, I am lucky that my academic jobs have been full time and permanent. What is more, I have been extraordinarily lucky in the support I have had from my employer and with the Connected Communities programme itself, to get a strong research profile established. So I speak from a very privileged position.

Our day at City began with talks from Jude Fransman on an emerging piece of her research with ECRs and then Ros Gill of City talking about her book chapter Breaking the Silence. In this chapter she used her background in research on the precariousness and vulnerability of labour in the cultural industries to understand practices which she evocatively described as “killing us”. Much rang true in Ros’ brief talk to us in terms of my own observations from within academia, particularly that the passion we have for our work makes us complicit in our own exploitation.

However, one participant in the workshop provocatively suggested that the precariousness that was described – moving from temporary, often part-time positions repeatedly over the course of a few years – was actually exciting and a great opportunity. In our break-out session we continued to discuss how precariousness and opportunity are quite finely balanced within the ECR’s life. In terms of opportunity, participants spoke openly that short-term contracts had allowed them to do exciting research that they did not think was possible within academia; it had allowed them to work with a diverse range of people; it was exciting and interesting; it enabled them to flit between disciplines; it enabled them to experience a range of institutions.

My wider experience of ECRs in Connected Communities reflectes this – the post-doctoral experience of the vast majority included a wide range of short-term jobs at a range of institutions. Many would best be described as “portfolio careers” – taking on a range of temporary work with employers across the arts and academia, to pay the bills and build up experience.

But I come back to my permanence, and a simple point I made at the event. I was luckily enough to slip in membership of the USS Final Salary Pension scheme four months before it was closed to new members. Unless something very disastrous happens, I’m likely to keep accumulating benefits in that scheme because of the security of my job. This security gives my whole life stability and scrutiny. For me, this is a deep part of what being a professional means.

This, however, leaves us with the conundrum of how we deliver the benefits of job diversity for individuals and organisations, with security of professional status and contract. One suggestion raised at the workshop was transposing the idea of the Civil Service fast stream into academia – essentially allowing, or encouraging, people to move around to get a diversity of experience and skills, with the guarantee of a permanent and senior role at the end of it.

Such a scheme would require changes to the structures and practices of higher education labour so brilliantly illuminated by Jude and Ros’ respective work. We need to challenge the allocation of research funding on the basis of competitive tendering; we need to make sure universities employ people fairly and pay them well; we need to redistribute work around our universities. Of course, in a job with a permanent contract in a research-intensive university it is easy to say this, and the variation in ballot results between institutions in the UCU consultative ballot on the latest employers’ pay offer speak volumes about the differing experiences across UK higher education.

One way we can challenge these structures and practices is through collective action in the unions. However, bringing it back to connecting epistemologies: We have our two “m” words that we don’t all agree on: “methods” and “mentoring”; activities related to these two words are at the heart of this project. There is also a real opportunity within Connected Communities to use the basis in radical community development methods that many of the projects derive from, to also challenge these practices. And part of that method has to be supportive, reflexive, supervision – mentoring

Call for participants! ECR Workshop 2nd May 2014

Connected Communities and Early Career Researchers workshop 2/5/2014, City University London: Call for Participants.


The AHRC’s Connected Communities programme has funded a research project that is exploring Early Career Researchers’ (ECR) experiences, with a focus on the methods they are using and how this shapes the type of researcher they are becoming. The research project involves workshops and the opportunity to take part in supported reflective practice to record your experience as an ECR with Connected Communities. This call for participants is for the first workshop, called ‘understanding the early career experience’ that takes place on 2nd May 2014, at City University London. We’re inviting all of the ECRs who are part, or have been part, of a Connected Communities project to come along to share their thoughts and ideas about our four research themes:


1) The methods ECRs use in their work. 2) The ECR experience of the Connected Communities programme. 3) ECR identities. 4) The social and higher educational structures surrounding ECRs.


The workshop is an interactive day, featuring a combination of papers and smaller group discussions. The day will be divided up into an introduction to the project and the project team, papers from Prof Ros Gill (City) and Dr Jude Fransman (IoE) focusing on their research on academic life, then two group discussions looking at the methods used by Connected Communities ECRs in their work.


11am arrival and coffee

11.30-12 ‘Why does the ECR experience matter?’ An introduction to the project and the project team.

12-1.30pm Prof Ros Gill and Dr Jude Fransman. ‘The ECR experience and the academic world’. These papers will be followed by a group discussion of the issues raised by the papers.

1.30-2.15 Lunch

2.15-3.00 ‘What are your methods? Part 1’ The project team will each offer 5min presentations about the methods they use in their work, reflecting back on how their approaches are shaped by some of the issues raised by Prof Gill and Dr Fransman’s papers. The session then breaks for coffee and informal questions and discussions.

3.30 coffee

3.30-4.30 ‘What are your methods? Part 2’ The remainder of the afternoon will be small group discussions to give participants a chance to reflect on the issues raised on the day and to give their understandings of their own practices and methods.

4.3-5.30 Conclusion: we’ll (attempt!) to summarise the day with some concluding comments. We’ll then introduce participants to the summer reflective practice project, where we’ll be offering a £500 bursary for 10 ECRs willing to work with us using a variety of methods to both understand their experiences and help them to develop their research and networks.


If you’d like to come along please email or tweet @drdaveobrien. More information is on our blog See you in May!