Best things we learned in 2013

From the tree #allthedecorations (Photo courtesy of Kim Tairi: http://www.flickr.com/photos/angels_have_the_phone_box)

From the tree #allthedecorations (Photo courtesy of Kim Tairi: http://www.flickr.com/photos/angels_have_the_phone_box)

As the Research Whisperers, people often assume we know everything.

This can be a very useful fiction to maintain, no doubt about it.

One of Tseen’s immediate colleagues has commented that she has perfected a ‘knowing nod’ that conveys all manner of things: ‘yes, I know’, ‘I’m onto it’, ‘totally understand’, ‘yes, you do need to read those guidelines…’.

What we don’t often get the chance to detail, though, is what WE have learned through running this blog.

It’s a constant source of information, points-of-view, great links, and projects. We feel very much a part of an international community that’s obsessed about #highered and #academia, and – even though we may #loveHE – it’s healthy to have a warts’n all view of the sector and its possibilities. That’s why #altac and #postac feature in our social media streams and on the blog.

Many of our readers and collaborators have become part of our #circleofniceness (cf. one of Thesis Whisperer’s big posts this year, on academics behaving badly).

It can also be a great source of envy. For example, Tseen seeing #ecrchat and various research networks focused on her research topic take off and wishing there was something like that when she was going through her blurry, tentative ECR days.

So, what is the best thing we’ve each learned this year?

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Descending on Adelaide (ARMS 2013)

ARMS 2013 - AdelaideIf you happened to be travelling on flights to Adelaide over 10-13 September this year, you may have overheard some juicy academic gossip and, hopefully, many scandalous declarations about the higher education sector in Australia and elsewhere.

You may well have been sitting near a posse of professional research staff.

The conference we were flying to was ARMS 2013, the peak meet-up for people of our persuasion.

ARMS (Australasian Research Management Society) is the “professional society for specialists in management and administration of research”, and may need to change its title slightly given the organisation now has a Singapore chapter. Or this may be the beginning of a more pronounced ‘Asian’ in the ‘AustralAsian’ (given tantalising comments by former ARMS President, Ren Yi [@melbcollege], on Twitter about possible links with China – see below)?

I didn’t attend the pre-conference workshops this year, and arrived in Radelaide in time for the welcome reception on the evening of 11 September.

The reception was held in the same venue as the rest of the conference: the Adelaide Convention Centre. As anyone who has floated around convention centres knows, these spaces are often vast, echoing, and – really – socially sterile. Getting into the exhibition hall (where the reception was held), I warmed the space up with meeting colleagues, buddies from last year, and the fabulous opportunity to hang with an old friend who was ‘out-of-context’ at a research management conference.

The conference was very well organised (kudos to the conference committee), and afforded many opportunities to learn about the current state of our professional sector, research policy, and funding bodies in Australia and internationally.

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Getting the jump on 2013

Ce-le-brate. You. Must. Ce-le-brate.  (Photo courtesy of Catriona Mills)

Ce-le-brate. You. Must. Ce-le-brate.
(Photo courtesy of Catriona Mills)

With the atmosphere in most workplaces already in holiday mode, it can be hard to keep track of our research, or even pick up that next article to read.

While taking a break and recharging over the holidays is essential for good research practice and life balance, there are some things you can do right now – pre-holidays – to get a head-start on your research in the new year.

If you’re able to push aside the tinsel and dodge the flashing lights for this final burst of productivity, here are each of the Research Whisperers’ Top 3 End-of-Year research tips.

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Who works harder?

Dr Angela Dobele is a creative, results-oriented academic with progressive career accomplishments in research, teaching and community engagement. Her research focuses on three main areas: word-of-mouth referrals (including technological communications), gender diversity, and teaching and learning. Angela’s teaching disciplines include electronic marketing, services marketing, new product development, marketing management and integrated marketing communications. 

As well as immersing herself in research and teaching, Angela is a Foster Dog Carer, enjoys Science Fiction and plans on taking music lessons (any day now…).


Fight-Talk (Photo courtesy of FooDavid)

If you’re a female academic who thinks you’re working harder than your male colleagues, you may well be right!

Not only that, you might be working harder, but you’re less likely to be in the professorial ranks.

I was part of a team of researchers (from RMIT and Griffith universities) who found that, while women are shouldering the majority of the workload at each academic rank, they are under-represented further up the pecking order.

Our results show gender equity in terms of workload on five key workload measures, but there was inequality in terms of pay and status. It confirms what many already presume: it is still the case that fewer women are employed in senior ranks. These results suggest, despite policy reforms, inequity continues to be a problem in the Australian higher education sector.

Our study focused on business faculty employees, and showed that female senior lecturers – the ‘middle’ tier – are teaching an average 848 students compared with their male counterparts’ 229. The number of courses co-ordinated by senior lecturers was an average of 4 for women and 3.2 for men.

Despite shouldering much of the work, women are underrepresented in the higher ranks: senior lecturers, associate professors and professors. For example, in one of the universities studied, one fifth of the male staff were professors, compared with no women.

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What’s your discipline?

The author in outrageous eyelashes and lipstick.

Check those lashes! by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

I was sitting in a workshop a while back (actually, it was a lecture, but nobody calls them ‘lectures’ when staff are attending), and an eminent professor used the phrase ‘cross disciplinary’.

“That’s pretty retro,” I thought. “Everybody talks about being ‘multi-disciplinary’ or ‘inter-disciplinary’. Actually, even that is a bit passé. ‘Trans-disciplinary’ is the word of the day. What the hell do these terms mean, anyway?”

Given that most of my working life consists of writing:

‘Be precise’,
‘What exactly do you mean?’, and
‘Reword for clarity’

in the margin of draft grant applications, I thought that I should come up with some working definitions, at least for my own satisfaction.

After all, these words are fundamental to our conception of modern research. They deserve precise definitions.

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Newbie at ARMS 2012

Sunshine, swanky hotel, dedicated catering, Big Names?

It must be conference time!

The 2012 Australasian Research Management Society conference was held on 19-21 September at the Gold Coast, with the theme of ‘Ride the wave of collaboration’. The record number of delegates – 550 or so – is testament to both the growing professional field and the Gold Coast climate’s welcoming embrace. For a post-Melbourne-winter attendee, the weather was like a fabulous keynote all on its own.

After checking in, I was quickly and happily ensconced in the plush surrounds of a 23rd floor room in the Surfers Paradise Marriott. Dining with my colleagues that evening, I wondered why I’d ever been jaundiced about conferences. The venue was superb!

The first day (Wed 19 Sept) was dedicated to workshops, ranging from ‘Introduction to Research Management’ and ‘Contract Law for Research Administrators’ to the all-day ‘Research Integrity Forum’ (attendees of which seemed to have an unseemly amount of fun). I attended the sessions about international collaboration, and building and sustaining industry engagement. The workshops were a great way to get to know fellow attendees. Even though we were embroiled in activities that involved butcher’s paper and coloured markers (I’m generally not a fan), I learned a lot about the pressing issues and international/industry contexts for research generally, and research management in particular.

For the next two days of the conference proper (Thurs and Fri 20-21 Sept), we listened to invited international speakers such as Allison Lerner (Inspector General, National Science Foundation, USA), Vanessa Campo-Ruiz (Science Officer, European Science Foundation), and Brigid Heywood (Assistant VC [Research and Enterprise], Massey Uni, NZ). Was I the only one to note the not-so-subtle refrain of ‘show us your badge!’ in conference conversation after Lerner’s presentation?

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Pre-2012 hiatus

The Research Whisperer blog is taking a break over the holiday season!

The next post is planned for Tuesday 10 January 2012.

May you have a safe + happy time, and all our very best wishes,

Tseen + Jonathan (aka Team Research Whisperer)

Here I am, living in the future!

The ability to keep 100 or so academic books in my hand bag is kind of amazing – whenever I pull [my Kindle] out I have a little “Here I am, living in the future!” moment.

Thesis Whisperer, talking about her Kindle

Radiator grille of an old steam engine, with the words "The Imperial" on it.

The Imperial, by Jonathan O'Donnell, on Flickr

For me, the Internet provides my “Here I am, living in the future!” moment. When I first started using email and the Net, it was just like the science-fiction books that I’d read as a kid. Talking to friends overseas with full-screen video still amazes me, especially when you consider that it is – for all intents and purposes – free (if you ignore the investment in a computer, telecommunications infrastructure, etc).

Traveling to my Mum’s house in Swan Hill gives me regular doses of being ‘off the grid’, which helps me to understand how much I depend on it. Don’t get me wrong – you can get Internet access in Swan Hill, you just can’t get it at my Mum’s place (well, not easily and it is very slow).

I’m in Swan Hill now for my Mum’s 90th birthday (as a result, this is being drafted off-line). For her, living in the future has a whole different meaning. She was born in September 1921. When she was a teenager, commercial radio was just coming to Swan Hill. She celebrated her 21st birthday during World War 2. In her 30s, Russia launched the first satellite and broadcast television first came to Australia. We wouldn’t get a TV in our home until the late 1960s – early 1970s, much to the chagrin of my older sisters. About that time, my Mum would been able to make long-distance phone calls without going through an operator, a development that eventually led to her putting a lock on the phone (which also outraged my sisters, but it was their own fault).

She would have been in her 50s when Australia started broadcasting FM radio. In her 60s, the first mobile phones, still attached to their enormous batteries, would have been introduced. She was in her 70s when the Web was invented. All of these things are covered by that interesting phrase, “within living memory”.

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Five reasons research rocks!

Brainstorming on a whiteboard

The Writing is on the Wall by Jonathan O'Donnell on Flickr

Sometimes, I have a bad day. Last Thursday, for example. It started badly, with a meeting where I had to defend what I was trying to do. It ended badly, with a meeting where people who understood what I was trying to do gave me really stupid reasons why I shouldn’t do it.

Last Thursday was an exception. Most days, I love my job.

Here’s why:

1. Researchers are nice people.

Thesis Whisperer has taught me that supervision relationships can be fraught, and research is one long, slow argument. There are always a couple of people in any area that you won’t get on with but, generally, researchers are people I like.

In part, I like them because they are like me. In part, I like them because they are smart, forward-thinking people who are passionate about what they do.

Mostly, though? I like them because they tell me interesting stuff.

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Watch this space…

Welcome to the fresh pages of the Research Whisperer!

We’re in the process of finalising our first entries. Our sneak launch was perhaps not as sneaky as one would think.

Before our debut posts are up, you may want to find out:

  • ABOUT the Research Whisperer, and/or
  • CONTACT us with ideas, questions, and any other feedback.

We are excited about this project, and hope that you’ll come along for the ride!

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