Learning from others

Thanks to the Australasian Research Management Society (ARMS) and the US National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) for their fellowship, which made my trip possible. Thanks also to Kirsten Yehl for making my trip a fantastic success.


Jonathan looking nervous, as he holds a NURAP sign in front of a poster that says 'Chicago'

Jonathan at the Northwestern University Research Administration Professionals meeting

In September – October last year, I travelled from my base at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia to Northwestern University, Chicago, as an ARMS / NCURA Fellow. I spent time with the research administrators in the School of Engineering and the Institute of Public Health.

During that time, I learnt that there were a lot of similarities in working with academics in both our countries. I also learnt the value of reflecting on my own professional practice by discussing it with people who do very different things.

Here are a few of the things that contrasted with my everyday Australian experiences:

Scope: I was constantly reminded that the scope of research between our two institutions was so different. At one of my meetings, a Northwestern research administrator was thrilled that one of her researchers had just been awarded the Nobel Prize. That’s not going to happen to me anytime soon!

Northwestern attracts US$620 million (A$850 million) annually in sponsored research. That’s almost A$3 million more than the Australian Research Council. In addition, they have US$10.5 billion in endowments and other trust funds. This difference in scale leads to a difference in understanding of what research can be undertaken, a difference in how grant applications are developed, and a difference in how the resulting research funding is scrutinised.

Attitude: The Research Administrators at Northwestern are there to make it as easy as possible for their researchers to apply for funding and to do their research. That is (or should be) the same the world over. However, it is an important thing to keep in mind, especially when we are in the thick of things. Read more of this post

Writing the second edition

Helen KaraHelen Kara’s main interest is in research methods, which she writes about and teaches to practitioners and postgraduate students. She also self-publishes short e-books for doctoral students. She tweets at @DrHelenKara.

This post is timed to coincide with the official publication of the second edition of her first research methods book, Research and Evaluation for Busy Students and Practitioners: A Time-Saving Guide, by Policy Press. (Not that official dates mean much nowadays. The official publication date is tomorrow, but copies have been available for the last two weeks.)


A detail from the cover of the book, showing Helen's name and the words 'Second Edition'. The cover design shows different jigsaw puzzle pieces fitting together.

A detail from Helen’s new edition.

If you’ve written a textbook or monograph, you should be thinking about a second edition.

Readers who love your book can have an up-to-date version, and you can bring out a new book for a lot less work than writing an actual new book. Win-win!

I’ve just been through the process of preparing a second edition and, as so often with my writing, this is the post I wish I’d been able to read at the outset.

When I decided it might be time for a second edition, I looked around online for advice, but there wasn’t much information available. I needed some clues. My lovely editor was helpful. ‘We’re not just going to tweak a few things and slap a new cover on,’ she said (which was fine by me). She offered to ask a couple of people who had been using the book for teaching to give suggestions of changes they would like to see, which I thought was a great idea. One person sent a couple of paragraphs of comments, the other sent two and a half pages; they didn’t always agree with each other, but their feedback was usefully thought-provoking.

Then I had to do a proposal for my publisher. It’s similar to a new book proposal, and in fact I was able to copy-and-paste several sections from the original proposal in 2011, but I needed to provide a rationale for the new edition. Read more of this post

Why should I bother?

Tim PitmanTim Pitman is a Research Development Adviser in the Faculty of Humanities at Curtin University.

He has worked in research development since 2007. His own research interest is on higher education policy, with a particular focus on increasing the representation of disadvantaged students in universities.

Tim tweet from @timothypitman.


Photo of street art by Christos Barbalis | unsplash.com

Photo of street art by Christos Barbalis | unsplash.com

I’ve been working in research development for a decade now and almost all of that has been focused on the humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS).

Much of the ‘art’ of finding funding is universal across disciplines, but there’s also a need for research support that is more targeted towards HASS researchers.

I feel this especially keenly every year when researchers are submitting applications for Australian Research Council (ARC) funding (roughly equivalent to the National Science Foundation in the USA and the national research councils in other countries).

Often, institutional support processes designed to improve the quality of Australian Research Council applications appear to focus on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

This can leave HASS researchers scratching their heads, wondering whether that key observation, or sage bit of advice applies to them as well. Read more of this post

Writing retreats: Academic indulgence or scholarly necessity?

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

Together with Cecily Maller, she co-leads the Beyond Behaviour Change research program. Among other things, she’s interested in smart energy technologies and how they’re changing how we live.

She tweets at @YolandeStreng.

Cecily MallerCecily Maller is a Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University’s Centre for Urban Research. 

She studies human-environment interactions and how to make urban settings more biodiverse, equitable and sustainable and is co-leader of the Beyond Behaviour Change Research Program with Yolande Strengers.

She tweets at @DrCecilyMaller.


Sign on a small gate says "Beach", with an arrow. Beyond the gate is a wooden walkway into the distance.

To the Beach, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr.

It’s not uncommon for academics to attend conferences that cost thousands of dollars and require time away from our usual place of work.

Many internal and external travel grant schemes support our engagement in these events, where we disseminate research, network, collaborate, and acquaint ourselves with the latest and greatest knowledge.

Strangely though, taking time out for writing retreats is less accepted, supported or practiced in academia.

We noticed this discrepancy last year when we organised a week-long writing retreat. It was fabulous, but some of the reactions we received indicated that it certainly wasn’t normal.

This got us thinking about the perceived legitimacy of the activity. Some obvious questions came to mind.

Do academics really need a ‘retreat’ to write? Isn’t that meant to be part of our ‘day’ jobs? Why should we spend precious funds on accommodation and cheese to deliver academic goods we are already paid to deliver? Read more of this post

Can a research career be planned, or is it serendipity?

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on January 19, 2017 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com


Recently on Twitter, Sarina Kilham (@sarinakilham) asked:

My answer to this very good question is the answer I give to many things: it’s complicated.

Photo from Kennedy Space Centrer (@SpaceX) | Unsplash

Photo from Kennedy Space Centrer (@SpaceX) | Unsplash

I would say yes, a research career should be planned to some extent, but you must also reconcile yourself to the fact that the plan is never set in stone. You need to be prepared for things to go off-plan or be completely derailed. In fact, in academia, a plan that works out exactly as you would have it may well be the exception rather than the rule.

All our plans for research depend on the roles we occupy and the considerable influence of whether we have a salary to sustain our lives. The most beautiful research career planning falls in a heap if that fixed-term contract isn’t renewed or sessional hours dry up. Even if you’re in a full-time, relatively secure position, life – and restructures – happen. There are some who declare that they would do their research no matter what, paying job or no job, and I’d venture to say that that is a relatively common declaration, but a rare reality.

So, make research plans – but know that they’re likely to morph into other things. You should keep making them even though you know this.

Why?

Because the value in planning your research career isn’t in the actual plan. It doesn’t lie only – or even mainly – in achieving the amazing goals you’ve set for yourself. It’s in the process of research planning itself. Read more of this post

New Year’s resolutions for women in academia

penny-oxford-250pxPenny Oxford had a number of organisational learning roles in the corporate and government sectors before joining the staff development team of a university in 2006. Since then, she has left the higher education sector and returned so many times that she’s lost count.

Penny has worked in faculties and central research offices in research support, project management, and researcher development roles. She’s most proud of her contributions to the WiSci (Women in Science) and SPAM (Strategic Promotions Advice and Mentoring) programs at the University of Sydney. SPAM could not have happened without the wisdom, guidance and inspirational brilliance of Professors Daniela Traini and Fiona White, and Professor Emerita Robyn Overall. It succeeds because of the outstanding generosity of all its mentors, including Professor Mike Thompson (winner of the inaugural Golden SPAM award for mentoring) and Judy Black, super-mentor and astonishing thespian talent.

Penny tweets from @Penny_O_.


Time to reflect. Photo courtesy of Penny Oxford.

Time to reflect. Photo courtesy of Penny Oxford.

January is traditionally a time to reflect, plan, and – if you’re that kind of person – come up with some New Year’s resolutions!

As we move into another academic year, I’d like to suggest some career development resolutions for female researchers, particularly women in the STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) disciplines.

I’ve worked with many of you on career planning, mentoring and promotion support programs over the years and I am in awe of your brilliance, tenacity, resilience and generosity.

I’m also saddened by the scarcity of women in leadership roles and frustrated by a culture that’s not always completely fantastic when it comes to embracing diversity, so I thought I would distil what I’ve learned from many wise mentors into a list of promises that you can make to yourself, to help you take charge of your career in 2017. Read more of this post

Changing disciplines

Last year, one of our readers wrote:

I would like to ask/know if it is possible to develop research and apply for funds affiliated in a faculty different from your field – that is, following a logic of interdisciplinary work, can we be affiliated in medicine and develop research in psychology, for example? Or be affiliated in philosophy and develop research in medicine? … Combining the two seems great but is it done?

Ape masks, hand and foot from planet of the apes

NYC – Queens – Astoria: Museum of the Moving Image – Planet of the Apes, by Wally Gobetz on Flickr.

Most of the researchers that I work with are working on interdisciplinary work, so I see this question more often than you would think. It generally comes in two different forms:

  • I’ve changed disciplines. How do I present the work in my old discipline to the best advantage?
  • I have a lot of expertise in one discipline, but now I’ve started moving to another disciplinary space. How do I get funding for that?

People are concerned that new readers won’t understand, or won’t give them credit for, their old work. Given that I’m generally talking to them about a grant application, that is a serious concern. Writing a funding application is all about getting the other person to understand and support your request. I don’t want anything getting in the way of that.

Talking about this change can be a challenge if assessors have an image of an uninterrupted progression through Honours, Masters, PhD, postdoc and onwards, all in one topic. Do you just drop your old work? If you include it, what do you do with citation numbers, where norms vary wildly between disciplines? Do you talk about why you changed? If so, how? Read more of this post