Why you should give up your valuable time to be a working group convener
With 32 working groups, each having a minimum of two conveners, we're often on the look out for colleagues to take on a voluntary role of working group convener for a two-year term. However, in an environment where there are ever-increasing demands on academics' time, you might ask yourself what's in it for you.
We asked some past and present conveners to explain a little more about the role, the transferable skills they gained, and whether the role was beneficial to their career.
- Dr Georgina Holmes: Former convener of the Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding Working Group
- Professor John Vogler: Founding convener of the Environment Working Group (1991-2013)
- Dr Naomi Head: Founding convener of the Emotions in Politics and IR Working Group (2018-2021)
- Dr Nele Marianne Ewers-Peters: Current convener of the European Security Working Group
- Dr Nick Kitchen: Returning convener of the US Foreign Policy Working Group
- Dr Tarela Ike: Current Postgraduate President of the Africa and International Studies Working Group
What does being a working group convener involve?
Georgina Holmes: The main role of a BISA working group convener is to support and help grow a network of scholars in your specialist area within the IR discipline. This involves creating opportunities for the network to come together online and in person to advance collaborative work, and to promote the work of independent researchers, from postgrads to established colleagues. The working groups should also be a safe and encouraging space for people to gain experience presenting research, applying for funding and establishing and chairing events or workshops.
John Vogler: BISA Environment Working Group was set up in advance of the 1992 Rio ‘Earth Summit’. In my time it produced two edited books and a journal special issue, as well as organising numerous conference panels both in the UK and USA. In the beginning there was no internet or email, and physical meetings in London required the copying and pre-circulation of papers by post and assistance with member’s travel expenses. At the outset I was able to obtain funding for all of this from the ESRC, as part of its Global Environmental Change Programme.
Naomi Head: I was co-founder and co-convener of the Emotions in Politics and IR Working Group from 2018-2021. During this time, we built the working group into a thriving and diverse group of members working across the discipline. We organised workshops as well as panels and roundtables at the BISA annual conference, managed small budgets, and got to know a wide range of great people working in the field. We actively supported ECR colleagues through setting up a working group prize, as well as ensuring inclusion within the convening group and all the working group's activities.
Nele Ewers-Peters: The role of working group convener is quite diverse and the tasks vary from event organisation such as our annual working group workshop, online events (book talks, roundtables) as well as contributing to the organisation of BISA's annual conference, to communicating with both the BISA Office and our working group members. For the annual conference, we usually organise a social to allow the members to connect directly and to have informal exchanges. We have also started a newsletter which we send out about every three months which includes information on events, recent publications, CfPs, and any information contributed by our working group members.
What skills have you learnt through acting as a convener? Have you put these into practice in other areas of your work?
Georgina: I organised a two-day conference on peacekeeping and peacebuilding with my co-chair David Curran. We also put together the working group’s panels and roundtables for BISA’s annual international conferences in 2019 and 2021. I was able to draw on this experience when I became the co-chair of the conference programme for BISA 2022 and BISA 2023, which involved engaging in these processes on a much larger scale.
John: Some were organisational and clerical, but there was also the need to chair meetings of colleagues with, on occasion, strongly differing views, and to persuade them to submit their work on time. There was also some grant proposal writing and the invaluable experience of being an editor.
Nele: Being co-convener has taught me quite a lot about how the networking and conference part of academia works. I thus gained skills in event organisation while organising of our annual workshop and virtual events, as well as contributing to the organisation of BISA's annual conference. At my current position, which I only started in summer 2022, I was asked to spontaneously plan and organise a one-day workshop. The skills obtained and the knowledge about how to approach the organisation of workshops has helped me a lot to put together all the logistics and the programme.
The wealth of interactions, exchanges and communication with working group members, speakers and the BISA Office as well as with those interested in our work has furthermore helped to expand my own network and allowed me to improve my communication skills. Now I feel much more comfortable when approaching unknown scholars and policy makers.
Tarela Ike: Being the Postgraduate President of the BISA Africa and International Studies Working Group has been an amazing experience. The role equipped me with excellent leadership, communication and organisation skills. For example, I organised events, invited speakers and facilitated panel discussions. The skills I learnt were advantageous and transferable in my role as a Lecturer.
"At my current position, which I only started in summer 2022, I was asked to spontaneously plan and organise a one-day workshop. The skills obtained and the knowledge about how to approach the organisation of workshops has helped me a lot to put together all the logistics and the programme."
In what other ways has the role of working group convener been beneficial to your career?
Georgina: Being a working group convener allowed me to grow my own academic network in peacekeeping and peacebuilding studies which has led to many opportunities - including research collaborations and being invited to join editorial teams for books and journals. I also gained an insight into how BISA worked and, as a result, have been able to get more involved as a general trustee.
John: In retrospect it was very beneficial for a young(ish) lecturer at a Polytechnic that was about to become a new University. Above all, It meant that you got to know many of the key people in the field and had opportunities to network beyond the UK. Whereas the requirements of convenership have been made less demanding and costly by advances in communications technology, I suspect that this benefit remains.
Naomi: Organisational and leadership skills have been beneficial in terms of my later contribution to BISA as an elected trustee and have also led to involvement in other research activities around emotions including conferences, workshops, publications and editorial roles.
Nele: The co-convenership has been a significant added value for building my career. During most of my job talks, I have been asked about convening the European Security Working Group and my motivation to take on the role. I think universities and departments see the clear benefit of hiring someone who is engaged in the academic community, who makes a contribution in addition to research and teaching, and who brings along a wider network.
Nick Kitchen: Being a convener brings with it the opportunity to organise academic activities that can raise your own profile as a researcher and that of you home department or institution. BISA working groups extend to networks far outside the UK, and as a convener you are at the centre of that network, so it provides opportunities for making connections and facilitating collaborations that can make a material difference to career progression.
There is currently a vacancy for a convener of the Political Violence, Conflict and Transnational Activism Working Group. If you're interested or have questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.