Beware excellence

At a recent international conference focused on research administration, there was the usual palaver about every researcher, their institution, and their dog achieving excellence.

It’s presented as why we’re in the game – to achieve this highly circumscribed and metricised ideal of ‘excellence’.

We’ve all heard this rhetoric before so I have a certain level of ennui every time I see the posturing.

This feeling also emerges for me these days when people use ‘innovation’, ‘engagement’, or ‘impact’. I’m extremely fond of Rolin Moe’s statement that “innovation means less than any other word we use in regular discourse” (The Innovation Conundrum).

I would say the same applies to ‘excellence’. Just about every organisation uses it, government policies are ridden with it, and senior executives at universities mouth it at every opportunity. But it usually signals little, and indulges in the conceit that if we say we have it, it makes us better than others who don’t say they have it (it doesn’t actually matter whether they have ‘it’ or not). Read more of this post

Does being happier count?

Photo by Garrett Heath | www.flickr.com/photos/garrettheath Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

Photo by Garrett Heath | http://www.flickr.com/photos/garrettheath
Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

I attended a work/life balance forum the other day.

It was an event that was a first step – I hope – in addressing the relentless anxieties around the gendered juggling of work, caring for others, and quality of life.

These are endemic struggles in contemporary work life and appear in sharp relief in academia. There’s an expectation that universities should be better at this kind of stuff, that they’d be more aware, and willing to implement changes or embed structures that bring about change. It’s a fair expectation.

Much of the discussion at the forum centred on efficient work practices, and setting boundaries for ourselves and others around our work. For example, until someone on the panel told us, I had no idea our university had guidelines for recommended meeting times: between 9:30am and 3pm. It makes good sense, and is a very simple way to make the workplace more inclusive.

One of the forum’s panel members is at a senior executive level and passionate about the possibilities of working out a balance between home life and workload commitments through the flexible work options offered by universities. He encouraged staff to speak with their managers about creating better working lives by considering these options.

I was heartened to hear this. Universities, and many other organisations, talk big about being ‘family friendly’ workplaces dedicated to offering flexible working options, but these options are rarely well exposed and taken for a turn around the academic block. It’s like having parents’ feeding or mother’s expressing rooms on campus at universities – given much lip-service and expected to be there but rarely as convenient as might be necessary (see my relatively considered rant about this issue in my personal blog, A Simple Story). Read more of this post

How my university runs Academic Writing Month (#acwrimo)

Photo by Mark Young

Photo by Mark Young

I was chatting with my good buddies @WarrenStaples and @jod999 the other week, as they wanted to know more about what went into the planning and running of La Trobe’s Academic Writing Month (#LTUacwrimo) in November each year.

Based on the fabulous, world-famous #acwrimo that was created by @charlottefrost in 2011, this month focuses on academic writing: the doing, the celebrating, and the learning of it.

This year will be the fourth time it has run at La Trobe, and the third time that I’ve managed many of the schedules and activities. The month culminates in the three-day RED researcher writing retreat (running for the 2nd time this year!), and has a significant social media component throughout the 30 days. As you can imagine, running an uber-packed, month-long program requires a team effort!

After much transparent prompting by @jod999, I thought it might be a good idea to share with you the layers of initiatives that we have running through our month, and how we pull it all together. I’ve had several questions about how we ran #LTUacwrimo over the past couple of years, and it would be fabulous to spread the #acwrimo love around more institutions!

Read more of this post

How to run a shared social account

Back in October 2014, my buddy @deborahbrian asked about running a shared Twitter account. I quickly wrote up a post and dropped it into the Banana Lounge (my personal blog). This is an updated, revised version of that post, informed by another couple of years’ experience and more trial and error. 


Photo by www.flickr.com/photos/carlos_maya | Shared under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/carlos_maya | Shared under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

Since getting into social media – especially Twitter – in a big way, I’ve had a fair amount of experience in running shared accounts.

  1. My research network’s Twitter (@aasrn) and Facebook group started as a shared account.
  2. Research Whisperer (@researchwhisper) and its Facebook page has always been a joint one with @jod999.
  3. Since the beginning of 2015, I’ve run the La Trobe Researchers accounts (@LTUresearchers | Facebook page) with my colleague Jason Murphy (@murphy_jason).

I should present this post with the caveat that I have no formal communications qualifications or training. All my experience is on the job, and self-taught.

When I run social media and digital research profile workshops, I’m often approached about how to run institution-face accounts: research centres or institutes, specific major projects, social that’s associated with group research blogs, etc.

By institution-face, I mean the specific context of formal university units or academic groups, but this advice would apply across a range of situations.

Read more of this post

How do we sound?

Graphic conversation (Image by Marc Mathieu on flickr; distributed under creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0)

Graphic conversation (Image by Marc Mathieu on flickr; distributed under creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0)

I was in Castlemaine for #MelbWriteUp last weekend and spent some of my time planning out the two presentations I’ll be doing at the INORMS conference in September.

One of them is part of a workshop organised by Tamika Heiden. The other is a paper that I’m presenting with my La Trobe colleague Jason Murphy. Both of them talk about social media and the kind of community-building that can take place through these channels, whether by design or serendipity.

One of the things that gave me pause was having to think through what it was we do to run the Research Whisperer.

Having run it for over five years now, you’d think that’d be dead easy. And some of it was: the process of soliciting and the guidelines we give potential guest post authors; our schedules for blog posting and social media channels; and, broadly, knowing what our blog’s topic territory is.

What was slightly harder to do was to talk about the blog’s (and our social channels’) voice and tone. Part of this is because Research Whisperer is run by Jonathan and I, and we appear never to have had to discuss this issue at all.

This not-talking about it has happened in a good way, though, because we were well aligned from the start. In retrospect, this surprises me a bit because we are very different personalities and – if anything – seem to represent extreme ends of the tendencies towards introversion and extroversion.

This post talks about social media voice and account ‘ownership’. I talk a lot about professional identity and boundaries when I run workshops. It’s one of the most asked questions in terms of how one represents oneself to the public, and what this might mean – what are the risks?

Read more of this post

Let’s talk about the humblebrag

Peacock | www.flickr.com/photos/crazycrash | Distributed by creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0

Peacock  (Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/crazycrash)  |  Distributed under CC BY-NC-ND – creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0

Academic Twitter had a wonderful and very entertaining festival on the #seriousacademic hashtag in recent days, in response to an (entirely silly, it must be said) anonymous post.

The post, to which I’m not linking as I think it has had too much oxygen already, is basically someone maundering on about how they’re a serious academic and not someone who wants to show off – or be made to show off – on social media.

Because that’s what we’re doing, people, when we’re on social media. Showing off.

A colleague and I were talking about the incident, and we both agreed that if we were given the chance to maunder on about something that we hated when it came to showing off, it would be the humblebrag. Read more of this post

When research collaborations go bad

Stuff happens | Photo by Kim Tairi Released under CC licencse: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0

Stuff happens | Photo by Kim Tairi
Released under CC licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0

One of the toughest things to do gracefully in an academic relationship is to end it, or even question it.

Sometimes, even though you try, there isn’t a ‘good’ way to do it. Perhaps that’s why issues around collaborations – particularly what to do with bad ones – persist so strongly.

A lot of angst can be saved by early discussion about expectations from all team members – who’s doing what, when, and how. As mentioned in this co-authoring post, the division of labour doesn’t have to be equal, it just has to be clear.

On an academic risk management note, make sure you can tick these boxes before embarking on a collaborative project:

  • I’ve had at least one research conversation with the collaborator(s) I will be working with.
  • We’ve talked about division of labour and timelines for the project.
  • I feel comfortable facing my collaborator(s) first thing in the morning to talk about project and publication work. [This is a golden rule with me – ymmv]
  • I’m confident that my collaborator(s) bring relevant and appropriate levels of intellectual value to the project.
  • My collaborators communicate with me in a timely and constructive manner.

If you can tick off that checklist, it should mean few misunderstandings and disappointments. Read more of this post