I only have eyes for Excel

JonathanLaskovskyJonathan Laskovsky is the Senior Coordinator, Research Partnerships in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University.

He is primarily responsible for managing research partnerships support and administration within the College.

Alongside this role, Jonathan has research interests in modern and postmodern literature with a particular focus on fictional space and critical theory.

He tweets as @JLaskovsky and can be found on Linkedin.


Data is increasingly part of our lives. This isn’t surprising when you consider that networking giant Cisco has predicted that the data centre traffic alone in 2018 will hit 8.6 Zetabytes. That’s 8.6 trillion gigabytes, or enough to cover 119 trillion hours of streaming music. Enough for 22 months for every single person on the planet in 2018!

We are increasingly exposed to data in research as well. Think about digital humanities, for example. This means that we increasingly need better ways to display, interpret, and analyse it.

Image from Jonathan Laskovsky

Image from Jonathan Laskovsky

What we are really talking about here is Data Visualisation (DataViz).

In a world of big data, the importance of good DataViz cannot be underestimated.

This applies along the entire spectrum of research, from grant applications to reports to journal articles.

Or at least it should.

In my job, I often see project descriptions of concise, tightly written prose. Succinct, well-structured arguments that outline in crisp sentences what the research is about, and clearly identify roles and responsibilities in measured, orderly terms.

Then there is often a table.

Usually, this table is outlining either data discussed within the proposal, or showing the project timeline with milestones, and staff markers and outputs, etc.

This table is almost always hideous.

Let me be clear: often, this is not always entirely the fault of the author. Microsoft Word deserves a special place in hell for its table tool. A special burning place with sharp pointy things. It deserves this because, for a product that has been around for over 30 years across three platforms, it still doesn’t include a decent table tool. That’s right, everyone – there was an Atari version of Microsoft Word (for those of use who can remember when Atari made computers…).

Really, though, Word is not what you want to fall in love with.

When it comes to data, you should only have eyes for Excel, which is Word’s smarter, slightly nerdy sibling.

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3 reasons why you’d livetweet

Photo by Alan Levine - www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog

Photo by Alan Levine – http://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog

I love livetweeting things.

Most of the time, I livetweet for fun and recreation. Those of you who follow me on Twitter have been privy to the joys of co-watching Eurovision, or vicariously experiencing B-grade horror flicks (or C-grade, if you’re lucky).

Increasingly, however, I’m also livetweeting in my current work role. It’s part of an overall strategy to make events and researcher connections more visible and accessible, and dovetails with a ramped up social media (including blog) presence overall.

With my research network hat on, I’ve also livetweeted a fair number of events that would interest that membership. Doing so makes member activity more apparent to one another, and to those checking out what the network’s about. The network is unfunded, and depends almost entirely on social platforms for presence and members’ connection.

So, what does livetweeting mean?

Livetweeting is defined as capturing and reporting on an event in an ongoing way through a stream of tweets, usually using a defined hashtag. For researchers, this usually means conferences and seminars, symposiums and workshops.

Why would you do it, if you’re not a big nerd like me?

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Goodbye academia?

BRoesler1Bettina Rösler is a casual researcher and university tutor. She completed her PhD thesis, “Reimagining Cultural Diplomacy through Cosmopolitan Linkages: Australian Artists-in-Residence in Asia”, at the Institute for Culture and Society (University of Western Sydney) in 2015.

Bettina has also completed master degrees in English Literature/Cultural Studies at TU Dresden (Germany) and Translation Studies at Auckland University (New Zealand). The primary focus of her work is cultural and arts policy, Australia-Asia relations, and the translation of cultures and intercultural dialogue, with a focus on cultural activities and the arts.

We invited Bettina to share her perspectives with us as part of the lead-up to the #securework tweetchat on FRIDAY 17 July, 11am AEDT. The tweetchat aims to be part of a national conversation around insecure academic work. Also participating will be @unicasual @NTEUnational @acahacker @KateMfD and @NAPUAustralia.


#securework tweetchat on FRIDAY 17 JULY 11am AEDT, Join in, and share your stories and experiences!

The #securework tweetchat takes place on FRIDAY 17 JULY 11am AEDT.
Join in, and share your stories and experiences!

The semester is long over, yet I’m spending some time every week answering student emails regarding grades or additional feedback for assignments.

There seems to be an expectation for me to be eternally available for any potential issues relating to the particular units I taught. Students request more feedback on assignments or new unit coordinators require details from last term.

The problem here is the fact that I am not on anyone’s payroll and I am not getting paid for the time I spend responding to emails. I am a casual academic and I am not alone. More than half of universities’ academic staff are only casually employed (Bexley, James & Arkoudis 2011). These already high numbers of casual academics are increasing (Rea 2014), and I personally know at least a dozen highly qualified and competent early career researchers who struggle under precarious work conditions.

Like many others, I have recently completed a PhD and fought ever since to make a living.

Every term, I have to renegotiate work contracts, which can involve weeks of uncertainty and, sometimes, no secure contract until well into the semester. After an already long ‘income pause’ (i.e. semester break, which is even longer and more daunting over summer), any further income delays are likely to test my credit card limit. Receiving a salary for about 26 weeks a year is simply not sustainable.

I am in my mid-thirties, still sharing a flat (OK, I live in Sydney), cannot afford a car, and have not had a holiday in over a decade. I couldn’t even get credit for a new computer. Twice every year, I seriously consider going on benefits because I’m afraid I won’t be able to pay rent.

Biannually, I am thrown into deep existential debates on my position in this flawed academic system, and what I could do differently. How can I improve my chances and further my career? But it is very hard. For half of the year, I over-commit to make up for the time I’m not teaching. Finding suitable in-between research assistant gigs is rare and generally doesn’t match up with the semester dates. This has affected my social life and mental state. Sadly, this is likely to affect many casuals’ teaching quality (Clohesy 2015). While I am putting a lot of effort into tutorial preparation, I always feel I could do so much more. I could run a blog or Facebook group for the students; I could find more additional material; I could help develop and improve the unit content and incorporate some of the students’ feedback. Unfortunately, casuals are rarely given the opportunity or platform to do so – let alone be paid for it.

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The perfect project

A box, with a key in the lock, and a sign that says

Key locker, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Wait! Just before you start, before you start your project grant application, take a moment.

Take a moment to consider your idea, your brilliant idea! The beauty of it. The wonder, the possibilities!

In the months and years to come, I want you to hold onto that feeling – make sure you remember it. Make notes about it. Go back to it. It will sustain you.

When you are in the depths of grant-writing hell, it will sustain you.

At 2am, when you need to be asleep, but the budget won’t quite work, remember that moment. Take a deep breath, and dive in again.

When your rock-solid, of-course-we-are-committed partner pulls out, remember that moment. Use it to push past the hurt and channel it into more productive work.

When you get the assessors’ reports, and it is clear that they have got the wrong end of the stick…

When those reports are contrary, contradictory, confused (and confusing), go back to your central idea, that moment. Let it restore you. Then use that clarity to reply to your critics.

When the grants are announced, and your hopes are dashed, remember that moment. In your disappointment and anger, remember what those first exciting moments of the idea felt like.

When it is your third attempt, and you don’t understand why you are even doing this any more…

When the money finally comes through, but it isn’t quite enough…

When you have to reshape your project to fit the funding, and it doesn’t really work anymore…

When you have spent six months in contract negotiation, and your contract whisperer sends through a new request for changes…

When your bullet-proof, rock-solid, no-possible-issues-at-all ethics application gets bounced…

When you just need to hire a research assistant…

And Human Resources won’t let you employ the person that you wrote into the application…

And it takes forever…

And it shouldn’t be this hard…

And there are so many applicants that it is going to take forever to even shortlist them…

And there are no decent applicants…

Or no applicants…

When the person that you do employ turns out to be a bit of a dud…

When your data turns out to be a bit of a dud…

When your analysis turns up nothing but dud…

When your hypothesis turns out to be a dud…

When you feel like a dud…

When you feel like your team isn’t really a team anymore…

When, technically, it isn’t, since Payroll isn’t paying anyone because there was a tiny little hitch with the timesheets…

And they are really very sorry, but there really isn’t anything that anyone can do, really…

And people can’t pay their rent; their mortgages; their debts…

And, for some reason, they blame you…

When they are screaming at you…

Or when they just make you want to scream…

When every stupid thing in this stupid university makes you want to scream…

When Finance transfer your funds to another department (and they use it to buy a bus)…

When you have to track your own finances, because the university system is completely opaque…

When the university has helped your project to death…

What do you mean; nothing under $5,000 is insured?!?

When there isn’t as much money as there should be…

When the exchange rate drops…

When the penny drops…

When the equipment doesn’t arrive…

When the equipment doesn’t work…

When the technique doesn’t work…

When the website doesn’t work…

When the survey doesn’t work…

When the intern doesn’t work…

When coffee doesn’t work…

When hope doesn’t work…

When you can’t even remember why you wanted to do the stupid work…

When your memory doesn’t work…

When nobody listens…

When nobody cares…

When you don’t care anymore…

When you just need to get away…

When the tickets cost three times as much because you have to go through the university’s preferred travel agent…

When you are working overseas and you don’t know what your pay will be from week to week because of currency fluctuations and bank transfer fees and weird finance department rules…

When you’re a long way from home…

And you’re sick…

And tired…

And lonely…

And you don’t know anybody at the conference…

And nobody knows you…

When you miss your flight…

When you miss your chance…

When you miss your wife, your husband, your lover, your kids…

When you find yourself in the middle of another stupid, pointless argument about why you are still at work…

When you find yourself in the middle of another stupid, pointless argument about who should be listed in what order on that paper…

When you don’t even know if you have enough good stuff to write that paper…

When you don’t even really want to be on that paper anymore…

When you don’t have time to write that paper…

When you don’t time to do the work…

When you don’t have time to go home…

When the money runs out…

When your patience runs out…

When your partner runs out…

When your promotion doesn’t go though…

When you don’t even get an interview…

Remember that feeling.

Just now, before you start, take a moment to admire the loveliness of your idea. It will never get any better than this.

Right at this very moment, it is perfect.

What’s in a researcher induction kit?

"Pool of Knowledge" (Detail from the "Pool of Knowledge" sculpture by Stacey Spiegel, Living Arts Park, Mississauga, Canada) Photo by Ian Muttoo | www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo

“Pool of Knowledge” (Detail from the “Pool of Knowledge” sculpture by Stacey Spiegel, Living Arts Park, Mississauga, Canada) Photo by Ian Muttoo | http://www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo

When I started a new research fellowship in a new institution and city, it took me at least a semester to find my feet.

In that time, I felt the full force of ignorance as I flailed around trying to find out who should review my grant applications (beyond my own collegial networks), what I might be entitled to as a staff member, and trying to get a handle on the new university’s structure.

More importantly, I needed to spend time learning the culture of the place: the person who occupies a certain role may not be the person you’d expect to do the work, etc.

Any expectations that a new staff member (in this floundering state) is going to immediately be productive and successful are not the most realistic. Even if they’ve got grants that they’re carrying over from one place to another, there’s a lot of information that they’ll need to establish themselves.

The earlier that incoming researchers know this information, the more quickly they’ll be able to gain momentum for their research planning and writing.

For a new-to-institution researcher orientation kit, then, these are the basics that I’d include:

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Work backwards

Path through a paddock leading to a house in the far distance. Beautiful blue sky above.

Long road home, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

If you want to submit your grant application on time, it pays to create a reverse timeline.

That is, start from the end result – submission of the application – and work backwards.

Let’s say that you want to submit your fabulous application to JustGiveMeAGrant [not a real funding body], and their deadline is 29 February 2016 [not a real submission date].

Working backwards from that, how much time do you actually have to write the application? Let’s work it out.

At the moment, your timeline looks like this.

  • 29 Feb 2016 – Submit application to funding body.

Who will sign off?

For most government funding bodies, you are not the applicant. Your university is actually the applicant. This means somebody in your university will need to check and sign the application. In my university, the research office asks for 10 working days to check the application, get back to you with any last-minute questions, then get it signed by a very senior person.

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That new habit

The chasm of intercultural communications research? [Photo by Jeff Sheldon | unsplash.com]

The chasm of intercultural communications research? [Photo by Jeff Sheldon | unsplash.com]

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to establish a new habit.

I wish I could tell you it was an exciting one, perhaps involving stacks of innovative, disruptive-thinking body-painting.

But it’s not.

It’s a habit for researchers that’s bog-standard and necessary. It’s something I need to stop thinking of as a chore.

I’m trying to read. 

I need to stop being scared of my burgeoning collection of articles that stare at me, unblinking, from Mendeley. At least they don’t teeter and threaten to avalanche anymore (as the hardcopies used to), but I’m certainly guilty of what Pat Thomson calls ‘PDF alibi syndrome‘: “Merely having and storing them is enough. I own, therefore I have read.”

There’s so much out there in blog and #acwri (academic writing) world about getting the words down; ‘write early, write often'; and getting ideas out of your head and onto the page. They make me feel inadequate – as so many things do, let’s be honest – and I feel paralysed about doing any writing at all, preliminary or not.

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