RO Peeps: Jonathan O’Donnell

The RO Peeps page lists the research office profiles of friends of The Research Whisperer. It showcases the talent and myriad trajectories that make us who we are.

This week, it’s Jonathan’s turn.

Jonathan O’Donnell

Portrait of Jonathan O'Donnell, wearing a fine new hat
I bought a hat by Jonathan O'Donnell on Flickr

Name & Twitter handle: Jonathan O’Donnell (@researchwhisper / @jod999)

Position: Senior Advisor, Research Development

University: RMIT University

Location: Melbourne, Australia (map)

Highest qualification? A very average Bachelor of Arts (English Literature) at ANU.

How did you get into this role?

“I took an arrow in the knee.”

I failed a subject in my last year at university, so I took a job with the public service. In my new (first ever) job, the people down the corridor seemed to be having much more fun than me, so I jumped ship and went to work for them. They were the Australian Research Grants Committee and it turned out that they were a lot more fun.

I worked with them for a year, and then I fell in love, moved to Melbourne, broke up… as you do. RMIT advertised for an administrative officer in their Research Coordination Office. I looked at it and said, “This is the job for me”. Lorraine Bridger looked at me and said, “You’re the boy for us” (or words to that effect). That was in 1990. I’ve done a lot of other things since.

What other kinds of jobs have you had?

When I start working here in 1990, Lorraine took me into my office and said, “See that black cable? That’s the Internet. You’re the youngest, you say you like computers. Find out what it is, and what it can do for us”.

It was the perfect time to explore the Internet – the Web was invented in 1991, became popular in the mid-90s, with the dot-com bubble bursting in 2000.

I surfed that wave, so in the 20 years in between working for Lorraine, I’ve:

  • Worked as a research assistant for two different researchers: Margaret Jackson (Computer Law) and Liddy Nevile (Education and the Web).
  • Been the Director of Information Technology (DoIT) for a faculty at RMIT.
  • Helped fit-out the National Gallery of Victoria with multimedia and built a little game for them.
  • Worked for myself, doing a bit of Web usability work. Turns out, I’m OK at doing the work, but terrible at billing the clients.

Across it all, I’ve spent almost my entire working life at RMIT, with a bit of time off for good behaviour. Late in 2010, I was talking to Lorraine and she said, “You know, there are these jobs going as research advisors. You should apply for one.” And here I am, back working with her again.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

I love helping people. More precisely, I love the fact that people appreciate my help. Whether they get the grant or not, most people are happy that they had someone to provide some feedback.

This would be a pretty thankless task if you were just in it for the thrill of the win. We don’t win often enough for that to be a viable modus operandi.

Also, The Research Whisperer is lots of fun.

What’s the thing you’d most like to change about your job?

A lot of the researchers with whom I work are trying to save the world. Well, not the whole world, just the little bits of it that they can see are broken. I’d like their work to have more impact. I’d like it to fix more problems, clean up more messes, and generally prod the world in a better direction.

That’s not a part of my job description; it’s just part of why I do the job.

Favourite hobby-horse?

Actually, I had a real horse when I was a little kid, but I never got to see it. My Dad bought it for me before I could walk, and had to sell it again before I was old enough to ride. As mythical creatures go, it has always been my favourite horse.

In my job, I’m currently on a bit of a kick to use real data. I feel that too many decisions are made with little or no reference to actual data. Given that research is what we do, that seems a bit sad, really. So my New Year’s resolution is to push people to incorporate data into their decision-making processes. More data, more often, please.

Dream job?

This one.

Best advice to researchers?

RTFM (or guidelines, or funding rules, or whatever they are called for your particular scheme).

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