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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That new habit

The chasm of intercultural communications research? [Photo by Jeff Sheldon | unsplash.com]

The chasm of intercultural communications research? [Photo by Jeff Sheldon | unsplash.com]

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to establish a new habit.

I wish I could tell you it was an exciting one, perhaps involving stacks of innovative, disruptive-thinking body-painting.

But it’s not.

It’s a habit for researchers that’s bog-standard and necessary. It’s something I need to stop thinking of as a chore.

I’m trying to read. 

I need to stop being scared of my burgeoning collection of articles that stare at me, unblinking, from Mendeley. At least they don’t teeter and threaten to avalanche anymore (as the hardcopies used to), but I’m certainly guilty of what Pat Thomson calls ‘PDF alibi syndrome‘: “Merely having and storing them is enough. I own, therefore I have read.”

There’s so much out there in blog and #acwri (academic writing) world about getting the words down; ‘write early, write often'; and getting ideas out of your head and onto the page. They make me feel inadequate – as so many things do, let’s be honest – and I feel paralysed about doing any writing at all, preliminary or not.

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3 ways to fix those meetings

[Image origin unknown]

[Image origin unknown]

Every academic I know loathes meetings. Loathes them.

They view meetings as obstacles to (rather than elements of) work, wasted time, forced upon them, and – even worse – as forums for awful colleagues to showcase their awfulness.

Having attended many meetings in my academic and other professional lives, I can’t rally much of a defence for meetings. They are the bane of many working lives, academic or not.

Now, I’m not talking in this post about getting together with collaborators, new colleagues, or catching up with buddies under the guise of ‘meetings’. These could turn out badly, but they’re more likely to be energising and fun events. And they’re often by choice.

However, no-one’s ever said that of the majority of work meetings, particularly those regular committee and staff ones.

Some of the meetings I’ve enjoyed the most are the ones I don’t attend. They’re the ones being livetweeted (or subtweeted) by my buddies on Twitter (often behind locked accounts because, you know, #clm).

But, despite initial appearances, this post isn’t just another long whinge about meetings!

This post is about how to try to fix the main things that are wrong with meetings. I want to help you help others make meetings useful. Oh yeah, I said it: useful. As a baseline, you should be observing meeting etiquette no matter how cheesed off you are that you have to attend.

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Why bother creating postgrad groups?

Photo by James Petts | www.flickr.com/photos/14730981@N08

‘Barometer’ | Photo by James Petts | http://www.flickr.com/photos/14730981@N08

The question of how to build a research culture occupies a lot of big-brained types at universities, at all levels.

PhD researchers want to feel they’re a part of, and can contribute to, a good one. Professors like to think that they helped create and grow a thriving one.

University executives want an excellent one yesterday, preferably bristling with national government grants, effective and fat industry partnerships, top-flight publications, and seamless higher degree candidatures and completions. Sometimes, they want this almost instantly.

Research cultures are complex and often fragile systems, and when you look too hard for specific components to engineer one, the whole thing can evaporate.

Can you force staff to be productive without having a good research culture? I think you can – but you won’t have productive or happy researchers for very long, in that case. Nor would you have particularly good research.

For me, one of the best barometers of the health of an institutional research culture is the presence and activity of graduate researcher groups and associations.

Why?

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Hello, social media pushback!

There was a time when I used to leave people alone about their social media engagement.

Whether they wanted to get involved or not, that was their business. Who was I to say otherwise?

Oh, how things have changed.

In my current role as a researcher development academic, I’ve become That Person.

I’m the one who goes: “So, do you have a Twitter account? Have you set up your Google Scholar profile? Have you put your work in the university repository? Really? It’s easy to get started, and can be so much fun, and these are the professional benefits… [5 mins of waxing lyrical]… would you like me to help you get started?”

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Research Academics in Australian Universities

Theses in a dumpster

All that work!, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Kaye Broadbent has published widely in the areas of gender and insecure work, women, work, and unions in Japan and in a comparative context. Her current research interests focus on the gender and employment insecurity of research staff in Australian and British universities, and labour resistance in Japan during the war.

Glenda Strachan has developed a body of research on contemporary and historical workplace change, especially issues that relate to equity and diversity and women’s working experiences.

Carolyn Troup specialises in evaluation and workplace change implementation. She has worked on a broad range of organisation health and applied health research studies in the public sector, not-for-profit and higher education sector in Australia and New Zealand. She is on Twitter at @CalTroup.

This data appears in more detail in Broadbent, Kaye, Carolyn Troup, and Glenda Strachan. 2013. “Research Staff in Australian Universities: Is There a Career Path?Labour & Industry: A Journal of the Social and Economic Relations of Work 23 (3): 276–95. doi:10.1080/10301763.2013.839082.


This research is drawn from Work and Careers in Australian Universities (WCAU), a survey of academics and allied staff in 19 Australian universities. We received nearly 22,000 responses. The survey was part of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant (LP0991191), based at Griffith University and partnered by Universities Australia Executive Women, the National Tertiary Education Union, and Unisuper.

The project examined gender and employment equity in Australian universities. The survey didn’t specifically focus on research academics but many of the questions can be used to provide a glimpse into the broad context of research academic life.

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