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 | unsplash.com

Photo by Edgaras Maselskis | unsplash.com

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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Academic writing ‘outside’ academia

JayThompson-smDr Jay Daniel Thompson is a freelance writer, researcher, and editor who teaches at the University of Melbourne. His website can be found here.

Jay is also Book Reviews Editor for the Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, and continues to publish in the fields of Literary Studies and Cultural Studies.

He can be contacted via email at jaydthompson80@gmail.com.


Readers of The Research Whisperer will be familiar with that old chestnut ‘publish or perish’. This is supposed to be the key to getting (and keeping) an academic job.

Stairs Carnegie Building, Dunedin (Photo by Kim Tairi | www.flickr.com/photos/angels_have_the_phone_box)

Stairs Carnegie Building, Dunedin (Photo by Kim Tairi | http://www.flickr.com/photos/angels_have_the_phone_box)

So, what about those non-academics who publish academic writing— the latter broadly defined as writing which is scholarly in nature and appears in traditional academic mediums (e.g. peer-reviewed journals, edited collections, and so forth)? Why do these people put themselves through the blood, sweat, and peer-review?

Who are these people exactly?

Let’s start with the latter question.

Non-academic academic writers (to coin a terribly inelegant term) come in many guises. Some are working in ‘industry’, and bring coalface knowledge to academic publications. Publications in the ‘hard sciences’, for example, frequently feature ‘industry’ input. There are those writers who require publication notches under their belt in order to win that coveted fellowship or lecturing gig. Creative arts journals frequently feature submissions by artists (painters, creative writers, and so forth) who have a scholarly tone. Then there are those folk who are drawn to academic writing by a love of words and a desire to contribute to a particular field or discipline.

I traverse several of the groups listed above.
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My research is better than your research

Fairies attacking and colonising a hedgehog.

The Fairy Horde and the Hedgehog Host, by Tessa Farmer.

In 1986, when I was working for the Australian Research Grants Committee (the precursor to the Australian Research Committee), one of my committee members, the wonderfully idiosyncratic Bede Morris said,

“They sent me a research plan to fill out. I wrote across the front, ‘If I knew what I was going to be doing in five years, you should sack me!’, and sent it back to them.”

At the time, I didn’t understand exactly what he was talking about. He was talking to other members of the committee, senior researchers like himself. I was a junior bureaucrat with little or no experience in how universities or research really worked.

In the early 1990s, when I started working for universities, I learnt what he had been talking about.

Since the 1980s, the Australian government has been asking Australian universities to focus their research efforts.

By the mid-1990’s, all universities were required to develop Research Management Plans. These plans were intended to be university-level documents that outlined key areas of strength and areas for future growth.

The government used these plans as part of the process of deciding which university should get research infrastructure funding. They were a way to try to focus funding towards areas of strength and growth.

At the same time, Australian universities and institutes were being encouraged to amalgamate. I remember sitting in meetings where the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Victoria University of Technology were trying to work out how research funding would be divided if they were to amalgamate. From my point of view, it came down to ‘My research is better than your research’ – neither organisation had any substantial data or way of measuring the quality of their research.

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3 reasons why you’d livetweet

Photo by Alan Levine - www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog

Photo by Alan Levine – http://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog

I love livetweeting things.

Most of the time, I livetweet for fun and recreation. Those of you who follow me on Twitter have been privy to the joys of co-watching Eurovision, or vicariously experiencing B-grade horror flicks (or C-grade, if you’re lucky).

Increasingly, however, I’m also livetweeting in my current work role. It’s part of an overall strategy to make events and researcher connections more visible and accessible, and dovetails with a ramped up social media (including blog) presence overall.

With my research network hat on, I’ve also livetweeted a fair number of events that would interest that membership. Doing so makes member activity more apparent to one another, and to those checking out what the network’s about. The network is unfunded, and depends almost entirely on social platforms for presence and members’ connection.

So, what does livetweeting mean?

Livetweeting is defined as capturing and reporting on an event in an ongoing way through a stream of tweets, usually using a defined hashtag. For researchers, this usually means conferences and seminars, symposiums and workshops.

Why would you do it, if you’re not a big nerd like me?

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Goodbye academia?

BRoesler1Bettina Rösler is a casual researcher and university tutor. She completed her PhD thesis, “Reimagining Cultural Diplomacy through Cosmopolitan Linkages: Australian Artists-in-Residence in Asia”, at the Institute for Culture and Society (University of Western Sydney) in 2015.

Bettina has also completed master degrees in English Literature/Cultural Studies at TU Dresden (Germany) and Translation Studies at Auckland University (New Zealand). The primary focus of her work is cultural and arts policy, Australia-Asia relations, and the translation of cultures and intercultural dialogue, with a focus on cultural activities and the arts.

We invited Bettina to share her perspectives with us as part of the lead-up to the #securework tweetchat on FRIDAY 17 July, 11am AEDT. The tweetchat aims to be part of a national conversation around insecure academic work. Also participating will be @unicasual @NTEUnational @acahacker @KateMfD and @NAPUAustralia.


#securework tweetchat on FRIDAY 17 JULY 11am AEDT, Join in, and share your stories and experiences!

The #securework tweetchat takes place on FRIDAY 17 JULY 11am AEDT.
Join in, and share your stories and experiences!

The semester is long over, yet I’m spending some time every week answering student emails regarding grades or additional feedback for assignments.

There seems to be an expectation for me to be eternally available for any potential issues relating to the particular units I taught. Students request more feedback on assignments or new unit coordinators require details from last term.

The problem here is the fact that I am not on anyone’s payroll and I am not getting paid for the time I spend responding to emails. I am a casual academic and I am not alone. More than half of universities’ academic staff are only casually employed (Bexley, James & Arkoudis 2011). These already high numbers of casual academics are increasing (Rea 2014), and I personally know at least a dozen highly qualified and competent early career researchers who struggle under precarious work conditions.

Like many others, I have recently completed a PhD and fought ever since to make a living.

Every term, I have to renegotiate work contracts, which can involve weeks of uncertainty and, sometimes, no secure contract until well into the semester. After an already long ‘income pause’ (i.e. semester break, which is even longer and more daunting over summer), any further income delays are likely to test my credit card limit. Receiving a salary for about 26 weeks a year is simply not sustainable.

I am in my mid-thirties, still sharing a flat (OK, I live in Sydney), cannot afford a car, and have not had a holiday in over a decade. I couldn’t even get credit for a new computer. Twice every year, I seriously consider going on benefits because I’m afraid I won’t be able to pay rent.

Biannually, I am thrown into deep existential debates on my position in this flawed academic system, and what I could do differently. How can I improve my chances and further my career? But it is very hard. For half of the year, I over-commit to make up for the time I’m not teaching. Finding suitable in-between research assistant gigs is rare and generally doesn’t match up with the semester dates. This has affected my social life and mental state. Sadly, this is likely to affect many casuals’ teaching quality (Clohesy 2015). While I am putting a lot of effort into tutorial preparation, I always feel I could do so much more. I could run a blog or Facebook group for the students; I could find more additional material; I could help develop and improve the unit content and incorporate some of the students’ feedback. Unfortunately, casuals are rarely given the opportunity or platform to do so – let alone be paid for it.

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The perfect project

A box, with a key in the lock, and a sign that says

Key locker, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Wait! Just before you start, before you start your project grant application, take a moment.

Take a moment to consider your idea, your brilliant idea! The beauty of it. The wonder, the possibilities!

In the months and years to come, I want you to hold onto that feeling – make sure you remember it. Make notes about it. Go back to it. It will sustain you.

When you are in the depths of grant-writing hell, it will sustain you.

At 2am, when you need to be asleep, but the budget won’t quite work, remember that moment. Take a deep breath, and dive in again.

When your rock-solid, of-course-we-are-committed partner pulls out, remember that moment. Use it to push past the hurt and channel it into more productive work.

When you get the assessors’ reports, and it is clear that they have got the wrong end of the stick…

When those reports are contrary, contradictory, confused (and confusing), go back to your central idea, that moment. Let it restore you. Then use that clarity to reply to your critics.

When the grants are announced, and your hopes are dashed, remember that moment. In your disappointment and anger, remember what those first exciting moments of the idea felt like.

When it is your third attempt, and you don’t understand why you are even doing this any more…

When the money finally comes through, but it isn’t quite enough…

When you have to reshape your project to fit the funding, and it doesn’t really work anymore…

When you have spent six months in contract negotiation, and your contract whisperer sends through a new request for changes…

When your bullet-proof, rock-solid, no-possible-issues-at-all ethics application gets bounced…

When you just need to hire a research assistant…

And Human Resources won’t let you employ the person that you wrote into the application…

And it takes forever…

And it shouldn’t be this hard…

And there are so many applicants that it is going to take forever to even shortlist them…

And there are no decent applicants…

Or no applicants…

When the person that you do employ turns out to be a bit of a dud…

When your data turns out to be a bit of a dud…

When your analysis turns up nothing but dud…

When your hypothesis turns out to be a dud…

When you feel like a dud…

When you feel like your team isn’t really a team anymore…

When, technically, it isn’t, since Payroll isn’t paying anyone because there was a tiny little hitch with the timesheets…

And they are really very sorry, but there really isn’t anything that anyone can do, really…

And people can’t pay their rent; their mortgages; their debts…

And, for some reason, they blame you…

When they are screaming at you…

Or when they just make you want to scream…

When every stupid thing in this stupid university makes you want to scream…

When Finance transfer your funds to another department (and they use it to buy a bus)…

When you have to track your own finances, because the university system is completely opaque…

When the university has helped your project to death…

What do you mean; nothing under $5,000 is insured?!?

When there isn’t as much money as there should be…

When the exchange rate drops…

When the penny drops…

When the equipment doesn’t arrive…

When the equipment doesn’t work…

When the technique doesn’t work…

When the website doesn’t work…

When the survey doesn’t work…

When the intern doesn’t work…

When coffee doesn’t work…

When hope doesn’t work…

When you can’t even remember why you wanted to do the stupid work…

When your memory doesn’t work…

When nobody listens…

When nobody cares…

When you don’t care anymore…

When you just need to get away…

When the tickets cost three times as much because you have to go through the university’s preferred travel agent…

When you are working overseas and you don’t know what your pay will be from week to week because of currency fluctuations and bank transfer fees and weird finance department rules…

When you’re a long way from home…

And you’re sick…

And tired…

And lonely…

And you don’t know anybody at the conference…

And nobody knows you…

When you miss your flight…

When you miss your chance…

When you miss your wife, your husband, your lover, your kids…

When you find yourself in the middle of another stupid, pointless argument about why you are still at work…

When you find yourself in the middle of another stupid, pointless argument about who should be listed in what order on that paper…

When you don’t even know if you have enough good stuff to write that paper…

When you don’t even really want to be on that paper anymore…

When you don’t have time to write that paper…

When you don’t time to do the work…

When you don’t have time to go home…

When the money runs out…

When your patience runs out…

When your partner runs out…

When your promotion doesn’t go though…

When you don’t even get an interview…

Remember that feeling.

Just now, before you start, take a moment to admire the loveliness of your idea. It will never get any better than this.

Right at this very moment, it is perfect.

What’s in a researcher induction kit?

"Pool of Knowledge" (Detail from the "Pool of Knowledge" sculpture by Stacey Spiegel, Living Arts Park, Mississauga, Canada) Photo by Ian Muttoo | www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo

“Pool of Knowledge” (Detail from the “Pool of Knowledge” sculpture by Stacey Spiegel, Living Arts Park, Mississauga, Canada) Photo by Ian Muttoo | http://www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo

When I started a new research fellowship in a new institution and city, it took me at least a semester to find my feet.

In that time, I felt the full force of ignorance as I flailed around trying to find out who should review my grant applications (beyond my own collegial networks), what I might be entitled to as a staff member, and trying to get a handle on the new university’s structure.

More importantly, I needed to spend time learning the culture of the place: the person who occupies a certain role may not be the person you’d expect to do the work, etc.

Any expectations that a new staff member (in this floundering state) is going to immediately be productive and successful are not the most realistic. Even if they’ve got grants that they’re carrying over from one place to another, there’s a lot of information that they’ll need to establish themselves.

The earlier that incoming researchers know this information, the more quickly they’ll be able to gain momentum for their research planning and writing.

For a new-to-institution researcher orientation kit, then, these are the basics that I’d include:

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