Best things we learned in 2013

From the tree #allthedecorations (Photo courtesy of Kim Tairi:
From the tree #allthedecorations (Photo courtesy of Kim Tairi:

As the Research Whisperers, people often assume we know everything.

This can be a very useful fiction to maintain, no doubt about it.

One of Tseen’s immediate colleagues has commented that she has perfected a ‘knowing nod’ that conveys all manner of things: ‘yes, I know’, ‘I’m onto it’, ‘totally understand’, ‘yes, you do need to read those guidelines…’.

What we don’t often get the chance to detail, though, is what WE have learned through running this blog.

It’s a constant source of information, points-of-view, great links, and projects. We feel very much a part of an international community that’s obsessed about #highered and #academia, and – even though we may #loveHE – it’s healthy to have a warts’n all view of the sector and its possibilities. That’s why #altac and #postac feature in our social media streams and on the blog.

Many of our readers and collaborators have become part of our #circleofniceness (cf. one of Thesis Whisperer’s big posts this year, on academics behaving badly).

It can also be a great source of envy. For example, Tseen seeing #ecrchat and various research networks focused on her research topic take off and wishing there was something like that when she was going through her blurry, tentative ECR days.

So, what is the best thing we’ve each learned this year?


My biggest revelation this year crept up, more than leapt out, at me.

As part of the RW Twitterstream curation process, and general research for RW posts I write, I’ve read a lot of material. This covered #altac and #postac issues, research metrics and other performance measurements (and equal numbers of blogposts condemning such), and many personal stories of navigating academia and being a part of the academic precariat. I’ve taken part in #ecrchats when the kids cooperated by being in bed at the right time. I’ve written posts, such as this one, that I hesitated about publishing because it felt too exposing.

What I’ve learned, at the end of about 2.5 years of running RW with Jonathan, is that being a researcher is a very porous category. Being someone who’s paid for their research work is one thing, but being a researcher does not often depend on how you’re earning your salary at the time.

As the wise @mpoblet told me at one of our #shutupandwrite sessions: “You can never stop being a researcher!”. Similarly, Linda Brennan wrote in one of her RW comments: “No day job can actually stop a researcher doing research. You will never give it up, it is an addiction.”

I’ve spent a lot of time and effort thinking I had to be ‘either/or’. It has finally become clear to me – yes, 2.5 years later (bear with me, I’m an incremental learner…) – that it’s a binary I don’t need to buy into anymore. This has made me much happier.


This year I learnt about how things work in China.

I went to China with my partner for seven months. You can learn a myriad of things in China – I just want to talk about one. For the whole time that I was there, I had to use a virtual private network (VPN) to access the Research Whisperer. If I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be able to see WordPress at all. It is blocked by the Great Firewall of China. Free speech is a privilege that I appreciate a lot more now.

John Fitzgerald, who knows way more about both research and China than I ever will, wrote a thoughtful piece about recent research developments in China. He describes the development of 200 new Chinese international academic journals in English, and how these aren’t independent in the way that we normally think of peer-reviewed journals.

Each of the journals claims to be refereed according to the norms of international peer review but all are ultimately policed for compliance with these principles by the Communist Party secretary of the sponsoring institution in China.

I went to China because my partner was going to China. I went because I couldn’t imagine being separated from her for that long. As Katie Mack explained in her stellar post on Academic Scattering, sometimes it isn’t that simple – some people get to choose between building a family or building a career. Others get to start a relationship, only to spend years being separated from their partners and kids. My relationship is something that I treasure all the more for understanding how difficult it can be for others.

While I was in China, I continued to work on the Research Whisperer and on my own research. I was a long way away, in a whole new social group, with a completely different work structure. Research Whisperer proved to be one of the few things that remained stable during that time. Thanks for that.

Finally, and most importantly…

2013 wouldn’t have been the same without our readers and advocates, and Research Whisperer wouldn’t have been possible without our wonderful guest-posters. THANK YOU!

Specific thanks to our shiny constellation of contributors this year:

  1. Anuja Cabraal: How to make casual employment work for you
  2. Ben Kraal: Speedy grants  |  Long-term grants
  3. Emily Kothe: Research on a shoe-string
  4. Ksenia Sawczak: Culling grant applications
  5. Meagan Tyler: Public engagement: Writing an opinion piece
  6. Margaret Henty: Publishing your data series – Tattoo your data | The ethics question | The licensing issue
  7. Inger Mewburn: 5 quick and dirty tricks for the terminally busy researcher
  8. Kerstin Fritsches: Boost your postdoc chances
  9. Daniel Reeders: Seven issue in community-based research practicePart 1  |  Part 2
  10. Michelle Duryea: FoRs and the alleged ‘gaming’ of ERA
  11. Marc Baldwin: Writing for scientific publications – 3 common mistakes
  12. Cath Ennis: Grant writing
  13. Elena Dennison: What is Horizon 2020?
  14. Katie Mack: Academic scattering
  15. Mark Hamann: Why bother with research engagement?

What we were saying last year about getting a jumpstart on your research serves you well for this year, too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.