Chairing a CYGNA meeting

Have you ever organised or chaired a meeting online for a widely geographically dispersed group of participants from different time zones? Being Vietnamese by origin whose English is non-native, and currently based in Melbourne, Australia, I have successfully chaired a truly international virtual meeting with 56 participants from the UK, Australia, Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Portugal, the Netherlands, Serbia, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey. I would like to share this experience with you.

As a CYGNA member, I have learned many great tips for research and career development and extended my professional network by attending several CYGNA online meetings in 2020. That is why when Prof Anne-Wil Harzing asked CYGNA members to volunteer to chair a CYGNA for 2021, I immediately put my hands up. The topic that I proposed is: Climbing up the academic career ladder. Fortunately, the organising team accepted my proposed topic and invited me to chair the 39th CYGNA meeting.

Why this topic?

I am interested in this topic, Climbing up the academic career ladder’, because of two main reasons. First, the academic career is considered as a prestigious but very challenging one with no single career pathway to the top. To reach the highest academic level, female academics often face multiple challenges. In Australia, only about 30% of all full-time equivalent academics work at level D (associate professor) and level E (professor) combined.

Second, I am always interested in understanding other people's career journeys and advancement. This interest partly originates from my own career journeys, with a first successful academic career in Vietnam, becoming a Dean of a 130 staff Faculty at the age of 27. In 2005, this probably made me the youngest female Dean in Vietnam. After a 6-year interruption undertaking postgraduate study in higher education policy and management at the University of Melbourne, I have pursued a second academic career in Australia since 2014.

How did I prepare?

With detailed guidance and support from Prof Anne-Wil Hazing, I made a careful plan for chairing this meeting. I invited Prof Sharon Bell to deliver a presentation. Sharon is my former senior colleague and mentor from the University of Melbourne, an academic leader with over twenty-five years of leadership experience in the Australian higher education sector, and an interim Dean from Australian National University. I also planned to share findings from one of my recent research projects on the same topic and to lead a group discussion so that the participants could also share their career advancement experiences and strategies.

Despite having run a lot of meetings before and having organised 17 live webinars for the iVANet-RDP I felt a bit nervous before running the meeting. I was not sure if my session would run smoothly and whether it would be useful for other CYGNA participants. The topic, career advancement, is every academic’s interest/concern. However, some senior CYGNA members who are associate professors/full professors would surely have much more experience than I do?

This meeting would also be the very first that I would ever run with a truly international group of academics who are neither from Vietnam nor from Australia, the two higher education contexts that I am most familiar with. As Sharon is very busy in her role as Dean and she agreed to talk to us four months ago, I was also afraid that she would no longer be available for this meeting. Understanding my feelings, Anne-Wil kept reassuring me that everything would go well, and that I would chair a great session. With her encouragement, I felt a bit better but still could not avoid feeling nervous.

How did I go?

Contrary to all my worries, the meeting went very well, with a record number of 56 participants. Before the meeting, I googled half of the registered participants’ profiles. I also invited all of those with a LinkedIn profile to become a part of my LinkedIn network. Fortunately, all of them accepted my request to connect, and most also thanked me for reaching out to them. Anne-Wil wrote a blogpost to share the key discussion points and takeaways from this meeting, so I am not sharing these points here.

However, I am happy to share that I received great feedback on the meeting. Some of Anne-Wil’s Middlesex colleagues said the session was ‘a networking, mentoring and therapy session in one’. Some also said it had been the ‘best session’ for them so far. Via LinkedIn, I also received very positive feedback from other CYGNA participants. One participant even invited me to collaborate with her on a related research project.

What lessons did I learn?

I found my experience of chairing the 39th CYGNA session extremely helpful. First, I felt that I could pay back for the invaluable professional learning experience that I have received from Anne-Wil, the CYGNA organizing committee, and other CYGNA members. Second, by inviting Prof Sharon Bell to speak, I was also able to re-connect with her intellectually in a most engaging way. I thought that with her tight Deanship schedule, she would not be able to spend much time preparing for her presentation. But her talk was just exceptional. Third, by chairing this meeting, I could expand my professional network significantly in the most authentic way. It was truly my great pleasure and honour. I have gained so much.

On a final note, if you are a doctoral candidate or an early career researcher wishing to advance your career, I suggest that you find a relevant opportunity to organize or chair a meeting. You may find the experience as rewarding and enjoyable as I do. If you are a female academic looking for a professional network outside your own institution to support your career advancement, CYGNA is a fantastic resource for you. I am a member and thoroughly enjoy being a part of this wonderful network.

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