Networking that works

Photo by Kyler Nixon | unsplash.com

Photo by Kyler Nixon | unsplash.com

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

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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.

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The care and feeding of critical friends

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 14 December 2018 and is reproduced with permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


Photo by Glen Carrie | unsplash.com

Photo by Glen Carrie | unsplash.com

Getting critical feedback on your work is one of the most difficult things to negotiate, whether you’re just starting out as a scholar or have published and been applying for grants for years.

We know that academia requires us to jump through hoop after hoop, so finding good ways to deal with this process of receiving feedback and constructively moving onto the next stage can make life a lot easier.

Often, the feedback you receive on your work will be from gate-keepers and assessor types or senior researchers in your area, possibly even your direct manager. These are often authority figures from whom you need ticks of approval, and they may not be of your choosing.

The value of a critical friend

To make research life and your academic career easier, I’d recommend finding – and keeping! – good critical friends. The idea of critical friends is extremely well established in education circles, and most academics have them even if they may not call them that.

As researchers, we need critical friends at all stages, and for many aspects, of our careers. Chief Executives of organisations often need them, and some universities even ‘out source’ critical friends for you.

Critical friends are colleagues whom you trust to read your work (whether that work is a grant application, journal paper, promotion document or research report) and give you rigorous, constructive feedback. They are supportive and invested in helping you develop your track-record. Read more of this post

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. Her ORCID is 0000-0001-8358-3085


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 | http://www.flickr.com/photos/hamur0w0%5D (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 www.researchprofessional.com.


Photo by Wu Yi | unsplash.com

Photo by Wu Yi | unsplash.com

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

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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 www.researchprofessional.com.


Photo by Ravi Roshan | unsplash.com

Photo by Ravi Roshan | unsplash.com

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 | unsplash.com

Photo by Mikael Kristenson | unsplash.com

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