CYGNA: Thriving in Research and Coping with Uncertainties

Reports on our 53rd CYGNA meeting: combining career development with relaxing and invigorating conversations

Our 53rd meeting in May 2023 was another joyous event, expertly planned by Argyro Avgoustaki and Ling Zhang, both at ESCP. Unfortunately, they were unable to attend on the day. So Shasha Zhao and myself did the honours, with Chi Huong taking care of the ESCP logistics. We received help from by the wonderful Resham (Resh) Williams, long-time receptionist at ESCP, in welcoming our guests. 

29 CYGNA members attended (part of) the 4-hour meeting, 24 of which can be seen at the group picture above. It was a really nice group size. Small enough to not be too intimidating for newcomers Perihan Abdelghaly, Tetiana Hill, and Duong Nguyen and big enough for lots of unexpected encounters.

Behind the life group picture is the projected group picture of last year's 8-year anniversary meeting at ESCP. That picture was taken by a professional photographer, a one-off sponsorship by ESCP. But Resh - multitalented as any good receptionist is - readily volunteered to take our picture this time.

Opening lunch

We started with a walk-in lunch, so that we wouldn't have rumbling tummies disturb the presentation. As always ESCP had sponsored excellent catering (see first picture), set up in one of the nicest rooms of the building. In addition to having lunch, it was a chance for old friends to meet (see second picture) and new friendships to be made.

Last year - at our 8 year anniversary and our first on-campus meeting in 2.5 years (see CYGNA: Positionality, team roles, and academic activism) ESCP sponsored two presents: a CYGNA water bottle and a CYGNA cotton drawstring bag (see first picture). This year we distributed these presents again. We also made sure everyone received one of our lovely CYGNA pins (see second picture).

Presentation: Editing special issues

Professor Rea Prouska, London South Bank University provided us with a great presentation on editing special issues in leading journals: Editing Special Issues in Leading Journals. You can download her full slide-set here.  Rea's unique brand of "behind the scenes tips and tricks" and humour made for a highly informative and entertaining presentation. In the slide below, she explains how - like everything in academia - it is all about timing and persistence.

Although nominally about editing special issues, Rea's presentation was full of nuggets of wisdom about research collaborations and publishing more generally. It is not surprising that she found an attentive audience (see below) with lots and lots of questions. Rea only just managed to escape in time for her virtual meeting (she is Associate Dean Research & Entreprise, so meeting free days are a rarity for her) before rejoining us for the second break-out session.

If you would like to know more about Rea, her research and her career journey, I would highly recommend watching her inaugural lecture. It is the most inspirational inaugural I have ever heard. Rea's reflections on her academic journey are as prominent and as interesting as her research achievements. They contain many wise lessons such as:

We celebrate not only the academic achievements, but also the academic journey. For me personally, the journey is more important than the achievements. Because for me, it is not what we achieve that matters, but rather it is the obstacles that we overcome that give value to the achievements.

Even if you don't have time to watch it, watch the last four minutes, where Rea is talking about applying for promotion to full professor. If you are in that position too you may find my book Writing effective promotion applications helpful. The end of Rea's presentation is majestically unexpected; I am not going to spoil the plot, you'll just have to watch it!

Break-out sesion 1: Exploring research interests

Our first break-out session focused on exploring our research interests, laying the ground for future collaborations. We had asked everyone to register their interests in the registration survey and initially planned to create fairly homogenous groups. However, I soon realised that swans with similar interests probably already knew each other and/or would be talking to each other anyway.

One of the aims of every CYGNA meeting is to get to know at least two or three new people. So, I decided to use one of my favourite teaching tools: random group allocation by drawing coloured lots. Fortunately, CYGNA members willingly complied and didn't hate this practice as much as my students often did. They were soon immersed in conversations.

Group 1

Chair: Cordula Barzantny. Group members: Joanna Karmowska, Saranzaya Manalsuren, Flaviana Manta, Paola Zappa (left-hand group)

Although the online meetings are very convenient, CYGNA in-person meetings offer the best opportunity to meet other women scholars and get to know each other better. They allow us to develop joint interests for research and teaching, including for instance visiting opportunities, sabbatical destinations and research projects. 

In our group, we discussed the possibilities for building small research teams for joint research, conference organisation, PDWs, special issues etc. However, we also talked about how more experienced senior scholars can mentor and encourage younger scholars in order to increase confidence in their work and abilities.

Group 2

Chair: Alexandra Beauregard. Group members: Satkeen Azzizadeh, Jolanta Jaskiene, Christa Sathish 

Two members had finished their PhDs within the last two years and were comparing notes on finding employment and starting to publish. They found some commonalities in terms of their research areas and exchanged contact details to keep connected.

The other two members were further along in their academic careers and reflected on how Professor Prouska’s presentation illustrated the variation in research journeys; the production of research outputs isn’t always steady and momentum can take awhile to get going, and isn’t necessarily consistently maintained across a career. In an increasingly pressurised publishing environment, we thought this was a very valuable lesson/reminder, particularly for more junior staff.

Group 3

Chair: Betty Beeler. Group members: Tetiana Hill, Chi Hoang, Vinita Mithani, Fiona Moore (right-hand group)

Our first reflex was to look for what we had in common. What struck me was that in spite of the diverse fields of research (marketing, organizational psychology, cross-cultural management, etc.), our concerns were quite similar - achieving interdisciplinarity, handling "gatekeepers" who hold power over advancement in all areas, catering to reviewers' demands and overcoming the quantitative bias in some journals. Just hearing about others' experiences and solutions was helpful and motivating, such as the moment when the discussion went from the problem of gatekeepers to our own strategies for advancing thanks to gatekeepers.

Group 4

Chair: Daniela Lup. Group members: Helen Cai, Duong Nguyen, Chloe Preece, and Hannah Tornow (right-hand group). 

From outside we looked like a friendly table of five women. Yet, from the inside the conversation revealed so much diversity: between the five of us we had 3 management , and 2 marketing researcher; from 5 different countries, with more than five nationalities and cultural experiences; 2 with a sociological angle, 2 interested in cultural studies, 2 studying innovation, and 2 having also a focus on gender diversity; 2 aimed to make their mark primarily via theory development, and 3 working at the intersection of business-academia; 2 qualitative researchers, and 3 more quantitative-mixed. And we only spoke for 30 mins. :) That is a true sample of what Cygna stands for, homogeneous from outside, rich and diverse from inside.

Group 5

Chair: Shasha Zhao. Group members: Anne Humbert, Salma Soliman, Charoula Tzanakou (left-hand group)

‘Get to know you’ - there were four of us, and we introduced ourselves and talked about our own research fields. It was interesting that whilst two of us came from the EDI background, one from refugee entrepreneurs, and one from MNE and innovation, we found syngergies among our research. It all related to different degrees the UN SDGs. We spent the time exploring each others’ research findings which were fascinating. 

Break-out session 2: Dealing with uncertainty

Our second break-out session focused on the key issue of our current turbulent times: how to deal with uncertainty? We had identified four areas in which uncertainty might reflect itself: research, teaching, administration & leadership, and our personal lives. This time everyone was free to chose the group they wanted to join. Fortunately, the groups ended up being relatively similar in size. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to take a picture of each of the groups as I decide to participate in one of them myself.


Chair: Shasha Zhao. Group members: Joanna Karmowska, Duong Nguyen, Christa Sathish, Charoula Tzanakou, Paola Zappa

During this session, each of us shared the career stage we were at and one major uncertainty that we were facing related to research. We had one final year PhD student who felt that she had received too much advice about her next steps that she was experiencing info overload. The main advice was thinking about what she really wanted to achieve in the future and have the right plan.

We had two recent PhD graduates who were facing uncertainty in finding the right research direction. The main piece of advice received was about building a research programme that is like an ‘umbrella’ overarching all the projects. The remainder were mid career researchers who were uncertainty about their next career move, particularly on promotion to full professor. We ran out of time before we had the chance to discuss this! But overall, it was a very good exercise!


Chair: Cordula Barzantny. Group members: Jolanta Jaskiene, Tetiana Hill, Vinita Mithani, Fiona Moore

Although the key theme of this group was teaching, we talked a lot about our personal struggles since the pandemic. Young women with small children or those becoming mothers during the pandemic had a particularly hard time. Hence we shared experiences, but also tried to indicate ways to improve resilience. Insisting on gender equality and EDI support in our scholarly institutions seems more important than ever to avoid more overwork and burn out of women scholars in recent turbulent times.

This CYGNA seminar was a good forum to exchange ideas not only about research and teaching, but also about our general work-life balance, managing a fulfilling academic career as women, mothers and family members. I hope that as more senior colleagues we were able to instil confidence in our younger CYGNA members to pursue enriching and satisfying academic careers.


Chair: Alexandra Beauregard. Group members: Satkeen Azzizadeh, Anne-Wil Harzing, Anne Humbert, Daniela Lup, Rea Prouska

This was a fruitful discussion of uncertainty regarding administration as part of the job role of senior academics. There were five of us and we reflected on expectations for administrative responsibilities, how these meshed with personal ambitions or desire for research and/or teaching, and how one might craft a meaningful administrative role for oneself without giving up the activities that attracted us to academia in the first place. We also discussed how administrative expertise drives career mobility for senior academics and how this both opens up and constricts our options for the future. 

Personal lives

Chair: Betty Beeler. Group members: Chi Hoang, Flaviana Manta, Sara (Saranzaya) Manalsuren, Chloe Preece, Hannah Tornow.

Thanks to the total openness of the group members, we were able to share heart-felt stories that resonated for each other The general theme quickly became: "Have I made the right choices?" concerning our fields of study, career moves or even family matters. Some participants were at a crossroad with choices to make while others were becoming aware that the path they had taken might not be for them. We were lucky to have a person experienced in consulting in the group who gently asked the right questions to help reframe the situation, not as a threat but as an opportunity for action!

In sum

The two organizers and one of the key facilitators were unable to join. This provided a perfect illustration of our theme of uncertainty; the new team improvised their way through the day. In the end we had a great day, helped in no small measure by the excellent facilities and the brilliant weather.

After the two planned break-out rounds, we had another chance for informal interaction. Participants were able to catch up with friends, make new connections, and enjoy the finger-food and drinks. Many lingered on and a small group even made their way to a nearby pub.

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