Calling time on conferences

Portrait of Dani BarringtonDr Dani Barrington is a Lecturer in Water, Sanitation and Health at University of Leeds and an Honorary Fellow at The University of Queensland

Dani works in the field of water, sanitation and health in developed and developing communities. She is passionate about working at the nexus of technology and society, particularly investigating how appropriate technologies, community-led programs and public policy can improve health and well-being outcomes.

She tweets at @Dani_BarringtonYou can read Dani’s other Research Whisperer posts here.


I love attending conferences. Not because of the exotic locations, but because of the amazing conversations.

Who has time for sightseeing when there’s so much networking to be done? I meet new people, continue discussions with existing colleagues, and get fired up about what’s going on in my field and how my latest research idea might fit in.

Recently, there have been articles about how prohibitively expensive conferences are, particularly for early career researchers (ECRs).

Photo by Mikael Kristenson | unsplash.com

Photo by Mikael Kristenson | unsplash.com

In some cases, these articles call for a scrapping  of the traditional model in favour of cheaper and more inclusive events, such as webinars. This worries me. Although I definitely agree with them on some issues, I feel like some of these “calls to arms” are missing the point of conferences and what I think makes them a useful expense.

Then I realised that, in most cases, the way that conferences are designed misses the point…

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Patronage as a research crowdfunding model

Martin Pfeiffer with a box of National Nuclear Security Administration FOIA documents.

Martin Pfeiffer with a box of National Nuclear Security Administration FOIA documents. Used with permission.

Meet Martin Pfeiffer. Martin uses anthropology to investigate nuclear weapons. That’s amazing, in and of itself. Even more interestingly, Martin is crowdfunding his research and I’m all in favour of research crowdfunding.

What really got me excited, though, was how Martin is crowdfunding his research. Martin is crowdfunding on Patreon.

Patreon works differently to most other crowdfunding services. On Patreon, you donate a small amount regularly. For example (and in the spirit of full disclosure), I support Martin for US$2 per month.

As I write this, people like me are donating $551 per month to Martin’s research, and that funding base is growing. On 27 June 2017, when I subscribed, Martin was receiving $442 in donations. Now it is $551. By the time you read this, it may have crept a bit higher.

$550 per month doesn’t seem like much, but $6,000 a year (you lose a bit on fees) can be handy when you need to pay for copying, or freedom of information requests, or local travel, or any of the myriad of costs that may or may not be covered by your research grant.

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A manifesto for better academic presentations

Dr Jonathan Downie is a practising conference interpreter with a PhD in stakeholder expectations of interpreters from Heriot-Watt University (2016).

His first book, Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding Value and Delivering Excellence, was published by Routledge in 2016.

He is also a columnist on research issues for two industry magazines and is a regular speaker on the academic and translation & interpreting conference circuits.

He tweets at @jonathanddownie (personal / academic) and @integlangsbiz (interpreting / business).


Academic presentations are broken!

Admit it – the average academic talk is a cure for insomnia. It goes a bit like this:

  • Speaker clears their throat and begins in a hoarse whisper by reading their name and presentation title from the screen, despite the fact that those words are shown on the screen in font size 36!
  • Next comes the pointless “contents” slide. It still amazes me that when people have only 15 minutes to summarise the work that has taken four years of their life, they feel obligated to spend a quarter of that time explaining that their introduction will be followed by a literature review.
  • By the time we get to the meat of the presentation, the presenter has run out of steam. The part of the presentation that should have the biggest impact – what they did, why they did it and what they found – gets forgotten about or rushed as the speaker realises that their time has run out.

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Ways researchers can be better, different writers

After leaving the academy to pursue her dream of helping others achieve their writing goals, Kellye McBride started her own freelance editorial business in 2015 and has never looked back.

She is enthusiastic about helping graduate students, researchers, and scholars improve their writing and developing their skill sets when it comes to articles, book proposals, and dissertations.

Kellye lives in Portland, OR in the United States, and blogs at kellyemcbrideediting.comShe regularly posts about academic writing and scholarly publishing.


Photo by Juliette Leufke | unsplash.com

Photo by Juliette Leufke | unsplash.com

As academics, we often emphasise the importance of research, networking with others in our respective fields, and building a profile when it comes to professional opportunities. Though these are important topics worthy of consideration, the most crucial aspect of our jobs is often overlooked when we are so focused on advancing our academic careers: writing.

Not only is the average scholar is expected to have a number of professional publications in peer-reviewed journals, many disciplines also want them to publish a book to establish themselves early on in their career. Additionally, if scholars want to secure the right amount of funding, they must also become effective grant writers. The list of required written documents for early career researchers can be endless and, frankly, overwhelming.

Training and support for these kinds of writing are practically non-existent. Even if a scholar has an effective advisor and is well practiced as an academic writer, they might still run into trouble when it comes to grant writing, crafting text for a teaching portfolio, or writing for the public. This is not the fault of the academic. It’s like being a talented oil painter who is asked to learn watercolor overnight for a particular commission. Scholars are often poorly trained when it comes to being adept at the types of writing that will help ensure their success. Read more of this post

What viral means for us

This is based on a talk I gave recently to research administrators at Northwestern University in Chicago. Thanks to the Australasian Research Management Society (ARMS) and the US National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) for their fellowship, which made it possible. Thanks also to Kirsten Yehl for making my trip a fantastic success.


Recently, we posted It Gets Worse, an article about the crisis of casualisation in universities. I wrote it in collaboration with the wonderful Karina Luzia and Kate Bowles of CASA, and it was cross-posted to the CASA blog. We thought that it was an important problem.

So, it seems, did a lot of other people.

Graph of daily views, showing a consistent pattern of 200 - 900 views, except for the latest day, which shows almost 3,000

This is what viral looks like for us

The response was amazing – heartfelt and very real. Hopefully, it adds another pebble to the avalanche that will be needed to bring reform to the sector.

While a lot of people were clearly interested in the issue, I thought some might be interested in how it played out behind the scenes, so to speak. This is how we work, and how Research Whisperer got to this point.

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How to run a shared social account

Back in October 2014, my buddy @deborahbrian asked about running a shared Twitter account. I quickly wrote up a post and dropped it into the Banana Lounge (my personal blog). This is an updated, revised version of that post, informed by another couple of years’ experience and more trial and error. 


Photo by www.flickr.com/photos/carlos_maya | Shared under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/carlos_maya | Shared under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

Since getting into social media – especially Twitter – in a big way, I’ve had a fair amount of experience in running shared accounts.

  1. My research network’s Twitter (@aasrn) and Facebook group started as a shared account.
  2. Research Whisperer (@researchwhisper) and its Facebook page has always been a joint one with @jod999.
  3. Since the beginning of 2015, I’ve run the La Trobe Researchers accounts (@LTUresearchers | Facebook page) with my colleague Jason Murphy (@murphy_jason).

I should present this post with the caveat that I have no formal communications qualifications or training. All my experience is on the job, and self-taught.

When I run social media and digital research profile workshops, I’m often approached about how to run institution-face accounts: research centres or institutes, specific major projects, social that’s associated with group research blogs, etc.

By institution-face, I mean the specific context of formal university units or academic groups, but this advice would apply across a range of situations.

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