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

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Nowhere to hide

Shots fired! Photo by Sebastian Kanczok | unsplash.com

Shots fired! Photo by Sebastian Kanczok | unsplash.com

Can vice-chancellors ever really know what it’s like for emerging researchers and precariat postdocs?

I was reading two vice-chancellors discuss how to take pressure off young academics the other week and it made me increasingly ragey.

Set-ups like this are doomed in many ways because you’re asking people with incredible privilege and a fair whack of authority and power to empathise with emerging scholars who have little to none of those elements.

I’ve let this #headasplodey-ness simmer for a couple of weeks because it’s all too easy for outrage to rule, and I had to admit that my initial outrage was nothing new. People have been outraged for ages about the fact that privileged, executive managerial sorts have the nerve to comment – often gauchely – on what the situation is like for those most vulnerable in their organisations.

The inclusion of the mini-interview at the end, which included the vice-chancellors sharing with us where they were holidaying was just a smidge off-colour, I thought, given the preceding verbiage about difficulty of securing positions, restrictions on resources and subsequent appointments, etc.

So, I sat on my hands for a bit.

After mulling over my outrage about the interview article, these were the particular issues that stayed with me: 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

Bullying in academia

Anuja, smiling.Dr Anuja Cabraal (@AnujaCabraal) has been working in academia for over ten years.

Over this time, she has worked on a lot of different topics, including learning and teaching, microfinance, social and financial inclusion, banking and migration. However, her real passion lies in qualitative research methods and methodology.

Her previous article for the Research Whisperer was about how to make casual employment work for you.


A close colleague of mine has been subjected to workplace bullying. It happened soon after she completed her PhD, when we both started working as early career researchers. She was bullied by two male professors. She later confessed that she didn’t realise it was bullying until much later.

Sculpture of a small girl, curled up, with her face to the wall

Untitled (stool for guard) by Taiyo Kimura at MONA.

This is what happened. I have masked some of the information because she didn’t want to be identified.

Let’s call my friend Jade. Jade worked in an open plan area, just outside the offices of two professors. At times, they would meet in their offices. At least twice a day, they would stand outside their office to talk and brainstorm ideas.

One day, Jade politely asked them if they would mind talking softly, move into their office, or go to one of the many meeting rooms, as she was trying to concentrate. In total, she asked them twice to do this. They then complained to the head of department about her behaviour. The head of department took their side, without even talking to Jade. He told Jade’s boss that he would not tolerate a researcher being rude to professors. (Let’s just leave aside the point that she had brought in a lot more research funding than either of them.)

Neither of the professors or the head of department ever mentioned the complaint to Jade, or even told her about the incident. Jade’s boss was the one to tell her about it.

Read more of this post

Seven issues in community-based research practice – Part 2

Daniel Reeders writes social marketing and public health strategy for a living.  He writes a blog, Bad Blood, about stigma and public health, and tweets as @onekind, for fun.

He has a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws (Melbourne) and is currently enrolled in a Masters in Public Health at a university he prefers not to name in case he decides to write about it.


Safety first (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Safety first (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

As mentioned in Part 1, these posts are a personal account based on things that went awry in my experience of community-based research. I have listed a couple of dot points on practical steps readers might consider to manage the risks I encountered, in case you are contemplating or currently working in a community-based research role.

I’m also keen to hear other experiences and perspectives of this form of research practice, either in the comments or by e-mail. A quick note: I never write or blog about my current place of work, and I’d encourage commenters to de-identify your own places of work.

Points 1-3 cover supervision, ethics and discipline, and they appear in Part 1.

4. Ownership

This is an extremely vexed issue in community-based research practice. In a community organisation the board will have a policy on who can speak on the organisation’s behalf. This is typically restricted to senior management.

Senior managers in some organisations misuse these policies, and require their staff to publish articles and submit conference abstracts in the senior managers’ names.

In this situation, working in that role will damage your career by creating a publication gap, and it will doubtless corrode your motivation as well.

  • Prevent: negotiate before starting – Who owns the work and end products? Who can put their name to it? What happens when you leave? Can you publish from it?

READ MORE

Seven issues in community-based research practice – Part 1

Daniel Reeders writes social marketing and public health strategy for a living.  He writes a blog, Bad Blood, about stigma and public health, and tweets as @onekind, for fun.

He has a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws (Melbourne) and is currently enrolled in a Masters in Public Health at a university he prefers not to name in case he decides to write about it.


Safety first (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Safety first (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

I got started in community-based research more or less by accident. I had always used interviews and focus groups as a social marketer in HIV prevention, but I could see neglected issues in my field of practice that seemed to warrant in-depth investigation.

They involved personally catastrophic but fairly uncommon events in small groups, such as HIV infection among gay and bisexual men from migrant and refugee backgrounds.

Survey and statistical methods can’t get much purchase on rare events in small groups of vulnerable people, but funders and service providers were nonetheless waiting for what they considered ‘real’ research to quantify the issue before taking action.

I wanted to break this impasse, even if it meant producing research that doesn’t count as ‘evidence’. Something is better than nothing, right?*

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Get me a project manager, stat!

Underside of a Roman arch, showing the keystone in the centre

Keystone (Photo by Jonathan O’Donnell)

A while back, one of our Twitter followers asked whether The Research Whisperer had any posts about project management.

At the time, I could only think of @jod999’s megastar post about what a Gantt chart is, and mine on whether you can fix a broken Gantt chart.

While Jonathan’s post was about planning and putting in place a feasible and ideal timeline, mine talked about the common mistakes and remedies for timelines that don’t behave.

Research projects are very much about project management, and that tweet nudged me in the direction of this post.

Project management skills are elements that many sectors require, and this means that there is a weighty bunch of pixels already dedicated to the topic. For a great recent post on research project management, read @evalantsoght’s “Smart way to manage a large research project” at the Next Scientist blog.

Rather than rehearse what many others have already said (better than I could), I want to focus on someone  you should consider requesting as part of a major research grant:

Get yourself a project officer or a project manager. 

READ MORE