ThingsCon’s Good Things Fest: Thriving as Early Career Researchers

Good Things Fest banner

Thanks to the pandemic, our originally scheduled OpenDoTT summer school was held in the northern hemisphere’s winter together with our consortium partner ThingsCon at their annual event for IoT practitioners, Good Things Fest.

The OpenDoTT fellows were reading and responding to the State of Responsible IoT Report and participating throughout the event, especially on the Tuesday Talent Day dedicated to students, researchers and educators.

Jon Rogers and Michelle Thorne hosted a collaborative session that anchored in the experiences of several researchers at different stages in their careers, some centered more in academia and some more in activism. From our shared reflections, we sought to write a survival guide for studying responsible technology and recommendations for how to make the most of your research career.

Thank you to our amazing panelists, Chenai Chair, Natasha Trotman and Fieke Jansen.

Here are some highlights from that conversation:

What and when is “early” career?

A research career may exist outside of human chronological milestones such as age. The term “early” comes with assumptions about experience, expertise and even ability. How can these be challenged or complicated?

Conversely, consider the role of a “beginner’s mind” throughout your life. That approach may help you stay open and aware of blind spots. Also, early career may be when you have the flexibility and opportunity to take risks and acknowledge that there is more to learn.

Bridging scholarship and activism

Sometimes just being in a space is an act of activism in itself. How can you make the case for holding the space?

Resituating scholarship, impact and change is also a factor in activism. Bridging can be done through shifting scholarship to the ‘in between space’ where both scholarship and activism can co-exist.

Responsibilities at different stages of your career

Acknowledge fragility. And it’s worth knowing that fragility changes and arrives at many different points in your career. Be sensitive to your own and others’ fragilities.

Look for conversations instead of checking in and reporting. Being new and learning should be for everyone involved.

Step up, step back. How do you encourage yourself to step up in places where you may not, and to step back in places where you do?

Survival Thriving Guide

It’s not about surviving—it’s about thriving. Find your community. There is power in numbers and in personal and collective wellbeing.

Where from here?

Being an early career researcher is a complex and non-standardised state of being. It can be seen as supportive as much as a burdened label to be given. When exactly are you ‘early’? What is clear is that it is different for everyone, and it changes throughout your career.

The panel came from academic and activist careers, and this drew out some tensions about what success means in these different modes. How can you become an activist in academia—to challenge institutions as well as the discipline of your research?

For many, the simple act of ‘being there’ was seen as a form of activism. Important in this is knowing what you need to thrive. We acknowledge the gratitude to mentorship and support communities as well as the responsibility to teach it forward.

One day we hope that survival mode is relegated to the museum of employment history—a story once told. Thriving should be the baseline for all people, particularly those early in their career and by the very definition deserving of the right to grow and flourish.

Thank you to ThingsCon, our panelists, and the session participants for the enriching conversation!

More about the panelists

Chenai Chair is a Policy Researcher at World Wide Web Foundation and Mozilla Fellow, with a focus on building evidence for pro-poor and public interest digital policy. Currently exploring digital innovation and its impact on Africa’s social and economic growth as well as digital rights from a feminist perspective.

Natasha Trotman is a current artist in residence at Somerset House (studio 48), a designer, maker and researcher whose work explores extending the frontiers of knowledge around mental difference, non-typical ways of being and marginalised experiences in addition to also reframing mainstream notions of equality, equity, diversity, and inclusion through an intersectional design lens. Natasha has worked with neurodiverse communities and people with varied abilities, including dyspraxic and autistic persons, as well as those living with dementia. She has also worked with their carers and supporters.

Fieke Jansen is a researcher and practitioner on issues related to technology, autonomy, power, and human rights. Fieke will examine responsible AI practices for public institutions and citizens’ resistance to AI. She is a PhD candidate at the Data Justice Lab, where she researches the impact of data-driven policing practices on European societies. Prior to becoming a fellow, Fieke has been active in the digital rights space as a digital security trainer and data politics researcher.