Something you want us to blog? #tabit!

tabit

I sent out a heartfelt and somewhat random tweet the other day, about loving how people use the #tabit tag.

No doubt, there were those of you who thought, ‘What the heck is #tabit? What’s she on about? Why am I following this person?”

#tabit is a hashtag that stands for “there’s a blogpost in that”. This phrase is dropped regularly into face-to-face and online conversations among various #circleofniceness buddies, including myself and Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer).

In the discussion that followed my tweet, Francis Woodhouse (@fwoodhouse) suggested #tametabit: ‘there’s a meta blogpost in writing about using #tabit to flag good material’.

And, as is so often the case though we wish it were otherwise, Francis was correct.

When managing a blog, and speaking with others who do, a constant issue that’s brought up is the difficulty of maintaining the flow of content. It’s the key issue for whether blogs survive or fail in their first year. New bloggers may go nuts with posts for the first few months, then settle into a pattern of slightly sparser postings. As long as these postings stay constant and valuable, that’s not a problem.

It’s when they start getting further apart, with months of no activity, that problems set in. This is how blogs start to die.

Planning posts and ensuring that they roll out regularly is a big (and not very glamorous) part of successful blogging.

During the #tabit conversation, Donna Weeks (@psephy) mentioned that she had “four posts sitting in draft, oodles waiting in [her] mind”. I read that and sighed. I didn’t. I was feeling uninspired and trying in vain to have a good idea. Not some good ideas. Just ONE good idea.

This happens sometimes. I run out of things to say (no, it’s true).

It made me start thinking about the way that I approach the topics I write about on the Research Whisperer. More than just ‘where do I get my ideas from?’, but why I think they might be interesting to anyone other than me.

When I was a grant developer, I had more straightforward ways of deciding what I wanted to blog about. It ran a bit like this: What’s annoyed me lately in the world of researcher and grant development ? What do I wish people in my research network knew about so that we could have more impact? How can I help early career researchers navigate the politics of situations where everyone assumes they need to learn from ‘experience’? What are issues that people seem to want an insider’s view about?

As Jonathan wrote in one of our presentations about the origins and rationale for the Research Whisperer, we occasionally write in a ‘white-hot fury’ about certain topics, which is why reviewing each others’ posts is so important. 

The topics I end up choosing often seem brilliant to me when I’m writing at 10pm on a work night. Re-reading them the next day, they may end up in the trash or split into a couple of more cohesive sections. The posts sometimes hit the mark, and other times not so much. I find myself a fairly bad judge of whether a post will garner good engagement.

That said, I do recognise that my urge to convert everyone to reading grant guidelines may be a doomed (though worthy – it’s really, really worthy) task.

The power of #tabit, and face-to-face versions of it, is that it carries me over those moments where I feel I’m wanting to jump from one solid mountain-top of a post to the next… only to find an abyss.

You may not know how often it has saved my blogging skin, but rest assured that it’s a phenomenon I count on!

Here’s a list of my Research Whisperer posts generated from #tabit, crowdsourcing info online via #tabit, and face to face versions of #tabit:

  1. THIS ONE that you’re reading right now.
  2. How good am I? Publication quality (the very 1st #tabit – from a face to face conversation with a buddy, I think)
  3. Building conference karma 2 – Question time
  4. Life, death, and collaboration: Finding research friends
  5. Making the right impression: Academic phone interviews
  6. Academic fandom
  7. What I tweet
  8. Get me a project manager, stat!
  9. Myths about research cultures
  10. What’s a FoR?
  11. How NOT to pad a budget
  12. Research career stories – Parts 1 and part 2
  13. How to chair
  14. Keeping referees sweet
  15. What does a research developer do?
  16. You are not your FoR code
  17. Ask a question

And these are just the more straightforward #tabit moments.

When I talk about using social media and how it can benefit your profile and reach, I’m usually not talking from within the ‘how to boost your citations’ school of thought.

The way that social media influences and informs my everyday practice as an academic, as well as a research network convenor, is beyond only seeing the platforms as tools. They are my gateways to energetic, demanding communities of colleagues and potential colleagues. The way #tabit has grown and become an information stream that I depend on demonstrates the creative and amplifying power that good networks have.

So, if you ever find yourself wondering what the best way to do X is, how other researchers might cope with Y, or why does anyone bother with Z in academia, use #tabit to ask the question on Twitter, and you may receive an answer via an RW blogpost!

Beyond a life in the lab


Regan ForrestRegan Forrest
works with museums and other cultural organisations to help them understand their audiences better.

She is at the end of her doctoral studies through the University of Queensland’s Business School, with her thesis “Design Factors in the Museum Visitor Experience” due to be submitted for examination at the end of September.

Among the many hats she wears is being the Director of interactivate (interactivate.com.au), a research and creative consultancy committed to helping museums make the world a better place through quality visitor experiences. Years before she founded the business, she snapped up @interactivate as her twitter handle.

We invited Regan to write for us because of her approach to finding a career space. PhD researchers and ECRs often feel that a linear trajectory is what’s required and valued. Regan’s story shows that taking a risk can lead to unexpected, very satisfying job opportunities and career paths.


[Original photo by @kimtairi on flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/angels_have_the_phone_box)

[Original photo by @kimtairi on flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/angels_have_the_phone_box)

Once I turned down a PhD scholarship, only to accept another, 15 years later, in a completely different field.

After finishing Honours in Biochemistry at the University of Adelaide, I opted not to do a PhD straight away. That would have been the path of least resistance, but I thought some experience in other labs would make me a more rounded researcher in the long run. I decided to take a gap year (or two) to work as a Research Assistant instead.

About halfway through my first year as an RA, I started to feel frustrated and miscast. I wasn’t sure if the lab life was for me after all. But what else was I going to do with a science degree?

At this point I wasn’t 100% sure what Science Communication was, but I decided I had nothing to lose by applying for ANU’s Graduate Diploma program. This course dramatically broadened my horizons, and although I didn’t know it at the time, laid the foundations for a career path I could not have imagined previously.

One of the things the course covered, thanks to its links with Questacon, was the process of developing exhibitions and hands-on exhibits for science centres and museums. Prior to this point I had, like most people I suspect, never given a moment’s thought as to how a museum exhibition actually comes into existence.

I’d enjoyed that part of the course, but wasn’t convinced there was necessarily a career in it. In any case, I wanted to spend some time overseas and I managed to secure some short-term work in the UK as a researcher for a new science centre under construction. I used this short-term contract as a springboard to network like crazy, paying to send myself to a couple of conferences so I could get to know the UK Science Communication scene and how I could fit into it. This paid off – I managed to secure a slightly longer-term contract to help develop the exhibitions at the soon-to-be-built National Space Centre in Leicester, UK.

I was a long way from the Biochemistry lab but still inside the science tent, albeit in a completely different discipline. But even that was soon to change.

Once the Space Centre was opened and my contract was up, the exhibition design company who had worked on the project invited me to join them as a content researcher and exhibit planner. My first project? A medieval guildhall. About as far from science as you could get!

Over the next few years, I worked on a lot of science exhibition and hands-on exhibits for children, reflecting my Questacon roots. But I also ended up developing exhibitions on a wide range of topics: the American Revolution, the social history of Welsh coal mining, and the maritime history of the Gulf States to name just a few.

Without really trying, I had gone from being a scientist, to a science communicator, to being a more general interpreter of cultural heritage (and learned that Interpretation was actually a thing). That was where I was at when I returned to Adelaide in 2007.

Fast forward to 2010, and the research bug had come to bite again, but this time in a completely different way.

All through my career, although the subject matter may have changed, the common denominator of all my work was looking at ways to engage visitors with sites, stories and collections. I’d developed lots of different exhibitions, but practical constraints meant I’d never really had the chance to see the results of our design decisions from a visitor’s perspective. That bugged the hell out of me!

So, I decided to do something about it – and that’s what my PhD was all about.

My doctoral research was planned to address the question: How do museum visitors perceive and respond to different exhibition environments?, and was conducted in various permanent galleries at the South Australian Museum. I accompanied visitors around the exhibitions and asked them to give me a running commentary of their experience, observed visitors using the spaces, and developed a survey that helped me quantify perceptions of different environments and relate these to how visitors described their experiences.

This survey, which I call “Perceived Atmosphere”, is something I’m hoping to roll out at other museums so we can build up a picture of how a wide range of exhibition environments are perceived by visitors, and use that to inform future exhibition design.

Before starting the PhD, I had worked in exhibition planning for over a decade. My role was about communicating the expertise of others, making it interesting and engaging for a general audience. But now, I have my own body of expertise to communicate and I’m developing a multi-pronged strategy for communicating my research:

1. Practicing what I preach

As exhibition developer, I spent a lot of time telling experts (curators, historians, scientists, etc.) what they need to do to engage the general public: tell a coherent story, avoid jargon, don’t get sidetracked by unnecessary detail, answer the “so what?” question as to why their topic mattered. Now I need to take my own advice and make sure I can communicate appropriately with a number of different audiences.

2. Making it relevant to “industry”

I never considered my PhD as a stepping-stone onto an academic career. To me, it was an opportunity to add some intellectual horsepower to the knowledge I’d picked up through experience, and to give me more credibility as a consultant. I also wanted my research to produce something useful for exhibition designers. I think I have achieved that, but the challenge now is to present it in a way that demonstrates this at a glance: visuals, infographics, and so on. And I’m aiming to present at as many different conferences as I can.

3. Still showing my academic credentials where it counts

Although I don’t have any plans to follow an academic career path, I still need to show that my work has the requisite level of rigour, both in the thesis itself and through academic publications. I already have one paper published (part of my literature review), and I reckon there’s at least 2-3 additional papers in there as well. They’re on my “to-do” list!

Should I apply?

Recently, I needed to write an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page about finding research funding. I thought of some questions that people often ask me, but they didn’t seem very interesting. So I asked Twitter.

The response was immediate and wonderful. Not everything came in the form of a question, but everything related to question that people ask. Here is the first of my responses to my Twitter-asked questions. I’d like to thank Ana Isabel Canhoto (@canhoto) for triggering this post.


The Great Wall of China, stretching off into the business

That must have been a lot of work, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Should I apply?

Let’s skip over the existential aspects of this question and assume that you are an academic required to undertake research as part of your job. Let’s also assume that you’ve finished your PhD. If you haven’t, go do it now. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you come back.

Sometimes, your research doesn’t require any funding. You might be working on an aspect of pure mathematics or ethics, and all you need is a computer, a good library, some peace and quiet, and the occasional chance to talk to smart people working on the same stuff. Or you might be working on a very small part of an overall research program that doesn’t need any extra staff, any equipment, or any travel. In that case, don’t apply for funding. You don’t need it and it won’t substantially improve your research. However, those situations are pretty rare.

In all other cases, you should apply for funding. However, there are some important things that you need to consider.

READ MORE

Changing disciplinary horses

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been mired in active discussions around who I am as a scholar.

Luckily for the world at large, these discussions exist mostly in my head, and only occasionally weigh upon the ears of close colleagues and my lucky, lucky partner.

The reason for these internal discussions is that I’ve started an academic job in a field that’s unrelated to my previous disciplines.

As a PhD student and then a research fellow, I have meandered through literary studies, cultural studies, heritage and museum research, touched on sociological work, and wished repeatedly that I’d built my expertise in science fiction and horror screen cultures.

The hinge that my scholarly work depends on is critical race studies, and the sub-field of diasporic Asian studies.

I have a shelf in my study that carries books and special issue journals that I’ve written and edited. It is my (occasionally successful) talisman against imposter syndrome. However, none of the publications I’ve had or journals I’ve published in overlap with the field Education Studies, part and parcel of the new role I’ve taken up.

Many times recently, I’ve moseyed through the literature around diversity and leadership in the academy (new field), and found a mini-Ygritte on my shoulder intoning, “You know nothing, Tseen Khoo.” And mini-Ygritte is right.

READ MORE

Life as an academic at a regional university

Dr Mel Thomson

[Photo by Phil Roberts, York University]

Dr Mel Thomson completed her undergraduate Honours degree in 1998 in microbiology and immunology at the University of Melbourne.

She then migrated to the UK where she worked on various projects as diverse as allergy and cancer before undertaking further studies. She completed a Masters of Research in functional genomics in 2004 before reading for a PhD in microbial genetic regulation in Neisseria species (both at the University of York, UK).

After the award of her PhD in 2009, Mel became interested in the extra-gastric consequences of the host-pathogen interactions between gastric Helicobacter species and their human host.

She returned to Australia in 2011 to start her own group at Deakin Medical School, where she plans to continue her explorations of host-pathogen interactions leading to pathology affecting nutrient absorption in the gut.

Mel has recently become a national ‘torch bearer’ for the concept of crowdfunding academic research, with a track record of two successful Pozible campaigns: Mighty Maggots and Hips 4 Hipsters. She is involved in advocacy for Women in Science both nationally and internationally.

Mel tweets at @dr_mel_thomson and blogs at Dr Mel Thomson.


Photo by Mel Thomson

Photo by Mel Thomson

I recently caught up with several early- and mid-career research colleagues from regional Queensland and NSW at a national conference.

The last time I had seen them at this meeting was two years ago, when two of them were working on the end of their fellowships at metropolitan universities.

Meeting them again, I discovered that the two of them had moved to a ‘new’ university in a regional area outside of the conurbation they had previously inhabited.

One had followed their Patron to this new position. The other had decided to take an academic lecturing position to offer some job security in response to the increasingly unstable funding environment for early and mid-career researchers in Australia.

They knew I was from a regional campus of a Victorian university, and we got chatting about the differences they had experienced since moving out of town to a ‘second tier’ (or perhaps ‘third tier’?) university. I asked what kind of support and commitments they had, compared to before.

READ MORE

Who will win?

Four colourful dragon boats on a lake in Nanjing.

Dragon boats, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

In the last week, academics around Australia have been receiving referee reports from the Australian Research Council.

Yesterday, I read just over 50 of these reports.

Today I spoke to my boss about them. I said that, in general, I was happy with them. We talked about some specific applications and some specific comments in the assessments.

Then, right at the end of the call, he asked me the question that I’d been dreading.

So, who do you think will win? What do you think our chances are?

Don’t ask me that. Please, don’t ask me that.

In the same way that I can’t tell an academic if they’ll get the grant or not, I can’t tell my boss, out of all our applications, who will win.

I can tell who got positive comments and who didn’t, which might allow you to make your own educated guess. I can tell you who, in my opinion, deserves to win.

But I don’t pick winners. Here’s five good reasons why. Read more of this post

We need to talk about titles

Jonathan LaskovskyJonathan Laskovsky is the Senior Coordinator, Research Partnerships in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University. He is primarily responsible for managing research partnerships support and administration within the College.

Alongside this role, Jonathan has research interests in modern and postmodern literature with a particular focus on fictional space and critical theory.

He tweets infrequently as @JLaskovsky and can be found on Linkedin.


A colon

The dreaded colon

We need to talk about titles. We’ve been neglecting them and it’s starting to show.

Neglect signifies that we once cared for titles but, for some reason, the care has ceased or become sporadic at best (insert your favourite garden-tending metaphor here).

This neglect might partly be explained by the ever-increasing pressure on academic life: large teaching loads, increasing demands for research output, conferences, meetings and other administrative distractions, as well as our paltry attempts to maintain some kind of work-life balance (one more reason to attend Shut Up and Write).

Being time-poor means we are often in such a rush to write that we don’t spend the time needed to gather our thoughts and really nail what it is we are writing about.

But we should. In particular, we really need to work on our titles. Those little summaries are the first thing that people read.

Read more of this post

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 13,973 other followers