Escaping the ivory tower- if only for a little while

dani-barringtonDr Dani Barrington is a Research Fellow jointly appointed by Monash University and the International WaterCentre.

Her work focuses on water and sanitation in developing communities, meaning she is often referred to as ‘The Toilet Lady’ by strangers and ‘Sani Dani’ by at least one of her friends.

She tweets at @Dani_Barrington.


Detail of Borugak Jagyeongnu, an enormous Korean water clock

The water clock, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Put your hand up if you feel guilty leaving the office at 5pm.

Keep it up if you feel it makes you a ‘bad’ academic.

I realised a few weeks ago that I consider myself a ‘bad’ academic for having a healthy work-life balance. And this really p*ssed me off.

I made a deal with my supervisor when I decided to apply for a PhD: I was over the undergraduate student lifestyle, and I would only do a PhD if I could treat it as a ‘real’ job, where I worked normal hours and took normal holidays.

Otherwise, I was going to accept a graduate position in an engineering firm (the fact that professional engineers may not have a healthy work-life balance was not apparent to me on graduating in 2007, pre-Global Financial Crisis, especially when taking an engineering position in Perth seemed the ‘safe’ option).

I LOVED studying for my PhD – I was making a fortune (well, compared to my previous casual income of $100 a week plus Youth Allowance), I got to work on stuff I was interested in, and I travelled overseas to conferences.

Yet, throughout my PhD, I kept attending seminars where I was reminded that if I wanted to continue in academia I was going to have to dedicate my entire life to the cause, including working weekends and potentially neglecting family obligations.

As a result, I wasn’t that interested in staying in academia when I finished my PhD.

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What’s on a good research project site?

Old Story (Photo by Place Light | www.flickr.com/photos/place_light)

Old Story (Photo by Place Light | http://www.flickr.com/photos/place_light)

It seems to be the done thing these days to have a webpage about your research project.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that it’s considered an increasingly essential part of research engagement and dissemination, and – really – it is so easy to set something up these days.

Right?

Well…yes and no. (Stay with me, I’m a humanities scholar and that’s how we answer everything)

I had a great chat recently with a researcher who was wanting to set up an online presence for his project. Part of the task of this presence was to recruit subjects for his PhD study.

It was a valuable conversation for him (or so he tells me…!) and also for me, because it clarified our perceptions of what was necessary, good, and ideal.

What I’m talking about in this post isn’t focused on what specific funding bodies may want, or elements that fulfil project final report obligations.

I’m looking at the website as something that showcases the research project and aims to engage the right groups. I’m taking the perspective of an interested member of the public, or a non-specialist academic colleague, more than peers who are in your exact area.

There are heaps of pieces out there about how to create an effective website, but I get derailed when they keep referring to customers and brands. Put your filters in place, though, and you can still glean a lot of good info from these articles. Pat Thomson has written about her experiences with blogging her research projects, and discusses the uneven results.

This post is my take on what the basics are for a good research project website. It presumes a small to non-existent budget, and no expert team of web-design or site-construction people at your disposal.

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Free to good home – one Research Whisperer

Map of Melbourne city, showing three campuses

RMIT’s city, Brunswick and Bundoora campuses, courtesy Google Maps

I’ve just finished a ‘grand tour’ of all the Schools in our College (read “Departments in our Faculty”, depending on your terminology).

It was great! I spent three days a week, for a month at a time, working in a completely different space.

In the middle of last year, when I came back from China, I sent a note to our seven Deputy Deans (Research). It was headed ‘Free to good home – one Research Whisperer’. In it, I asked if they would be interested in hosting me for a month. They would need to provide a desk and a chair, and access to electricity and the wireless network.

In return, I would spend three days per week in their School for a month. I’d still be doing my normal work, but I’d be a visible presence and would be able to meet with their staff, etc.

I was overwhelmed with the response. One school came back literally within minutes of the post. Every other school responded positively, with the last one even expressing the fear that they might be too late, and have missed the boat.

Every school was different. Some had real difficulty finding a seat for me. Others were able to give me a room with a view. For me, it didn’t matter where I sat, as long as I was where the action was.

Being in a central unit, it is easy to be seduced by the image that the centre is the focus when, in fact, the work happens in the schools, departments, and centres. That is where the teaching and research happens. Everything else is a scaffold to support that work.

Getting back to the periphery is a very simple, very powerful way to demonstrate that you recognise that fact. This is how it worked for me:

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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.

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Designing your research dissemination

Megan McPhersonMegan McPherson is currently working on the Dissemination of Learning and Teaching Resources Project for the College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University. She is supporting multiple research teams and internal and external processes for engaged dissemination.

She has project managed, led, and evaluated higher education research in the areas of peer learning and assessment in the creative industries, elearning approaches in the university studio, and professional development for teaching in new generation learning spaces.

Megan is a practicing artist and has taught and researched in the university studio for 18 years. She is a PhD scholar in the Faculty of Education, Monash University.

Megan tweets and instagrams at @MeganJMcPherson.


Tote. Sack. (Artwork/photo by Megan McPherson)

Tote. Sack. (Artwork/photo by Megan McPherson)

It used to be that dissemination was all about the academic publishing and conference presentations you would do at the end of the project to make public your findings and recommendations.

In the grant-lands of internal and external funding bodies, the idea of dissemination is changing.

Engaging in dissemination with your stakeholders is expected from the beginning of the project. An example of the support for this move is the Australian Government’s Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) ‘engaged dissemination’ project resulting in The D-Cubed project and resources.

Most learning and teaching funds emphasise engaged dissemination, and there are things that we can learn from this space. Dissemination can be more than an academic conference paper or article in a pay-walled journal.

Dissemination has moved into the more specific arena of ‘engaged dissemination’ where there is a planned process of ‘understanding potential adopters and engaging with them throughout the life of the project, to facilitate commitment to sustained change” (p.12). This means that you identify and interact with the audience for your research from the beginning of your project.

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Dangers of internal funding

Photo by Vadim Sherbakov (http://madebyvadim.com), sourced from unsplash (http://unsplash.com).

Photo by Vadim Sherbakov (http://madebyvadim.com), sourced from unsplash (http://unsplash.com).

I’ve benefited from different types of internal university funding for my research over the years.

The schemes I’ve accessed range from conference money to pilot project grants and new staff grants. They’ve offered the stepping-stones I needed to get projects going and build momentum.

This post talks about the dangers and opportunities presented by internal research funding, and flags the Top 3 types of internal funds that I’ve found most useful.

It’s important to plans ways to do research, even without a fat grant.

One of the internal grants I secured was specifically for developing and writing up a major grant proposal. It paid off a couple of years later when our team got that ARC Discovery project. Being able to get together for concentrated periods of time to nut out the grant application saved us heaps of time and focused our energies. It really worked well.

Most institutions have some form of internal funding for their researchers. Some have more than others. Some barely cover their researchers’ conference travel, others offer plush suites of articulated funding for just about every segment of the research cycle.

Internal funding is a good thing. It can boost project competitiveness and track-record before a go at a bigger external grant. It can certainly boost the confidence of researchers trying to get their work off the blocks, or build their CV in the early days of their research career. It can bridge external grant gaps and allow researchers to stay on the radar.

Internal funding can be a bad thing, however, when you have too much of it and no consequent profile in securing external funds.

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In praise of national networks

Photo by Noel Lopez (http://digerata.net) from unsplash.com

Photo by Noel Lopez (http://digerata.net) from unsplash.com

I was listening to a wise old researcher the other day when she said:

International networks are lovely, but it is your national network that will get you funded.

I realised that she was right.

We talk a lot about the importance of building an international network, but we don’t often talk about the importance of building a local network.

We put a lot of time into going to international conferences, looking for opportunities to get out of our own countries, and there are very good reasons for that. International conferences, by their very nature, tend to provide a wider point of view, a better sense of what is going on in a field.

International links provide enormous opportunities for better research, whether it is comparative research across cultures or access to more specialised equipment and facilities. Also, getting outside your own country helps to widen your perspective.

However, my job is to get you funded, and so I’m going to tell you what she told me:

It is your national networks that will fund you.

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