Beware excellence

At a recent international conference focused on research administration, there was the usual palaver about every researcher, their institution, and their dog achieving excellence.

It’s presented as why we’re in the game – to achieve this highly circumscribed and metricised ideal of ‘excellence’.

We’ve all heard this rhetoric before so I have a certain level of ennui every time I see the posturing.

This feeling also emerges for me these days when people use ‘innovation’, ‘engagement’, or ‘impact’. I’m extremely fond of Rolin Moe’s statement that “innovation means less than any other word we use in regular discourse” (The Innovation Conundrum).

I would say the same applies to ‘excellence’. Just about every organisation uses it, government policies are ridden with it, and senior executives at universities mouth it at every opportunity. But it usually signals little, and indulges in the conceit that if we say we have it, it makes us better than others who don’t say they have it (it doesn’t actually matter whether they have ‘it’ or not). Read more of this post

How do we sound?

Graphic conversation (Image by Marc Mathieu on flickr; distributed under creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0)

Graphic conversation (Image by Marc Mathieu on flickr; distributed under creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0)

I was in Castlemaine for #MelbWriteUp last weekend and spent some of my time planning out the two presentations I’ll be doing at the INORMS conference in September.

One of them is part of a workshop organised by Tamika Heiden. The other is a paper that I’m presenting with my La Trobe colleague Jason Murphy. Both of them talk about social media and the kind of community-building that can take place through these channels, whether by design or serendipity.

One of the things that gave me pause was having to think through what it was we do to run the Research Whisperer.

Having run it for over five years now, you’d think that’d be dead easy. And some of it was: the process of soliciting and the guidelines we give potential guest post authors; our schedules for blog posting and social media channels; and, broadly, knowing what our blog’s topic territory is.

What was slightly harder to do was to talk about the blog’s (and our social channels’) voice and tone. Part of this is because Research Whisperer is run by Jonathan and I, and we appear never to have had to discuss this issue at all.

This not-talking about it has happened in a good way, though, because we were well aligned from the start. In retrospect, this surprises me a bit because we are very different personalities and – if anything – seem to represent extreme ends of the tendencies towards introversion and extroversion.

This post talks about social media voice and account ‘ownership’. I talk a lot about professional identity and boundaries when I run workshops. It’s one of the most asked questions in terms of how one represents oneself to the public, and what this might mean – what are the risks?

Read more of this post

Saved by slow scholarship

Ali original b and w - smallDr Ali Black is an arts-based/narrative researcher.

She is interested in research that supports connectedness, community, wellbeing and meaning-making through the building of reflective and creative lives and identities.

Her recent work explores storied and visual approaches for knowledge construction and the power and impact of auto-ethnographic, collaborative and relational knowledge construction. One of her recent projects is Australian Women: Telling Lives.

Ali has a ResearchGate profile. She is still learning how to tweet but when she does it is from @draliblack.


Photo by André Freitas | unsplash.com/photos/uu5PfAzu0s4

Photo by André Freitas | unsplash.com/photos/uu5PfAzu0s4

Mid-life.

I’m not where I thought I would be.

Identity. Ego. I reject them. They are things that I dislike, a lot. They are close cousins to competition, comparison, measurement, judgment, and (misguided) self-glorification. These are also things I dislike, a lot. But they hurt me even so. Do they hurt you?

It’s important to shed light on our academic experiences, to make public the stories of what it has felt like, and feels like, to be an academic. It’s important that collective conversations about academic culture and what constitutes our social, political, and intellectual life in the academy can take place. We need to share our findings on what matters to us, and how we might cultivate kindness in the academy, foster care-full work, and count that which is not being counted.

I have been in academia twenty years, as a teacher, a researcher, and an innovator. I have given it my all, and been driven, dedicated, passionate. My current job title does not reflect the work and time I have put in. Rather than move up the hoped-for ladder, I have slipped, lost footing, fallen with my re-location to this new university, like a mud-faced-red-faced failure. Read more of this post

Let’s talk about the humblebrag

Peacock | www.flickr.com/photos/crazycrash | Distributed by creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0

Peacock  (Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/crazycrash)  |  Distributed under CC BY-NC-ND – creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0

Academic Twitter had a wonderful and very entertaining festival on the #seriousacademic hashtag in recent days, in response to an (entirely silly, it must be said) anonymous post.

The post, to which I’m not linking as I think it has had too much oxygen already, is basically someone maundering on about how they’re a serious academic and not someone who wants to show off – or be made to show off – on social media.

Because that’s what we’re doing, people, when we’re on social media. Showing off.

A colleague and I were talking about the incident, and we both agreed that if we were given the chance to maunder on about something that we hated when it came to showing off, it would be the humblebrag. Read more of this post

Staying on the radar

I unearthed this fragment of a post the other weekend. I started writing it in 2012, when I was about two years into a professional role at a university as a research grant developer. I had had about ten years of researcher life before that, with back-to-back research-only fellowships. My feelings about leaving my researcher self behind were mixed, to say the least.

Now, I’m about two years back into an academic job after leaving that professional role. And I have things to say to my 2012 self. 

Hopefully, this dialogue with the self is useful for those of you with ‘portfolio careers’ and seemingly zig-zagging career paths. It may never seem like the right way to do things, but  it helps to know that there isn’t a right way to do things.


Me, writing in 2012 while in a professional role: 

What’s the shelf-life of academic expertise?

This is an issue that’s haunted me ever since I started working on the ‘other side of the fence’ in my current professional research development role. I was used to being easily identified as ‘academic’ for many years, and it was the angst of having to explain being a research fellow position that occupied my time. Common things I’d have to say: “No, I don’t teach”, “no, I’m not supposed to teach”, “yes, I’m 100% research”, “yes, that means I don’t teach”.

Now, as a research grant developer, I’m in a role where I’m constantly advising researchers on what’s good practice and savvy research strategy. I can’t help but view my on-the-ground experience as a researcher for over a decade as a core part of the value I bring to my job. Similarly, if I’m not publishing, presenting at conferences, or debating critical issues with peers, am I a lesser occupant of this role?

For example, if I was awarded (and completed) a shiny competitive grant, does my experience in putting that application together count, more than five years later? If I haven’t published in an academic journal for over ten years, do I have credibility advising researchers on how to strategise submissions and papers, or negotiate editorial processes?

I’ve kept a part-time hand in with running the research network but, other than that, haven’t given an academic conference paper or written an academic article for about two years.

It feels strange. Read more of this post

Why the hell am I doing a PhD?

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No entry, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Did I mention that I’ve enrolled in a Masters by Research, looking at crowdfunding? No? It must’ve slipped my mind.

Actually, I’m a bit shy about talking about it. I don’t want to jinx it.

I want to upgrade to a PhD, if all goes well. But I’m scared it won’t go well. All my hopes and fears sit within it. I want it to go well, and I believe that I can do it, but I’m still scared.

I’m scared for a lot of reasons. I watched my partner take five years to do her PhD. Five years! She spent a whole year on one chapter. It almost broke her. A lot of my friends have done PhDs and only one of them had a good time. Everybody else hated it, and some of them never finished. So, I swore that I’d never do one.

From past experience, I know that I am, at best, an average student. I love the idea of studying; I just don’t like doing the work. It took me five years to struggle through my undergraduate degree. Too much time playing, not enough time studying! Having no clue why I was there didn’t help either!

My previous efforts to get a PhD didn’t get past the ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I had a PhD?’ burst of enthusiasm.

Oh yes, I’ve been down this road before. More than once, actually. I work in a university. I work with researchers every single day. There seemed to be a million reasons why I should do a PhD.

Nowadays, not so much. There seem to be a million reasons not to do a PhD. Read more of this post

One research whisperer’s career so far (Tseen Khoo)

Last year, the indefatigable Angela Dobele interviewed me for her Women and Research newsletter (Issue 2, 2015, pp. 7-8). The interview, with some minor updates, appears below. You can find the original version, and previous newsletter issues, at Angela’s website under “Networking Business Education”. Many thanks to Angela for allowing me to share my interview here! 

I wanted to share it on Research Whisperer because, of late, I’ve listened to several academics on panels talking about their research trajectories. These participants – whether they’re established professors, Mid, or Early Career Researchers – are almost always apologetic about the fact that they haven’t had a straightforward progression through an academic career. Very few scholars I know HAVE had what they think of as a straightforward trajectory.

For me, when looking at how others have travelled and the experience they bring, I find it more meaningful to consider what people have managed to create or invest their time in, rather than a clinical view of what jobs they’ve held. But before I wander too far off on that topic, here’s my 2015 interview with Angela: 

Asian Australian public history project: Hou Wang Temple (Atherton, Qld) | Photo by Tseen Khoo

From my Asian Australian public history project files: The Hou Wang Temple (Atherton, Qld) | Photo by Tseen Khoo

1) What is the best piece of advice you have received so far and why?

The best piece of research advice I’ve ever received (and try really hard to follow) is ‘Done is better than perfect’.

Perfectionism is a procrastinating behaviour and, in many cases, an excuse not to follow through on the risk of submitting that journal paper, or grant application, or conference abstract.

If you never feel it’s just perfect, then you can’t hand it over, so never completing anything is a sign of what a quality scholar you are, right? So wrong! Read more of this post