What makes a good colleague?

Photo by Tseen Khoo

Photo by Tseen Khoo

Many people lament the growing scarcity of collegiality in our working lives. Many declare, in varying shades of purple prose, that it has been sacrificed on the altar of economic rationalism and for the missions of our managerial universities.

Research stars and groups get imported into institutions, often breeding resentment and discomfort from those who are already there.

Scholars who are already excelling gain more for their work; those who aren’t considered as such do not, and often find themselves without support to increase their research capacity.

Despite the rhetoric about collaboration and partnerships, the imperatives for outputs lead many to declare that collegiality and scholarly citizenship are under threat. This seems particularly true when people minimise any commitments that don’t directly produce outputs.

The oil that smooths the machine of scholarship is not only what people write, analyse, and publish. It’s not only presenting at conferences or supervising a higher degree student. Most of all, it’s not what promotions people have had or grants they’ve won.

There is a whole raft of intangible, essential, labour-intensive work that goes into a healthy research ecosystem. In an almost-metrics way, this work includes being a good critical friend to colleagues and students, especially those who aren’t directly in your area; reviewing for grants, book manuscripts, and papers; convening events that set the stage for a field or cohort to develop and progress; mentoring someone without having to… the list goes on.

At a totally non-metrics level, this kind of work encompasses supporting each other and providing encouragement, the social work of building connections between groups and individuals, being good communicators, and that most difficult element of bringing people together because they want to be together. This is the invisible (often feminised) labour of any workplace.

Giedre Kligyte and Simon Barrie argue that academics cling to an “unattainable collegial ideal situated in binary opposition to management” that “ultimately disguises the contingent character of this relationship and prevents both leaders and academics from imagining alternatives” (2014, p. 166). Kligyte and Barrie’s article (PDF available on UNSW repository – thanks, @giedre!) is thought-provoking, and forced Lacan upon me. I forgave them this because the paper made me think about the persistence of positing a halcyon past against which our increasingly soulless present is juxtaposed. This happens a lot in criticisms of neoliberal universities, and I’ve done my share of ranting about the invocation of a mythical golden age at universities. But that is indeed a whole other post.

Here’s what I wanted to focus on for this one: Let’s talk about what makes a good colleague. Not a utopian colleague. A good everyday colleague.  Read more of this post

One research whisperer’s career so far (Tseen Khoo)

Last year, the indefatigable Angela Dobele interviewed me for her Women and Research newsletter (Issue 2, 2015, pp. 7-8). The interview, with some minor updates, appears below. You can find the original version, and previous newsletter issues, at Angela’s website (angeladobele.com) under “Networking Business Education”. Many thanks to Angela for allowing me to share my interview here! 

I wanted to share it on Research Whisperer because, of late, I’ve listened to several academics on panels talking about their research trajectories. These participants – whether they’re established professors, Mid, or Early Career Researchers – are almost always apologetic about the fact that they haven’t had a straightforward progression through an academic career. Very few scholars I know HAVE had what they think of as a straightforward trajectory.

For me, when looking at how others have travelled and the experience they bring, I find it more meaningful to consider what people have managed to create or invest their time in, rather than a clinical view of what jobs they’ve held. But before I wander too far off on that topic, here’s my 2015 interview with Angela: 

Asian Australian public history project: Hou Wang Temple (Atherton, Qld) | Photo by Tseen Khoo

From my Asian Australian public history project files: The Hou Wang Temple (Atherton, Qld) | Photo by Tseen Khoo

1) What is the best piece of advice you have received so far and why?

The best piece of research advice I’ve ever received (and try really hard to follow) is ‘Done is better than perfect’.

Perfectionism is a procrastinating behaviour and, in many cases, an excuse not to follow through on the risk of submitting that journal paper, or grant application, or conference abstract.

If you never feel it’s just perfect, then you can’t hand it over, so never completing anything is a sign of what a quality scholar you are, right? So wrong! Read more of this post

When word counts count: Responses to last week’s post from @thesiswhisperer and @katrinafee

Photo by Jonas Vincent | unsplash.com

Photo by Jonas Vincent | unsplash.com

My post last week – “Your word count means nothing to me” – generated a lot of agreement and some high-fiving about raising the issue of obsessing about word counts.

I’m very aware, though, that it could also have alienated some readers and, indeed, friends.

For this reason, I ran the post past Inger Mewburn (The Thesis Whisperer and thesis bootcamp devotee; @thesiswhisperer) and Katherine Firth (Research Degree Voodoo and one of the thesis bootcamp creators from University of Melbourne; @katrinafee) before I published the piece last week.

Inger and Katherine are people I like, trust, and admire. I wouldn’t be comfortable with offending them in the interests of a bloggy rant.

They both responded with typical honesty, warmth, and generosity.

I really wanted to have their voices in on the conversation, and they’ve very kindly allowed me to post their feedback in full in this follow-up post. Thank you, Inger and Katherine, for your considered comments and insight! Read more of this post

Your word count means nothing to me

A “sadistic” writing app, The Most Dangerous Writing App, recently appeared on my social media feed. It registers when you’re not writing – 5 seconds of no typing – and starts deleting what you’ve already written.

At first, I laughed and moved on. I thought it was a bit of a joke, that no-one would really use it for academic work or their thesis. If anything, I thought that people would see it as a critique of being blinkered to anything but words on the page and other ‘writing productivity’ ridiculousness.

I was wrong.

People started talking about wanting to use it at their next #shutupandwrite session, to see how it ‘might whip them into shape’. They felt they needed something to make them take their academic writing more seriously, and this app might be it.

I went a little #headasplodey.

Read more of this post

Think of the audience

Click through for Tseen's #ResBaz talk (3 Feb 2016)

Click through for Tseen’s #ResBaz talk (3 Feb 2016)

There are a few things that people are always surprised to find out about me.

First, I haven’t read many classic works of literature despite being awarded a doctorate in literary studies.

Second, I was the editor of the Cactus and Succulent Society of Queensland’s magazine for a decade.

Third, I have an abiding fear of public speaking.

It’s this third fact that makes people look at me most strangely. They say, “But don’t you have a job that means you’re having to do public speaking all the time?”, or “Aren’t you used to it by now?”.

These are good questions.

I do have a job that requires me to get up and talk in front of people all the time. I conduct workshops and seminars, present conference papers and facilitate panels, and give keynote addresses.

And, almost every single time, I range from being moderately anxious to white-knuckled-3am-staring-at-the-ceiling panic. Read more of this post

Shut up and write – so hot right now (Part 2)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy's cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy’s cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

As mentioned in Part 1, I did a quick survey of various long-time members of the first #suaw crew I started with.

This first crew met every Friday morning at about 9am at Pearson & Murphy’s cafe in Melbourne, taking over the big wooden table.

Many of them still do, and I try to join them every few weeks to get my collegial fix. The fact that I occasionally turn up and face a table full of many people I don’t know makes me both happy and nostalgic. The organic nature of the #suaw sessions is their strength, and I miss seeing various colleagues regularly whose jobs and roles have changed. So, I sent them some questions about their #suaw experience.

Some respondents chose to follow my survey questions closely, while others provided narratives with their own formats.

Because of the great answers and different voices that came back, I wanted to present them in full here.

Voila Part 2!  Read more of this post

Shut up and write – so hot right now (Part 1)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy's cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy’s cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

There’s no doubt that ‘Shut up and write’ (#suaw) sessions have spread happily and organically across academic institutions. The Whisperers are big fans of #suaw and have written about it with zeal a few times:

Many university graduate schools and researcher development units coordinate sessions, and consider them as crucial parts of a healthy academic writing community. Many PhD researchers know about them and look for them wherever they are. When they don’t find them, they start them. They become embedded weekly events, and can be spontaneous gigs, too.

#suaw formats are as diverse as how the pomodoro segments that organise the sessions are used. As well as shutting up and writing, my colleagues and I have been known to ‘shut up and blog’, ‘shut up and edit’, and – periodically – ‘shut up and review Australian Research Council grant applications’.

It has been almost five years since I attended my first #suaw session at RMIT’s Pearson and Murphy’s cafe. Read more of this post

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