Digital portraits for academics

This post started life as a comment on Yammer at RMIT (thanks, Hans).


Drawing Hands by M. C. Escher, 1948, (via Wikimedia).

Recently, Hans Tilstra was talking about digital twins – online identical models for offline objects. He talked about our personal digital twins, the representations of ourselves online. It is an intriguing idea, but not one that I really buy into.

Our various digital personas are too fragmented to be considered real twins. I think of online personas more as digital portraits. Some are pointillist – search results composed of tiny points of information. Some are abstract – the array of data that retailers collect about you, never fully realised, never really seen. Some, like Instagram, could be self-portraits. Others, like Facebook, may be family portraits.

Of all of these digital portraits, I think that there are three that are vital for any academic:

  • LinkedIn: Among other things, this is the perfect place to build your own personal alumni group. It is your industry portrait.
  • Google Scholar: This is where other researchers are most likely to find your work. It is your intellectual portrait.
  • Your university profile: When industry people, journalists, or other academics find you, they will look for your university profile to establish your bona fides, and find your contact details. It is your calling card.

I’m not saying that you should give up your favourite social media space for just these three. I love Twitter and I’m not giving it up for anything. What I am saying is that I think every academic should actively maintain these three profiles.

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The care and feeding of critical friends

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 14 December 2018 and is reproduced with permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


Photo by Glen Carrie | unsplash.com

Photo by Glen Carrie | unsplash.com

Getting critical feedback on your work is one of the most difficult things to negotiate, whether you’re just starting out as a scholar or have published and been applying for grants for years.

We know that academia requires us to jump through hoop after hoop, so finding good ways to deal with this process of receiving feedback and constructively moving onto the next stage can make life a lot easier.

Often, the feedback you receive on your work will be from gate-keepers and assessor types or senior researchers in your area, possibly even your direct manager. These are often authority figures from whom you need ticks of approval, and they may not be of your choosing.

The value of a critical friend

To make research life and your academic career easier, I’d recommend finding – and keeping! – good critical friends. The idea of critical friends is extremely well established in education circles, and most academics have them even if they may not call them that.

As researchers, we need critical friends at all stages, and for many aspects, of our careers. Chief Executives of organisations often need them, and some universities even ‘out source’ critical friends for you.

Critical friends are colleagues whom you trust to read your work (whether that work is a grant application, journal paper, promotion document or research report) and give you rigorous, constructive feedback. They are supportive and invested in helping you develop your track-record. Read more of this post

Reflections on doing an invited keynote

Donald Nicolson has worked in academic research since 2001 and is still an independent scholar, much to the chagrin of himself and his family.

In July 2018, he gave an invited keynote address to the Association for Borderland Studies conference in Vienna, from which this piece arose.

His first book ‘Academic Conferences as Neoliberal Commodities’ was published by Palgrave Macmillan. Some people think it is not bad.

He can be approached on Twitter @the_mopster.


Photo by Nathan Dumlao | unsplash.com

Photo by Nathan Dumlao | unsplash.com

“We would like to wholeheartedly invite you to give the introductory keynote speech at our conference,” said the message on Research Gate.

“Oh yeah,” I thought, “Another scam conference invitation!”

But one that was not scheduled for Las Vegas or Bangkok. Working from the cautious maxim that I should not be so cynical, I decided to do some investigating, just in case. A one-hour Skype call with the Conference Chair convinced me that she and the conference were both real.

This was not a case of too good to be true. Very quickly, I had gone from cynicism, to shock, to pride, to excitement at being invited.

One year on from this invite, with said keynote done in July 2018, I am in a better space to be able to reflect on this. I learned a few things, and am sharing them here!  Read more of this post

The ethics of conference speakers

Helen KaraDr Helen Kara has been an independent researcher since 1999 and writes and teaches on research methods.

She is the author of Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide (Policy Press, 2015). She is not, and never has been, an academic, though she has learned to speak the language.

In 2015, Helen was the first fully independent researcher to be conferred as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. She is also a Visiting Fellow at the UK’s National Centre for Research Methods. Her latest book is Research Ethics in the Real World: Euro-Western and Indigenous Perspectives (Policy Press, 2018).

Helen’s webiste is helenkara.com and she tweets at @DrHelenKara. Her ORCID is 0000-0001-7348-0963


Photo by Luke Michael | unsplash.com

Photo by Luke Michael | unsplash.com

In March 2018 Stanford University in California held a two-day conference in applied history. There were 30 speakers. Every single one was male and white.

Like most academic fields, applied history is dominated by white men. However, there are also many women and people of colour who work and study within the discipline. No doubt there are also queer historians and historians with disabilities. To be fair to Stanford, three female historians had been invited to take part in the conference, but each of them declined due to previous commitments. To be fair to women, I’m sure that more than 10% of historians are female. Stanford inadvertently made history itself by ending up with the biggest manel ever. (For those who haven’t heard the term before, a manel is a panel comprised entirely of men.)

Of course the media, as usual, reported this event as though gender is binary. While there is some point in prioritising women, who still face structural discrimination in professional life, this also risks further marginalising trans and non-binary people. Their voices are equally important, as are those of people from different sexual orientations, belief systems, and so on. Read more of this post

The joy of Wiki

Photo by Rodolfo Mari | unsplash.com

Photo by Rodolfo Mari | unsplash.com

Earlier this year, I started a ‘Shut up and Wiki’ group at our university. It has been running now for over six months.

Many universities, often with researchers working with the Library, are showing their Wiki-friendly faces with wonderful edit-a-thons, Wiki-bombs, Wiki masterclasses, etc. I wanted to get us in on that action.

The initial idea with the group was to have a set time to meet up with like-minded folk (of all stripes and levels: academic, professional, student, profs, whatevs) and run the session like a standard ‘shut up and write’ session but with everyone working on their own Wiki projects, edits, or pages. Because we have a cosy group of stalwarts, the pomodoros don’t really need to be set and we just end up editing and chatting along as we see fit. It works, it’s fun, and we’re building bridges with other institutions around the these kinds of sessions.

Most importantly, we’ve got a great little group together that would otherwise not have come together in this way.

This post is about creating collegial spaces within our institutions, at a time when finding joy in what we do can be a challenge.  Read more of this post

Networking that works

Photo by Kyler Nixon | unsplash.com

Photo by Kyler Nixon | unsplash.com

Does everyone keep telling you that the key to a successful career is to have great networks?

Well, I hate to be the one to say it again, but it’s true. Having great networks makes working life – and research life in particular – much, much easier and more fun.

Where I diverge from much of the common rhetoric, however, is that I’m not a proponent of elevator pitches, speed-dating formats, or indeed networking events overall.

There are as many myths about networking circulating as there are gurus who will tell you that you must network, network, NETWORK (at that $1000-a-table gig they are organising…).

I hate networking events. In fact, I’ve managed to dodge most badged networking events in my career thus far. I even avoid conference dinners at conferences I have convened – usually by not scheduling a conference dinner.

Is all this because I’m actually that anti-social? Read more of this post

What I like seeing researchers post

Photo by Jason Leung | unsplash.com

Photo by Jason Leung | unsplash.com

‘But I haven’t got anything to say!’

This is one of the most common laments I hear when I’m running social media workshops, particularly from emerging scholars.

Researchers – many of whom we know are rather fond of holding forth (it’s tough to make them stop) – suddenly clam up when they’re staring at their newly created Twitter account or Facebook page. They’re sometimes wary of the exposure, often anxious of doing something ‘wrong’, and rarely at ease with platforms from the start.

To address this stumbling point in my ‘Researchers and social media’ workshops, I indicate what might be good content for a researchers’ social media stream. It’s a starting point to think about what types of information to include, how they’d source that information and what they might ‘sound’ like.

This post is a more detailed version of my earlier post about what I tweet (when I was running three different types of accounts…which was before I was running four different types of accounts!).

Small caveat: What I include in that workshop is not definitive; it’s not based on scads of data. It’s what I find in others’ social media streams that I think is valuable, and the people and organisations who share this kind of stuff will probably be followed or liked by me.  Read more of this post