Networking that works

Photo by Kyler Nixon |

Photo by Kyler Nixon |

Does everyone keep telling you that the key to a successful career is to have great networks?

Well, I hate to be the one to say it again, but it’s true. Having great networks makes working life – and research life in particular – much, much easier and more fun.

Where I diverge from much of the common rhetoric, however, is that I’m not a proponent of elevator pitches, speed-dating formats, or indeed networking events overall.

There are as many myths about networking circulating as there are gurus who will tell you that you must network, network, NETWORK (at that $1000-a-table gig they are organising…).

I hate networking events. In fact, I’ve managed to dodge most badged networking events in my career thus far. I even avoid conference dinners at conferences I have convened – usually by not scheduling a conference dinner.

Is all this because I’m actually that anti-social? Read more of this post


Networking and other academic hobbies

I’ve always cringed at the thought of ‘networking’ because of the oily images it created. It seemed like a swag of obligation and obsequiousness, self-promotion and having to be aggressively social.

It didn’t sound like anybody I wanted to know, let alone be.

Most of my peers also cringed at the idea of networking, though we were all told at various times by various academics that it is important and necessary.

In the course of doing my Masters, Phd, and two research fellowships since that time, I have come around to the idea because I discovered several things:

  1. Networking doesn’t mean glad-handing big-wigs and ‘selling yourself’ while eating cocktail nibbles at various conferences.
  2. It is done most effectively when you don’t know you’re doing it.
  3. You don’t even have to be on the same continent, AND
  4. You don’t have to be an insincere git.

A successful networker is responsive, active, dependable, and has initiative. Networking means building a web of research colleagues who may be in the next office, the campus across town, interstate, or overseas. It could be done at conferences, through social networking sites and mailing lists, in university corridors, or on Hawai’ian surfing beaches. The latter is not entirely frivolous: discussing possible projects with high profile academics in board-shorts was more effective than button-holing them after their panels, and trying to get serious consideration in a crowd of 30+ people. Timing is crucial.

I never sat down and worked out how to build an academic profile; I just got involved with things that interested me. I couldn’t imagine myself in a professional academic role until I was actually in one. The longer I was in the university system, the clearer it became that the academic network operates on more levels than I would care to admit, and it is embedded whether I want to acknowledge it or not.


How important is it to present at conferences early in one’s career? (Part 2)

Way back when, Julie Gold asked: “How important is it, really, to present papers early in one’s career?” (Research Whisperer’s Facebook page, 3 Feb 2018).

This post is part 2 of the answers received for Julie Gold’s question. If you missed it, here’s part 1!

I must admit my initial response was based around a preference for breaking down the dependence on conferences as THE place to share findings or research ideas. This was, in part, because of the assumptions about researcher mobility and material support that this entails.

However, on reading my trusted colleagues’ views and reflecting on the dynamics of academia more generally, I’ve shifted my opinions.

This post features responses from Kylie ‘Happy Academic’ Ball, Kerstin ‘Postdoc Training’ Fritsches, and urban archeologist Sarah Hayes.

Read more of this post

How important is it to present at conferences early in one’s career? (Part 1)

Way back when, Julie Gold asked: “How important is it, really, to present papers early in one’s career?” (Research Whisperer’s Facebook page, 3 Feb 2018).

I took Julie’s question to be about presenting at conferences and my short, immediate answer (in my head) after I saw it was this:

“Even though many things have changed in academia, and I’d argue that most people could do with less conference-ing (rather than more), though getting the word out about your work early in your career is very important and sustained networking even more so.

There are many ways to do this, though, that don’t HAVE to be conferences – it’s just that conferences still retain a standard allure for academia that will take a longer time to shift…”

Then I stopped and thought a bit more about what I was saying. I realised how narrow my own experiences were (humanities, based in Australia, relatively recent social media zealot) in the broader pool of academic conference lore.

In addition, I’m speaking from a ‘mid-career’ position in the system, with established networks and an established track-record of conference presentation and attendance.

So, I approached a wider circle of Research Whisperer colleagues from various disciplines, perspectives and career stages. They were brilliant! They responded with thoughtful, useful advice and fascinating sharing of their experiences.

In fact, their responses were too good (and, therefore, hard to slice down) so this planned single post has become a 2-parter!

Here’s part one, featuring Inger ‘Thesis Whisperer’ Mewburn, Dani Barrington, Euan Ritchie, and Eva Alisic. Read more of this post

Choosing the unicorns – An ECR’s perspective on grant reviews

Emma Birkett is a Teaching Associate in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham and lives in the quiet backwaters of Derbyshire, UK.

Her research examines motor timing deficits in children and adults with developmental disorders, especially dyslexia.

She teaches in the areas of child development, dyslexia and educational assessment. She is currently developing a module for a new master’s programme in developmental disorders, setting up a research project on ensemble timing in children and conducting a study on active teaching methods for her post-graduate teaching certificate.

Emma can be found on Twitter at @emskibirkett.

The other day, I read the guest blog on Research Whisperer by Adam Micolich about capturing unicorns, a.k.a landing your first successful grant application. I found it really helpful for early career researchers such as myself, and wanted to offer another perspective on the funding process: that of a grants reviewer.

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing two grant submissions.

Unicorn [Photo by Yosuke Muroya | (Shared via CC BY-NC 2.0)

Once my initial imposter syndrome worries evaporated, I found it was a useful learning experience.

I wanted to share what I’ve learned with other early career creatures on their journey towards capturing that mythical unicorn of a successful grant application! It’s really interesting to compare Adam’s and my tips, given our differences in career stage and grant application experience.

The first application I reviewed this year arrived on my desk in autumn. Two colleagues were submitting an expression of interest to a charitable organisation and I was asked to be the internal reviewer. As in many departments, this internal review process is a quality check prior to external submission.

The second opportunity to review a grant application came after a colleague recommended me as an external reviewer to another charitable body.

The first proposal was outside my research area whereas the second was a close fit with my knowledge and experience. Both reviews provided a great opportunity to learn about what happens after grants are submitted and what reviewers expect. Read more of this post

Staying still

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 7 December 2017 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit

Photo by Wu Yi |

Photo by Wu Yi |

For as long as I’ve been in academia, one of the staples of scholarly life has been attending conferences. It’s traditionally how you cut your teeth as a researcher, test your ideas among peers and build those all-important networks for your career. Conferences are often held on fabulous sites in wonderful cities.

But there seems to be a turning of the tide when it comes to thinking about academic travel and conference mobility. Today, there’s a lot written about how conferences can be a waste of time and how they could be improved or shaken up to provide more value.

The imperative remains, however, that you must go to conferences.

But what if you don’t? Read more of this post

Espresso Research Whisperer


The Research Whisperer and Espresso Science have joined forces, in the name of better research communication.

Tickets now available. We are asking each participant to donate $20 to Lateral Magazine.

The Research Whisperers have been long-time fans of Jen Martin and her passion for science communication. It turns out she is a fan of ours, too. So we are thrilled to have a chance to work together.

We all have a passion for research communication, using our skills to give back to our communities, and ensuring that researchers are informed and empowered to do the same.

What does this mean for you? 

We want to put on a full-day of communication skills workshops for PhD students and Early Career Researchers! We’re envisaging a rich, hands-on program that will provide heaps of context, practical tips, and peer-to-peer sharing about better communication.

We know that having great communication skills across a diversity of platforms and modes, and for different audiences, will serve you well no matter where you go. We know that academia is a tough gig these days. Whether you hang in there, or need to get out, networking and communication skills are the key things that you need.

When & where is it?

The 1-day event will be in Melbourne, Australia, on Friday 16 November 2018.

What’s on the program?

  • Writing as part of our professional practice.
  • Writing and editing for general audiences.
  • Blogging 101.
  • Networking for introverts, extroverts and ambiverts.
  • Crafting a brilliant public presentation.

There will be plenty of activities to help you to really get to grips with these topics.

All three of us are uber-excited to be working together in this way! Stay tuned for more information about this gig by following us on our various channels.

Espresso Science: Espresso Science blog | Twitter @scidocmartin | Facebook page.

Research Whisperer: Research Whisperer blog | Twitter @researchwhisper | Facebook page.

Hashtag for the day: #EspressoRW

Building your track record

Deb Brian works at the Office of Sponsored Research at The University of Queensland, where her focus is on helping researchers to write better funding applications, and supporting early career researchers and women in science and research.

She can be found on Twitter at @deborahbrian, where she talks higher education policy, research strategy, Australian politics, social justice, and cats. Mostly cats.

A version of this article first appeared in Funding Insight on December 14, 2017 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit

Photo by Ravi Roshan |

Photo by Ravi Roshan |

As the year begins, many of you will be planning your research for the coming year and identifying funding schemes to target. Some will have received the outcomes of last year’s grant applications and will either be breathing a sigh of relief or girding their loins for the next attempt.

This can be a difficult time, both professionally and emotionally, for early career researchers in particular (see Tseen Khoo’s recent post on academic disappointment).

This is especially so for those in fields where there is an expectation that salaries will be sourced from grant and fellowship funds.

In this era of short-term contracts and reduced security of employment, there has never been more pressure on early career researchers to establish a research track record.

Couple this with declining grant success rates across the board and increasing competition and the situation can become quite daunting. Those who are not successful in becoming one of the 1 in 10 researchers awarded a major grant or fellowship can easily become disheartened.

Some tell me the major funding bodies just don’t care about their field, are biased against their particular methodology, or that it is all a lottery anyway. None of this is true, of course, but – more importantly – it isn’t helpful.

So, what can you do if you are an early career researcher struggling to break into the big leagues of research funding?

Here are five tips for you to help build your track record:  Read more of this post

Calling time on conferences

Portrait of Dani BarringtonDr Dani Barrington is a Lecturer in Water, Sanitation and Health at University of Leeds and an Honorary Fellow at The University of Queensland

Dani works in the field of water, sanitation and health in developed and developing communities. She is passionate about working at the nexus of technology and society, particularly investigating how appropriate technologies, community-led programs and public policy can improve health and well-being outcomes.

She tweets at @Dani_BarringtonYou can read Dani’s other Research Whisperer posts here.

I love attending conferences. Not because of the exotic locations, but because of the amazing conversations.

Who has time for sightseeing when there’s so much networking to be done? I meet new people, continue discussions with existing colleagues, and get fired up about what’s going on in my field and how my latest research idea might fit in.

Recently, there have been articles about how prohibitively expensive conferences are, particularly for early career researchers (ECRs).

Photo by Mikael Kristenson |

Photo by Mikael Kristenson |

In some cases, these articles call for a scrapping  of the traditional model in favour of cheaper and more inclusive events, such as webinars. This worries me. Although I definitely agree with them on some issues, I feel like some of these “calls to arms” are missing the point of conferences and what I think makes them a useful expense.

Then I realised that, in most cases, the way that conferences are designed misses the point…

Read more of this post


The Research Whisperers are often invited to give talks and workshops.

We’re providing the following information to assist with your planning. We’d prefer to commit to events at least 6 months beforehand. You can see the kinds of events we’ve participated in previously at the RW Live page.

As a rule, we would expect all travel expenses to be covered if the event is not at our home institutions. Whether we charge a speaking/workshop fee is highly dependent on the organisation that’s inviting us, and the type of speaking engagement requested.

For researchers from our home institutions, please contact us directly or browse what we already offer through our units:

The Research Whisperers are happy to be invited to give workshops and talks – see what we offer below!

Any queries, please contact


5 Rules of Grant Club: Tseen Khoo

Being grants-savvy isn’t an option anymore. It’s an essential and transferable skill for contemporary researchers. The good news is that grant application writing is a trainable skill! This hands-on, interactive workshop shares strategies for how to get a head-start on negotiating the world of research grants. It gives you the inside story on finding funding, approaches to grant writing, how to avoid the most common grant application mistakes, save yourself time, and build research collaborations that last. It includes pointers for compiling a research grant budget and thinking about project planning and feasibility.

By the end of this workshop, researchers will have a clear idea of how to proceed with finding funding for their project and a sketched outline of key grant application components.

  • Audience: Researchers getting started on their grant skills
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Numbers: No minimum. Maximum of 20 attendees.
  • Preferred set-up: Data projector, computer, and internet connection. Tables for groups of 3-4 people.

Finding funding: Jonathan O’Donnell

Quick! How many funding schemes can you name?

A lot of researchers find it hard to think about any funding except ARC funding. If this is you, you need to get your thinking cap on. There is a whole world of funding out there, and you shouldn’t be overly reliant on any one source. This workshop is intended to help you to think outside the box, and to find more sustainable sources of funding.

By the end of the workshop, you should have a lot of new ideas about funding possibilities that you can explore, as well as a typology of funding schemes that works for you.

  • Audience: Works best with a mix of early and mid-career researchers. Doesn’t work if all the attendees are PhD students.
  • Duration: Either one hour lecture or a half-day (four hour) workshop.
  • Numbers:
    • Lecture – No minimum. Unlimited maximum.
    • Workshop – Minimum of five and maximum of 25 attendees.
  • Technical requirements: Data projector, computer, and internet connection. Yellow stickies (about 20 each)  for each attendee. A few pens for those who didn’t bring one. A whiteboard or wall space where people can stick up their sticky notes.

Grant Camp: Jonathan O’Donnell

Can you draft your grant application in four hours?  Absolutely you can, if you focus on writing and ignore everything else. Through a series of half-hour writing sprints, Jonathan O’Donnell will guide you through the key parts of your research funding application. Together, you will bash out a very rough draft of the application. It won’t be pretty, but it will give you something that you can refine and rewrite – this workshop is all about getting the first draft down on paper. If you have already started drafting your application, this will give you a chance to refine your work.
By the end of the workshop, you should have broken the back of your application, and have a very rough draft.
  • Audience: Academics who need time to write their grant application.
  • Duration: Half-day (four hour) workshop.
  • Numbers: No minimum. Maximum of 20 academics.
  • Technical requirements: Data projector, computer, and internet connection. Attendees should have access to laptops, wi-fi, power and space to set up.

Research crowdfunding: Jonathan O’Donnell

Crowdfunding provides a completely new model for funding research. It allows new people to access funds, and new ideas to be funded. Best of all, it provides researchers with a crash course in social media, public engagement and the fine art of asking for funding.

By the end of this workshop, academics will have a better understanding of what they can and cannot achieve through crowdfunding, and what support they might need to undertake a campaign.

  • Audience: Adventurous academics who what to build an audience for their work.
  • Duration: 1 hour lecture or half-day workshop.
  • Numbers: No minimum. Maximum of 25 people for half-day workshop.
  • Technical requirements: Data projector, computer, and internet connection. In addition, for the half-day workshop, attendees should have access to laptops, wi-fi, power and cafe-style desk space.


Academic networking for introverts: Tseen Khoo

Good networks in academia are proven to lead to more successful research collaborations, more career opportunities, and better profile for your work. You know how important it is to build these in your professional life. But what happens when none of the traditional ways of networking appeal to you? In fact, what if those modes actively put you off getting out there and doing any networking at all? This talk addresses the different ways that networking can happen and offers practical strategies to do so. It’s ideal for those of you who hear the word ‘networking’ and cringe.

  • Audience: Researchers at any level wanting different ways to network
  • Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Numbers: No minimum. Unlimited.
  • Preferred set-up: Data projector, computer, and internet connection.

Researchers and social media: Tseen Khoo or Jonathan O’Donnell

It’s a no brainer, really. If you are an academic, social media is for you.

Being savvy with social media is a desired (and increasingly expected) aspect of research engagement, research profile building, and recruiting for research. Using social media effectively can increase your citations, and lead to approaches from media, industry, and potential collaborators.

This session will inform researchers of key ways to ensure their profile and research is easily found and as accessible as possible. The workshop version offers a high level of hands-on support and interactive exercises during the event.

  • Audience: Researchers wanting to know how social media can benefit them
  • Duration: 1.5 hour talk, or 2.5 hour workshop
  • Numbers: TALK – No minimum. Unlimited.
    WORKSHOP – No minimum. Maximum of 20 attendees.
  • Preferred set-up: Data projector, computer, and internet connection.
    Additionally for WORKSHOP – Participants need to bring their own devices (laptops or tablets).

Simple ways to build your network: Jonathan O’Donnell or Tseen Khoo

There are good, broadly appealing structured ways to build effective networks without the need  for significant funds or time. This workshop will take you through some of our favourite techniques and experiences for community building, often developed around communities of practice and growing research networks: Shut Up and Write; Whispercon; Grant Camp; Academic Writing Month; Conference networking; Personal Learning Networks; and convening a research network.

By the end of the workshop, academics and administrators will have practical strategies and a plan for building their own or cohort networks.
  • Audience: Academics and administrators who want to build collegial communities.
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Numbers: No minimum. Maximum of 30 attendees.
  • Technical requirements: Data projector, computer, and internet connection. Attendees should have access to laptops, wi-fi, power and space to set up.