Up the creek without a paddle? Perhaps a subject association can help.

By Caroline Lewis, University of Wales Trinity St David, Chair of BESA

About the HE Education Research UK Blog Series
To raise awareness of the HE Education Research Census and contribute to a conversation about HE education research in the UK, this blog series explores a wide range of issues at the forefront of education research today. It includes blogs from colleagues at all career stages, research areas and nations of the UK. Please get in touch if you too would like to contribute.

My first encounter with the British Education Studies Association (BESA) was in 2006 where, I, as a reasonably early career academic, was asked to attend the second annual conference for the association as an information gathering exercise for our newly developed Education Studies provision. As a relatively young discipline, Education Studies at the time was still something of an anomaly within the social sciences and as I had not attended an academic conference before, so arrived with an open mind and a keen interest to learn as much as I could, particularly about becoming a researcher myself.

During those two days of the conference the enthusiasm of those who attended was palpable, in the presentations, the social spaces as well as the obligatory pub visit. It began for me, a long-term fascination with the association and a profound respect for what BESA were trying to foster: a community of academics and researchers, committed to further understanding and supporting education.

Over the years, this focus on supporting research, and particularly for those in the early part of their career has been a fundamental feature of what BESA do. At the annual conference we have hosted specific early career researchers’ days as a prelude to the main conference and we have welcomed students and researchers at all stages in their academic journey into the BESA family. We have offered student bursaries for our conferences as well as expert mentoring to those wishing to submit articles to our peer-reviewed journals. All of this is aimed at building that academic community that those working in the field of education can benefit from as an extended professional network.

There can be no doubt that education research is invaluable for us within higher education, it informs our teaching philosophy and pedagogy, but we do not and should not have to make this journey alone. Often, academia can seem like a lonely and isolated place, if one is to heed the cries emanating from social media platforms from researchers and academics across the globe trying to seek out other like-minded individuals amongst a tsunami of voices from all directions. Recently within the UK, the recent Research Excellence Framework results have highlighted the significance with which research output is valued for higher education institutions. It has brought a range of emotions to all concerned – some positive, and some negative – before we re-set and efforts are then directed to the next entry round and the circle of academic life continues.

Even for those who are primarily practitioners within the field of education, the expectation to engage in research and scholarship is becoming increasingly prevalent. The question is, therefore, how can we engage effectively with the research agenda and what support is there that exists for our subject specialisms in particular? We may be highly involved within our own institutions, but no university is an island, and no academic need feel castaway on the metaphorical distant shores alone.

This is where subject associations can help, by providing that outlet for scholarship which nurtures those professional networks that can help research and researcher development can be invaluable for members. One of the ambitions of BESA is ‘to foster networks and impact upon national debates and discourses regarding education policy and practice’ (About BESA – BESA | British Education Studies Association – Supporting research in Education Studies)., and over the years, the scholarly community of the association has resulted in a range of collaborative opportunities for members. This has been through publications of books chapters and edited volumes, journal articles, proposals for new academic texts, and BESA members have also actively contributed to the development of the QAA Benchmark Statements for Education Studies. Our annual conference has sown the seeds of many academic ventures and hopefully, many more to come.

For me, at this moment in time as Chair of BESA, I look forward to helping fellow travellers traverse the choppy seas of academia in a time where we need to develop a sense of community more than ever. If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that we need not be alone. Research and scholarly activity are important, they drive us, and our disciplines forward, but this is not a solo venture by any means. Especially for those at the start of their journey, it can sometimes feel overwhelming and not knowing which direction to set your sail to can be daunting. This is where a subject association can help, not only will it help provide that map and compass (should you need it), but you may also find some fellow sailors willing to lend an oar too!

By Caroline Lewis, University of Wales Trinity St David, Chair of BESA

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Caroline Lewis is a Senior Lecturer and Assistant Academic Director for Childhood and Education at UWTSD. She currently leads the MA Education Studies and PGCE (PCET) programmes and also teaches on the BA Education Studies programmes. She is an executive member of BESA and is currently Vice-Chair of the association. She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a member of the End Child Poverty (Wales) steering group.

Follow Caroline on Twitter:          @Caroline_ALewis

1 thought on “Up the creek without a paddle? Perhaps a subject association can help.

  1. Pingback: News and Info | HE Education Research Census

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