RO Peeps: Tseen Khoo

This is the first in a new series of entries that will be listed on our RO Peeps page.

What’s this page going to be about?


When you are beset by questions about research funding, your eligibility as an investigator, application budget issues, or grant strategies, where should you turn?

At most universities, there’s a Research Office (RO). In that RO are staff who have the expertise to advise and assist you in navigating your institution’s daunting processes, as well as the threatening labyrinths of external funding bodies.

Who are these brave souls who may often exist for you only as husky voices on the phone, or helpfully pedantic emailers?

This page lists the RO profiles that we hope to build up here at The Research Whisperer, to showcase the talent and myriad trajectories that make us rather useful to you.

To kick things off, we’ll be starting with yours truly: The Research Whisperer team.

This week, it’s Tseen’s turn. Next time, you get a squizz at Jonathan.

Dr Tseen Khoo

Name & Twitter handle: Dr Tseen Khoo (@researchwhisper / @tseenkhoo)

Position title: Senior Advisor, Research Development

University: RMIT University

Location: Melbourne, Australia

Highest qualification? PhD in English (literary studies/cultural studies)

How did you get into this role, and how long have you been a research administrator/developer? This role has only been around since January 2011, and that’s when I started (with two other colleagues) as one of the first incumbents. This is the first time I’ve been in a research administration role, so I’ve been in this field about a year. The varied aspects of the job (which includes a bit of track-record coaching, offering advice about academia, etc) are roles I’ve performed informally for many years as the founding convenor of a research network (the AASRN). To find a job that PAYS ME to do these things is rather fine.

What other kinds of jobs have you had? Before taking up my role as a research developer at RMIT, I was a full-time research fellow for almost a decade: first as a postdoc at the University of Queensland (2001-2004), then as a Monash University Research Fellow (2004-2010). The research projects I carried out were focused on diasporic Asian literary cultures and the politics of representing Asian Australian public histories, respectively.

After finishing my PhD (1999), I ran away from academia, choosing to take up a project officer position. I worked with Professor Alan Lawson to establish the University of Queensland Graduate School (1999-2001), which was good, surprisingly creative fun.

As well as moving between academic and professional university roles, I’ve worked in government administration and – many moons ago – in a fish’n chip shop (pre-Hansonite days).

What’s the most satisfying part of your job? Being able to engage one-on-one with researchers and their plans in positive ways. My role is one that offers assistance and advice, so it’s rare for people not to be happy to see me! That said, I do need to work on calibrating and customising my level of nagging for the researchers I work with…

What’s the thing you’d most like to change about your job? Even though an institution is focused on making good changes and building research cultures, it takes a lot of time before the effects of these initiatives are felt. I often wish these effects would ripple out and be embraced more quickly by a broader range of staff.

Favourite hobby-horse? Trying to get academics to plan on regular engagement with their research. It’s too easy to get caught up in the daily pressures of admin and teaching, but research (and a love of research) can’t thrive when it’s constantly shunted aside or done on the run.

Dream job? A continuing position as a 100% research fellow in an uber-productive/exciting/cashed-up research institute…but until that comes along, my current job is pretty close (true).

Best advice to researchers? Whether it’s developing a grant application, building your track-record, or aiming for a promotion, give it time.

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