How to Create an Early-Career Scientists Association
Find motivated early career scientists interested in starting an association
This is by far the most important point. Find motivated leaders that will push the creation of the association forward and have a clear vision. There is no right way to start the association: some might evolve after a spontaneous conversation amongst motivated early career scientists, others might be a top-bottom approach, and some might be born due to a clear need to have a union to strengthen academic solidarity. Engage people by calling for a meeting, advertising it via social media or flyers, and start brainstorming, even with just a handful of attendees. Establishing an ECS association can be a demanding but also a very rewarding process.
Define your mission
Define the general aims of the association. Finding and establishing a common ground among the members of the association is crucial to keep people motivated. It will also help the association to gain strength and credibility. The mission of the association will be tailored according to the specific needs at the time e.g. Eurodoc Mission and Vision Statement. Be inclusive – you can gather information among your community (e.g. PhDs or Postdocs).
Don't forget to create a logo that represents your association!
Call for official elections of the association board, and write and approve statutes
A democratic election is the key to make your association inclusive and professional. This helps to gain respect for the governing and administration bodies of your institution and facilitates structures to ensure the continuity of the association. Convening regular general meetings in order to approve the statutes and to execute elections (physically or online) helps to keep a fair system in place.
The election procedure of the association board should be clearly stated in the statutes. Its details will depend on the structure of the represented scientific entity. Normally 3-8 representatives should form the association board and their mandate should be annual.
As the workload for active representatives can be heavy, even when convening to address administrative matters, it is advisable to avoid many meetings so that people can return to their other daily duties. Creating working groups with specific topics (e.g. survey group, social events group) greatly streamlines the workflow of the association board. Having an advisory board of past members also greatly facilitates the work.
Steps to run elections online or physically :
Candidates running for a position of e.g. president or secretary state their goals and aims.
Voting happens physically or online (e.g. LimeSurvey: the online survey tool - open source surveys) with a participation of at least 51% of the collective you represent.
Vote counting and announcement of the results to all the members of the association.
Elected candidates should sign the statutes and accept their roles.
The statutes of the ECS association should be clear and concise. They should collect the mission, the structure, and the election process of the association. The statutes should be voted and approved by a simple majority. You can find a template from the Max Planck PostdocNet statutes for writing statutes on our resources page.
The statutes should have a clear system and procedure (simple majority vote) for introducing new and modifying existing clauses. The statutes can be modified and approved every year. When the association is more mature and well established you can define clearer structures and roles for members of the board. A good example of an association board is the Berkeley Lab Postdoc Association
Work together with governing bodies, administration and faculty of your institution
In order to reach many of your goals as a ECS association, working together with directors, management team, administration, grant office, human resources, communication team, and other faculty members of the institution is fundamental. Be inclusive and explain your mission and seek the collaboration of the members of your institution .
Postdocs and PhD students normally formulate the main task force of a research institution. Their voices and concerns need to be heard but it is also important that they are included in management decisions of the institution such as hiring processes.
Many institutions have a managing team or senate where decisions are made, and ideally all groups from PhD students to department directors should be included. However, this is often not the case and decisions are only taken following a top-bottom approach. The elected governing body of your association representing a large group of PhD students or Postdocs can negotiate a seat at the table to make the decisions more inclusive for the group you represent.
How can you increase the chances that your association is included in the decision making process?
Held regular meetings with the higher management of your institution are great opportunities for discussing issues of interest for your association. Scheduled annual meetings with management will provide a platform for improved communication and mutual understanding.
Participate in university/institute committees. Make sure your association is aware and represented in different committees. Examples include the equality committee of your institution, regular faculty meetings, and sustainability committees.
Collaborate with the PhD students and postdoctoral office or unit (if they exist). Many large institutions have this unit run by paid employees to foster early-career researchers within specific programs. Your ECS association should be in constant contact with them to facilitate the visibility of issues raised by your collective. They can help in the administrative part of handling a retreat, workshops or the elaboration of a welcome package for new and incoming researchers. If your association has a budget, the PhD students/Postdoc office may also be responsible to handle it officially within the institution.
Get involved in hiring processes of new faculty members.
Secure a seat at the annual scientific advisory board (SAB) of your institute to discuss with external advisors of the institute the concerns of your collective
Work with the administration at different levels. For example to gather information of new postdocs entering the institute, to keep the mailing list up to date, establishing alumni databases, coordinating institute events.
Overall, working together with all the above mentioned groups is of mutual benefit as it promotes the institution at all levels. When the administration and management team take notice of the growing strength and influence of your association, they will approach the representatives if they have any concerns or news of your collective. The administration normally greatly benefits from the existence of associations since they help to spread news and can more easily target representatives than individuals.
Listen to your peers by organizing regular meetings and surveys
Never forget you represent a collective and not your individual interests. If you are a newborn organization, having a general founding meeting to have a first feeling for discussions and brainstorming is ideal. Next, organize an anonymous survey to get an overview of the situation at your institution. You can conduct a general survey including career perspective, events, working conditions, satisfaction, training, gender or minority balance or a focus survey e.g. social rights of your collective. The survey information is immensely valuable to detect issues and to plan future strategies. Some ideas for survey questions can be found here Postdoc X-ray in Europe 2017 Work conditions, productivity, institutional support and career outlooks.
Organize a meeting with your PhD students/Postdoc collective at least once or twice a year to give them updates of your actions and collect feedback. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learnt that we can stay connected remotely, so do not be afraid to meet or even run a general meeting online! After the meeting, send the minutes to the whole collective.
Make your association visible in your institution and outside
Communication inside your institution
Create an email with the domain of your association where peers can directly target board members.
Create a mailing list for all your members.
Send regular emails or create a newsletter to the collective to keep them informed and make your actions transparent. Writing this newsletter may be a key job of one board member.
Be a part of your institution’s website or at least have a link to your association website. A good example can be seen at MPI-CBG Postdocs
Make flyers of the events your association organize and print your logo on them.
Send an email with the starting package everytime a new member joins.
You can also create Slack chat with your peers to have a more fluid relationship.
Communication with the outside world. Social media!
Create a website for your association, update it and include an event calendar. Your statutes and other guidelines can also be uploaded to your website.
Create accounts in social media channels especially Twitter.
Go to networking events.
Plan a Budget. Institution, sponsors and donations
Organizing events, retreats, workshops and travels requires money. Ideally your association should have an assigned yearly budget provided by your institution that you can negotiate with your director or dean. It is also possible that you get a budget upon request for a specific purpose, e.g. a retreat or a workshop. The budget is generally managed by the administrative personnel, so justifying expenses can help avoid troubles further down the road. Normally institutions have strict policies to cover food and drinks of the events. Here are some alternatives for those cases:
Find companies that sponsor your association by reaching out to them directly e.g. contacting alumni that currently work in a biotech company. Check your institute policies about sponsorship of scientific events. For instance, organizing a career day for postdocs and including some exhibition areas with their products while they sponsor the drinks and food of the event.
Ask for donations from your community or organize events to fundraise money for your association e.g. beer hour or merchandising like the Monash Graduate Association. Some associations have a yearly fee for their members like the National Postdoctoral Association.
Organize social events, career developing events and an annual retreat
Don't over do-it. Events are important but they need to be tailored for your community and spread over time. Many institutions already have professional PhD student or postdoc programs running with many career workshops. Try to coordinate with them and see what they lack before you start planning a new event.
Career developing events
You could ask principal investigators to form a panel for mock interviews for postdocs applying for faculty positions, chalk-talks to present science over a pizza, vision talks given by faculty, lunches with external speakers, relaxing mixer events for PhD students and postdocs with faculty members, mentorship programs or a career day inviting alumni that are now in industry.
Annual retreat, General meeting or Founding meeting
Organizing a yearly event in the form of a 1-3 day retreat for all your PhD students/postdocs would be ideal. Create a program combining science and social activities, invite external speakers and other networks or working councils. Use this time to review or expand statutes and hold elections for new board members.
Social events to create a community
Organize attractive social events for your community in which they can interact and find peers and friends. Especially for international scientists, this can help a lot during their integration process. Some ideas might include hike days, karaoke night, sport tournaments, beer hour or barbeques. Social interactions give rise to great scientific ideas and collaborations.
Find more ideas in our “Building a Community” section
Get in touch with other networks
Stronger together. If you are starting a postdoc association, there might already be a PhD students association at your institute: communicate with them and coordinate your common interests. Regional coordination between associations can increase the visibility of the community e.g. access to sport facilities.
You might belong to a national laboratory or an institute which is part of a big network of institutes. In this case there may be associations that are the umbrella of local hubs and give voice to a wider community. Some examples are the National Postdoc Association in America (NPA), the European Network of Postdoctoral Associations (ENPA), the Postdoc network of the Max Planck Society (PostdocNet), or the Helmholtz Juniors.
It is also important to get in touch with the working council to get their feedback and support for some of the working demands of the association.
Use our platform to get in touch with other networks and connect.
Find more ideas in our “Become stronger together” section
Take care of your association
As important as it is to create an association, it is also imperative to ensure its maintenance. Here are some tips, which in our experience, will make the road smoother.
Have good leadership: it is teamwork, but someone needs to drive the boat.
Maintain your structures: distribute tasks amongst the board members and the volunteers of different committees. Keep track of this using a system like Slack or Google Sheets.
Make sure you have regular executive meetings scheduled & have an agenda for them.
Keep it transparent: within board members and with your collective, conflicts might arise due to miscommunication or lack of communication.
Every step counts if it is reported: emails, minutes, seminar organization and all other valuable information should be stored for the past, present and future reference of the association.
Review your vision and priorities from time to time: make sure you are still on the right path. A good strategic plan is useful here too.
Celebrate your achievements as board members. You’ve worked hard and come a long way!
Finally, keep motivation up: making changes in a well-established/archaic system can take time and be painful, it might take several board generations to achieve your ultimate goals.