Great conference dinners – Part 1

glasses-1036424_640Those of you who know me, or have heard my rants from afar, will know that there are several things that send me into major hobby-horse mode.

One of them is open plan offices, another is conference dinners.

There may be some furrowed brows at this stage.

Conference dinners? Don’t people go to them to eat good food, have fun, and get to know one another better? Isn’t it just one of those blurred professional / social things you do as part of a conference? Who doesn’t want to dance? Why would anyone have such weirdly negative feelings about a conference dinner?

Well, I’m so glad you asked.

When I wrote It’s not you, it’s me, and included a conference quiz that Inger Mewburn (an avowed extroverted type) and I (a mostly introverted type) filled out, this was our answer to the conference dinner question:

conf dinner yes no

I’m not just a bit conference dinner averse; I avoid them where possible. Occasionally, when I’m convening an event, I have to attend the conference dinner. Or friends force me to go with them (after assuring me there will be an escape hatch – escape hatches are extremely important). Why am I this way? It has a lot to do with previous bad experiences at conference dinners (stuck with incompatible people for hours in uber-awkwardness, expensive bad food, awful meal-side entertainment…), and the ongoing forced socialisation aspect that has never sat well with me.

I love going out to dinner with certain conference people. To a place we choose. To do things we like.

So, as a biased non-participator of conference dinners, what’s with this post about them?

I think of it as a bit of an anthropological exercise. My spontaneous and only-open-for-a-day survey the other weekend brought lots of confirmation that my twitter echo-chamber is populated by many of the same persuasion as me – others who hate conference dinners, and never go.

I’m very interested in what people consider a great conference dinner, because I know they do happen. Many thanks to the 45 or so people who answered the survey, provided information via direct messages, or commented on my Facebook query.

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Setting up a professional network


Alyssa Sbisa, Florey Institute

Sally Grace,

Sally Grace, Swinburne University of Technology

Alyssa Sbisa is a neuroscience PhD Candidate at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, researching the role of sex hormones in schizophrenia. Alyssa can be found in the Twitterverse at @LyssLyssLyss.

Sally Grace is a neuroscience PhD Candidate at Swinburne University of Technology. Her research interests involve brain imaging and mental illness. Sally tweets from @sallyagrace.

Sally and Alyssa are the Media and Communications Managers for the 2015 Students of Brain Research (SOBR) committee. You can find more about SOBR by visiting our website, Facebook page, and tweeting us at @SOBRNetwork.

The Research Whisperers invited Alyssa and Sally to write for us because we’ve been really impressed by the engaging and bright presence of the SOBR Network on social media.

Those with good networks deserve praise, and those who work so hard to create the conditions for others to build networks deserve even more. 

As a graduate student, you’ve probably come across more than one article stressing the importance of networking.

And, if you’re anything like we initially were, you probably find the idea of organising networking events daunting and wouldn’t know where to start.

This year, when we signed up for a student-run committee, we didn’t realise it would be such an incredible experience. Albeit rewarding, there has also been some hard work. In light of this experience, we want to share some useful tips in the hope that if others were to take the same journey they have an idea of where to begin.

What is SOBR?

sobr_logo-smallerStudents of Brain Research (SOBR) is a student-run initiative aimed at facilitating the networking of students in the area of neuroscience and brain research, from cellular and molecular science to clinical psychology.

SOBR was formed in 2011 in an effort to connect not only graduate students from institutes across Victoria, but also early career researchers, prominent scientists, and industry professionals.

Each year SOBR hosts two events: the Professional Development Dinner and the Student Symposium. The committee itself has grown over the years, and so too has the interest in our events. 2015 is the first year we have had a waiting list for the dinner, and we expect our upcoming Symposium to be even more successful than the last!

Engagement with our online social networks has also increased; in 2015 alone our Facebook ‘likes’ have increased by 35% and Twitter followers by 360%. The success of SOBR is grounded not only on the fantastic work of the previous committees over the years, but also some key strategies.

Creating, growing, and managing a network is definitely not a one-person job. The SOBR committee has eight members this year and each one is integral to our success.

If you were considering a similar initiative in your own research area, we recommend considering the following:

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How the Whisper Workshop works

Image courtesy of @kimtairi

Recently, we ran the first Whisper Workshop. It came about like this: one of our colleagues couldn’t find a conference that was quite right for her needs. I said, “No problem – we’ll create a workshop specifically for you.”

And we did.

It was great! We brought together 25 of the best people we knew to talk about creating links between universities and galleries, libraries, archives, museums (the GLAM sector). We got to meet a whole lot of people that we only know from Twitter, geek out, and chat.

I really enjoyed it because I met new people and heard about new ideas. People talked about doing eye-tracking studies in airports, and how this could be used in museums. They discussed crazy projects to automagically detect job advertisements that could be asking for PhD graduates. Most importantly, there was a lot of discussion during the breaks, which meant that people were making connections and catching up with one another. Not only that, the day became self-documenting. Joyce Seitzinger led the charge by setting up a Google Doc that lots of people contributed to. Tseen has created a Storify record of the tweets during the day, then @michaelcollins created another one that also captured the discussion that happened afterwards.

As Linda Kelly said:

I’m a big fan of workshops like this. They are a great way to lift your eyes from your day-to-day work and consider the bigger picture for a moment. We don’t do that enough.

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How to livetweet and survive to tell the tale

Photo by Brian Kopp | Used here under Creative Commons 2.0:

Photo by Brian Kopp | Used here under Creative Commons 2.0:

I posted a while back about why you’d livetweet, and promised a practical follow-up post about the actual doing of it.

I’m writing this post not because there’s a scarcity of info on how to livetweet out there – hello, over-saturated internets! – but because it gives me a chance to throw in my 2 cents worth, while showcasing my favourite strategies and processes from other people.

The kind of livetweeting I’m talking about in this post isn’t just the casual stuff that might happen because you want to tweet out a few pithy observations about a presentation you’re at.

This post is aimed at those who have been tapped on the shoulder – or have tapped themselves on the shoulder – to livetweet an event in a more consistent, formal way. It’s focused mostly on academic conferences, and shamelessly based on my own experiences and biases.

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3 reasons why you’d livetweet

Photo by Alan Levine -

Photo by Alan Levine –

I love livetweeting things.

Most of the time, I livetweet for fun and recreation. Those of you who follow me on Twitter have been privy to the joys of co-watching Eurovision, or vicariously experiencing B-grade horror flicks (or C-grade, if you’re lucky).

Increasingly, however, I’m also livetweeting in my current work role. It’s part of an overall strategy to make events and researcher connections more visible and accessible, and dovetails with a ramped up social media (including blog) presence overall.

With my research network hat on, I’ve also livetweeted a fair number of events that would interest that membership. Doing so makes member activity more apparent to one another, and to those checking out what the network’s about. The network is unfunded, and depends almost entirely on social platforms for presence and members’ connection.

So, what does livetweeting mean?

Livetweeting is defined as capturing and reporting on an event in an ongoing way through a stream of tweets, usually using a defined hashtag. For researchers, this usually means conferences and seminars, symposiums and workshops.

Why would you do it, if you’re not a big nerd like me?

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Why bother creating postgrad groups?

Photo by James Petts |

‘Barometer’ | Photo by James Petts |

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.


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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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