The Early Career Forum (ECF): Looking Back and Moving Forward

Lindsay Fallon, University of Massachusetts Boston

This year marks the 10th year that the Society for the Study of School Psychology (SSSP) has sponsored the Early Career Forum (ECF), a service committee dedicated to providing community, professional development, and mentorship opportunities to early career scholars in school psychology. To commemorate this milestone, I take a brief look back at the ECF’s purpose, activities, and accomplishments and share how we are moving forward. I use a Q&A structure for this retrospective and prospective summary.

What is the ECF?

To answer this question, it is important to share how the ECF started. Drs. Amanda Sullivan (University of Minnesota) and Bryn Harris (University of Colorado Denver) met at the SSSP School Psychology Research Collaboration Conference (SPRCC) preceding the NASP Convention in February 2011. (There is an excellent blog post about the start of the ECF, so I offer a brief summary.) As Drs. Sullivan and Harris began their work as school psychology researchers, they found, “many aspects of an academic career seem shrouded in mystery and lore.” This drove their desire to support individuals who had not received strong mentorship toward embarking on a research career due to any number of reasons (e.g., the climate or foci of their doctoral training program, relationship with their primary mentor, discrimination experienced during training). Drs. Sullivan and Harris subsequently set out to support other early career scholars’ entry and persistence in this field, co-presenting on topics related to early career guidance at NASP and APA in 2012 and 2013, as well as submitting related articles to the School Psychologist and Communiqué

In 2013, Drs. Sullivan and Harris connected with Dr. Rob Volpe (Northeastern University) who shared their commitment to supporting early career scholars. Dr. Volpe suggested they expand their work through a blog and, with SSSP’s generous sponsorship, the ECF was officially launched. Through this formalization, ECF developed a standing committee of about six to eight early- and mid-career researchers who continue to meet monthly and are committed to supporting the professional development of early career scholars in school psychology. Drs. Sullivan and Harris led the ECF until Spring 2023 when, this fall, Dr. Katie Maki (University of Florida) and I stepped in as Co-chairs. As we embark on what feels like a new era for the ECF, we hope most everything will remain the same. That is, we endeavor to continue the strong, foundational, impactful work of the founding members of the Forum and uphold the mission of the ECF.

What is the mission of the ECF?

From the start, the ECF has had a clear mission.The ECF disseminates information to early career scholars concerning matters relating to their success in the academy generally, and as researchers specifically. The ECF also seeks to provide a community of support to exchange ideas and develop and nurture collaborations. The ECF defines early career scholars as individuals who aim to embark on a research career or have begun a research career in a university, research center, or state or local agency. This includes graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and faculty in school psychology. Further, we broadly characterize early career as those within 10 years of graduating with their advanced degree.

What is the ECF’s impact?
Over the past 10+ years, the ECF has disseminated a monthly blog, hosted conference programming and networking events, and coordinated online webinars, writing retreats, and virtual happy hour meet-ups. I recently looked back to discern which topics and programming generated the most interest with early career scholars and found the Forum’s most-read blog posts are as follows:

What struck me in reviewing this list is that the topics truly run the gamut of issues early career scholars may face, spanning topics relevant for new researchers (e.g., interviewing for campus jobs, negotiating offers) and those closer to mid-career milestones (e.g., navigating sabbatical, preparing tenure materials). Further, the blog has accumulated tens of thousands of hits since it started, soliciting numerous comments from both national and international readers. As we move forward, we aim to continue providing blog content that will support early career scholars at various time points, focusing on work-life integration, conducting and disseminating rigorous scholarship, demystifying applying to and working in academia, and supporting broader access to research careers in school psychology.

I was also curious about the impact of ECF programming. Looking back, even the earliest ECF sessions at NASP and APA would fill conference rooms, and socials grew from a few attendees in a meeting room to nearly 100 in event spaces and restaurants. In the past year or so, the most attended ECF events include a virtual speed mentoring with SSSP members (35 registrants; April 2023), tenure and promotion online panel (45 registrants; April 2022) and our networking social at NASP (60 registrants; Feb 2023) events. We also host six two-hour virtual writing retreats throughout the academic year, attracting up to 20 registrants each time. Considering how it can be a challenge to schedule a meeting with just a few individuals at a time of mutual availability, having 35+ registrants for virtual events feels monumentous. Early career individuals appear to prioritize these opportunities for connection and professional development, and we will continue offering the chance for these connections to occur. Further, in a survey sent to early career scholars around this time last year, most indicated their desire to engage in more virtual mentoring opportunities as well as webinars with CEU offerings, and read blog posts explicitly addressing the impact of COVID-19 on research productivity and tenure timelines. This information drives our work moving forward.

What is next?
As we continue on, our efforts remain steadfast to serve the ECF mission but also evolve as our field changes. We aim to be intentional about outreach and engagement with early career scholars (via social media, a dedicated early career listserv, and more) so that we can continue to build a community and predictable schedule of programming each year. We will welcome new members to the committee annually, requesting all ECF committee members commit to a two-year term. This process will bring fresh perspectives while allowing committee members to build upon their work in consecutive years. We will continue to strengthen our collaborations with other early career groups (e.g., Division 16, TSP, SPRCC) to co-sponsor relevant programming and events, providing more opportunities for connection among early career scholars in school psychology. Finally, we will continue to seek feedback for how we might best provide support while still serving our mission. 

Ultimately, to quote Drs. Sullivan and Harris in their first blog post, we will continue “normalizing the challenges you encounter and providing strategies for success.” That has been and will remain the goal of the ECF.

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