CYGNA: Passion and Purpose: Navigating the Meaning of Academic Careers

Reports on our 59th CYGNA meeting where we were treated to a highly engaging meeting asking us some very fundamental questions

Our last meeting on Necessary Condition Analysis: What, Why and How? had a skills-focused theme. Hence, having a more reflective meeting about the meaning of our academic research was a perfect fit at this stage in the CYGNA calendar. What we couldn't have imagined is how creative and thought-provoking this meeting would be! The CYGNA Asia-Pacific team had kept the specific content of the meeting a closely-guarded secret. I loved the sense of suspense and excitement that this generated.

Organisers Shea Fan, Heejin Kim and Ting Liu treated us to a perfectly choreographed and highly engaging mix of mini-quizzes, mini-presentations, break-out rooms, short discussion-generating videos, plenary sharing, wonderful metaphors (deserts, oceans, and an oasis) and even the report of an experiment. Each of the three organisers played their part to perfection. Ting acted as the perfect chat show host keeping us all on track and finishing the meeting right on time. You rock ladies! I can see you running a meeting like this in many settings in the future and in the process change the mind of many of our colleagues about our research.

With much the UK Higher Education sector reeling from the financial difficulties caused by a severe drop in international student numbers, attendance was a bit lower than in previous meetings. However, we were very pleased that 22 CYGNA members joined us, 20 of which are included in the group picture above; some unfortunately had to leave before this was taken. Attendance was very international indeed, two thirds of our attendees coming from outside the UK. In addition to Australia and Japan (the countries of the organizers), we had participants from France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, and Switzerland.

The benefit of a smaller audience was that we were all able to engage more deeply with the discussions. I am sure many connections were forged and strenghtened in the meeting. You really had to be there to benefit from the activities, the joy, and the general positive vibes, but you will still be able to get part of the spirit in this write-up. So read on...

Part 1: Meaningful careers across career stages

We started with Heejin's brilliant kick-off presentation menti-meter presentation. It contained quizzes probing us to think about whether our research makes a difference and to reflect on why we do research and write papers. We then broke up into three break-out rooms based on career stages and talked about meaningful careers across career stages. It was a lovely way to exchange experiences and get to know each other better.

One big advantage of CYGNA is that it provides us with an opportunity to "test" our experiences in a non-threatening setting. Many of us discovered how similar our challenges were at particular career stages, despite working in very different contexts. In my own late career group, one of the participants outlined her ideas on the key advantages/challenges that characterised early/mid/late career. They were almost 100% identical to a keynote speech I was scheduled to give the next working day. So the meeting gave me much confidence that my presentation would strike the right tone :-).  

Part 2: Food for thought

Next, Heejin treated us to a wonderful presentation summarizing the literature on meaningful research and contrasting approaches in Japan and Korea. You can download her presentation slides here: A short review on “meaningful research”. I loved the way she skillfully integrated findings from two of my favourite publications: Return to Meaning: A Social Science with Something to Say and "Scholarship that endures" by Sumantra Ghoshal's (one of my academic heroes), described in this blogpost: Writing laudations or obituaries.

Heejin finished with three key lessons: 

1. Create original knowledge that matters to society
2. Have a big, broad, socially pressing question
3. Target various stakeholders and widen the impact of your research

This provided a perfect segue into the next part of our meeting, where we talked about different way to reach various stakeholders.

Part 3: Engaging with stakeholders

In this part of the meeting we again broke up in break-out rooms, each focusing on one specific way to engage with stakeholders: social media, mainstream media, and policy makers. Shea, Heejin and Ting had selected three short videos by women that exemplified the three approaches. It was a brilliant way to launch the discussion and one that I will certainly use in future sessions.

The three videos were all part of a webinar on Translating IHRM research for practical impact (see embedded video below). This webinar is part of the excellent IHRM Webinar series that provides a wealth of material for personal study and classroom use.

You can find an overview of all webinars to date here: Video resources: International HRM. Since August 2020, the team has managed to organise more than 30 webinars. Hats off to the entire team, not just for the initiative, but even more so for their persistance. I know only too well how challenging it can be to sustain initiatives.

Intermezzo: social media experiment

In prepartion for this meeting Ting Liu ran a social media experiment, where she systematically shared her paper on social media following these guidelines: She did not follow them 100%, but used Facebook, Linkedin, and university websites and promoted her paper both in Japanese and English, and also on a Chinese Wechat group.

Only a month after it first appeared online the article had been accessed nearly 1,200 times and was ranked first on Altmetrics of the 14 articles of a similar age in the Journal of International Business Studies. It was also in the 93rd percentile of all articles in all journals published around the same time. The article was even picked up by three news outlets.

Ting's reflections: Sharing my research paper on social media has been a mixed experience. While I know promoting my work is important, I often felt uneasy about posting it multiple times, worried that people might find me annoying or think I was showing off. To make my research more engaging and easier for a general audience to understand, I collaborated with an illustration company. I explained the story behind my paper to them, and they created a custom illustration that beautifully captured my findings. This not only made my posts more visually appealing (see below) but also got positive feedback from my audience.

Anne-Wil's response: You did a great job Ting. I would not worry about showing off or about posting multiple times. Most people only follow one or two social media platforms. Moreover, they will not be "on" social media all the time. The chances that someone will see you sharing your paper more than once are very small. It is not like sending someone multiple emails or text messages. Social media is a far less "dense" method of communication.

For those of you who are not yet convinced, I did a similar experiment a while ago with identical results. You can find more details here:

Part 4: Closing thoughts & action

In the last part of the meeting Shea closed the loop by talking about how we need to navigate the oceans in our careers, finding the ideal pathway that combines organisational expectations, research KPIs, and our own personal goals. Heejin came back to the desert metaphor and reminded us to make good use of oases like CYGNA meetings to replenish ourselves. It was a beautiful and inspiring finale to a great meeting.

Shea also asked us to reflect on our take-aways for the meeting, what we like best, how it had changed our views and what we would do differently in the future. Here are some examples of reflections and actions that were shared.

I am not so different/weird, I am one of many middle-aged juniors
To get connected with peers. Peer support is so important for academic career. I like the idea of viewing us as entrepreneurs.
We have people from different places but we share something very similar.
There are so many ways to make a Zoom interactive!! Thanks!!
I will make time to stay engaged and interact with fellow researchers and the wider community
I want to think more about how I can design a research that change corporate policy or practice

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