The journal paper that almost ended my career before it started

jenny-ostini-smallJenny Ostini is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Digital Futures Collaborative Research Network at the University of Southern Queensland.

She is a qualitative social scientist and media studies researcher who is interested in the production, consumption, use, and transformation of knowledge, and social change in a digital environment.

Jenny tweets from @follysantidote.

Photo by Ashes Sitoula |

Photo by Ashes Sitoula |

Let me tell you a story.

Be patient with me as it’s a good story but needs a little time to unwind because it’s true. I can’t mess with the characters or timeline for you, the modern TL;DR reader.

A long time ago, I was a graduate student in America.

Coursework was compulsory, and after coursework came comprehensive exams where you were shut in a room for three days and tried to show that you had mastered all the theory and literature to be a true scholar in your field.

Before you could take these exams you had to have all your coursework completed and signed off.

And here is the crux of my story.

Of all the many graduate level seminars I had taken, only one was a two semester, eight credit course. I had an “incomplete” on this course. It was a seminar in applied research methods, and the requirement for it was to conduct a piece of said research, write a journal paper, and have this paper submitted for publication. It didn’t have to be published to get a grade, but it had to be written to the point of submission. I had done this.

The course was all about the process of doing research, taking it from inception to dissemination. It was an excellent aim.

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That new habit

The chasm of intercultural communications research? [Photo by Jeff Sheldon |]

The chasm of intercultural communications research? [Photo by Jeff Sheldon |]

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to establish a new habit.

I wish I could tell you it was an exciting one, perhaps involving stacks of innovative, disruptive-thinking body-painting.

But it’s not.

It’s a habit for researchers that’s bog-standard and necessary. It’s something I need to stop thinking of as a chore.

I’m trying to read. 

I need to stop being scared of my burgeoning collection of articles that stare at me, unblinking, from Mendeley. At least they don’t teeter and threaten to avalanche anymore (as the hardcopies used to), but I’m certainly guilty of what Pat Thomson calls ‘PDF alibi syndrome‘: “Merely having and storing them is enough. I own, therefore I have read.”

There’s so much out there in blog and #acwri (academic writing) world about getting the words down; ‘write early, write often’; and getting ideas out of your head and onto the page. They make me feel inadequate – as so many things do, let’s be honest – and I feel paralysed about doing any writing at all, preliminary or not.

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Then and now

Photo by Jeff Sheldon |

Photo by Jeff Sheldon |

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

Guess how much I used to do before?


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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Deadlines schmeadlines

Photo by Levi Saunders |

Photo by Levi Saunders |

[An earlier version of this post appeared on the RED Writing Blog.]

My greatest achievements in academia are produced by my fear of shame and humiliation.

I said this to a colleague recently, and we had a good laugh.

The moment has stayed with me, though, because it’s kind of true.

Our lives are filled with commitments, and we carve our days into brightly coloured slices with the aim of fitting everything in.

The fact that we live lives where we need to ensure we ‘fit in’ relaxing and spending time with friends and family disturbs me on a level that this post isn’t up to articulating.

Instead, I want to talk about deadlines.

Everyone has them. Very few like them. Deadlines set for me by others tend to be much more effective, usually, but I still find myself standing at the edge of the abyss. You can ask for extensions from others, or allow yourself to extend a deadline, but nothing good really comes of doing that.


Hardest things we learned in 2014

The Research Whisperers have had a big year, both on the blog and Twitter, and in their everyday whispering jobs.

This year saw an increasing number of Research Whisperer gigs where lovely people invited us to speak about research + social media, crowdfunding, precarious academic workers, and strategies for grant funding.

We had a lot of fun at these events, and it has been a privilege and pleasure to be involved.

We like the idea of pausing and reflecting and the last post for the year is a good time for it. Last year, we talked about what was best for us in 2013.

This year, we thought we’d talk about what was hardest.

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Free to good home – one Research Whisperer

Map of Melbourne city, showing three campuses

RMIT’s city, Brunswick and Bundoora campuses, courtesy Google Maps

I’ve just finished a ‘grand tour’ of all the Schools in our College (read “Departments in our Faculty”, depending on your terminology).

It was great! I spent three days a week, for a month at a time, working in a completely different space.

In the middle of last year, when I came back from China, I sent a note to our seven Deputy Deans (Research). It was headed ‘Free to good home – one Research Whisperer’. In it, I asked if they would be interested in hosting me for a month. They would need to provide a desk and a chair, and access to electricity and the wireless network.

In return, I would spend three days per week in their School for a month. I’d still be doing my normal work, but I’d be a visible presence and would be able to meet with their staff, etc.

I was overwhelmed with the response. One school came back literally within minutes of the post. Every other school responded positively, with the last one even expressing the fear that they might be too late, and have missed the boat.

Every school was different. Some had real difficulty finding a seat for me. Others were able to give me a room with a view. For me, it didn’t matter where I sat, as long as I was where the action was.

Being in a central unit, it is easy to be seduced by the image that the centre is the focus when, in fact, the work happens in the schools, departments, and centres. That is where the teaching and research happens. Everything else is a scaffold to support that work.

Getting back to the periphery is a very simple, very powerful way to demonstrate that you recognise that fact. This is how it worked for me:


Changing disciplinary horses

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been mired in active discussions around who I am as a scholar.

Luckily for the world at large, these discussions exist mostly in my head, and only occasionally weigh upon the ears of close colleagues and my lucky, lucky partner.

The reason for these internal discussions is that I’ve started an academic job in a field that’s unrelated to my previous disciplines.

As a PhD student and then a research fellow, I have meandered through literary studies, cultural studies, heritage and museum research, touched on sociological work, and wished repeatedly that I’d built my expertise in science fiction and horror screen cultures.

The hinge that my scholarly work depends on is critical race studies, and the sub-field of diasporic Asian studies.

I have a shelf in my study that carries books and special issue journals that I’ve written and edited. It is my (occasionally successful) talisman against imposter syndrome. However, none of the publications I’ve had or journals I’ve published in overlap with the field Education Studies, part and parcel of the new role I’ve taken up.

Many times recently, I’ve moseyed through the literature around diversity and leadership in the academy (new field), and found a mini-Ygritte on my shoulder intoning, “You know nothing, Tseen Khoo.” And mini-Ygritte is right.



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