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 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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Do you have a toxic collaborator?

What's yours? (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

What’s yours? (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

At some time in everyone’s academic lives, there will be cause for collaboration angst.

It may all start golden: big ideas, excitement about working with new colleagues, the potential for fancy-pants funding and intellectual glory.

And if you were invited onto a prestigious team by a favoured prof…well, you’d almost fall over signing up, right?

Then, down the track, you’re looking at the fifth ‘I still haven’t done it’ email from Collaborator 2, or – worse still – finding no email from Collaborator 3…ever.

How many times is it physiologically safe to roll one’s eyes at Collaborator 4 for declaring yet again that they should be first author?

I’ve written before about how to find research friends and make co-writing work, which have focused for the most part on the positive habits and traits that lead to successful, satisfying collaborations.

This post focuses on the flipside.

Finding out that your co-writer or co-investigator is awful to work with could be a gradual soul-destroying process, or a very rapid soul-destroying process. Either way? Soul destroyed.

Added to the mix are complicated intersections of status, power and privilege, and often emotional baggage from professional (or deeper) friendships. The earlier you can see that the collaboration isn’t going to work, the easier it may be to duck out of the project, or at least implement processes that will mean you emerge with your sanity and sense of self intact.

Here are 5 signs that you may have a toxic collaborator: READ MORE

What’s on a good research project site?

Old Story (Photo by Place Light |

Old Story (Photo by 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.


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.


It’s not you, it’s me

Prebake diversity (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Prebake diversity (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Does like attract like?

I’ve had a majority of introverted friends in my life. My most enduring friendships are with those who are poster-children for Susan Cain’s book, Quiet.

As we now know, because internet checklists and Cain keep telling us, no-one is ever 100% introvert or extrovert – we have tendencies towards each type, and there are some of us who can move between them such that the category of ‘ambiverts’ has now entered the conversation.

William Pannapacker wrote an excellent piece about academic introversion in 2012, which discussed the rewarded behaviours of academia, as well as how students’ academic participation is valued (i.e. through visible, heard contributions). His sketch of ‘wallflower’ students and how they can shut down and disengage reflected aspects my university student experience all too well (my personal blog post “Once a wallflower” gives you the goods on this front).

I recently attended a conference with my new job hat on. It was a conference I’d never been to before: the biennial Quality in Postgraduate Research (QPR) conference in Adelaide.

This post gives you an insight into the contrasts between how an extrovert and an introvert approach the conferencing game. Many thanks to Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer) for playing along!

Now, to the conference! [Bonus: there’s a quiz!]


How to chair

Lion tamer (Sourced from Wikimedia Commons:

Lion tamer (Sourced from Wikimedia Commons:

What’s worse than having to give a conference paper in front of my esteemed colleagues?

I’d say it’s chairing these esteemed colleagues!

Through my years of presenting at and convening conferences, I have always had one greater fear than being the paper-giver and that was being the chair. It feels pathetic to admit this, but the responsibility of chairing brought all my apprehensions about public speaking to the fore.

When giving a paper, I’m usually anxious about “question and answer” (Q&A) time – the Wild West of conference moments (right next to the conference dinner…). It was a time over which you had little control over what might be thrown at you. You couldn’t plan for it. My imagination (which is excellent, by the way), conceived of all manner of intellectual take-downs and derisive snorts about my conclusions.

These preoccupied me such that I wrote about my strategies for handling Q&A.

Chairing taps into all my existing anxieties: it was a whole session where you weren’t necessarily in control of what people might say or do, but this is specifically what you are tasked with as the chair.

I’ve written before about how to build your conference karma (aka ‘how to make convenors love you’) and, spurred on by a recent query from my colleague Warren Staples (@warrenstaples), here’s a list of strategies I’d suggest to get you through a chairing gig.



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