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[ Member engagement ] April 11, 2022

What does the next generation of members want from conferences?

The conversation about early career researchers (ECRs) is often nervous. Leaders worry, wondering what they want or why they aren’t behaving the same as the previous generation. Needs and priorities are changing, and the evolving technology landscape means greater opportunities to meet early career researchers where they are.

  • Mentorship: Joining a society is about advancing your career by actively engaging in a community. Early career researchers want to connect and network, but they also need mentors. Conferences are a perfect opportunity to facilitate mentorship, either with a volunteer-led program or through informal connections.

  • Diversity, equity, & inclusion: More than ever before, DE&I is driving forward new perspectives. ECRs value diversity, and want to see their communities reflected in leadership and throughout all levels of their conference. Conferences can be a great place to partner with diversity groups, like the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science or the National Society of Black Engineers.

  • Immediate access: Technology transforms and re-transforms our lives constantly. One of the biggest shifts has been the ability to access information immediately. Early career researchers want streamlined systems that make it easy to do the administrative parts of their jobs, so they can save time and focus on conducting research or preparing their conference presentations.

Engage early career researchers directly

The best way to understand what early career members want, whether from your conference or from membership in general, is to ask them. Get them involved. Help them lead and shape your organization for their peers. 

  • Research, research, research: We make so many assumptions about ECRs. We talk about them like they are a monolith, sharing the same needs and all having the same perspective. But there’s a huge amount of variety. The best way to find out what early career researchers in your discipline need is simply to ask them. Surveys, focus groups, and informal sharing sessions are great ways to start.
     
  • Let them lead: ECRs won’t be ECRs forever. As their careers advance, they will shape and change their communities. You can get them involved by making sure there’s an early career researcher on every committee at your organization, or by having leadership positions dedicated to them. 

  • Career support: Many disciplines are at high risk for burnout. We frequently see research about burnout in accounting majors or medical students on our platform. Without support, the next generation of members may decide they don’t want to be a part of the research community at all. Explore whether your conference can provide training and skill-building on resiliency and balance.

Early career researchers are as diverse as any other group. They are the future of your organization, and making sure investments like the conference are vibrant and engaging will keep them coming back and shaping the research community for years to come.

It all comes down to community. Download our eBook, The Future of Scientific Conferences is Hybrid, to get our take on how technology will empower the future of research collaboration.