Family and fieldwork: on longing and commitment in knowledge production

May Ngo is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.

Her research focuses on the nexus between religion and development, in particular on the case study of Catholic nuns and their work of accompaniment and solidarity with factory workers in Cambodia in the garment export industry. She is interested in examining transnational religious actors whose activities particularly addresses the question of how we respond to the ‘other’ who is a stranger, particularly within the context of global inequalities.

Her other research interests include theology, migration, diaspora and literature. She is also developing her father’s memoirs of his time with the Vietnamese communist army as a novel.

May has a blog at The Violent Bear it Away, and tweets at @mayngo2.

This article was first published in ARI News on March 2017 and is reproduced with kind permission.


Photo by May Ngo

Photo by May Ngo

They were waiting for me at Phnom Penh airport with a handwritten sign with my name on it.

We had never met before as adults, but one of my cousins said he recognised me straight away from the photo my Dad had sent him. My aunt said I looked exactly like my mother.

I stayed with this aunt and her two sons for a month in Cambodia, in a tiny apartment above their mobile phone repair shop on a bustling boulevard in the capital Phnom Penh. Having only two rooms, they vacated the larger room above the shop for me while the three of them slept in the smaller room downstairs.

I had come to Cambodia to do a fieldwork phase at the start of a new research project.

Born in Cambodia but having grown up in Australia, my time there raised the question for me about what it means not only to return to the “motherland” to do research, but to do it with family. Not research specifically on my family, but with them in the sense of their presence being part of the quotidian landscape of my fieldwork, and consequently providing a personal entry into the everyday spaces and rhythms of life in Phnom Penh. Read more of this post

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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

This wasn’t always me

Photo by Tseen Khoo

Photo by Tseen Khoo

There’s a post I tend to share when major grant round results are announced.

It’s ‘Picking up the pieces‘. In it, I emphasise that “I can say that I truly understand how you feel. I threw my hat in the major grants and fellowship rings many times; very few times was I successful.”

I always thought those sentences failed to convey the howling disappointment, derailment of career, and emptying out of all confidence that these results can bring.

It is hard, after all, to capture the sound of your professional self decomposing in half a second after realising you’re not a named awardee.

This post, below, was originally published on my personal blog at the end of 2010, seven years ago. It felt like my lowest point, career-wise. I was not in a good place.

I wanted to re-publish it to the Research Whisperer audience as a collegial artefact, to share my thinking about academic identity and scholarly life at a very raw time. Read more of this post

Is the academic lone wolf extinct?

Photo by Krishh | unsplash.com

Photo by Krishh | unsplash.com

Academic lone wolves get a bad rap.

In today’s hyper-collaborative academic world, the idea that researchers might work on something alone, get funding alone, and publish alone, is weird and even abhorrent to many.

Yet, it is the reality for many humanities and social sciences academics, from postgraduates to senior scholars. They have projects where they publish and work on projects alone, as well as collaborative and joint initiatives that involve others in their own discipline and beyond.

It’s not a case of either/or, but the general vibe in many academic ‘advice’ streams is that scholars should not work alone.

Scholars can and do work alone, and they can be excellent colleagues, productive academics, and generous mentors. Sure, there are some researchers who work alone because they don’t play well with others, but many work alone because it is an expectation of their disciplines. Some work alone because they enjoy working alone, but it doesn’t mean they can’t work with others.

Not only is sole-authorship relatively common practice, it is in fact a sought-after signal that the researcher has the ability to create and complete major intellectual work. The opaqueness of who did what can be the source of much contention on work that involves more than one named investigator or author. Humanities scholars are not as often embroiled in these debates because they practice a discipline “where text and author are tightly coupled; where the process of inscription implies intimacy with one’s materials” (Cronin 2003 [196 Kb PDF]).  Read more of this post

Choosing balance

Wayne Chan is a Physiotherapist at Chi Lin Nunnery Elderly Services and a Visiting Lecturer at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

He was formerly a full-time lecturer, and taught a number of subjects ranging from paediatrics to geriatrics. He is interested in geriatric rehabilitation, dementia, and active ageing.

He tweets at @WaynelsChan.


Photo by Eaters Collective | unsplash.com

Photo by Eaters Collective | unsplash.com

When I graduated from university, I never thought I would study for a PhD.

I’m a physiotherapist and love taking care of people with needs.

I hate being stuck behind a desk doing lots of writing and data processing on computers.

Due to the economic recession, however, there was almost no jobs available for physiotherapists.

Around this time, I joined the geriatrics program at The Chinese University of Hong Kong as a research assistant. With a passion for clinical research and having built a reputation for being reliable, I was given the chance to study for a doctorate.

The reasons I decided to do a PhD were two-fold: to give myself more options, and bargaining power, to choose what I would like to do at work, and to be less affected by the changes in overall economics. I had never previously thought about being an academic. Read more of this post

Coming back from maternity leave

claudia-szabo-profile-pic-200px-tallClaudia Szabo is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Computer Science and an Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at the Faculty of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences at The University of Adelaide.

She is passionate about her teaching, research, and Associate Dean role, loves reading and recently loves spending time with her son.

She used to be a long distance runner and a mountaineer, and she’s slowly getting back into these as well.

Very slooowly.

Claudia tweets from @ClaudSzabo.


Photo by Artem Sapegin | unsplash.com

Photo by Artem Sapegin | unsplash.com

It’s been a year since my absolutely wonderful and jaw-droppingly cute baby boy was born, so I thought I’d try to put down in an almost coherent manner some thoughts about what the past year has meant to me in terms of coming back to work and sorting things out!

First, a bit of background about my institutional role and personal context:

At my university, paid maternity leave is 6 months and, if your partner works at the university as well, you can share the maternity leave, provided that the first 14 weeks are taken by the mother.

We shared the leave because it was important for us that my husband bond with Guac (short for Guacamole – not his real name…), so I went back to work when he was three months old. We had an assortment of grandmothers come and stay and take care of Guac once my husband came back to work as well, and Guac will be going into childcare soon.

I realise how incredibly fortunate and blessed I am: I have a continuing position and a job that I’m passionate about. This includes all of its aspects, even the administration (I’m an associate dean for diversity and inclusion for the faculty, so working in a field that I care deeply about – this will be important). My main problems when coming back, then, were in adjusting to academic life while being the parent of a very young child who doesn’t sleep (in the year I have known him, Guac has only once slept for more than one hour straight during the night).  Read more of this post

A confession about working weekends

I came back to academia after being in a professional role for over three years with a promise to myself: I will not work across weekends.

As I mentioned in a recent post, some people derided my promise. Many more laughed in disbelief, or were encouraging in their words but exuded an air of ‘that promise is doomed, doomed!’. Having been in a professional job where I found it extremely easy to maintain the boundaries between work and non-work time, I was very used to having weekends in my life. I assumed that transitioning (again) into an academic role while keeping weekends free would be relatively easy. It was the status quo for me at the time, after all.

Two and a half years after returning to academia, then, how is my promise of ‘not working on weekends’ going for me?

Terribly, I have to say.

And I acknowledge this with some shame.

I know a lot about academic overworkpeer pressure dictating how many hours we spend at our jobs (sometimes pushing scholars to quit careers), and the dominance of ‘administrivia’ in our working lives.

I’ve read heaps on work/life balance in academia (from many sources including Tenure, She Wrote, Raul Pacheco-Vega, and various scholarly studies [like this one by Osbaldiston and Cannizzo]), and how overwork is not necessary for success. I constantly advocate for self-care and regeneration time for researchers. I loved Dani Barrington’s post in RW and cheered her declaration that “although research will never ‘just’ be a job, it is, in fact, a job” (Escaping the ivory tower).

And yet…I have a confession to make. Read more of this post