Managing an Early Career Researcher blog

Research Whisperer Tseen Khoo has been a big fan of the Australian Historical Association’s Early Career Researcher blog since it started in October 2016. She jumped at a recent opportunity to invite the blog editors, Carolyn Holbrook and Margaret Hutchison, to write for Research Whisperer about why they do it and how. In a contemporary context where many Early Career Researchers are encouraged to only do things that benefit themselves, we love boosting those who are generous sharers and stage-setters for their peers. The Australian Historical Association’s Early Career Researcher blog, and how its content gets shared, demonstrates the kind of community-building that can happen within disciplines and with the support of an established academic society. More power to these kinds of initiatives! 

Dr Carolyn Holbrook is an Alfred Deakin Research Fellow at Deakin University. She is writing a history of Australians’ attitudes towards their federal system of government, and co-authoring with Professor James Walter a history of policy-making in Australia. Carolyn is the author of the award-winning book, Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography, about the history of how Australians have remembered the First World War. She tweets from @sigmundmarx.

 

Dr Margaret Hutchison is a Lecturer in History in the National School of Arts at the Australian Catholic University. Her research interests include the First World War, war art, memory studies and cultural history.

She tweets from @meggiehutchison.


How did the Australian Historical Association’s ECR Blog get started?

This is a question that requires an origin story — just what we history types love! It’s quite simple really. We started the blog as a way to spark discussion among Early Career Researchers in history, and to highlight the particular challenges we face.

Recording a radio play | Photo from the Spaarnestad Collection of the National Archives in The Hague | flickr.com

Recording a radio play | Photo from the Spaarnestad Collection of the National Archives in The Hague | flickr.com

When we considered the best means of promoting awareness of ECR issues, we came up with the idea of asking people to tell their personal stories.

We thought that these stories could serve several purposes: they could put a powerful, personal face on the challenges faced by ECRs (for example, long hours, low pay, precarity, relationship and mental health breakdowns); create a sense of community and solidarity among ECRs; provide ECRs with practical experience of writing succinctly about themselves and their research; and enhance the profile of emerging scholars among the wider community of historians.

Our blog has grown from that original idea. We now have a Q&A series with senior historians, a series in which historians describe a book, or article, or object, that has inspired their career, and a ‘How To’ series (featuring a very popular post by you, Tseen!), in which experts describe how to do such things as write a book proposal, do a radio interview or write a job application. Our most popular series is about Emerging Historians, featuring profiles of ECRs and their research. Read more of this post

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Giving a voice to early-career researchers

Here at the Research Whisperer, we’re fans of crowdfunding and Open Access. When we heard about Lateral’s campaign to crowdfund so that it could continue publication and pay its contributors, we invited them to tell us more. Thanks, Andrew and Tessa, for filling us in on your wonderful project. 

Andrew Katsis is a behavioural ecologist and third-year PhD candidate at Deakin University in Geelong, Australia. He has been Life Science editor for Lateral magazine since 2015.

Andrew tweets from @andrew_katsis.

Tessa Evans is a chemist who now works at the New Zealand Science Media Centre. She has been involved with Lateral magazine since 2015, and has been its editor-in-chief since 2017. Tessa tweets from @tessaeevans.

If you’d like to support emerging science writers and engaging science writing, you can still contribute to the Lateral campaign. If we all chipped in the money we’d spend on a couple of coffees, their target would be met! 


Cover of Lateral magazine for "Slow" (#12) - illustration by Olivia Baenziger

Cover of Lateral magazine for “Slow” (#12) – illustration by Olivia Baenziger

Scientific research is an important pursuit, but all your hard work may be for nothing if your results and insights don’t find their way beyond the lab bench to policymakers and the public. Because of this, researchers are increasingly encouraged to communicate their work to non-scientists, through media appearances, blogs, podcasts and other forms of public engagement.

At the same time, we have also seen the rise of professional science communicators—non-researchers who specialise in converting jargon into easily digestible language. But you can’t rely solely on science communicators to do your job for you; people also want to hear directly from the source.

How else will the public (or your family) know what you’ve been working so hard on, if you can’t explain it to them?

Learning how to communicate research doesn’t come easily to many people, and most graduates simply aren’t trained in how to talk to a general audience. In Australia, for example, there are only a handful of standalone courses in science communication, and just two degrees that specialise in this skill: the Master of Science Communication at the Australian National University, and the newly-minted course of the same name at the University of Western Australia, which starts this year.

Since there are so few opportunities within institutions, we wanted to help researchers develop these science communication skills.

In 2015, a small group of emerging researchers — mostly recent graduates from the University of Melbourne — came together to create Lateral, an online magazine written and edited by early-career scientists.

Read more of this post

Get savvy about online impact

Dennis Relojo is the Founder of Psychreg and is the Editor-in-Chief of the new Psychreg Journal of Psychology.

He serves as an editorial board member for a number of peer-reviewed journals. Dennis holds a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Hertfordshire.

His research interests include educational psychology and special education.

You can connect with him through Twitter @DennisRelojo and his website.


Online media provides a host of possibilities for disseminating research. Including video clips in journal articles, for example, can really enhance traditional research outputs. Unfortunately, at the moment online media is often viewed as an accessory to research, rather than as an important element in a unified research lifecycle.

Photo by Markus Spiske | unsplash.com

Photo by Markus Spiske | unsplash.com

The way that people find and consume information is constantly changing: from traditional (i.e. watching television) through Web searching (think Google) to digital (mobile apps). These changes are having some big effects on research, as well as everywhere else.

Traditionally, researchers disseminated their work by attending conferences, publishing in journals (both academic and industry) and giving lectures (both to the public and to students). Online media now provides more channels and a bigger space to disseminate our work: through both general and academic social networking services, blogposts, podcasts and vlogs.

We have a wider reach for public engagement and greater control over our message. It also provides us with opportunities to do things differently.

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More Open Access – take the pledge

7i8skr7iEva Alisic is a senior research fellow at Monash University, Australia, where she leads the Trauma Recovery Lab. She is also a visiting scholar at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich, Switzerland.

She studies how children, young people, and families cope with traumatic experiences, and how professionals can support them.

A generous and engaging colleague, and a scholar with great initiative, Eva has just finished a stint as co-chair of the Global Young Academy.

Eva writes on the Trauma Recovery blog and tweets via @EvaAlisic.


Two islands: The island of Doctor Moreau is closed and sad; while the island of Doctor More Open is welcoming and happy.

The Island of Doctor More Open, by Rob Jenkins.

“Come on in, the water’s fine!” tweeted Jonathan, one of the Research Whisperers.

I hope you’ll agree with him and join us for a More Open Access splash.

Why do we need more Open Access (OA)?

Many research articles are still not available

Despite substantial movement towards Open Science, we’re not there yet.

Many papers are still behind paywalls. And even those that are shared in repositories are often not indexed in Google Scholar, a frequent starting point for literature searches.

This is a serious problem for several reasons. I’ll focus on the practical ones. Most importantly, we expect practitioners in medicine, psychology, education and other fields to conduct ‘evidence-based practice’. How is that possible if they do not have access to that evidence base? The same is true for policy advisors – how can they base their policies on evidence, if they don’t have access to the evidence base?

Also, more and more citizen scientists are doing excellent, relevant projects. They could do even better if they had access to the literature. With much academic research being conducted with public funds, there is a moral imperative for those projects’ findings to be made publicly available.

Finally, a substantial number of researchers still can’t access all literature. This is a problem, especially in low-resource settings. There have been several great initiatives to improve access for researchers in low- and middle-income countries, from the Egyptian Knowledge Bank to Sci-Hub. These are partial solutions, and they are not known or accessible to all. There are grey areas when using ‘pirate’ sites such as Sci-Hub or #ICanHazPDF: access to research should be legal and free. Yet, arguably, these methods only exist because of a publishing system that is failing.

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Then and now

Photo by Jeff Sheldon | unsplash.com

Photo by Jeff Sheldon | unsplash.com

In the last five years or so, I’ve completely changed my attitude to communicating research.

Guess how much I used to do before?

None.

I published in journals and scholarly books. I presented at academic conferences and ran a research network. I dutifully applied for research funding. I thought of myself as a good, productive academic.

And that was it. I wasn’t really on Twitter and I blogged about our network activities – but only really for our members. I didn’t do community forums or write for other non-academic publication outlets.

Don’t believe me? Read on!

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Everybody wants to save the world

Darkseid vs. Thanos (86365) [Photo by JD Hancock | https://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock]

Darkseid vs. Thanos (86365) [Photo by JD Hancock | http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock%5D

Everyone loves declaring that their research will influence policy, and thereby be the catalyst for enduring, transformative, and positive change.

But is it all just wishful thinking? How much does research actually influence policy?

With the Australian Research Council touting a new Research Impact Principles and Framework, being able to demonstrate that your research has influenced policy or program implementation becomes even more valuable. In the UK, with its Research Excellence Framework (REF), ‘impact’ has already become quite the dirty word.

I’m writing about this now because, in the craziness of November last year, I attended a seminar hosted by La Trobe University’s Institute for Human Security and Social Change. The presentation was by Duncan Green, Senior Strategist for Oxfam, and it was advertised as a talk about “how change happens”.

Given grant application and national research council demands, this topic is hard to resist, right?

As flagged above, “influencing policy” is one of the things that many academics argue that their research outcomes will achieve, along with produce a generous number of publications, storm the frontiers of new knowledge, and bring forth a herd of rainbow unicorns.

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What’s on a good research project site?

Old Story (Photo by Place Light | www.flickr.com/photos/place_light)

Old Story (Photo by Place Light | http://www.flickr.com/photos/place_light)

It seems to be the done thing these days to have a webpage about your research project.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that it’s considered an increasingly essential part of research engagement and dissemination, and – really – it is so easy to set something up these days.

Right?

Well…yes and no. (Stay with me, I’m a humanities scholar and that’s how we answer everything)

I had a great chat recently with a researcher who was wanting to set up an online presence for his project. Part of the task of this presence was to recruit subjects for his PhD study.

It was a valuable conversation for him (or so he tells me…!) and also for me, because it clarified our perceptions of what was necessary, good, and ideal.

What I’m talking about in this post isn’t focused on what specific funding bodies may want, or elements that fulfil project final report obligations.

I’m looking at the website as something that showcases the research project and aims to engage the right groups. I’m taking the perspective of an interested member of the public, or a non-specialist academic colleague, more than peers who are in your exact area.

There are heaps of pieces out there about how to create an effective website, but I get derailed when they keep referring to customers and brands. Put your filters in place, though, and you can still glean a lot of good info from these articles. Pat Thomson has written about her experiences with blogging her research projects, and discusses the uneven results.

This post is my take on what the basics are for a good research project website. It presumes a small to non-existent budget, and no expert team of web-design or site-construction people at your disposal.

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