Developing my portfolio career

Ian StreetIan Street is a postdoc at Dartmouth College working on how plant hormones affect plant development.

He is the writer of The Quiet Branches plant science blog and is looking towards a career in science writing or editing.

In his time away from the lab bench and writing, he’s a runner and cat owner.

Ian tweets from @IHStreet.


Photo by Ian Street

Photo by Ian Street

First, let me state my situation and some of the things I am assuming as I develop my career:

  1. Most postdocs do not go on to jobs as Primary Investigators (PIs).
  2. The longer you’re a postdoc, the less likely #1 becomes.
  3. Major depression ground me down mid-postdoc. Having a lot of support and writing has helped me recover some momentum.
  4. Deciding to leave academia is not easy. Introspection and experimentation are required.
  5. To find a job/ career outside academia, network, yes, but it is also important to gain experience in fields of interest if possible.
  6. The Internet is the key to my efforts from the small-town college where I’m a postdoc.

The career I’ve settled upon to pursue beyond academia is perhaps obvious: it is the world of science writing and editing.

Addressing Doubts

It seems obvious. Too obvious, for a few reasons.

This is the “Who are you to break out into a new field?” anxiety narrative I have in my brain:

It’s writing and editing. Who can’t do that, and do both well, in academia? Besides, the written word is apparently dying because pictures and video are more important/ compelling in the digital age. Writing is more than putting words on a page, of course. Getting things out of a brain in a coherent form (it’s always perfect in my mind, why can’t that just pop out on the page?!), letting an editor’s brains see it, review it, suggest changes, or say “no” (it’s almost always a “no”) is daunting. Then there’s the exposing of your ideas to a wider audience – this might be exciting, but it is also fraught with fear of rejection.

The path of a career transition is far from certain. Read more of this post

Staying on the radar

I unearthed this fragment of a post the other weekend. I started writing it in 2012, when I was about two years into a professional role at a university as a research grant developer. I had had about ten years of researcher life before that, with back-to-back research-only fellowships. My feelings about leaving my researcher self behind were mixed, to say the least.

Now, I’m about two years back into an academic job after leaving that professional role. And I have things to say to my 2012 self. 

Hopefully, this dialogue with the self is useful for those of you with ‘portfolio careers’ and seemingly zig-zagging career paths. It may never seem like the right way to do things, but  it helps to know that there isn’t a right way to do things.


Me, writing in 2012 while in a professional role: 

What’s the shelf-life of academic expertise?

This is an issue that’s haunted me ever since I started working on the ‘other side of the fence’ in my current professional research development role. I was used to being easily identified as ‘academic’ for many years, and it was the angst of having to explain being a research fellow position that occupied my time. Common things I’d have to say: “No, I don’t teach”, “no, I’m not supposed to teach”, “yes, I’m 100% research”, “yes, that means I don’t teach”.

Now, as a research grant developer, I’m in a role where I’m constantly advising researchers on what’s good practice and savvy research strategy. I can’t help but view my on-the-ground experience as a researcher for over a decade as a core part of the value I bring to my job. Similarly, if I’m not publishing, presenting at conferences, or debating critical issues with peers, am I a lesser occupant of this role?

For example, if I was awarded (and completed) a shiny competitive grant, does my experience in putting that application together count, more than five years later? If I haven’t published in an academic journal for over ten years, do I have credibility advising researchers on how to strategise submissions and papers, or negotiate editorial processes?

I’ve kept a part-time hand in with running the research network but, other than that, haven’t given an academic conference paper or written an academic article for about two years.

It feels strange. 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 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

Are my publications any good?

A pile of theses in a skip.

All that work! by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

The Journal Impact Factor may not be dead, but it is looking pretty ill. When a relatively conservative body like the Australian Research Council (ARC) says:

“The ARC is not prescriptive about what can be included [in a publication list], but applicants should be aware of the widely held view that journal impact factors are a poor measure of an individual’s research performance.” – ARC Frequently Asked Questions for Discovery Projects commencing in 2017, question 4.11

If journal impact factor is a poor measure, what is a good measure of “an individual’s research performance”? How do you know that your publications are any good?

You just know

I get asked this by new academics a lot. The question comes in many forms: “What measures can I use?” “How will people know?” “Where should I publish?”

The unspoken question often revolves around an uncertainty about, or a fear of, the value of their own work. Don’t do that.  Don’t pin the value of your work to the judgement of your peers, your promotion committee, or your grant assessors. That way, madness lies.

You know when you have written a good paper. You know when you have, through the pressure of deadlines, or the tragedy of lost data, written a not-so-good paper. Hold onto those feelings, that sense of judgement. It will sustain you.

Knowing that, here are some practical answers to this question.

Read more of this post

What does your soul (read: postdoc application) look like?

Portrait of Jonathan LaskovskyJonathan 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.


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What queue? by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

I have a secret weapon. I can look into your soul.

By that, I mean that, as part of my role, I’ve had to read a large volume of academic CVs. Particularly postdocs’ CVs.

I’ve probably looked more than 600 CVs in the past year, and what has astounded me throughout that process is not the number of staff looking for employment (there are many), or the wide variety of academic pathways (an encouraging sign).

The thing that surprised me most is the sheer volume of CVs that seem to be actively trying to thwart the reader.

Applying for a postdoc position is a bit like applying for a grant application. There are lots of other people who are also applying. The person reading the applications could be trying to shortlist from over 300 applications, and is looking for reasons to drop your application onto the cutting-room floor.

I can’t help you with most of these factors. I can’t control the number of applicants and I can’t help you with journal articles you haven’t written, or grant applications that haven’t been successful.

What I can do is give you a short list of tips that can help keep your application in the initial cut. These mostly cover the CV but the principles apply to the Key Selection Criteria and other parts of the application.
Read more of this post

Share your data, share yourself

This is the third post drawn from a talk that I gave last year at the University of Melbourne Researcher@Library event. Thanks to all involved!


A beautiful old door, with a big old lock and a tiny little new lock.

Old door, new lock, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

In the first of these articles, I talked about breaking out of your university bureaucracyThe second was about breaking funding boundaries. Both of those were written from the point of view of someone sitting securely within an organization, trying to break out.

But sometimes you end up working outside your organization. It might be because you choose to leave, or (more likely) because your organisations doesn’t want you anymore. It doesn’t matter how successful you are as a researcher and a lecturer if your whole area is wiped out in a restructure. Or you might be a casual or adjunct, paid by the hour, who is only tentatively linked to one or more universities. Or a researcher on a limited term contract, fueled by soft money, with no certainty of work next year.

Modern universities preserve no loyalty to their staff. As a result, I don’t think that we need to feel much loyalty to our universities.

Whatever the reason, you should push your identity out beyond the boundaries of the organization where you work, or build up one if you are independent. Here are three useful ways to do that, beyond social media. Read more of this post

Welcome to the Research Bazaar

dejan-smallDejan Jotanovic is the engagement, social media and communications officer at Research Platforms (ResPlat) Services at the University of Melbourne.

ResPlat provides research support with services such as cloud computing, data management and training in research tools and skills.

Dejan has also recently completed a Master of Public Policy & Management, with interests in inequality, social and science policy. Prior to this Dejan has completed an Honours in Psychology from the University of Melbourne. 

Twitter: @heyDejan / email: dejan.jotanovic@gmail.com


The Research Bazaar (ResBaz) is your one-stop shop for digital research tools, skills, and a community of support!

In late 2013, David F. Flanders (my boss) recognised a problem: with over 500 research tools and apps available to researchers across a plethora of faculties and disciplines, a traditional information technology helpdesk wouldn’t suffice. In reality, the modern complexities of research far surpassed the basic needs of bibliography management and a proficiency in Microsoft Word. Data had become Big. There was talk of a ‘Cloud’. Inter-disciplinary was the new “it” word.

The smell of a shifting research game was pungent in the air. David’s solution was to create a community of support around research tools. Rather than sit down and teach research tools (R-stat, Python, CAD, MATLAB, CartoDb – the list goes on and on) to each individual researcher, build a supportive, dynamic, diverse community that has the ability to reproduce knowledge without the constant requirement of top-down support. A community could help people to research better, faster, smarter. And so the Research Bazaar – ResBaz – was born.

ResBaz 2015 | Photo courtesy of Dejan Jotanovic

ResBaz 2015 | Photo courtesy of Dejan Jotanovic

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