When research collaborations go bad

Stuff happens | Photo by Kim Tairi Released under CC licencse: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0

Stuff happens | Photo by Kim Tairi
Released under CC licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0

One of the toughest things to do gracefully in an academic relationship is to end it, or even question it.

Sometimes, even though you try, there isn’t a ‘good’ way to do it. Perhaps that’s why issues around collaborations – particularly what to do with bad ones – persist so strongly.

A lot of angst can be saved by early discussion about expectations from all team members – who’s doing what, when, and how. As mentioned in this co-authoring post, the division of labour doesn’t have to be equal, it just has to be clear.

On an academic risk management note, make sure you can tick these boxes before embarking on a collaborative project:

  • I’ve had at least one research conversation with the collaborator(s) I will be working with.
  • We’ve talked about division of labour and timelines for the project.
  • I feel comfortable facing my collaborator(s) first thing in the morning to talk about project and publication work. [This is a golden rule with me – ymmv]
  • I’m confident that my collaborator(s) bring relevant and appropriate levels of intellectual value to the project.
  • My collaborators communicate with me in a timely and constructive manner.

If you can tick off that checklist, it should mean few misunderstandings and disappointments. Read more of this post

Free the academic conference

Craig Lundy photoCraig Lundy is a Senior Lecturer in Social Theory at Nottingham Trent University.

After finishing his PhD in Philosophy at the University of New South Wales, Craig held a series of teaching and research positions in the UK and Australia, moving between the fields of Sociology, Cultural Studies and Politics. Most of Craig’s research has focused on exploring the nature of change, and in particular the usefulness of Gilles Deleuze and related thinkers for understanding processes of transformation.

In 2011-12, Craig teamed up with like-minded colleagues in London to create an annual conference with inclusivity at its heart – the London Conference in Critical Thought (LCCT).

This post speaks to one of the issues that prompted the creation of the LCCT: large and unfair conference registration fees.


2016 London Conference in Critical Thought program | Photo sourced from Twitter's @A2K4D

2016 London Conference in Critical Thought program | Photo sourced from Twitter’s @A2K4D

We have a problem with academic conference registration fees.

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for a multi-day conference to attract a registration fee in the region of AUD$600 (USD$450, €400, £330). I have seen fees that are even larger, but it is the size of the ‘average’ or ‘competitively priced’ conferences that are perhaps greater cause for alarm.

There are of course exceptions to the rule, but need I say that the exceptions prove the rule, and only highlight our problem. Such sums may not be a big deal to some sections of academia, but they make conference participation prohibitive to many. Bearing this in mind, it becomes apparent what our problem really is: not nearly enough academics on ‘hard’ employment contracts see a problem with the status quo, and even fewer are willing to speak about the problem, let alone do something about it.

The status quo is morally compromised

Conference organisers do their best to put on events that serve the needs of their constituencies, and they generously sacrifice their time and labour for the good of the academic community. It’s important that we acknowledge and applaud their efforts.

Nevertheless, it must be said that the status quo regarding conference registration fees is to a large extent morally compromised. There are a lot of things that could be said here to illustrate the point, but I’ll limit myself to one: while ‘standard’ participants pay a registration fee, it is commonplace for keynote speakers to have their expenses subsidised or paid entirely by the conference organisers, these costs being covered (at least in part) by the collection of conference registration fees.

So, when participants such as students or unemployed/underemployed postdocs pay and ‘star’ keynotes don’t, we have a situation where the least wealthy participants are paying the way for the most wealthy. And I have yet to come across a convincing justification for this situation. Read more of this post

Top tips for internal grants

Reza profile crop - smallDr Reza Mohammed is Senior Coordinator, Research Development, in the Research Office at RMIT University, Australia.

He leads a team that manages the University’s research-related professional development program for staff, its Early Career Researcher Network, and many of its internal research funding schemes.

Before transitioning to research administration, Reza held positions in academia, industry, and conservation education.


Read the guide(lines) | Photo by Reza Mohammed

Read the guide(lines) | Photo by Reza Mohammed

Many universities allocate funding to support research collaborations, research projects, and travel fellowships.

As public funding for research decreases annually, competition for internal funding becomes increasingly fierce.

The pros and cons of internal funding are discussed in another Research Whisperer post, and I want to talk about how to win internal grants.

If you’re a researcher wanting to increase your chances of success, lean in close so I can share my top five tips with you.

Read more of this post

Staying on the radar

I unearthed this fragment of a post the other weekend. I started writing it in 2012, when I was about two years into a professional role at a university as a research grant developer. I had had about ten years of researcher life before that, with back-to-back research-only fellowships. My feelings about leaving my researcher self behind were mixed, to say the least.

Now, I’m about two years back into an academic job after leaving that professional role. And I have things to say to my 2012 self. 

Hopefully, this dialogue with the self is useful for those of you with ‘portfolio careers’ and seemingly zig-zagging career paths. It may never seem like the right way to do things, but  it helps to know that there isn’t a right way to do things.


Me, writing in 2012 while in a professional role: 

What’s the shelf-life of academic expertise?

This is an issue that’s haunted me ever since I started working on the ‘other side of the fence’ in my current professional research development role. I was used to being easily identified as ‘academic’ for many years, and it was the angst of having to explain being a research fellow position that occupied my time. Common things I’d have to say: “No, I don’t teach”, “no, I’m not supposed to teach”, “yes, I’m 100% research”, “yes, that means I don’t teach”.

Now, as a research grant developer, I’m in a role where I’m constantly advising researchers on what’s good practice and savvy research strategy. I can’t help but view my on-the-ground experience as a researcher for over a decade as a core part of the value I bring to my job. Similarly, if I’m not publishing, presenting at conferences, or debating critical issues with peers, am I a lesser occupant of this role?

For example, if I was awarded (and completed) a shiny competitive grant, does my experience in putting that application together count, more than five years later? If I haven’t published in an academic journal for over ten years, do I have credibility advising researchers on how to strategise submissions and papers, or negotiate editorial processes?

I’ve kept a part-time hand in with running the research network but, other than that, haven’t given an academic conference paper or written an academic article for about two years.

It feels strange. Read more of this post

Crowdfunding: training that pays for itself

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Pocket change, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Researchers who run crowdfunding campaigns are trying to raise funds for their research. That would seem to go without saying.

Except, if that’s the case, and if research funding is so hard to get, then why isn’t everybody doing it?

When I looked for crowdfunding campaigns run by academic staff at Australian universities, I found only 63% (27) of universities were represented [Data on Figshare]. As far as I could tell, 37% of universities hadn’t had any crowdfunding campaigns run by staff members. Of those that had, only three (7%) had run more than five campaigns. Why is that?

I need to do more work before I can answer that question, but some of the answers revolve around prestige (these aren’t national Research Council grants) and inertia (it is hard to get big organisations to do new things).

I can’t change the lack of prestige around crowdfunding. That will take time – in some quarters, eons may pass.

But I can tackle inertia. Read more of this post

Do it because you can

In-between landscape (scale of 1:1): mangroves near Wynnum, looking towards Stradbroke. Megan McPherson, work in progress: Relief printed etching, rice paper, hand coloured with pigment ink, archival glues. Approximately 280 x 500 x 20 cms (hxwxd) (Undulating surface)

In-between landscape (scale of 1:1): mangroves near Wynnum, looking towards Stradbroke. Megan McPherson, work in progress: Relief printed etching, rice paper, hand coloured with pigment ink, archival glues. Approximately 280 x 500 x 20 cms (hxwxd) (Undulating surface)

I tried to let this particular white-hot rage die down. But it won’t.

So, hopefully, here’s a constructive post built from the foundations of my infuriation.

I heard a researcher talking about how they balanced their academic work life a while ago, and it made me very angry.

Basically, they said that anything that wasn’t clearly noted as part of their workload, they wouldn’t bother doing.

The implication being that anyone who did ‘extra’ or ‘unnecessary’ things were total mugs because those things weren’t getting them ahead in their careers – therefore, not worth doing. They considered the idea of communicating research (and social media as a whole) as a fad in which only the gullible would indulge their time.

They also seemed smug, and it’s always hard for me to like those who seem smug.

I agree that people shouldn’t fall on their swords and slog away at little recognised, exploitative roles or over-the-workload-limit tasks and responsibilities. I’m not saying that academics must carry the weight of all that needs to be done, because we know that it’s always already too much.

What made me so angry was that this researcher wasn’t talking about solidarity with colleagues in the face of workload adversity. They were totally focused on what would be worthwhile doing for their own career and promotion prospects; everything else was secondary, if not worthless. Read more of this post

We’re FIVE!

Cake by Kong Hian Khoo, Jan 2015 | Photo by Fooi-Ling Khoo

Cake by Kong Hian Khoo, Jan 2015 | Photo by Fooi-Ling Khoo

Research Whisperer turns five on 9 June 2016. Five years is a long time on the internets.

We started our blog, Twitter, and Facebook accounts at the same time. So, we were at zero for all metrics five years ago.

Now, we have about 4900 blog subscribers, 23K Twitter followers, and over 3000 Facebook page ‘Likes’.

Even though we know that numbers aren’t everything, they are a useful rough guide for whether people are interested in the stuff we write about and share. It seems that many are, which is both fun and affirming! Read more of this post

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