Speaking at a virtual conference re-awakened my love for academia

Reflection piece:

Don’t ever underestimate the power of conferences. Conferences that discuss topics about your research field can be a great way of reinvigorating your PhD passion. Not only do they make you feel like you’re up-to-date with some of the most leading new concepts and research in your field, but you get a chance to meet people who ‘get’ you. It has been said that doing a PhD is a lonely journey (Bendemra, 2013 – The Conversation). You are studying a niche aspect of a wider field that not many people understand. Feelings of being an imposter are very common in academia (Karamanos, 2018 – IEHC Blog) and can have a real negative impact on the whole PhD experience.

Now, in normal times I can have bad bouts of writers block. Being Dyslexic and Dyspraxic means that it takes me longer to organise my thoughts and write coherently. Add my other mental health issues (anxiety and low mood) and the wider context of the pandemic – you’ve got an extra panicky Naz Biggs.  However, attending the International Social Innovation Research Conference 2020 was a fantastic way to remind me of WHY I followed an academic route. The points below touch on my reflections from the conference:

Listening to leading academics in the field makes you feel like your topic matters – As mentioned above, doing a PhD can be a lonely road. But, hearing great academic leaders showcase their new research allows you to feel as though your topic area is current and relevant. This can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially when they are discussing insights that resonate well.

Hearing international speakers – I have written before about the lack of representation for Black academics.

Being part of the Caribbean Diaspora it was really fantastic to hear Caribbean speakers present their research based on their home context. It also gives you a feel of the global context of your field. This is why I think it is particularly important to have academics present from Global South contexts too.

Presentations were recorded – No face-to-face networking? No free tea and biscuits? No worries. I was apprehensive at first about attending a virtual conference. However, I really enjoyed being able to set my own pace for the conference and engaging with content while in comfortable surroundings. The presentations were recorded so I have carved out some time next week to listen in to interesting presentations I missed.

Submitting an abstract helped me narrow down important points – speaking at a conference means that you have to navigate your PhD, or a section of your PhD, so that it makes sense to a wider audience. It helped me consolidate and figure out what key points I wanted to get across to get some feedback on.

Things to improve on next time I attend a virtual conference:

  • I will spend more time searching people’s profiles, so I get a better feel for their research before I attend their presentations
  • I will have more questions ready to ask presenters


Stream: Hybrid Models and Organizing

Balancing ‘tribridity’ and tripartite missions through Academic and Community Partner Social Enterprises

Current approaches to hybrid social enterprises emphasise the need to combine social and commercial objectives and ‘logics’.  However, novel forms of social enterprise, which are developed and led by academics and community partners, add a new logic to the mix – that of higher education. Activities such as teaching, conducting research, bidding for research grants and publishing articles are conducted alongside generating revenue and social value optimisation. Despite the obvious challenges this presents, academic and community partners are using social enterprise models to achieve higher education, social and financial goals. Little is known about how these organisations operate or manage their complex challenges to be successful. This presentation queries current conceptions of hybridisation in relation to Academic and Community Partner Social Enterprises (ACSEs). It explores whether ‘tribridity’, better explains how these organisations accomplish their tri-goals. Interviews conducted with academics, beneficiaries and community partners indicate that interesting strategies are used to ensure ACSEs manage tensions and maintain achievements. Emergent findings show that internal stakeholders innovatively use their multiple identities, known as ‘hats’, to navigate between the logics. This enables access to key resources. Hats are used flexibly in order to counter trade-offs, enable win-wins and maximise success. A careful balancing act, which ensures the relationship between the three intersections are symbiotic. The presentation offers a new perspective of Thornton, Ocasio, and Lounsbury’s (2015) theory of institutional logics by drawing from the notion of Smith and Whitchurch’s (2003) ‘tripartite missions’ from the medical education literature. Key points to consider when working with an organisation that has three distinct parts are included towards the end. This piece contributes to the conference by shedding light on a potentially valuable way of combining academic privileges with community expert knowledge to create a fairer society in a time where resources are increasingly limited.


Smith, T. and Whitchurch, C., 2002. The future of the tripartite mission. Higher Education Management and Policy14(2), pp.39-52.

Thornton, P.H., Ocasio, W. and Lounsbury, M., 2015. The institutional logics perspective. Emerging trends in the social and behavioral sciences: an interdisciplinary, searchable, and linkable resource, pp.1-22.


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