Laying the research groundwork

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 3 June 2018 and is reproduced with permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


Photo by Jon Tyson | unsplash.com

Photo by Jon Tyson | unsplash.com

When I’ve asked researchers about their funding streams, many want to talk about the projects they want grant money for. Drilling down a bit further, however, it becomes obvious that many of the projects aren’t actually projects…yet.

Some researchers have ideas for projects, while others have started initial discussions but haven’t gotten their collaborators to commit to the project yet. Some researchers have said they have a full-fledged project in their head but haven’t talked with anyone else about it. Often, even if the team has come together, the thinking around the project itself has not.

This makes it hard to talk to your university’s grants team because the research project you want funded isn’t properly baked. It’s all still a bit doughy and unformed. I’ve written before about why you should only submit golden-brown applications, and I know how much work it can take to get to that stage.

Most grants teams are fabulous and want to help you submit strong applications to those competitive funding rounds. However, it’s often neither their job nor do they have the capacity to get you to the project grant application starting block with a red-hot project and a team ready to go.

Grey areas

The problem here is the grey area of where this research development happens.

Particularly for early career researchers who may be fresh out of their PhD, starting that next big project—without a supervisor or the scaffolding of a degree—can be a significant challenge.  Read more of this post

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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

This wasn’t always me

Photo by Tseen Khoo

Photo by Tseen Khoo

There’s a post I tend to share when major grant round results are announced.

It’s ‘Picking up the pieces‘. In it, I emphasise that “I can say that I truly understand how you feel. I threw my hat in the major grants and fellowship rings many times; very few times was I successful.”

I always thought those sentences failed to convey the howling disappointment, derailment of career, and emptying out of all confidence that these results can bring.

It is hard, after all, to capture the sound of your professional self decomposing in half a second after realising you’re not a named awardee.

This post, below, was originally published on my personal blog at the end of 2010, seven years ago. It felt like my lowest point, career-wise. I was not in a good place.

I wanted to re-publish it to the Research Whisperer audience as a collegial artefact, to share my thinking about academic identity and scholarly life at a very raw time. Read more of this post

Is the academic lone wolf extinct?

Photo by Krishh | unsplash.com

Photo by Krishh | unsplash.com

Academic lone wolves get a bad rap.

In today’s hyper-collaborative academic world, the idea that researchers might work on something alone, get funding alone, and publish alone, is weird and even abhorrent to many.

Yet, it is the reality for many humanities and social sciences academics, from postgraduates to senior scholars. They have projects where they publish and work on projects alone, as well as collaborative and joint initiatives that involve others in their own discipline and beyond.

It’s not a case of either/or, but the general vibe in many academic ‘advice’ streams is that scholars should not work alone.

Scholars can and do work alone, and they can be excellent colleagues, productive academics, and generous mentors. Sure, there are some researchers who work alone because they don’t play well with others, but many work alone because it is an expectation of their disciplines. Some work alone because they enjoy working alone, but it doesn’t mean they can’t work with others.

Not only is sole-authorship relatively common practice, it is in fact a sought-after signal that the researcher has the ability to create and complete major intellectual work. The opaqueness of who did what can be the source of much contention on work that involves more than one named investigator or author. Humanities scholars are not as often embroiled in these debates because they practice a discipline “where text and author are tightly coupled; where the process of inscription implies intimacy with one’s materials” (Cronin 2003 [196 Kb PDF]).  Read more of this post

Nowhere to hide

Shots fired! Photo by Sebastian Kanczok | unsplash.com

Shots fired! Photo by Sebastian Kanczok | unsplash.com

Can vice-chancellors ever really know what it’s like for emerging researchers and precariat postdocs?

I was reading two vice-chancellors discuss how to take pressure off young academics the other week and it made me increasingly ragey.

Set-ups like this are doomed in many ways because you’re asking people with incredible privilege and a fair whack of authority and power to empathise with emerging scholars who have little to none of those elements.

I’ve let this #headasplodey-ness simmer for a couple of weeks because it’s all too easy for outrage to rule, and I had to admit that my initial outrage was nothing new. People have been outraged for ages about the fact that privileged, executive managerial sorts have the nerve to comment – often gauchely – on what the situation is like for those most vulnerable in their organisations.

The inclusion of the mini-interview at the end, which included the vice-chancellors sharing with us where they were holidaying was just a smidge off-colour, I thought, given the preceding verbiage about difficulty of securing positions, restrictions on resources and subsequent appointments, etc.

So, I sat on my hands for a bit.

After mulling over my outrage about the interview article, these were the particular issues that stayed with me: Read more of this post

Re-skilling

Rusty horse (Photo by Marcus Schwan) | flickr.com

Rusty horse (Photo by Marcus Schwan) | flickr.com

I was reminded recently of how much you need to keep exercising some skills as a scholar.

What you learn in academia isn’t like ‘riding a bike’ and there are skills that can be forgotten. In my case, I should probably confess that I don’t even know how to ride a bike so we’re talking about being way behind the 8-ball here.

The skills I’m talking about are those involved in editing a special issue journal.

The setting was as amenable as it could be for a good outcome. I was co-editing the issue with one of my best academic buddies. We had worked together on different projects before, including co-authoring a piece of writing, and we knew we could work together.

The journal was one I was very familiar with and had published with a couple of times before. It was a publication friendly to our particular focus and range of topics.

The general editor of the journal was also a good academic friend so, really, it was as collegial an environment as it could be.

I have previously edited six special issue journals, across a range of publications and with different co-editors or solo. Even so, I hadn’t edited a special issue for a few years and I felt rusty. Read more of this post

Do I have to move up the ladder?

Photo by Geran de Klerk | unsplash.com

Photo by Geran de Klerk | unsplash.com

My last post about sharing hard truths in the academy seemed to really strike a chord, particularly with early career researchers who confirmed that hearing the truth was better than being placated with false assurances. People contributed some great comments: well considered and sometimes sad.

One of these comments, from Megan, included an interesting question:

I have one, maybe slightly odd, question. I did a PhD so I could work in research, not to scale the heights of academia. I love my job but I love other aspects of my life just as much (!) and am not keen to have to put my job above all else as it seems is necessary to progress (from what I have observed anyway). Basically I would be more than happy to keep working as a level B, say, on different projects and feel confident enough in my general skills (I had a career before academia) that I could do this. I also know that senior academics need good people at that level to actually deliver their projects.

However it seems to me that staying at the one level is not possible as a career path – the institution kind of forces you to look and move ‘upward’ because of the need / desire for high performing researchers. And while I know some projects have non-academic project managers I’m not as interested in that as would still like to use my academic skills / write a bit and so on. Just wondering if anyone had any thoughts on this.

This prompted so many thoughts that I had to write this post! My caveat for this is that it is drawn from my own experiences – I would be very interested to hear from anyone who knows of research into promotion patterns and aspirations in academia.

So, where to begin?

The short answer is that you could have a career as a Level B academic. If you manage to land a continuing Level B position (title of ‘lecturer’, 2nd step up from entry-level continuing academic appointments), you could – if you wanted to – stay at that level for as long as you like. That is, as long as you’re not made redundant by your institution, or ‘fail’ to do your basic job as an academic (in which case, you may then be ‘performance managed’ out of your role).

If you’re fulfilling the job of a lecturer (and probably beyond), and just don’t ever feel like applying for promotion, this becomes interesting. I’m writing a chapter for a book on ‘academic wellbeing’ that focuses on the very question: what it means when you know that fighting for your work/life balance means a direct compromise of promotion chances and track-record building opportunities. Read more of this post