Great conference dinners – Part 1

glasses-1036424_640Those of you who know me, or have heard my rants from afar, will know that there are several things that send me into major hobby-horse mode.

One of them is open plan offices, another is conference dinners.

There may be some furrowed brows at this stage.

Conference dinners? Don’t people go to them to eat good food, have fun, and get to know one another better? Isn’t it just one of those blurred professional / social things you do as part of a conference? Who doesn’t want to dance? Why would anyone have such weirdly negative feelings about a conference dinner?

Well, I’m so glad you asked.

When I wrote It’s not you, it’s me, and included a conference quiz that Inger Mewburn (an avowed extroverted type) and I (a mostly introverted type) filled out, this was our answer to the conference dinner question:

conf dinner yes no

I’m not just a bit conference dinner averse; I avoid them where possible. Occasionally, when I’m convening an event, I have to attend the conference dinner. Or friends force me to go with them (after assuring me there will be an escape hatch – escape hatches are extremely important). Why am I this way? It has a lot to do with previous bad experiences at conference dinners (stuck with incompatible people for hours in uber-awkwardness, expensive bad food, awful meal-side entertainment…), and the ongoing forced socialisation aspect that has never sat well with me.

I love going out to dinner with certain conference people. To a place we choose. To do things we like.

So, as a biased non-participator of conference dinners, what’s with this post about them?

I think of it as a bit of an anthropological exercise. My spontaneous and only-open-for-a-day survey the other weekend brought lots of confirmation that my twitter echo-chamber is populated by many of the same persuasion as me – others who hate conference dinners, and never go.

I’m very interested in what people consider a great conference dinner, because I know they do happen. Many thanks to the 45 or so people who answered the survey, provided information via direct messages, or commented on my Facebook query.

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Breaking boundaries

This is the first half of a talk that I gave recently at the University of Melbourne Researcher@Library event. Thanks to all involved for inviting me, and making me feel so welcome.  It was great!

A long high fence that has been built around a big tree branch.

Tree in the fence, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

When we work within organisations, the boundaries of our organisation can become limiting horizons.

More and more, I am finding that it is easier to do things with the whole world than it is to do them within my organisation.

Sometimes, it is easier to get my colleagues’ attention on Twitter than it is face-to-face (even though they work on the same campus  or even in the same building). The conversation can be richer online, too, because they often have more time to talk on the train going home than they do between meetings. And multiple voices can join in with different points of view.

Organisations want to engage with the outside world, but are bound up in their own identities. I’ve talked before about how I’ve failed to get my Twitter handle on my business card. RMIT recognises the Research Whisperer as part of my job, but only lets me put ‘official’ channels on my card.

At a larger level, national funding systems can fall into this trap, too. Even though they recognise that international research teams produce stronger research, they can sometimes find it hard to fund international collaboration. There is much encouragement to publish with international colleagues. Funding agencies love it, but they often find it difficult to fund the work that leads to those publications. I suspect that they don’t want to give ‘tax-payer dollars’ (nation-based funds) to people from other nations, even though that will probably create better research outcomes.

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What should you do with a toxic collaborator?

What's yours? | Photo by Tseen Khoo

What’s yours? | Photo by Tseen Khoo

When I wrote Do you have a toxic collaborator? back in January this year, I promised a follow-up post about what to do if you found you did have one.

This second post has taken me a while to write. Not because I forgot, or thought it wasn’t important. If anything, it has been weighing on my mind all year!

It’s a really hard post to write because I wanted it to contain useful advice – not just platitudes – for those who found themselves in these situations.

Various stories that came my way after the initial post also upped my trepidation. The elements I was talking about, while annoying and with the potential to be project-breakers, were not as vicious or vindictive as some of the narratives people shared with me.

I suddenly felt that whatever I said wouldn’t have helped any of those dire situations, and sometimes there were just awful, small-minded (but powerful) sorts that you just have to avoid or be wary about.

I’ve now come back to this half-drafted post. It is important. It won’t solve all the ills of heinous academic behaviours, but may push back effectively on some. Read more of this post

Welcome to Grant Camp

Slide that says: How it works 5 minutes - what you need to do. 20 minutes - write like hell! 5 minutes - take a breather: coffee & chat. Repeat this six times! Half hour break around 3:30 pm.

How it works, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr.

Researchers often don’t have time to write a decent application.

That is, with the best will in the world, they can’t devote the time that they want to drafting their application.

As a result, research whisperers often get drafts way too late to be able to provide any useful feedback. People send me their drafts less than a week before the deadline. At that point, all we can do is make sure that it adheres to the rules and point out spelling and grammar errors. There is no time to rework fatal flaws, investigate lacunae in the literature review, restructure the budget, or add collaborators.

It is ‘Submit or Die’ time.

To try to avoid this, I’ve been running Grant Camps for my researchers. Inspired by the award-winning Thesis Boot Camp model, Grant Camps are half-day events that give applicants the time to address the major aspects of an application.

I’ve found that, while people can’t get a half a day to work on their application themselves, they can do it if I send them a meeting appointment and they plan it as part of their schedule.

So far, they have been quite popular. They don’t work for everybody, but the people that do like it keep coming back. Read more of this post

How do you find researchers who want to collaborate?

Jenny DelasalleJenny Delasalle is the editor of the Piirus Blog. She is also a freelance copywriter and librarian, currently based in Berlin, Germany. This means that she works collaboratively and remotely with the rest of the Piirus team.

Jenny has over fifteen years of experience of working in academic libraries, and is interested in scholarly communications, bibliometrics, copyright and many other things besides.

She blogs at A Librarian Abroad, and tweets at @JennyDelasalle.

We are pleased to publish her article describing research collaboration and Piirus, a not-for-profit service provided by the University of Warwick.

Contacts and collaboration are increasingly important to researchers. From the sparking of early ideas, to co-authorship which increases outputs and helps authors to reach new audiences, and on again to partnerships with organisations or industry which offer sources of funding and routes to impact: collaboration activities are increasingly seen as a part of research excellence.

The importance of collaboration

As the 2014 UK government report “Growing the best and brightest: the drivers of research excellence” (3 Mb PDF) identifies, features of successful collaborations include personal contacts and openness. Curt Rice, from the University of Tromsø points out that co-authorship is sometimes seen as a sign of co-operativeness, and is on the increase. Curt refers to the so-called “Matthew effect”, where “those who have much, get more”, a phenomenon also identified in bibliometric studies and that once more emphasise the importance of a researcher’s network of contacts.

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Setting up a professional network


Alyssa Sbisa, Florey Institute

Sally Grace,

Sally Grace, Swinburne University of Technology

Alyssa Sbisa is a neuroscience PhD Candidate at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, researching the role of sex hormones in schizophrenia. Alyssa can be found in the Twitterverse at @LyssLyssLyss.

Sally Grace is a neuroscience PhD Candidate at Swinburne University of Technology. Her research interests involve brain imaging and mental illness. Sally tweets from @sallyagrace.

Sally and Alyssa are the Media and Communications Managers for the 2015 Students of Brain Research (SOBR) committee. You can find more about SOBR by visiting our website, Facebook page, and tweeting us at @SOBRNetwork.

The Research Whisperers invited Alyssa and Sally to write for us because we’ve been really impressed by the engaging and bright presence of the SOBR Network on social media.

Those with good networks deserve praise, and those who work so hard to create the conditions for others to build networks deserve even more. 

As a graduate student, you’ve probably come across more than one article stressing the importance of networking.

And, if you’re anything like we initially were, you probably find the idea of organising networking events daunting and wouldn’t know where to start.

This year, when we signed up for a student-run committee, we didn’t realise it would be such an incredible experience. Albeit rewarding, there has also been some hard work. In light of this experience, we want to share some useful tips in the hope that if others were to take the same journey they have an idea of where to begin.

What is SOBR?

sobr_logo-smallerStudents of Brain Research (SOBR) is a student-run initiative aimed at facilitating the networking of students in the area of neuroscience and brain research, from cellular and molecular science to clinical psychology.

SOBR was formed in 2011 in an effort to connect not only graduate students from institutes across Victoria, but also early career researchers, prominent scientists, and industry professionals.

Each year SOBR hosts two events: the Professional Development Dinner and the Student Symposium. The committee itself has grown over the years, and so too has the interest in our events. 2015 is the first year we have had a waiting list for the dinner, and we expect our upcoming Symposium to be even more successful than the last!

Engagement with our online social networks has also increased; in 2015 alone our Facebook ‘likes’ have increased by 35% and Twitter followers by 360%. The success of SOBR is grounded not only on the fantastic work of the previous committees over the years, but also some key strategies.

Creating, growing, and managing a network is definitely not a one-person job. The SOBR committee has eight members this year and each one is integral to our success.

If you were considering a similar initiative in your own research area, we recommend considering the following:

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Choosing academia

corrie-williams-smallCorrie Williams is a doctoral candidate in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University, Gold Coast (Qld).

Prior to this, she worked in the justice system as a frontline case manager.

Her research interests include the developmental antecedents of offending and individual and community level social support in the prevention of offending.

Corrie completed an undergraduate degree in psychology in 2006, and a Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice in 2014.

My attention has been recently drawn to academic quit lit.

I was not aware that it was such a prolific practice that it carries its own moniker.

Since making the decision many years ago to commence postgraduate studies, I have been very fortunate to have some wonderful mentors who have encouraged me to use my writing and research skills to pursue a career in academia.

As I approached the end of my coursework and honours journey in 2014, I also had to make a decision of whether or not to undertake my PhD. This was a huge decision, not because it is something I did not dream, strangely enough ever since I was a little girl I was obsessed with universities. The decision was huge because it meant that I had to deprioritise my public service career.

Looking for some kind of validation that this was the right thing to do, I searched the Internet to see if I could find like-minded people.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric regarding academic careers is largely negative. Not only in the quit lit via blog posts but across social media in general.

As a particularly skilled procrastinator, I have a thriving Pinterest account full of not only craft I will never attempt let alone successfully complete, but also all kinds of funny academia related memes and Buzz Feed lists. It was a combination of these lighthearted tools of procrastination and the comments (like this one) that almost made me want to quit before I started.

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