Our 2017 dreams

Photo from NASA | unsplash.com

Photo from NASA | unsplash.com

For this traditional end-of-year post, we’re sharing our 2017 dreams as viewed through our Research Whispery lens.

Yes, you read that right: we’re in the higher education sector and we still have dreams!

Given it’s our 5th birthday this year, it’s a fitting way to think.

Tseen’s Research Whisper dreams for next year:

  • Having a luxurious few months’ worth of blogposts in the pipeline so we don’t end up doing our 11pm frenzy on Sunday or Monday nights as often! I dream about this. Yes, I do. As our friend, Inger “The Thesis Whisperer” Mewburn flagged very early in our RW-hood: “Blogs are hungry babies.” A year’s worth of weekly blogposts is a lot of work. So, if you want to give your jolly Research Whisperers an excellent holiday present, write us a guest post!
  • Universities leading society through expert, savvy, forward-thinking actions and statements. I wish for this every year, and getting to know more wonderful researchers all the time from working on Research Whisperer just affirms for me that the passion and smarts of our fields are not being used – or understood – in the best ways. I love this sector – it’s why I’ve been in it for so long. The potential for transformative actions generated by our institutions is around us all the time. But, more often than not, it’s not the kind of thing that ‘counts’. And that’s why we are left with platitudes, reactive actions, and a relatively unhappy, increasingly precarious workforce. We think it’s very important to have underrepresented voices and thorny issues represented on the blog, but I do dream of a time when our energies are not spent on trying constantly to make our sector recognise what doing the right thing by their people means. Imagine spending our collective time pulling in the same direction when it comes to research and how it can benefit our communities, the world, our human knowledge-base.
  • World peace. Or at least a little more peace in the world.

Jonathan’s Research Whisper dreams for next year:

  • Permanent jobs for all university workers.
  • The mythical Research Whisperer book (ebook actually, but aren’t they all?). We’ve been talking about putting together a Research Whisperer ebook for several years now. 2017 is the time to stop talking and start publishing.
  • A domain of one’s own. We own the Research Whisperer domain name, so 2017 might be the year that we transfer off WordPress and set up our own site.
  • Fewer broken links. If we do move to our own site, we can put in place some web quality checks, like locating all those broken links (and maybe even fixing them…).
  • A page for #CrowdfundResearch. I desperately need a page to bring together all of the bits and bobs relating to my Masters (hopefully soon, PhD) on research crowdfunding. 2017 might be the year for that, too.
  • A training course on crowdfunding, running at two different universities. I want to run an action research program for a couple of universities where I run crowdfunding campaigns as training programs. We’ll see how that goes.
  • A new method of providing peeps with better feedback on grant applications. I’m thinking of using Google Docs as a way for the applicant and myself to literally re-construct the application together. Not sure if it will work yet, but I want to give it a shot.
  • Ten decent ARC Linkage applications. Just ten – is that too much to ask for?
  • Ecological sustainability. Or at least a more ecologically sustainable world.

Thanks to this year’s guest posters

Every year in our last entry, we list our fabulous guest posts from the year. We do this because we are so grateful to have warm, savvy fellow-travellers on this road, and they cannot be thanked enough for sharing their time and expertise with all of us. We also do it because it’s a great chance for us to reflect on the topics the blog has covered, and the range of people who have written for us.

For 2016, the wonderful guest writers for Research Whisperer are:

Thank you, one and all.

A confession about working weekends

I came back to academia after being in a professional role for over three years with a promise to myself: I will not work across weekends.

As I mentioned in a recent post, some people derided my promise. Many more laughed in disbelief, or were encouraging in their words but exuded an air of ‘that promise is doomed, doomed!’. Having been in a professional job where I found it extremely easy to maintain the boundaries between work and non-work time, I was very used to having weekends in my life. I assumed that transitioning (again) into an academic role while keeping weekends free would be relatively easy. It was the status quo for me at the time, after all.

Two and a half years after returning to academia, then, how is my promise of ‘not working on weekends’ going for me?

Terribly, I have to say.

And I acknowledge this with some shame.

I know a lot about academic overworkpeer pressure dictating how many hours we spend at our jobs (sometimes pushing scholars to quit careers), and the dominance of ‘administrivia’ in our working lives.

I’ve read heaps on work/life balance in academia (from many sources including Tenure, She Wrote, Raul Pacheco-Vega, and various scholarly studies [like this one by Osbaldiston and Cannizzo]), and how overwork is not necessary for success. I constantly advocate for self-care and regeneration time for researchers. I loved Dani Barrington’s post in RW and cheered her declaration that “although research will never ‘just’ be a job, it is, in fact, a job” (Escaping the ivory tower).

And yet…I have a confession to make. Read more of this post

Changing disciplines

Last year, one of our readers wrote:

I would like to ask/know if it is possible to develop research and apply for funds affiliated in a faculty different from your field – that is, following a logic of interdisciplinary work, can we be affiliated in medicine and develop research in psychology, for example? Or be affiliated in philosophy and develop research in medicine? … Combining the two seems great but is it done?

Ape masks, hand and foot from planet of the apes

NYC – Queens – Astoria: Museum of the Moving Image – Planet of the Apes, by Wally Gobetz on Flickr.

Most of the researchers that I work with are working on interdisciplinary work, so I see this question more often than you would think. It generally comes in two different forms:

  • I’ve changed disciplines. How do I present the work in my old discipline to the best advantage?
  • I have a lot of expertise in one discipline, but now I’ve started moving to another disciplinary space. How do I get funding for that?

People are concerned that new readers won’t understand, or won’t give them credit for, their old work. Given that I’m generally talking to them about a grant application, that is a serious concern. Writing a funding application is all about getting the other person to understand and support your request. I don’t want anything getting in the way of that.

Talking about this change can be a challenge if assessors have an image of an uninterrupted progression through Honours, Masters, PhD, postdoc and onwards, all in one topic. Do you just drop your old work? If you include it, what do you do with citation numbers, where norms vary wildly between disciplines? Do you talk about why you changed? If so, how? Read more of this post

Beware excellence

At a recent international conference focused on research administration, there was the usual palaver about every researcher, their institution, and their dog achieving excellence.

It’s presented as why we’re in the game – to achieve this highly circumscribed and metricised ideal of ‘excellence’.

We’ve all heard this rhetoric before so I have a certain level of ennui every time I see the posturing.

This feeling also emerges for me these days when people use ‘innovation’, ‘engagement’, or ‘impact’. I’m extremely fond of Rolin Moe’s statement that “innovation means less than any other word we use in regular discourse” (The Innovation Conundrum).

I would say the same applies to ‘excellence’. Just about every organisation uses it, government policies are ridden with it, and senior executives at universities mouth it at every opportunity. But it usually signals little, and indulges in the conceit that if we say we have it, it makes us better than others who don’t say they have it (it doesn’t actually matter whether they have ‘it’ or not). Read more of this post

The impact producer

Photo by Ronald Yang | unsplash.com

Photo by Ronald Yang | unsplash.com

The #ImpactAgenda is upon us. Every government funding agency I know is looking for impact outside the academic sphere. So, I’ve been thinking about impact a lot lately.

One of the best ways to learn how to do things better is to look at how they’re done in an allied industry. The best example of this that I know of is the idea of bench-marking hospital admissions against hotel check-ins. At a basic level, both activities are similar: you are allocating a room to a person who wants to stay at your establishment. Yet the experience can be totally different. Hotel check-in is usually quick, friendly, and relatively painless. Hospital admissions, on the other hand, can sometimes be quite bureaucratic, protracted, and impersonal. The two experiences, while similar, are underpinned by completely different attitudes to the work. So, hospitals have learnt a lot about admissions from hotels.

By examining an idea in a different environment, we can sometimes learn not just how other people do things, but gain new ideas about how to improve our own activities.

For those researchers who are grappling with the impact agenda currently being rolled out in Australia, the UK, and other countries, it’s worth thinking about how documentary film-makers increase the impact of their films.

Making a documentary film can be a long and exhausting process. Finding funding, assembling a team, executing a plan when you never have quite enough resources, coping with team dynamics, keeping everything together long enough to get the job done, and maintaining a singular vision while doing it – all of this sounds a bit like a research program to me. Read more of this post

Recruiting research participants using Twitter

Andrew GloverAndrew Glover is a Research Fellow at RMIT University, based in the Digital Ethnography Research Centre and the Beyond Behaviour Change Group.

He is interested in sustainability, air travel, and remote collaboration. He tweets at @theandrewglover.


Recruitment for research participants is often time-consuming work.

Emailing people directly can be effective, but does seem intrusive at times, given the amount of email many of us deal with on a daily basis.

Sometimes, you just want to get your message out there as far and wide as possible, beyond your personal and professional networks.

If you cannot join the Army - Try & get a Recruit

British WWI Recruitment Poster, by State Records NSW on Flickr

Recently, I’ve used Twitter to recruit survey and interview participants for two projects.

The first was an online survey about academic air travel in Australia, and the second was a call for interviews with people who collaborate remotely without travelling. In both cases, I’ve been impressed by the extent to which the message was distributed across the networks of people I was hoping to reach. The air travel survey was completed by over 300 academics throughout Australia, with respondents from every broad field of research. I combined this with emailing universities and academic associations directly, asking them to pass the message on to their staff and members. For the project on remote collaboration, I had 13 people respond immediately who were willing to be interviewed, including from Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and the USA. Read more of this post

Does being happier count?

Photo by Garrett Heath | www.flickr.com/photos/garrettheath Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

Photo by Garrett Heath | http://www.flickr.com/photos/garrettheath
Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

I attended a work/life balance forum the other day.

It was an event that was a first step – I hope – in addressing the relentless anxieties around the gendered juggling of work, caring for others, and quality of life.

These are endemic struggles in contemporary work life and appear in sharp relief in academia. There’s an expectation that universities should be better at this kind of stuff, that they’d be more aware, and willing to implement changes or embed structures that bring about change. It’s a fair expectation.

Much of the discussion at the forum centred on efficient work practices, and setting boundaries for ourselves and others around our work. For example, until someone on the panel told us, I had no idea our university had guidelines for recommended meeting times: between 9:30am and 3pm. It makes good sense, and is a very simple way to make the workplace more inclusive.

One of the forum’s panel members is at a senior executive level and passionate about the possibilities of working out a balance between home life and workload commitments through the flexible work options offered by universities. He encouraged staff to speak with their managers about creating better working lives by considering these options.

I was heartened to hear this. Universities, and many other organisations, talk big about being ‘family friendly’ workplaces dedicated to offering flexible working options, but these options are rarely well exposed and taken for a turn around the academic block. It’s like having parents’ feeding or mother’s expressing rooms on campus at universities – given much lip-service and expected to be there but rarely as convenient as might be necessary (see my relatively considered rant about this issue in my personal blog, A Simple Story). Read more of this post