By Lisbeth Matzer |

When you are planning a career in academia, you will encounter multiple challenges for which you need to be sufficiently prepared. There are many ways to prepare yourself: studying, in-depth research or acquiring additional skills – and merit – through extra-curricular engagement. People sometimes don’t prioritise the latter option because it takes extra time, energy and might even delay your graduation. But the benefits you get by going beyond the curriculum are many – the chance to learn more about yourself, of broadening your range of skills and of getting to know and work with other interesting people that might even become your most important partners and friends along the not-always-sunny ways of academia.

For me, it has been the International Students of History Association (ISHA) that provided these sorts of opportunities. Last year, being part of ISHA gave me the chance to organize an international student’s conference – the ISHA Autumn Seminar 2015, “Failure & Beyond”. Coordinating a voluntary organizing team consisting of around 30 students of all levels, my colleague Markus Wurzer and I started this adventure in summer 2014 and basically jumped in at the deep end. In the end we brought together 52 students with an interest in history from all over Europe and beyond. The students – from Undergrads to PhD – spent one week together where they talked about their fields of interest, got to know other (academic) cultures, formed friendships and explored a new country and town – Austria and Graz. This week’s programme comprised thematic workshops, a keynote lecture by a local professor on the overall topic, guided tours, a field trip and many, many socio-cultural events. If you are interested, you can check out the fruits of our labour here.

Ill35_Group Picture University

Organizing this kind of project provides challenges in multiple areas: fundraising, academic programme planning, securing accommodation and meals for everyone, advertising, publishing and so on. Applying for funding is something that becomes more and more important in academia, however it is also something that did not yet find its way into any curriculum I know of. More or less the same applies to academic programme planning, speaking to university or local government officials and arranging receptions as well as taking care of all the tiny things that make a conference a success. Editing a conference publication – an opportunity we owed to the generous support of our sponsors – also proved to be a valuable experience. To cut a long story short, it is this kind of organizing engagement that gives you the opportunity to make your first steps in these matters. It is a testing ground where you can learn a lot of helpful things without a serious risk of failure. It took a lot of time. Our normal work were set aside. For example my second MA degree was basically turned into a never-ending story and I couldn’t start my PhD with as much energy and devotion as I expected to. Still, I don’t regret any minute invested in this project. Because of my experience, I was perfectly prepared for the next challenge: being part of the core organizing team of the Austrian Conference on Contemporary History 2016. All of this extra works meant that I did not get back on track until recently. That’s one extra benefit of taking on new and exciting projects though – after it was finished I enjoyed actually doing my research more than I have in a very long time!

Lisbeth Matzer is a PhD student in the interdisciplinary doctoral programme “Mitteleuropäische Studien” at the Andrássy University Budapest and researches the Hitler Youth Organization in Austria. She is also a researcher at the University of Graz. In 2015-16 she was vice-president of the International Students of History Association.

(Photos (c) ISHA Graz)