Newbie at ARMS 2012

Sunshine, swanky hotel, dedicated catering, Big Names?

It must be conference time!

The 2012 Australasian Research Management Society conference was held on 19-21 September at the Gold Coast, with the theme of ‘Ride the wave of collaboration’. The record number of delegates – 550 or so – is testament to both the growing professional field and the Gold Coast climate’s welcoming embrace. For a post-Melbourne-winter attendee, the weather was like a fabulous keynote all on its own.

After checking in, I was quickly and happily ensconced in the plush surrounds of a 23rd floor room in the Surfers Paradise Marriott. Dining with my colleagues that evening, I wondered why I’d ever been jaundiced about conferences. The venue was superb!

The first day (Wed 19 Sept) was dedicated to workshops, ranging from ‘Introduction to Research Management’ and ‘Contract Law for Research Administrators’ to the all-day ‘Research Integrity Forum’ (attendees of which seemed to have an unseemly amount of fun). I attended the sessions about international collaboration, and building and sustaining industry engagement. The workshops were a great way to get to know fellow attendees. Even though we were embroiled in activities that involved butcher’s paper and coloured markers (I’m generally not a fan), I learned a lot about the pressing issues and international/industry contexts for research generally, and research management in particular.

For the next two days of the conference proper (Thurs and Fri 20-21 Sept), we listened to invited international speakers such as Allison Lerner (Inspector General, National Science Foundation, USA), Vanessa Campo-Ruiz (Science Officer, European Science Foundation), and Brigid Heywood (Assistant VC [Research and Enterprise], Massey Uni, NZ). Was I the only one to note the not-so-subtle refrain of ‘show us your badge!’ in conference conversation after Lerner’s presentation?

There was a fair number of plenary panels rather than single speakers and I was grateful for this. In all the time I’ve been in and around academia, one thing I’ve discovered is that there are only a few excellent presenters who can hold a plenary keynote of value to a broad audience, both intellectually and entertainment-wise. The panels for ARMS 2012  were, on the whole, worthwhile and good to attend. The ones I enjoyed most were:

  • the first one of the conference – ‘Communicating for Collaboration’ – in which Tony Peacock displayed a gift for stand-up and improv; and
  • one on the second day that boasted four Deputy Pro Vice Chancellors (DPVCs) of Research, a wealth of senior research executive sagacity; many of them possessed the ability to draw out banter surrounding cow metaphors. The DPVCs on the panel hailed from QUT, UQ, Griffith University, and Massey University. It was astutely chaired by Daina Garklavs, and its chatty, unscripted nature made the perspectives much more engaging and – I think – honest. The world is not in need of more conference presentations rehearsing information that can be found on organisational websites.

As well as the plenary sessions, each day also had concurrent sessions chock full of sector activities and issues. Jonathan and I presented during one of these, and I was blown away by Renu Sharma’s talk about the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which preceded our own talk. We were very grateful for the enthusiastic and positive feedback we got after our presentation (actually, also before our presentation!). It was great to know that this blog was of value to so many of you out there. We love doing it, so it’s really a win-win situation. It was also great to hear David Ireland’s talk about Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) research precincts and Margaret Henty (Australian National Data Service) on optimising the effectiveness of e-research. For the next day’s concurrent sessions, I also attended the stream on technology for collaboration and wasn’t disappointed in the enthusiastic diversity of initiatives underway at Nanyang (Singapore), Massey Uni (New Zealand), Macquarie Uni, and CQU.

The extra-curricular events included the opening reception on the evening of the Wednesday, and the conference dinner on the Thursday night. The reception was Hawai’ian themed and everyone received festive leis on entry. I was careful not to comment on people’s loud and flowery shirts till I was in the vicinity of the reception; it was the Gold Coast, after all. The reception food was great, which attracted quite the hovering (and hoovering) crowd. It was an extremely well attended and buzzy evening.

ARMS 2012 photoboothing: Michelle Moon (Monash) and some RMITers (Aastha Swaroop, Marco Krischer, and yours truly in a purple hat).

The conference dinner the next night was at Dreamworld, and everyone seemed to enjoy the outdoor setting and crepuscular atmosphere. With the fog machines and multicoloured laser lights cutting through, I felt bereft of a glow-stick. Never fear, though, there was a photo-booth! A chance to capture (borderline?) social faux pas for posterity! I have a set of pics that proves this.

When one of the last sessions began with an exhortation from ARMS President Moira Clay for a ‘Mexican wave’ from the audience, I thought it was definitely time to draw things to an end. But, as with many things about the conference, I was surprised at the happy zeal of delegates when joining in and encouraging others to do so. I come from the humanities and ‘joining in’ isn’t usually a part of our institutional DNA…

As a relative newcomer to the world of formal research development, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a conference populated by hundreds of others who worked in the same professional, ‘non-academic’ field. What I experienced was one of best organised events I’ve ever attended, great catering and venue, and meeting a slew of savvy, generous colleagues.

One of the best things about the conference was the opportunity to put faces to Twitter handles – so very 21st century. As the Research Whisperers, Jonathan and I forged our networks online and have gotten to know many people through conversational tweets and live chats. For myself, it was an absolute pleasure to finally meet Jaine Stockler (@researchgrants), Moira Clay (@Loscienziato), Christopher McAvaney (@clmcavaney), Kate Nolan (@ResearchKate), and re-meet Dan Barr (@drdanbarr). I also met Peta Hopkins (@petahopkins) during the conference and at the impromptu social media meet-up during the conference (which was a chance for everyone to recharge their devices, too…).

ARMS 2013 will be in Adelaide and, while I don’t know yet whether I’ll be lucky enough to go, I’m very much hoping that the momentum of live tweeting that was established since 2011 (?) will keep on growing. The back channel was good fun, and live tweeting most of the conference wasn’t a chore at all.

For happy pics of the ARMS 2012 conference, check out the albums on the conference Facebook page: Pre-conference Workshops | Welcome Reception | Conf Day 1 | Conf Dinner | Conf Day 2

ARMS has a website and is on Twitter (@ARMSoa).

Thank you to ARMS and RMIT University for supporting my attendance at this event.

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