Crowdfunding: training that pays for itself

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Pocket change, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Researchers who run crowdfunding campaigns are trying to raise funds for their research. That would seem to go without saying.

Except, if that’s the case, and if research funding is so hard to get, then why isn’t everybody doing it?

When I looked for crowdfunding campaigns run by academic staff at Australian universities, I found only 63% (27) of universities were represented [Data on Figshare]. As far as I could tell, 37% of universities hadn’t had any crowdfunding campaigns run by staff members. Of those that had, only three (7%) had run more than five campaigns. Why is that?

I need to do more work before I can answer that question, but some of the answers revolve around prestige (these aren’t national Research Council grants) and inertia (it is hard to get big organisations to do new things).

I can’t change the lack of prestige around crowdfunding. That will take time – in some quarters, eons may pass.

But I can tackle inertia. Read more of this post

Why the hell am I doing a PhD?

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No entry, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Did I mention that I’ve enrolled in a Masters by Research, looking at crowdfunding? No? It must’ve slipped my mind.

Actually, I’m a bit shy about talking about it. I don’t want to jinx it.

I want to upgrade to a PhD, if all goes well. But I’m scared it won’t go well. All my hopes and fears sit within it. I want it to go well, and I believe that I can do it, but I’m still scared.

I’m scared for a lot of reasons. I watched my partner take five years to do her PhD. Five years! She spent a whole year on one chapter. It almost broke her. A lot of my friends have done PhDs and only one of them had a good time. Everybody else hated it, and some of them never finished. So, I swore that I’d never do one.

From past experience, I know that I am, at best, an average student. I love the idea of studying; I just don’t like doing the work. It took me five years to struggle through my undergraduate degree. Too much time playing, not enough time studying! Having no clue why I was there didn’t help either!

My previous efforts to get a PhD didn’t get past the ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I had a PhD?’ burst of enthusiasm.

Oh yes, I’ve been down this road before. More than once, actually. I work in a university. I work with researchers every single day. There seemed to be a million reasons why I should do a PhD.

Nowadays, not so much. There seem to be a million reasons not to do a PhD. Read more of this post

Mixed-up methods

A street sign leading to five different destinations, in Chinese and English.

Where to?, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr.

I’ve been seeing a lot of applications lately where the methods section starts something like this:

In this project, we adopt a mixed methods approach…

It is a statement that I’m coming to loathe, because the author is generally saying:

Warning: muddled thinking ahead.
In the following section, we are going to provide a grab-bag of methods. Their connection to the research question will be weak, at best. Hell, they probably won’t even be well linked to each other…

There are no mixed methods

In a grant application, the purpose of the methods section is to show how you’re going to answer your research question. Not explore the question. Not interrogate the space. Not flail about without a clue.

Your methods should present a road-map from not-knowing to knowing. If you are using more than one method (and, let’s face it, who isn’t?), you need to show that your methods will:

  1. Work (get you to your goal); and
  2. Link together (be greater than the sum of their parts).

You need to show me both of those things, not just one of them (or, as is sometimes the case, neither of them).

Read more of this post

Are my publications any good?

A pile of theses in a skip.

All that work! by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

The Journal Impact Factor may not be dead, but it is looking pretty ill. When a relatively conservative body like the Australian Research Council (ARC) says:

“The ARC is not prescriptive about what can be included [in a publication list], but applicants should be aware of the widely held view that journal impact factors are a poor measure of an individual’s research performance.” – ARC Frequently Asked Questions for Discovery Projects commencing in 2017, question 4.11

If journal impact factor is a poor measure, what is a good measure of “an individual’s research performance”? How do you know that your publications are any good?

You just know

I get asked this by new academics a lot. The question comes in many forms: “What measures can I use?” “How will people know?” “Where should I publish?”

The unspoken question often revolves around an uncertainty about, or a fear of, the value of their own work. Don’t do that.  Don’t pin the value of your work to the judgement of your peers, your promotion committee, or your grant assessors. That way, madness lies.

You know when you have written a good paper. You know when you have, through the pressure of deadlines, or the tragedy of lost data, written a not-so-good paper. Hold onto those feelings, that sense of judgement. It will sustain you.

Knowing that, here are some practical answers to this question.

Read more of this post

Share your data, share yourself

This is the third post drawn from a talk that I gave last year at the University of Melbourne Researcher@Library event. Thanks to all involved!


A beautiful old door, with a big old lock and a tiny little new lock.

Old door, new lock, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

In the first of these articles, I talked about breaking out of your university bureaucracyThe second was about breaking funding boundaries. Both of those were written from the point of view of someone sitting securely within an organization, trying to break out.

But sometimes you end up working outside your organization. It might be because you choose to leave, or (more likely) because your organisations doesn’t want you anymore. It doesn’t matter how successful you are as a researcher and a lecturer if your whole area is wiped out in a restructure. Or you might be a casual or adjunct, paid by the hour, who is only tentatively linked to one or more universities. Or a researcher on a limited term contract, fueled by soft money, with no certainty of work next year.

Modern universities preserve no loyalty to their staff. As a result, I don’t think that we need to feel much loyalty to our universities.

Whatever the reason, you should push your identity out beyond the boundaries of the organization where you work, or build up one if you are independent. Here are three useful ways to do that, beyond social media. Read more of this post

Breaking funding boundaries

This is the second half of a talk (first half here) 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 fun!


A large tree limb growing through a large fence.

The fence and the tree, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

The academy is a tough place at the moment. It needs some hacking.

In Australia, we are at the lowest level of government funding for research since we started keeping records. It doesn’t look like that situation is going to get better any time soon.

At my university, 60% of academic staff are paid by the hour. People with PhDs are working at multiple universities just to pay the rent, being paid the same way that they would be if they were behind the counter at a 7-Eleven. This isn’t uncommon across Australia, and the trend is towards more casualisation of the workforce, not less. This is a worldwide pattern, not just an Australian one.

Things are even worse if you are a woman. Universities are gendered places, and there are historical biases against women in most research funding schemes.

There is a real human cost to all this, as Sophie C. Lewis reminded us recently when she talked candidly about her year of tears. New researchers, young researchers, female researchers, researchers in non-traditional areas, researchers whose first language isn’t English… We are all at risk within this system.

I can’t fix this system. I don’t know who can.

What I want to talk about today is some of the ways that we can go around the system, some of the ways that we can break through these boundaries – institutional, structural, and invisible. Some of the ways that you, as an individual, can make a difference to your own situation. Read more of this post

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! [The second half, Breaking Funding Boundaries, is now published.]


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.

Read more of this post

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