Embracing the shiny

Water glitter (Sourced from G. Crouch on flickr [http://www.flickr.com/photos/crouchy69] Used under CC-A-NC licence - http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/deed.en

Water glitter (Sourced from G. Crouch on flickr [http://www.flickr.com/photos/crouchy69]
Used under CC BY-NC 2.0 licence – http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/deed.en

There are times when I sit before the screen and feel that I have nothing to say that would be useful to anyone. This was one of those times.

The Pomodoro ticked on, and I had my fingers hovering over the keyboard but nothing spreading across the screen.

There wasn’t a lot happening in my hamster-wheel of a brain, nothing worth putting down for others to read.

Then, mid-Pomodoro, a bunch of performative, loud, and inane people sat right next to me and I started shooting them dagger-glances. They were saying obnoxious and half-sentence things to each other, as close friends tend to do.

As my resentment for their ruining of my (unproductive) zen started to level out, I thought about the limitations of such insular dynamics. The hamster wheel started turning. I thought about other situations where insular dynamics can hold us back.  This spurred me to write about why healthy academic networks need a mix of the old and the new.

Academic networks are most useful when they contain a delicate blend: a consistent core who know how to get things done, those with new ideas, those with discipline history, and new members to flag potential new directions and perspectives. Read more of this post

Keeping referees sweet

Cupcake salvation (Photo by Fooi-ling Khoo)

Cupcake salvation (Photo by Fooi-ling Khoo)

Choosing the referees to list on a CV and job applications can be a complex business, particularly when you’re starting out.

You want a balance of voices who could credibly recommend you.

Perhaps someone who has been your academic supervisor, an examiner, a senior colleague who knows you and your work well enough, someone you’ve RA’d for?

For a non-academic job, maybe – just maybe – that first round of referees might include the boss of the fish and chip shop you worked at over the summer.

For academic jobs, there are other considerations in the mix, too: Should you have at least one international referee? One internal referee from your current position? Will it look odd if you don’t include any of your supervisors as referees? What if Professor Z on the hiring committee sees that you used Dr X and not Associate Professor Y…?

After navigating the rocky straits of choosing and securing your referees, you need to ensure that they’re on board with you for the duration of your job hunt(s).

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Telling research career stories – Part 1

Beaching (Photo courtesy of Owen Leong)

Beaching (Photo courtesy of Owen Leong)

This is the first of two posts about the issue of research career disruptions and interruptions. I started writing this as a simple “Top 5″ listing of how to write about these situations, and what not to do.

It became my blogging albatross. I ended up worrying at it for more than three weeks. *

Why was this? It was because, as I was typing up strategies for presenting your track-record in the best possible light, it read as cold and functional.

I felt I was doing that thing of making everything as seamless as possible, as if these things can – and should – be adequately contained in such a way. As if I had no issues with this kind of requirement.

In the end, I’ve decided to split it up.

  • Part 1 is a ‘meta’ take on the idea of telling your research career story, and the ways in which academia and higher education bodies attempt to account for it.
  • Part 2 (next week) is a much more utilitarian post about better – and worse – ways to talk about the texture of your career in grant applications.

* Many thanks to Lisa Batten (@BattLisa) for her comments + encouragement for these posts!


Read more of this post

Hashing it over

Pink button with # symbol and blank line, held in an open palm

Hashtag button (Photo by Eclecticlibrarian)

Anyone who has converted to Twitter, and uses it with regularity will know about the prevalent use of hashtags to ‘stream’ tweet content.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a quick read of this official Twitter page, or check out the wittier, unofficial Guardian version.

In short:

A hashtag, for the non-Twitterati, is a word or smashed-together phrase preceded by the hash symbol (#), originally devised as a way to keep track of the flow of subject matter in the Twittersphere. (Ben Zimmer, Visual Thesaurus)

I recently saw someone on Facebook cramming hashtags into their status update. I must admit to rolling my eyes and muttering acidly, “It’s not Twitter, doofus” (oh, yes, fear my acidity).

Yes, I know Facebook is trying to get in on the hashtag action, but – in the very average ways I use Fb – it is largely absent and still an anomaly. Those who frequent Yammer have often used hashtags, and I know of tragics who have brought the hashtagging habit to their emails.

For the most part, though, hashtags live on Twitter.

When I first started on Twitter, I thought hashtags were silly. Yeah, that’s me: broadminded and noble embracer of change.

What I failed to realise was that getting value out of hashtags, and getting to a stage where I’m using and following them deliberately, requires a commitment to the medium that I didn’t have as a newbie. At that stage, all I saw was a soup of symbols and run-together text.

Since that time, I have come to love hashtags. Love them with an unnatural, nerdy love.

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Tattoo your data

Margaret HentyMargaret Henty is Senior Policy Advisor with the Australian National Data Service (ANDS).

In practice, this means looking at all of those legal and policy issues which have an impact on data sharing and use, such as copyright, licensing, ethics, Gov 2.0, etc and keeping an eye on developments overseas.

ANDS is building the Australian Research Data Commons: a cohesive collection of research resources from all research institutions, to make better use of Australia’s research data outputs.


Tattoos are big business at the moment.  People everywhere are adorning themselves with something to help make them feel a little more individual, something which belongs to them and no-one else.

Remapped back (from Kyle McDonald: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylemcdonald)

Remapped back, from Kyle McDonald on Flickr

The data you create as part of your research can have its own tattoo, too.  It’s called a Digital Object Identifier (DOI). You’re probably familiar with the concept of the DOI being attached to your journal articles. Now you can also attach them to your data. It is something like a tattoo for your body, an electronic tag for your dog, or an ISBN for your book.

You should tattoo your data for the same reasons you tattoo your body (and for some bonus reasons, too):

  • It makes the data uniquely identifiable.
  • You will always be identified as the creator of the data.
  • Having a data tattoo means that your data can always be located with a simple web search.
  • It means your data can be cited, whether by someone else or by you and any data citations can be added to journal citations.
  • It means that usage of your data can be followed as others use and cite your data.

“So what?” I hear you ask. Well, changes are afoot in the research world, the kinds of changes which may well have an effect on the way reward structures in academe operate.  Currently, merit in the academic world is recognised by virtue of research publications in the form of books or journal articles (or in some cases, creative works).

Other types of research output have barely, if ever, been recognised.  This applies especially to research data, something which is routinely collected in the course of research and that forms the basis of all those publications.  Is it valuable?  Yes, it is, and not just to you.

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Public Engagement: Writing an Opinion Piece

Dr Meagan TylerDr Meagan Tyler is a lecturer in Sociology at Victoria University, Australia. She is currently on secondment to the Centre for Sustainable Organisations and Work (CSOW) at RMIT University, conducting research for the Bushfire CRC project: “Effective Communication: Communities and bushfire.”

Meagan has written pieces for The Drum and The Conversation, has been quoted in a variety of publications (including The Age, The Times [UK], and Cosmopolitan), and recently appeared on the TV current affairs program, The Project.

She tweets @DrMeaganTyler.


Academics want their work to be read, and public engagement can be a very useful way to make sure this happens.

There are three main reasons why getting your research out to wider audience can be a good idea:

  1. you have expertise to share on a particular issue in the news,
  2. you want to get the results of your work out to the public, and
  3. you want to raise your profile.

As a researcher, it can be infuriating when you read a piece – in a newspaper or online – that deals with your research area, and it turns out to be misleading or inaccurate. It can be difficult, particularly as an early career researcher, to know how to add your voice and expertise to the debate.

There are several ways you can become more involved, including starting your own blog, getting active on Twitter, putting profile pages up on sites like Academia.edu, and writing opinion pieces. These take time and patience, but they will help raise your profile, thus improving your chances of being quoted in papers, interviewed on radio or TV, or invited to write.

A soap box (Photo by MonsieurLui - http://www.flickr.com/photos/monsieurlui)

A soap box (Photo by MonsieurLui – http://www.flickr.com/photos/monsieurlui)

All of this means that your research will be more widely read, and the possibility that you might actually influence public debate on a topical issue is much greater.

If there is a particular issue in the news that relates to your work, it’s always helpful to contact your institution’s media unit as a first port of call. In fact, if you have just started in a new position or have recently completed a major piece of work (funded project, PhD etc.), it can be valuable simply to let your media unit know you exist and are able to comment on certain areas. They may be able to direct media queries to you in the future, or help you get opinion pieces published.

Many university media units also offer writing and media engagement workshops to help you figure out what the mainstream media are looking for in an op-ed. These can be a great place to start, and are a helpful reminder that academic writing is often a world away from conveying your point to a broader audience in only 600-800 words.

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Five ways to make a difference

Sticky notes listing impacts of climate change.

Impacts, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

We aren’t here just to generate papers, people.

We’re here to make a difference, to improve things.

Heaven knows, there are enough issues out there that need our help!

If your research sits within the academy, being cited by other researchers, then you might get a promotion. But you probably won’t make a difference.

Here are five ways you can get out there and help put your research into action. Read more of this post

Academic fandom

Constellation of starfish (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

There’s a story I tell about one of my first ever international conferences, which I attended as a PhD student, where I heard about a colleague hanging out with one of my academic heroes. Let’s call him Prof GM (short for Global Modernity). In this colleague’s story, Prof GM was in board-shorts. At a Hawai’ian beach.

I was so envious.

Not because I would’ve had anything intelligent or engaging to say to Prof GM, but just because I would’ve gotten to see the ‘realness’ of that person. Luckily for Prof GM, I’m less the Kathy ‘Misery’ Bates kind of fan, and more the Wayne’s World type (‘We’re not worthy!‘ [YouTube vid]).

As much as we may want to eschew the idea, there are academic celebrities. I don’t mean the ‘media stars’ and leviathans of productivity that we hear and gossip about. I mean the intellectual and theory heroes that we all have: people whose work becomes the foundation of much of our subsequent academic thinking, and even oblique career enablers. They are the ones who think the thoughts and frameworks that we hang our theoretical hats on (or wish we’d come up with…!).

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PostdocTraining: the why, what and how

Kerstin Fritsches is a former research fellow who spent the majority of her 12-year research career on soft money at the University of Queensland, Australia.

She learned more than she would like about the challenges facing early career researchers (ECRs). While her research focused on what fish and other marine animals can see (taking her to some wonderful locations), she has been passionate about improving the situation for ECRs, and involved in postdoc policy and career development training for many years.

An apparently universal need for accessible and effective career development training motivated Kerstin to leave academia and found PostdocTraining to offer career development training tailored specifically to postdocs and their institutions.

The Research Whisperers met Kerstin at the 2012 ARMS conference, and were impressed by her passion for her work and savvy approach to alt-ac careers (‘alt-ac’ = ‘alternative to academia’). We invited her to tell us the story of moving from fixed-term researcher to company founder. 


Saddest sign in the world (By Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr)

A life in research looks like an incredibly rewarding prospect. It’s a ‘sky’s-the-limit’ kind of career, a chance to change the way the world thinks and works, and to make a fair living while doing so.

But how many researchers do you know across the academic spectrum who aren’t ‘living the dream’?

We decided we knew too many, and established PostdocTraining to offer support. The program is aimed at new postdocs who are isolated, dependent and worried about surviving the next grant round. They include ECRs unsure of how to start carving their niche and making headway down their own research path. We also wanted to help lab heads and directors who wanted to make their research teams more effective, efficient and productive, and researchers keen to transition to positions in and outside academia, but not knowing how to make a start.

PostdocTraining is rooted in the need to tackle these issues head-on in research. We started it to offer the kind of program I wish I’d had when I started my career as a researcher on ‘soft money’.

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ERA: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Associate Professor Peter Macauley (RMIT University)

Associate Professor Peter Macauley teaches in the information management programs at RMIT University. Before starting at RMIT, he worked for 30 years in public, special and university libraries.

Over the past decade Peter’s research has focused on doctoral pedagogy, knowledge production, information literacy, scholarly communication and distance education.

With colleagues, he has been awarded ARC funding for two Discovery projects: ‘Australian doctoral graduates’ publication, professional and community outcomes’, and ‘Research capacity-building: the development of Australian PhD programs in national and emerging global contexts’. He publishes regularly in journals best suited to the readership for his research; some happen to be ERA-ranked A and A* on the 2010 list.

The Research Whisperer knows Peter as one of the good guys: a researcher with integrity and perspective, who tells it like it is. 


Problematica (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

ERA, which stands for ‘Excellence in Research for Australia’, is similar in many ways to research frameworks used in other countries to evaluate the quality (and sometimes quantity) of the research output of universities and—indirectly—individuals.

In the United Kingdom, they have REF (the Research Excellence Framework); in New Zealand, it is the PBRF (Performance Based Research Fund), and many other countries have similar schemes.

In this post, I focus on the journal ranking component of ERA.

Officially, the ERA journal rankings were abandoned after the first round of evaluation in 2010. Unofficially, the ERA journal rankings are alive and well and used for all the reasons they were withdrawn: job applications, promotions, grant applications and other forms of peer review (the bedrock of academe).

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