Why we do what we do

Early in 2018, the International Network of Research Management Societies (INORMS) established an Award for Excellence in Research Management Leadership. Here is our entry, slightly modified and updated, to make sense as a stand-alone article. We wrote the application for an audience of research management and development peers, so keep that in your mind as you’re reading it!

Thanks to our nominator Deb Brian, and to our referees and long-time allies Phil Ward and Michelle Duryea for their support! Thanks also to the Australasian Research Management Society (ARMS) for their consideration of our application.

We didn’t win the award but we found the process of writing the application really useful for reflecting on what Research Whisperer is all about and how we have tried to develop its community. It was a good, affirming thing to do, and made us appreciate all the more what a fabulous RW network there is. 


Tseen Khoo (left) and Jonathan O'Donnell (right) at Pearson and Murphy's cafe, RMIT.

This is us! Tseen Khoo (left) and Jonathan O’Donnell (right).

We established the Research Whisperer to demystify the research cycle for researchers. We have been using blogposts to reflect on our own practices, and Twitter/Facebook to share those thoughts with others since 2011.

By using social media, we have made our research administration and development practice available to a global readership. By presenting our work to an international audience, we have been able to work beyond our institutional borders.

By being open about our research administration practices, we have built a body of knowledge of over 320 articles (roughly 400,000 words), which attract an annual readership in excess of 150,000 (WordPress views for 2017). We’ve created an international network of researchers and research administrators who find our work useful and valuable that is 36,000+ strong (Twitter followers as at 22 June 2018). Read more of this post

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Lights, cameras, science: Using video to engage broader audiences

Katie Pratt is a science writer and editor with an eye for design, a talent she makes use of as a content developer, communications instructor, and video producer for the Deep Carbon Observatory (deepcarbon.net, @deepcarb on Twitter).

She holds a PhD in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry from Brown University and was a 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Community Engagement Fellow.

Katie has organised and participated in field trips around the world, including Costa Rica, Oman, Italy, and the Azores. If you have any questions about the expedition or the film, Katie is happy to be contacted at katie_pratt@uri.edu.


There’s no escaping the fact that having broader impact activities on your CV is a must for any researcher today.

Whether it’s to help you obtain funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), improve your chances of an academic appointment, or get you a job outside of academia altogether, sharing what you do with someone other than your colleagues can help your career.

It’s one of the reasons I find myself writing this post.

After blogging my way through the second half of my PhD, I was hired by the Deep Carbon Observatory’s (DCO) Engagement Team to write stories about their scientists and the work they do. The DCO is an international network of nearly 1000 multi-disciplinary scientists committed to investigating the quantities, movements, forms, and origins of carbon in deep Earth. Founded in 2009, this decade-long program has brought together biologists, physicists, geoscientists, chemists, and many others whose work crosses these disciplinary lines, forging a new, integrative field of deep carbon science.

Five years on, there’s a lot more to my job and, as a professional “jack of all trades”, I found myself in the field last year with a team of talented early career scientists, investigating the biology, petrology, and geochemistry of the Costa Rican volcanic arc.

When we set out on a field expedition to Costa Rica in 2017, called “Biology Meets Subduction,” we really focused on engagement and outreach.

We were lucky. Our funder, the DCO/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, was 100% behind the idea, and our budget included money for a professional video crew to join us in the field.

Read more of this post

Surviving your feminist research project

Dr Meagan Tyler is a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University and a research theme leader (gender, equality and diversity) in the Centre for People, Organisation and Work (CPOW).

Her work is focused on using feminist theory and methods to address gender inequality and violence against women in a range of contexts, from emergency management to the sex industry. You can read more of Meagan’s work here

She tweets (occasionally) @DrMeaganTyler.

There are always joys and challenges in undertaking research, but there are particular joys and challenges associated with conducting feminist research, and there is often precious little space in formal academic contexts to discuss them.

In part to address this absence, in October 2017, the Feminist Forum series in Melbourne included a session on ‘How to Survive Your Feminist Research Project’, and this post is based on Meagan Tyler’s contribution to that session.


Photo by Alex Mazzarello | unsplash.com >> "Protestors in Vancouver, BC as part of Women’s March on Washington, Vancouver chapter."

Photo by Alex Mazzarello | unsplash.com >> “Protestors in Vancouver, BC as part of Women’s March on Washington, Vancouver chapter.”

Most of my colleagues don’t know what it’s like to expect resistance every time they present their work.

I recently found out that many of them simply expect polite applause or – worst case scenario – a curly question from a grumpy professor.

They don’t generally expect to confront accusations of prudery, rape threats on Twitter, attempts at no-platforming, or orchestrated campaigns from men’s rights activists.

But for many feminist researchers these experiences are all too common. It can feel as though there is a significant divide between our working lives and those of non-feminist colleagues. Read more of this post

Managing an Early Career Researcher blog

Research Whisperer Tseen Khoo has been a big fan of the Australian Historical Association’s Early Career Researcher blog since it started in October 2016. She jumped at a recent opportunity to invite the blog editors, Carolyn Holbrook and Margaret Hutchison, to write for Research Whisperer about why they do it and how. In a contemporary context where many Early Career Researchers are encouraged to only do things that benefit themselves, we love boosting those who are generous sharers and stage-setters for their peers. The Australian Historical Association’s Early Career Researcher blog, and how its content gets shared, demonstrates the kind of community-building that can happen within disciplines and with the support of an established academic society. More power to these kinds of initiatives! 

Dr Carolyn Holbrook is an Alfred Deakin Research Fellow at Deakin University. She is writing a history of Australians’ attitudes towards their federal system of government, and co-authoring with Professor James Walter a history of policy-making in Australia. Carolyn is the author of the award-winning book, Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography, about the history of how Australians have remembered the First World War. She tweets from @sigmundmarx.

 

Dr Margaret Hutchison is a Lecturer in History in the National School of Arts at the Australian Catholic University. Her research interests include the First World War, war art, memory studies and cultural history.

She tweets from @meggiehutchison.


How did the Australian Historical Association’s ECR Blog get started?

This is a question that requires an origin story — just what we history types love! It’s quite simple really. We started the blog as a way to spark discussion among Early Career Researchers in history, and to highlight the particular challenges we face.

Recording a radio play | Photo from the Spaarnestad Collection of the National Archives in The Hague | flickr.com

Recording a radio play | Photo from the Spaarnestad Collection of the National Archives in The Hague | flickr.com

When we considered the best means of promoting awareness of ECR issues, we came up with the idea of asking people to tell their personal stories.

We thought that these stories could serve several purposes: they could put a powerful, personal face on the challenges faced by ECRs (for example, long hours, low pay, precarity, relationship and mental health breakdowns); create a sense of community and solidarity among ECRs; provide ECRs with practical experience of writing succinctly about themselves and their research; and enhance the profile of emerging scholars among the wider community of historians.

Our blog has grown from that original idea. We now have a Q&A series with senior historians, a series in which historians describe a book, or article, or object, that has inspired their career, and a ‘How To’ series (featuring a very popular post by you, Tseen!), in which experts describe how to do such things as write a book proposal, do a radio interview or write a job application. Our most popular series is about Emerging Historians, featuring profiles of ECRs and their research. Read more of this post

Giving a voice to early-career researchers

Here at the Research Whisperer, we’re fans of crowdfunding and Open Access. When we heard about Lateral’s campaign to crowdfund so that it could continue publication and pay its contributors, we invited them to tell us more. Thanks, Andrew and Tessa, for filling us in on your wonderful project. 

Andrew Katsis is a behavioural ecologist and third-year PhD candidate at Deakin University in Geelong, Australia. He has been Life Science editor for Lateral magazine since 2015.

Andrew tweets from @andrew_katsis.

Tessa Evans is a chemist who now works at the New Zealand Science Media Centre. She has been involved with Lateral magazine since 2015, and has been its editor-in-chief since 2017. Tessa tweets from @tessaeevans.

If you’d like to support emerging science writers and engaging science writing, you can still contribute to the Lateral campaign. If we all chipped in the money we’d spend on a couple of coffees, their target would be met! 


Cover of Lateral magazine for "Slow" (#12) - illustration by Olivia Baenziger

Cover of Lateral magazine for “Slow” (#12) – illustration by Olivia Baenziger

Scientific research is an important pursuit, but all your hard work may be for nothing if your results and insights don’t find their way beyond the lab bench to policymakers and the public. Because of this, researchers are increasingly encouraged to communicate their work to non-scientists, through media appearances, blogs, podcasts and other forms of public engagement.

At the same time, we have also seen the rise of professional science communicators—non-researchers who specialise in converting jargon into easily digestible language. But you can’t rely solely on science communicators to do your job for you; people also want to hear directly from the source.

How else will the public (or your family) know what you’ve been working so hard on, if you can’t explain it to them?

Learning how to communicate research doesn’t come easily to many people, and most graduates simply aren’t trained in how to talk to a general audience. In Australia, for example, there are only a handful of standalone courses in science communication, and just two degrees that specialise in this skill: the Master of Science Communication at the Australian National University, and the newly-minted course of the same name at the University of Western Australia, which starts this year.

Since there are so few opportunities within institutions, we wanted to help researchers develop these science communication skills.

In 2015, a small group of emerging researchers — mostly recent graduates from the University of Melbourne — came together to create Lateral, an online magazine written and edited by early-career scientists.

Read more of this post

Crowdsourcing transcriptions of open archives

This article began life as a presentation for Open Access week at La Trobe University, 23 October 2017. Thanks to La Trobe for inviting me to speak.


Poster for the Real Face of White Australia Transcribe-a-thon MoAD at Old Parliament House 9-10 September 2017, showing a handprint, an identity photo and a bureaucratic form in the background.A little while back, I travelled to Canberra with my partner, Sophie Couchman, to help Tim Sherratt and Kate Bagnall with their ‘Real Face of White Australia’ project. We spent the weekend transcribing documents relating to the history of White Australia, and Australia’s historical attempts to exclude people who were not ‘white’.

First, a bit of history. There was a period (not so long ago, in the scheme of things) when Australia used a bureaucratic system to bar entry to anyone who wasn’t white. As part of that process, we used a ‘dictation test’ to bar entry to anyone deemed undesirable.

If you were already a resident in Australia (because, for example, you had been born here) and didn’t look white, you needed to get an exemption from the dictation test before you went overseas. If you didn’t, you might not be allowed to re-enter the country. These ‘Certificates Exempting from Dictation Test’ are all stored in Australian archives, and provide valuable insights into that period of history.

Unfortunately, they are currently all locked away. Not because of the issues that normally relate to Open Access: ‘Open’ versus ‘Closed’ legal permissions (although there are issues there) or ‘ ‘Free speech’ versus ‘Free beer’ (versus ‘Free puppies’) monetary issues. No. This information is locked away because it is handwritten on paper. Even where the archive has digitised the certificates, there is no reliable way to optically recognize (OCR) the characters.

We lose sight, sometimes, of how much stuff is still locked away on paper, in handwriting. That’s where I came in. With my partner, Sophie, I went to Canberra and spent a couple of days transcribing this handwritten data. Read more of this post

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…

Read more of this post