Great conference dinners – Part 1

glasses-1036424_640Those of you who know me, or have heard my rants from afar, will know that there are several things that send me into major hobby-horse mode.

One of them is open plan offices, another is conference dinners.

There may be some furrowed brows at this stage.

Conference dinners? Don’t people go to them to eat good food, have fun, and get to know one another better? Isn’t it just one of those blurred professional / social things you do as part of a conference? Who doesn’t want to dance? Why would anyone have such weirdly negative feelings about a conference dinner?

Well, I’m so glad you asked.

When I wrote It’s not you, it’s me, and included a conference quiz that Inger Mewburn (an avowed extroverted type) and I (a mostly introverted type) filled out, this was our answer to the conference dinner question:

conf dinner yes no

I’m not just a bit conference dinner averse; I avoid them where possible. Occasionally, when I’m convening an event, I have to attend the conference dinner. Or friends force me to go with them (after assuring me there will be an escape hatch – escape hatches are extremely important). Why am I this way? It has a lot to do with previous bad experiences at conference dinners (stuck with incompatible people for hours in uber-awkwardness, expensive bad food, awful meal-side entertainment…), and the ongoing forced socialisation aspect that has never sat well with me.

I love going out to dinner with certain conference people. To a place we choose. To do things we like.

So, as a biased non-participator of conference dinners, what’s with this post about them?

I think of it as a bit of an anthropological exercise. My spontaneous and only-open-for-a-day survey the other weekend brought lots of confirmation that my twitter echo-chamber is populated by many of the same persuasion as me – others who hate conference dinners, and never go.

I’m very interested in what people consider a great conference dinner, because I know they do happen. Many thanks to the 45 or so people who answered the survey, provided information via direct messages, or commented on my Facebook query.

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Breaking boundaries

This is the first half of a talk that I gave recently at the University of Melbourne Researcher@Library event. Thanks to all involved for inviting me, and making me feel so welcome.  It was great!

A long high fence that has been built around a big tree branch.

Tree in the fence, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

When we work within organisations, the boundaries of our organisation can become limiting horizons.

More and more, I am finding that it is easier to do things with the whole world than it is to do them within my organisation.

Sometimes, it is easier to get my colleagues’ attention on Twitter than it is face-to-face (even though they work on the same campus  or even in the same building). The conversation can be richer online, too, because they often have more time to talk on the train going home than they do between meetings. And multiple voices can join in with different points of view.

Organisations want to engage with the outside world, but are bound up in their own identities. I’ve talked before about how I’ve failed to get my Twitter handle on my business card. RMIT recognises the Research Whisperer as part of my job, but only lets me put ‘official’ channels on my card.

At a larger level, national funding systems can fall into this trap, too. Even though they recognise that international research teams produce stronger research, they can sometimes find it hard to fund international collaboration. There is much encouragement to publish with international colleagues. Funding agencies love it, but they often find it difficult to fund the work that leads to those publications. I suspect that they don’t want to give ‘tax-payer dollars’ (nation-based funds) to people from other nations, even though that will probably create better research outcomes.

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What should you do with a toxic collaborator?

What's yours? | Photo by Tseen Khoo

What’s yours? | Photo by Tseen Khoo

When I wrote Do you have a toxic collaborator? back in January this year, I promised a follow-up post about what to do if you found you did have one.

This second post has taken me a while to write. Not because I forgot, or thought it wasn’t important. If anything, it has been weighing on my mind all year!

It’s a really hard post to write because I wanted it to contain useful advice – not just platitudes – for those who found themselves in these situations.

Various stories that came my way after the initial post also upped my trepidation. The elements I was talking about, while annoying and with the potential to be project-breakers, were not as vicious or vindictive as some of the narratives people shared with me.

I suddenly felt that whatever I said wouldn’t have helped any of those dire situations, and sometimes there were just awful, small-minded (but powerful) sorts that you just have to avoid or be wary about.

I’ve now come back to this half-drafted post. It is important. It won’t solve all the ills of heinous academic behaviours, but may push back effectively on some. Read more of this post

Setting up a professional network


Alyssa Sbisa, Florey Institute

Sally Grace,

Sally Grace, Swinburne University of Technology

Alyssa Sbisa is a neuroscience PhD Candidate at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, researching the role of sex hormones in schizophrenia. Alyssa can be found in the Twitterverse at @LyssLyssLyss.

Sally Grace is a neuroscience PhD Candidate at Swinburne University of Technology. Her research interests involve brain imaging and mental illness. Sally tweets from @sallyagrace.

Sally and Alyssa are the Media and Communications Managers for the 2015 Students of Brain Research (SOBR) committee. You can find more about SOBR by visiting our website, Facebook page, and tweeting us at @SOBRNetwork.

The Research Whisperers invited Alyssa and Sally to write for us because we’ve been really impressed by the engaging and bright presence of the SOBR Network on social media.

Those with good networks deserve praise, and those who work so hard to create the conditions for others to build networks deserve even more. 

As a graduate student, you’ve probably come across more than one article stressing the importance of networking.

And, if you’re anything like we initially were, you probably find the idea of organising networking events daunting and wouldn’t know where to start.

This year, when we signed up for a student-run committee, we didn’t realise it would be such an incredible experience. Albeit rewarding, there has also been some hard work. In light of this experience, we want to share some useful tips in the hope that if others were to take the same journey they have an idea of where to begin.

What is SOBR?

sobr_logo-smallerStudents of Brain Research (SOBR) is a student-run initiative aimed at facilitating the networking of students in the area of neuroscience and brain research, from cellular and molecular science to clinical psychology.

SOBR was formed in 2011 in an effort to connect not only graduate students from institutes across Victoria, but also early career researchers, prominent scientists, and industry professionals.

Each year SOBR hosts two events: the Professional Development Dinner and the Student Symposium. The committee itself has grown over the years, and so too has the interest in our events. 2015 is the first year we have had a waiting list for the dinner, and we expect our upcoming Symposium to be even more successful than the last!

Engagement with our online social networks has also increased; in 2015 alone our Facebook ‘likes’ have increased by 35% and Twitter followers by 360%. The success of SOBR is grounded not only on the fantastic work of the previous committees over the years, but also some key strategies.

Creating, growing, and managing a network is definitely not a one-person job. The SOBR committee has eight members this year and each one is integral to our success.

If you were considering a similar initiative in your own research area, we recommend considering the following:

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How the Whisper Workshop works

Image courtesy of @kimtairi

Recently, we ran the first Whisper Workshop. It came about like this: one of our colleagues couldn’t find a conference that was quite right for her needs. I said, “No problem – we’ll create a workshop specifically for you.”

And we did.

It was great! We brought together 25 of the best people we knew to talk about creating links between universities and galleries, libraries, archives, museums (the GLAM sector). We got to meet a whole lot of people that we only know from Twitter, geek out, and chat.

I really enjoyed it because I met new people and heard about new ideas. People talked about doing eye-tracking studies in airports, and how this could be used in museums. They discussed crazy projects to automagically detect job advertisements that could be asking for PhD graduates. Most importantly, there was a lot of discussion during the breaks, which meant that people were making connections and catching up with one another. Not only that, the day became self-documenting. Joyce Seitzinger led the charge by setting up a Google Doc that lots of people contributed to. Tseen has created a Storify record of the tweets during the day, then @michaelcollins created another one that also captured the discussion that happened afterwards.

As Linda Kelly said:

I’m a big fan of workshops like this. They are a great way to lift your eyes from your day-to-day work and consider the bigger picture for a moment. We don’t do that enough.

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How to livetweet and survive to tell the tale

Photo by Brian Kopp | Used here under Creative Commons 2.0:

Photo by Brian Kopp | Used here under Creative Commons 2.0:

I posted a while back about why you’d livetweet, and promised a practical follow-up post about the actual doing of it.

I’m writing this post not because there’s a scarcity of info on how to livetweet out there – hello, over-saturated internets! – but because it gives me a chance to throw in my 2 cents worth, while showcasing my favourite strategies and processes from other people.

The kind of livetweeting I’m talking about in this post isn’t just the casual stuff that might happen because you want to tweet out a few pithy observations about a presentation you’re at.

This post is aimed at those who have been tapped on the shoulder – or have tapped themselves on the shoulder – to livetweet an event in a more consistent, formal way. It’s focused mostly on academic conferences, and shamelessly based on my own experiences and biases.

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On the internet, no-one can hear you scream: A guide for virtual Shut Up and Write

SiobhanODwyer-smallDr Siobhan O’Dwyer is a Research Fellow at Griffith University (Brisbane, Australia) and the founder and host of Shut Up & Write Tuesdays, an online writing workshop for academics and postgraduate students.

Shut Up & Write Tuesdays began as a single Twitter account in 2013 (@SUWTues), and has since expanded to include two other accounts (@SUWTUK – servicing the UK and Europe; and @SUWTNA – servicing the US and Canada) with an international following.

When she’s not helping people write, Siobhan’s research focuses on the wellbeing of people with dementia and their carers. She tweets at @Siobhan_ODwyer.

Writing is a central part of academic life. We write to propose new projects, to secure funding, and to share our findings.

We also write to explore our own ideas, to critique the ideas of others, and to vent our frustrations.

Photo by Edgaras Maselskis |

Photo by Edgaras Maselskis |

But for something that’s so essential to our practice as researchers, writing receives remarkably little attention.

The academic business model views time to write as a luxury, not a necessity.

Rare is the academic or postgraduate student who has ever received explicit training in how, where, and when to write.

Because writing is an inherently private act, we rarely get to see how others do it.

Shut Up and Write, however, is starting to change all that.

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