Dear ORPHEUS Members,
The end of 2021 is fast approaching, and I take this opportunity to inform you about important events for ORPHEUS, as well as to reflect back on a historic year. Who would have thought that we would still be in the firm grips of the pandemic? Just when we thought we were getting back to (the new) normal, a new wave of Covid-19 has emerged and we are many countries being faced with the re-introduction of restrictions. My thoughts go out to all of you who have lost relatives/colleagues/friends or who are suffering from long-term health issues as a result of infection.

But what a historic year this was for ORPHEUS, with our 15th annual conference 2020/1 hosted by the University of Minho, Braga, being successfully staged online for the first time ever. Joana Palha and her organizing team did a great job in showing us how we could still have an interesting, dynamic and social event – a heartfelt thankyou to all involved both as hosts and as participants.

Our current ORPHEUS statutes do not include digital solutions for elections, and that means that we had to postpone election of new Executive Committee members as we could not convene a General Assembly without a physical conference. In case the
pandemic situation would be unchanged before our next annual conference planned in Istanbul in May 2022 we have prepared an amendment to the statutes that will allow for a digital solution. We have not been able to change the EC for 2 years, and it is high time that this is done. As well as new EC members, or re-electing those that can still be re-elected, I will be stepping down as President and so we will need to elect a new President and Vice-President as well. It has been an honor to serve ORPHEUS in this role, but both work and family commitments leave me too little time to prioritize this important position, so it is time for some new blood and energy!

We thus welcome applications both for EC membership and for Presidency. Those of you who expressed an interest in 2020 will be asked if you are still interested, and anyone else is more than welcome. Information about the application procedure can be accessed on our website.

The restrictions that have been imposed in many countries have greatly impacted on ORPHEUS activities that rely on international travel, including labelling site visits and workshops. However, a number of ORPHEUS training events have been conducted either physically or digitally, and a number of applications for self-evaluation/labelling have been received and are being addressed. We will again have to wait and see when we can resume ‘business-as-usual’, or more correctly stated, the ‘new normal’ as our academic world will never be as it was before.

The pandemic has inspired us to develop many new practices, included the use of digital solutions for teaching courses, staging  workshops and conferences and holding thesis examinations. From a sustainable development point-of-view, it is important that we
carefully consider the necessity of international travel and embrace digital solutions – focusing on the quality of the experience – as part of our portfolio of teaching/research practices.

I would hope that within ORPHEUS we can greatly expand the digital teaching activities conducted within the organization, as well as addressing how we incorporate sustainable development issues as well as EDI (Equity, Diversity & Inclusivity) into our EC and common activities. I have been working at home (at the Karolinska) to raise awareness of these issues, and include a couple of links to films we have recently produced to achieve this – hopefully they might be useful for distribution and use within your own organizations:

Equal Opportunities

The Face of Discrimination
A potential future task for ORPHEUS would be to discuss whether these and other ‘modernization’ issues should be incorporated into the ORPHEUS Best Practices in Doctoral Education document. If we wish for the organization to grow professionally then
we need to develop with the times.

Another important thing we have done during the year is to write an article for the EUA Council for Doctoral Education Doctoral Education Debate series:

A framework for collaborative doctoral education within Europe
Considering the current pilot scheme of European University Initiatives (EUIs) that involve over 200 higher education institutions within the EU, then the experience ORPHEUS has in harmonizing expectations of doctoral education, resulting in our ORPHEUS Best Practices in Doctoral Education document, could be of great benefit. That was the main message in our article. I hope to be able to expand on this suggestion at the forthcoming EUA-CDE focus group workshop on ‘the future of doctoral education in Europe’ in January 2022. We have already done the hard work, so I suggest that ‘reinvention of the wheel’ is not required – just maybe further improvement!

We have also developed a new, improved website that we hope will inspire you to visit more often. I will be giving a digital lecture tomorrow for a joint supervision webinar series run by the Irish University Association (IUA), a joint professional supervisor development series involving 8 universities within the country (UCD, TCD, RCSI, DCU, MU, NUIG, UCC and UL).
This is a great example of a collaborative venture that goes over university boundaries and promotes interaction of like-minded professionals at the same hierarchical level. One of my messages will be to consider the psychosocial effects of the pandemic. This is often expressed as concern for PhD student mental health, but it goes much further than this. The alteration to the way we work has affected EVERYBODY at the workplace – Presidents, Deans, Programme Directors, Administrators, Supervisors AND students at all educational levels. If we are not feeling great or inspired ourselves, how can we be efficient teachers, supervisors and leaders for others? Even the recent ‘return-to-work’ has been difficult for some people, with a perceived regression in social courtesy skills being experienced by many. We need to re-learn how to be good face-to-face colleagues. Being digitally connected does not mean we should care less about each other – in actual fact we should care MORE, and not forget ourselves either.

It is disappointing that we have not had the opportunity to meet physically – it is always great to see old friends and to make new ones. But I encourage you to instead make the effort to touch base electronically/via telephone with someone you were hoping to meet, so that the opportunity is not completely lost. I will be taking my own advice and touching base with Joey Barnett, our USA ambassador, as soon as I finish this letter. Chatting with him usually energizes me!

As usual, we welcome contact from our members, so please do not hesitate to contact
me, Ana or Oksana:

So please submit your applications for the EC. Lastly, may I wish you all a peaceful holiday period.

Yours sincerely,
Professor Bob Harris
President of ORPHEUS