#Ukraine: providing and receiving support

Interview with Pil Maria Saugmann on International Volunteering and the Role of Eurodoc Working Groups

Pil Maria Saugmann in Prague in November 2022

Dr. Pil Maria Saugmann is the current Eurodoc Secretariat Coordinator, WG Doctoral Training Co-coordinator, and WG Internal Management Co-coordinator. She was a Eurodoc General Board member during the 2021/2022 term.

You successfully defended your PhD thesis in September. Congrats! :) What does it mean to pursue your doctorate and be actively involved in volunteering and advocacy simultaneously? Could you please share some tips regarding effective time management and staying sane in academia?

First of all, thank you, I don't think I realised before after I had defended my PhD what an enormous thing it had been. For me, the volunteering and advocacy work has been a huge part of what made me stay sane as a doctoral candidate. I think it is very healthy to find something outside of your own research field to engage in, both to be reminded that there are more things in the world than your own tiny corner of it, but it also provides you a space of freedom where you can get your mind away from the worries of your research. 

I always say that I am lousy at team sports, but that I, metaphorically speaking, like the feeling of playing ball with others and being part of a team, and this is very much what my work in Eurodoc gives me.

Could you please compare your experience as the Chair of SFS-DK (The doctoral council in SFS, one of two Swedish National Associations) and your involvement in Eurodoc? Are there any major differences in working on national and international levels?

In general, I think many of the topics that you have to deal with are the same. In SFS-DK, we worked a lot with issues related to the quality of doctoral education, career development, academic freedom, and the overall conditions of doctoral candidates, just as we do in Eurodoc. Also, a common denominator is that everyone you work with is short on time, and in a very precarious job situation, it means you really have to consider how much is reasonable to ask of others. 

There are, of course, differences between doing work at a national level and at a European level. There are huge differences in how academia is structured and how the conditions are for doctoral candidates and early career researchers.

You switched from the General Board Member to Secretariat Coordinator this year in Eurodoc. Why do you think your new role is crucial for the Eurodoc community, and what are your current challenges as the Coordinator?

Eurodoc has grown into a large organisation, with 7 working groups and 5 external officers and, on top of that, we have an unfinished postdoc survey, a statement on academic freedom, and a new harassment survey in the pipeline. I think that there are around 25 people who are working on creating drafts for policies for Eurodoc or supporting the board members when they have to represent Eurodoc externally. 

Practically speaking, it would be some very long board meetings if all were to attend and use five minutes to tell what they were working on. So, in that sense, having one person who coordinates the work of the Eurodoc Secretariat and keeps an overview of who is doing what is smart.

Another aspect of it is that both the working group coordinators and the board members are really good at getting ideas about things that could be done. And the ideas are usually very, very good, but someone has to think about if we actually as an organisation have the resources to carry out ideas and projects, so a big part of my role is also to ask critical questions about what the idea would entail in terms of other people's time. It is important to be realistic about how much we ask of the NA delegates, of the working group members, and of everyone who volunteers in Eurodoc. It takes time to change academia, and if we ask too much of ourselves and others who volunteer, we risk that we burn out the engagement, and it takes even longer.

Eurodoc is re-launching the Working Groups system. What’s new there, and why and how Early Career Researchers can participate and become WG members?

We have 6 external working groups in the new system that all doctoral candidates and early career researchers can become involved in. It is a really good place to start if you are new to Eurodoc. I started in the Mental Health working group, and I got to learn a lot about both how Eurodoc works and meet some very nice people.

In general, I would say that the working groups are a fantastic opportunity to meet other very talented people who care about the conditions of doctoral candidates and early career researchers. I think most who are involved in this line of work, has had the experience that not all of our colleagues are that interested in knowing all the technical details about how doctoral education is structured. 

We recently updated the web page with information about the working groups and how to sign up for them. So, I would highly recommend that you check it out if you wish to get involved.

In your opinion, what are the most critical issues European Early Career Researchers are currently facing? What topics would you like Eurodoc to prioritise?

Do I have to choose one? I have three that spring to mind. It is

  1. the precariousness of the academic career path,
  2. the role of research in society, and
  3. how to make science as open as possible. 

Any New years wish for the Eurodoc community? :)

Oh, I have many :)

But if I am to choose one, then it is that I hope to see a lot of you in Uppsala for the Eurodoc conference and AGM in June!