When research collaborations go bad

Stuff happens | Photo by Kim Tairi Released under CC licencse: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0

Stuff happens | Photo by Kim Tairi
Released under CC licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0

One of the toughest things to do gracefully in an academic relationship is to end it, or even question it.

Sometimes, even though you try, there isn’t a ‘good’ way to do it. Perhaps that’s why issues around collaborations – particularly what to do with bad ones – persist so strongly.

A lot of angst can be saved by early discussion about expectations from all team members – who’s doing what, when, and how. As mentioned in this co-authoring post, the division of labour doesn’t have to be equal, it just has to be clear.

On an academic risk management note, make sure you can tick these boxes before embarking on a collaborative project:

  • I’ve had at least one research conversation with the collaborator(s) I will be working with.
  • We’ve talked about division of labour and timelines for the project.
  • I feel comfortable facing my collaborator(s) first thing in the morning to talk about project and publication work. [This is a golden rule with me – ymmv]
  • I’m confident that my collaborator(s) bring relevant and appropriate levels of intellectual value to the project.
  • My collaborators communicate with me in a timely and constructive manner.

If you can tick off that checklist, it should mean few misunderstandings and disappointments. Read more of this post

Free the academic conference

Craig Lundy photoCraig Lundy is a Senior Lecturer in Social Theory at Nottingham Trent University.

After finishing his PhD in Philosophy at the University of New South Wales, Craig held a series of teaching and research positions in the UK and Australia, moving between the fields of Sociology, Cultural Studies and Politics. Most of Craig’s research has focused on exploring the nature of change, and in particular the usefulness of Gilles Deleuze and related thinkers for understanding processes of transformation.

In 2011-12, Craig teamed up with like-minded colleagues in London to create an annual conference with inclusivity at its heart – the London Conference in Critical Thought (LCCT).

This post speaks to one of the issues that prompted the creation of the LCCT: large and unfair conference registration fees.


2016 London Conference in Critical Thought program | Photo sourced from Twitter's @A2K4D

2016 London Conference in Critical Thought program | Photo sourced from Twitter’s @A2K4D

We have a problem with academic conference registration fees.

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for a multi-day conference to attract a registration fee in the region of AUD$600 (USD$450, €400, £330). I have seen fees that are even larger, but it is the size of the ‘average’ or ‘competitively priced’ conferences that are perhaps greater cause for alarm.

There are of course exceptions to the rule, but need I say that the exceptions prove the rule, and only highlight our problem. Such sums may not be a big deal to some sections of academia, but they make conference participation prohibitive to many. Bearing this in mind, it becomes apparent what our problem really is: not nearly enough academics on ‘hard’ employment contracts see a problem with the status quo, and even fewer are willing to speak about the problem, let alone do something about it.

The status quo is morally compromised

Conference organisers do their best to put on events that serve the needs of their constituencies, and they generously sacrifice their time and labour for the good of the academic community. It’s important that we acknowledge and applaud their efforts.

Nevertheless, it must be said that the status quo regarding conference registration fees is to a large extent morally compromised. There are a lot of things that could be said here to illustrate the point, but I’ll limit myself to one: while ‘standard’ participants pay a registration fee, it is commonplace for keynote speakers to have their expenses subsidised or paid entirely by the conference organisers, these costs being covered (at least in part) by the collection of conference registration fees.

So, when participants such as students or unemployed/underemployed postdocs pay and ‘star’ keynotes don’t, we have a situation where the least wealthy participants are paying the way for the most wealthy. And I have yet to come across a convincing justification for this situation. Read more of this post

Do it because you can

In-between landscape (scale of 1:1): mangroves near Wynnum, looking towards Stradbroke. Megan McPherson, work in progress: Relief printed etching, rice paper, hand coloured with pigment ink, archival glues. Approximately 280 x 500 x 20 cms (hxwxd) (Undulating surface)

In-between landscape (scale of 1:1): mangroves near Wynnum, looking towards Stradbroke. Megan McPherson, work in progress: Relief printed etching, rice paper, hand coloured with pigment ink, archival glues. Approximately 280 x 500 x 20 cms (hxwxd) (Undulating surface)

I tried to let this particular white-hot rage die down. But it won’t.

So, hopefully, here’s a constructive post built from the foundations of my infuriation.

I heard a researcher talking about how they balanced their academic work life a while ago, and it made me very angry.

Basically, they said that anything that wasn’t clearly noted as part of their workload, they wouldn’t bother doing.

The implication being that anyone who did ‘extra’ or ‘unnecessary’ things were total mugs because those things weren’t getting them ahead in their careers – therefore, not worth doing. They considered the idea of communicating research (and social media as a whole) as a fad in which only the gullible would indulge their time.

They also seemed smug, and it’s always hard for me to like those who seem smug.

I agree that people shouldn’t fall on their swords and slog away at little recognised, exploitative roles or over-the-workload-limit tasks and responsibilities. I’m not saying that academics must carry the weight of all that needs to be done, because we know that it’s always already too much.

What made me so angry was that this researcher wasn’t talking about solidarity with colleagues in the face of workload adversity. They were totally focused on what would be worthwhile doing for their own career and promotion prospects; everything else was secondary, if not worthless. Read more of this post

What does it take to move from precarity to security?

dani-barrington

Dr Dani Barrington is a Research Fellow jointly appointed by Monash University and the International WaterCentre, and an Honorary Fellow at The University of Queensland.

Her work focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) in developing communities, meaning she is often referred to as ‘The Toilet Lady’ by strangers and ‘Sani Dani’ by at least one of her friends.

She tweets at @Dani_Barrington.


Photo by Oanh Tran

Photo by Oanh Tran

A lot of my friends and family are appalled that my contract ends in a few weeks and won’t be renewed.

But it makes complete sense to me. The university never had money to pay me in the first place.

For the past three years, I have been a research-only academic. This means that my salary has been funded from a government grant that my team and I won almost four years ago.

We have been working with informal settlements and enabling actors in the South Pacific to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene according to the priorities of communities themselves. It has seen me spend a large proportion of my time overseas conducting fieldwork.

But when that grant runs out, so does my current job. Read more of this post

Write Up (#MelbWriteUp)

JMurphy-smallestJason Murphy is Senior Research Communications Advisor at the Graduate Research School (GRS), La Trobe University. He created and manages Melbourne’s Write Up (#melbwriteup).

Jason works full-time and is undertaking his PhD part-time, which he’s written on before. He’s working on a research project that critically examines the role of marketing in contemporary society.

He’s previously worked in industry as a graphic designer and in the arts sector with the National Gallery of Victoria and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.

He tweets from @murphy_jason.


#MelbWriteUp in full swing (during a break). Photo by Jason Murphy.

#MelbWriteUp in full swing (during a break). Photo by Jason Murphy.

What happens when researchers with varying levels of experience and from different institutions come together in an intensive, all-day writing workshop?

#melbwriteup happens!

It’s a once a month, day-long meet-up that helps researchers focus on their work, block out all distractions (while still getting to be social), and collectively reach their individual research goals.

The first #melbwriteup in December 2015 was a bit of an experiment, formed out of a conversation a month beforehand between myself (a PhD candidate) and the Research Whisperers (Tseen Khoo and Jonathan O’Donnell).

I had just attended the inaugural 3-day RED writing retreat at La Trobe University, and I wanted to keep that productivity fire burning. Read more of this post

What makes a good colleague?

Photo by Tseen Khoo

Photo by Tseen Khoo

Many people lament the growing scarcity of collegiality in our working lives. Many declare, in varying shades of purple prose, that it has been sacrificed on the altar of economic rationalism and for the missions of our managerial universities.

Research stars and groups get imported into institutions, often breeding resentment and discomfort from those who are already there.

Scholars who are already excelling gain more for their work; those who aren’t considered as such do not, and often find themselves without support to increase their research capacity.

Despite the rhetoric about collaboration and partnerships, the imperatives for outputs lead many to declare that collegiality and scholarly citizenship are under threat. This seems particularly true when people minimise any commitments that don’t directly produce outputs.

The oil that smooths the machine of scholarship is not only what people write, analyse, and publish. It’s not only presenting at conferences or supervising a higher degree student. Most of all, it’s not what promotions people have had or grants they’ve won.

There is a whole raft of intangible, essential, labour-intensive work that goes into a healthy research ecosystem. In an almost-metrics way, this work includes being a good critical friend to colleagues and students, especially those who aren’t directly in your area; reviewing for grants, book manuscripts, and papers; convening events that set the stage for a field or cohort to develop and progress; mentoring someone without having to… the list goes on.

At a totally non-metrics level, this kind of work encompasses supporting each other and providing encouragement, the social work of building connections between groups and individuals, being good communicators, and that most difficult element of bringing people together because they want to be together. This is the invisible (often feminised) labour of any workplace.

Giedre Kligyte and Simon Barrie argue that academics cling to an “unattainable collegial ideal situated in binary opposition to management” that “ultimately disguises the contingent character of this relationship and prevents both leaders and academics from imagining alternatives” (2014, p. 166). Kligyte and Barrie’s article (PDF available on UNSW repository – thanks, @giedre!) is thought-provoking, and forced Lacan upon me. I forgave them this because the paper made me think about the persistence of positing a halcyon past against which our increasingly soulless present is juxtaposed. This happens a lot in criticisms of neoliberal universities, and I’ve done my share of ranting about the invocation of a mythical golden age at universities. But that is indeed a whole other post.

Here’s what I wanted to focus on for this one: Let’s talk about what makes a good colleague. Not a utopian colleague. A good everyday colleague.  Read more of this post

Why the hell am I doing a PhD?

16693191307_ce583223d5_n

No entry, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Did I mention that I’ve enrolled in a Masters by Research, looking at crowdfunding? No? It must’ve slipped my mind.

Actually, I’m a bit shy about talking about it. I don’t want to jinx it.

I want to upgrade to a PhD, if all goes well. But I’m scared it won’t go well. All my hopes and fears sit within it. I want it to go well, and I believe that I can do it, but I’m still scared.

I’m scared for a lot of reasons. I watched my partner take five years to do her PhD. Five years! She spent a whole year on one chapter. It almost broke her. A lot of my friends have done PhDs and only one of them had a good time. Everybody else hated it, and some of them never finished. So, I swore that I’d never do one.

From past experience, I know that I am, at best, an average student. I love the idea of studying; I just don’t like doing the work. It took me five years to struggle through my undergraduate degree. Too much time playing, not enough time studying! Having no clue why I was there didn’t help either!

My previous efforts to get a PhD didn’t get past the ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I had a PhD?’ burst of enthusiasm.

Oh yes, I’ve been down this road before. More than once, actually. I work in a university. I work with researchers every single day. There seemed to be a million reasons why I should do a PhD.

Nowadays, not so much. There seem to be a million reasons not to do a PhD. Read more of this post

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