SEFI conference

After almost two years of Covid, it is finally possible to attend a conference in person. For our PhDs', which started almost all during Covid times, it was an eye opener how much-added value a conference can be for your PhD ‘life’. The most valuable thing they learned was the added value of connecting with other researchers within the research community like Sefi. Hopefully, more face-to-face conferences will follow to extend their research network. 

The full conference experience - Gitte van Helden

Gitte van Helden presenting at SefiLast week, I had the opportunity to go to my very first conference! Together with my lovely colleagues Xiaoling, Vivian and Gillian, I travelled to Barcelona to attend the 50th annual conference of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI). This conference attracts a broad audience with backgrounds ranging from social sciences to engineering. Still, every attendee shares at least one common interest: they want to improve engineering education.

I immediately had the full conference experience, as I participated in the Doctoral Symposium, presented a research paper on my PhD project, provided a workshop together with Gillian and Vivian and  I attended many presentations, workshops and keynotes that covered a wide range of topics. Each activity was incredibly valuable in its own way, but what stood out for me the most was the constructive attitude and openness of the SEFI community. For PhD candidates, like myself, who started their trajectory during the Covid-19 pandemic, connecting with other researchers is not a given. Establishing a strong professional connection with your direct colleagues is already challenging when you are sitting at home behind a computer screen all day, let alone expanding your network beyond the research group in which you are embedded. However, it is through conversations with others that you encounter new views, develop and refine research ideas and practice your ability to receive and give critical feedback. For me. the SEFI conference has been the first moment where I felt I could have this type of engagement with an international audience that shares similar research interests. Even more, I have been overwhelmed by the great coaching sessions during the doctoral symposium (thanks to Diana Bairaktarova and Mike Murphy), the positive reactions after my presentation and the support of my fellow PhD candidates. I think this week was possibly the start of many fruitful collaborations and maybe even some long-lasting friendships.

You can imagine that the SEFI conference in 2023 is already marked in my agenda and I am counting the days.

Am I busy? - Xiaoling Zhang

Every day I learn something new, and I learned lots of things new during the ECTEL2022 conference from 11th September to 16th September 2022 and SEFI2022 conference from 18th September to 22nd September 2022.

During the first physical conference that happened on 15th-17th July 2022—CTE-STEM2022—I got the chance to talk to more researchers who are also investigating similar topics of similar interest and I was deeply inspired by the coverage of the topics. After that, the ECTEL2022 and SEFI2022 conferences are more like a booster in my career path in getting into connections with more people and exploring more of the outer world after doing the research on my own for more than 2 years (to be fair, I have the support of my lovely colleagues and my dear family members, but that always makes me feel that I am somehow staying in my comfort zone not being exposed to the outer world).

Xiaoling Zhang presenting at SefiPeople always say that doing a PhD / research is to narrow down your topic and narrow it down more. That is true, to a very large extent. However, it is my opinion that we should, at the same time, be aware of what others are doing, know the bigger world and position ourselves in a holistic picture such that we get closer to the real problems to be solved.

As one who has a background in computer science and was trained to look at things quantitatively at almost all times, there was quite some change in my mindset through the PhD training program. Thanks again to my lovely colleagues, it is their kind suggestions and comments that made me aware more of my blind points. This time, except for my colleagues, I would like to note down, so that I can look back in the future and not forget about it, my great gratitude to all the people I met from SEFI summer school 2022, JTELSS 2022, CTE-STEM2022, ECTEL2022, and SEFI2022, as all of them have inspired me from all aspects of life, including but not limited to: how to be brave to walk up to a professor to talk about my research topic, how to train one to be capable of looking at things from different perspectives, how to work in a team, how to identify one’s struggles, and how to get rid of those depressing moments in one’s life.

Though my PhD focuses on Computational Thinking (CT) assessment in higher education, all these conferences and summer schools have empowered me with more knowledge, skills and insight not only on research but also on how the world is organized from different angles.

So far, it seems I’ve been quite busy this year… Am I busy? I am not too sure about it  … The only thing that I am sure of is that I have had great times participating in all those events and activities, meeting with all those lovely people, and getting constructive feedback (not only on my PhD project ;) ).

 Three objectives– Vivian van der Werf

For me, the SEFI conference was scheduled in the middle of my holidays, which consisted of learning Spanish in Seville. After learning Spanish for a week it was great to enter Barcelona and SEFI. It was my second in-person conference since I started my PhD over 2 years ago and I was excited to participate.

Since I wasn't going to present a paper at this conference I had given myself three objectives for this conference: interact with other PhDs and seniors at the Doctoral Consortium, present our workshop on the implementation of peer feedback, and meet new cool people to extend my network. I am very lucky to say that all three objectives worked out even better than I could have hoped for.

The doctoral consortium was incredibly relevant and interesting and I feel all PhDs were learning so much just from being connected to each other! It is something that we felt we had been missing out on up to now and everyone was very invested. I have enjoyed the company and advice of fellow PhDs and senior researchers.

Vivian, Gitte, Gillian presenting at SefiHalfway through the conference, it was our turn to present our workshop and I couldn't have imagined it better. Our workshop was made to be interactive and our participants were working in groups. More than half of the participants requested follow-up material to take home and use while designing their own courses and this was a huge boost of confidence. We are very excited to publish our upcoming paper on this topic!

Finally, it was important to me that I would meet some fellow PhDs from other countries and form connections, discuss our views on (engineering) education and share our thoughts and experiences. I have good hope that the connections I made at SEFI will result in future collaborations and perhaps even new friendships.

To top it all up I was extremely proud of my colleagues and fellow PhDs that presented their papers on SEFI. It was wonderful to attend their presentations and watch them excel and grow in their work. I am very happy to have attended this conference and hope I will meet all the wonderful people again next year at SEFI 2023.


Research Papers presented at SEFI:

van Helden, G., Zandbergen, B., Specht, M., & Gill, E. (In Press). Student Perceptions on a Collaborative Engineering Design Course.

Saunders-Smits, G. (In Press). The Future of Women Aerospace Engineers in Academia – A Numbers Game.

Zhang, X., Specht, M., & Valle Torre, M. (In Press).  An Investigation on Integration of Computational Thinking into Engineering Curriculum at Delft University of Technology.


Saunders-Smits, G., van Helden, G., & van der Werf, V. & Specht, M. (In Press). Using Peer Assessment in Inclusive Digital Education.

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