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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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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Publishing in real time

Cindy WuCindy Wu is a co-founder of Experiment, a crowdfunding platform for scientific research.

Cindy was funded during her undergraduate studies by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to work on cell immunotherapies.

In 2011, she was on the University of Washington International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team when they won the World Championship. Cindy dropped out of grad school to build Experiment, a Y Combinator backed startup.

Experiment is creating a world where anyone can be a scientist. Bill Gates recognized Experiment as a “solution to close the gap for potentially promising but unfunded projects.”

Cindy grew up in Seattle, and now lives in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @cindywu.

This post is an interview between Cindy and Jonathan O’Donnell.


Hi Cindy,

Notes at a research seminar that read EAC, Australian Woman's Register, Information infrastructure, interoperability, silos vs networks, services and widgets.

Things I care about, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Thanks very much for agreeing to talk with us at the Research Whisperer, and for co-founding Experiment. For those not in the know, Experiment is a wonderful crowdfunding platform for science. Any researcher in the United States can use Experiment to reach out to the public to raise money for their work. If you don’t know how crowdfunding works, jump onto Experiment now, find a good project and give it some cash. If you get inspired, submit a proposal.

If the project reaches its target, the researcher will receive their funding (less Experiment’s 8% fee) and can start work. While they are raising funds, and during their research, Experiment encourages them to keep in touch with their backers using Lab Notes. For an example of how great these Lab Notes can be, see Paige Jarreau’s updates on her science blogging PhD.

Most crowdfunding services allow project leaders to send out updates, but not everybody uses them. Experiment is trying to understand how these updates work, and how to make them work better.

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Research Academics in Australian Universities

Theses in a dumpster

All that work!, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Kaye Broadbent has published widely in the areas of gender and insecure work, women, work, and unions in Japan and in a comparative context. Her current research interests focus on the gender and employment insecurity of research staff in Australian and British universities, and labour resistance in Japan during the war.

Glenda Strachan has developed a body of research on contemporary and historical workplace change, especially issues that relate to equity and diversity and women’s working experiences.

Carolyn Troup specialises in evaluation and workplace change implementation. She has worked on a broad range of organisation health and applied health research studies in the public sector, not-for-profit and higher education sector in Australia and New Zealand. She is on Twitter at @CalTroup.

This data appears in more detail in Broadbent, Kaye, Carolyn Troup, and Glenda Strachan. 2013. “Research Staff in Australian Universities: Is There a Career Path?Labour & Industry: A Journal of the Social and Economic Relations of Work 23 (3): 276–95. doi:10.1080/10301763.2013.839082.


This research is drawn from Work and Careers in Australian Universities (WCAU), a survey of academics and allied staff in 19 Australian universities. We received nearly 22,000 responses. The survey was part of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant (LP0991191), based at Griffith University and partnered by Universities Australia Executive Women, the National Tertiary Education Union, and Unisuper.

The project examined gender and employment equity in Australian universities. The survey didn’t specifically focus on research academics but many of the questions can be used to provide a glimpse into the broad context of research academic life.

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Talking to Grandma isn’t social science

Yolande StrengersYolande Strengers is a social scientist, Senior Lecturer and ARC DECRA Fellow in the Centre for Urban Research, School of Global Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University. 

Her recently published monograph is titled ‘Smart energy technologies in everyday life’ (Palgrave Macmillan 2013).

Among other things, she’s interested in smart energy technologies and how they’re changing how we live.

She tweets at @yolandestreng.


Building sign that shows the 'Innovation Professor of Suitability' in building 15, level 2, room 07

Professor of Suitability, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

On a bad day, I feel like the social sciences are under siege.

Anyone, it would seem, can do social research. And anyone can make claims about the social world and human condition.

But on what theories and methodologies are these claims founded? What are the consequences for society when everyone is a social expert?

There is nothing wrong with having an opinion, but when opinion holds equal weight to rigorous social science research, or when opinions and dominant paradigms about human action underpin that research, we have a serious problem. Actually, we have several.

In this post, I consider where the problems lie, and how social scientists can begin to reclaim their turf.

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Are academics good (research) administrators?

MurielSwijghuisen-smDr Muriel E Swijghuisen Reigersberg is a visiting fellow at the Music, Mind and Brain Centre, Psychology Department, Goldsmiths’, University of London.

She has a doctorate in applied ethnomusicology focussing on Australian Aboriginal choral singing. Her current research looks at the relationship between music, health and wellbeing from an ethnomusicological, cross-cultural perspective.

Muriel is also a research development officer and occasional acting head of research office at Goldsmiths’, University of London. In this capacity, she oversees the University’s UK grants portfolio, sits on the University ethics committee as a full member, and works on the implementation of the UK government’s open access mandates (among a great many other things). She is on Twitter as @murielSR.


Now, there’s a question.

Being both an academic with a doctorate who still conducts her own research whilst holding down a successful post in research administration, I might be qualified to offer a perspective.

My career trajectory also provides an immediate answer to this question, which is: ‘Yes, academics can be good (research) administrators.’

In my experience, however, academics are not all good at research administration. The reasons for this vary from a general antipathy towards engaging with what is seen to be a form of oppression and managerialism to a genuine personal inability to deal with bureaucracy.

Let’s face it: some people are just terrible at paperwork. And being terrible at paperwork tends to have very little to do with whether you are an academic or not. It’s a personality trait.

In my 09:00-17:00 administrative world, I have often come across the suggestion that ‘our academics’ (sometimes you’d think they are a different species altogether) are incapable of filling in forms accurately and in a timely fashion. Why might this be, I then wonder? I seem to manage form-filling quite well, despite my academic handicap.

Another vague and somewhat circular argument that’s put forward is that academics should not be expected to engage with administration because of their brilliant academic status. Being a Dutch social scientist based in the UK, I question whether the British class system is responsible for such attitudes here. When I spend time with my academic peers at conferences and other such events, I am regaled with tales of woe recounting the oppression, ignorance, and administrative managerialism they face. The usual culprits responsible for causing this lamentable hardship are ‘the University’ or ‘Central Services’ – whoever, or whatever, they are. The world of administration seems to be a faceless mystery to many academics.

To demystify this world a bit – my world of being an academic and administrator – I’d like to offer a more nuanced perspective.

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Hardest things we learned in 2014

The Research Whisperers have had a big year, both on the blog and Twitter, and in their everyday whispering jobs.

This year saw an increasing number of Research Whisperer gigs where lovely people invited us to speak about research + social media, crowdfunding, precarious academic workers, and strategies for grant funding.

We had a lot of fun at these events, and it has been a privilege and pleasure to be involved.

We like the idea of pausing and reflecting and the last post for the year is a good time for it. Last year, we talked about what was best for us in 2013.

This year, we thought we’d talk about what was hardest.

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