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

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Lessons from the Hill

Dr Taylor Winkleman recently completed a stint as a Legislative Assistant in the office of United States Senator Edward Markey after serving a year in the same office as an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)/American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow. Her portfolio included space policy, military and veterans issues, human rights, and foreign policy, with a particular emphasis on global health and trafficking of both humans and wildlife. Upon leaving the Senate, Taylor founded Winkleman Consulting, LLC, and is now consulting on the same issues, with an emphasis on the intersection of commercial space, global health, and humanitarian crises.

Born in Santa Cruz, California, Taylor completed the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine’s dual degree program in 2016, earning both her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Masters of Public Health with an emphasis in public health policy. Prior to beginning her veterinary training, she served 6 years in the United States Army as an Arabic linguist and intelligence professional. During her academic career, she worked as a freelance journalist and photographer.

Her professional interests include international development, zoonotic disease prevention, economics, One Health, Planetary Health, and commercial space policy. Taylor tweets from @T_Winkleman.


The Research Whisperer was approached by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to feature a couple of their great fellowship stories. We were happy to showcase the fantastic opportunities available to scientists through their programs. If you’re interested in applying for the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowshipapplications are due November 1! Please note: you must hold US citizenship, or dual citizenship from US and another country.

If you know of non-US programs that do similar things, please comment with links so that your colleagues can be aware of them and follow them up!


Taylor Winkleman (LEFT) and #fellowfellow (fellow AAAS fellow) Dr. Emma Locatelli, attending science talks given by two OTHER #fellowfellows, Dr. Rebecca Reeseman and Dr. Kirstin Neff at a monthly event called NerdNiteDC. [Photo courtesy of Taylor Winkleman]

Taylor Winkleman (LEFT) and #fellowfellow (fellow AAAS fellow) Dr. Emma Locatelli, attending science talks given by two OTHER #fellowfellows, Dr. Rebecca Reeseman and Dr. Kirstin Neff at a monthly event called NerdNiteDC. [Photo courtesy of Taylor Winkleman]

The absolute worst moment that I experienced during my time in the United States Senate (the Hill) was during a softball game. While playing catcher, a collision at home plate sent me flying through the air and I landed in the dirt. On my head.

So, there I was, lying in the dirt, my ear bleeding, my arm bruised, with my head ringing from what I was almost certain was a concussion, and I knew one thing with utter certainty: I was going to have to keep playing. We were behind by ten runs in the third inning. We were certainly going to lose the game but if I couldn’t keep going we would be forced to forfeit. I got up, shook it off, and kept playing.

We definitely lost that game.

Thinking back on it, I can understand how many on the Hill would see that as a metaphor for politics, where you often find yourself fighting a battle you seem guaranteed to lose, getting knocked down, and having to get back up. My time as a policy fellow began in an optimistic September of 2016.

Now, in 2017, the situation for science on the Hill and in the federal government could be better.

In some ways, this seems to be the worst of times. Read more of this post

Will the government fund my research?

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 10 August 2017 and is reproduced with permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


A government cheque issued by the Chinese Emperor to fund his war against the Taiping Rebellion.

Providing funds for suppressing the Heavenly Kingdom, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Sometimes, researchers are worried that their grant application will not be successful because it does not align with a particular ideology or a policy direction of the government of the day.

My researchers, perhaps more than most, have a right to be worried about government interference in research granting processes. Before the last election, the Opposition promised not to fund any more ‘frivolous’ research. One of my researchers was in the cross-hairs, with her project listed as something that they believed should ‘never have been funded’. Then they won the election – it’s enough to make a body nervous, dontcha know.

So, it comes as no surprise when artists, environmentalists, indigenous researchers, people working with refugees, with minority groups, with renewable energy or anyone examining government policy asks ‘Will the government fund my work?’

tl;dr – they will.

Read more of this post

Postdoc pathfinding (Part 2)

Dr Beth Linas is the Manger of Research and Science at Vibrent Health, a health technology company whose goal is to use data-driven and evidence-based solutions for preventing, monitoring, diagnosing and treating diseases.

Prior to this role, she served as a fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) with the Smart and Connected Health Program, and the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research effort at the National Science Foundation.

Beth completed her postdoc fellowship in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where she also completed her PhD (2014) and Masters of Health Science (MHS, 2010). Her research and policy interests include the application of computer science to advance health as well as understanding how to develop and scale evidence-based digital and mobile health platforms to improve health outcomes.

Beth is passionate about and works to promote scientists who communicate science. She tweets from @bethlinas.


The Research Whisperer was approached by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to feature a couple of their great fellowship stories. We were happy to showcase the fantastic opportunities available to scientists through their programs. If you’re interested in applying for the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowshipapplications are due November 1! Please note: you must hold US citizenship, or dual citizenship from US and another country.

If you know of non-US programs that do similar things, please comment with links so that your colleagues can be aware of them and follow them up!


[Part 1 of Beth’s story appeared last week]

Photo by Mike Enerio | unsplash.com

Photo by Mike Enerio | unsplash.com

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowship (STPF) application process is in-depth, challenging and long.

I submitted my initial application 1 November, 2014, and it wasn’t until July 1, 2015 that I knew where I was going to be placed. The placement process is much like a medical residency match. The office must choose you, and you must indicate that you are interested in serving in that office (after an extensive week of interviews in Washington, DC).

I was most interested in working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It was the agency I was most familiar with, given my training. I was taught very specifically the process and methods for crafting a grant to match NIH guidelines and regulations, I had been on the campus, I knew people working at the NIH, and I knew those who worked there were trained in public health.

But, to my surprise, I interviewed in the Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering at the National Science Foundation with a program entitled Smart and Connected Health. Read more of this post

Postdoc pathfinding (Part 1)

Dr Beth Linas is the Manger of Research and Science at Vibrent Health, a health technology company whose goal is to use data-driven and evidence-based solutions for preventing, monitoring, diagnosing and treating diseases.

Prior to this role, she served as a Science & Technology Policy Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) with the Smart and Connected Health Program, and the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research effort at the National Science Foundation.

Beth completed her postdoc fellowship in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where she also completed her PhD (2014) and Masters of Health Science (MHS, 2010). Her research and policy interests include the application of computer science to advance health as well as understanding how to develop and scale evidence-based digital and mobile health platforms to improve health outcomes.

Beth is passionate about and works to promote scientists who communicate science. She tweets from @bethlinas.


The Research Whisperer was approached by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to feature a couple of their great fellowship stories. We were happy to showcase the fantastic opportunities available to scientists through their programs. If you’re interested in applying for the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowshipapplications are due November 1! Please note: you must hold US citizenship, or dual citizenship from US and another country.

If you know of non-US schemes that do similar things, please comment with links so that your colleagues can be aware of them and follow them up! 


Photo by Mike Enerio | unsplash.com

Photo by Mike Enerio | unsplash.com

I am a trained infectious disease epidemiologist. I attended graduate school to gain a specialised understanding of the theory and scientific method of this cornerstone of public health, whose goal is to analyse patterns, causes and effects of human health and disease conditions in population; to understand epidemics.

PhDs are trained to be professional thinkers. We are expected to think big, study difficult, extensive and puzzling scientific questions that require tenacity, patience and extreme focus. Traditionally, to do this, many trained epidemiologists remain in the halls of academic institutions funded customarily by federal grant dollars.

As a graduate student, I trained under individuals who did just that. In fact, my mentor was an MD, PhD; he had completed both medical and graduate school, and the subsequent training required to be a licensed physician researcher. Today, he remains faculty at the institution that granted him his PhD, first as junior faculty and now as a full professor. Academia is what he lives and breathes (although, he does see patients in a clinic). This is not a knock on my mentor. I received excellent training in epidemiologic methods, social and behavioral determinants of infectious diseases, as well as critical thinking, manuscript writing, grant development and more. I was fortunate to have such a focused and present mentor.

However, I was never interested in remaining in academia. Read more of this post

Write that thing

Rosemary Chang is an academic developer.

In her role at RMIT University, she partners with university staff on scholarship of learning and teaching (SoTL) initiatives and developing teaching award applications.

Her PhD research explores experiences of strong emotions in connection to writing through the lens of mindfulness. Her project involves teaching mindfulness meditation to creative writers, and developing a novel.

Her interests include Zen arts practice, contemplative education, and mindfulness in the curriculum. She tweets about writing, mindfulness and life @RoseyChang.


Photo by Narelle Lemon

Photo by Narelle Lemon

You’ve got that thing to write. It’s tugging on your sleeve like a puppy.

“Write me,” it says, blinking its huge eyes.

You swat it away, because you’ve got Stuff To Do: marking, meetings, an avalanche of emails.

All that sits on top of teaching/ running the lab/ giving feedback on thesis chapters.

Then there’s daily life: cooking dinner, renewing your insurance, ringing your mum. There’s so much stuff.

But you want to write.

You’re thirsty for clear space. You yearn for the quiet periods that allow you to follow your thoughts, connect with others and extend the conversation. This is why you got into the academic game. It’s about the questions and ideas, the possibilities and solutions. It’s about a particular kind of creative thinking.

Writing can be hard going but it’s also intensely satisfying. So, while you’re wading through emails or washing clothes, that thought’s nagging: gotta write that thing. Read more of this post

Vice-chancellors redeemed?

Dr Muriel E Swijghuisen Reigersberg is a researcher development manager (strategy) at The University of Sydney, Australia, and previously worked at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK.  At Sydney, she oversees the development of a University-wide researcher development training program in collaboration with researchers, faculty staff and professional service units.

In her spare time, Muriel maintains an academic profile in applied and medical ethnomusicology, regularly presenting at academic conferences, penning academic texts, peer reviewing and blogging. She has also offered consultancy support to specialist research institutes in arts and humanities in Slovenia and Japan. Muriel is a keen supporter of the responsible sharing of academic knowledge.

 She is on Twitter as @murielSR.


Arc (Photo by Andreas Levers - flicker.com) Shared via CC 2.0

Arc (Photo by Andreas Levers – flicker.com) Shared via CC 2.0

This article is a response to Tseen Khoo’s great post Nowhere to hide (29th August) where she wonders whether vice-chancellors are capable of understanding the current struggles and working conditions early career researchers face in today’s modern university.

I’ll unpack some of the issues Tseen raises, using my third-space hat: the research manager/ researcher hat.

First, I should say that perhaps I am lucky. Not all vice-chancellors are the same and my encounters with senior staff, including the odd vice-chancellor every now and again, have been strikingly positive. I say ‘strikingly’ because when I was a junior administrator and early career researcher, I never had access to the upper echelons of the university.

Now that I do more regularly, and have had some conversations with senior colleagues, I have come to understand that issues such as fixed-term contractual arrangements; metrics; the ‘enforced’ mobility questions and definitions of what an early career researcher is (in terms of age, etc.) are rather more complex than I’d first imagined.

So this article is as much about my personal learning as it is about the lamentable state of affairs. Read more of this post