Hardest things we learned in 2014

Photo by Wilson Hui | www.flickr.com/photos/wilsonhui
Photo by Wilson Hui | http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilsonhui

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.


I’ve written around the subject of the hardest thing for me this year in this post about changing disciplines, and referred to it in a few others. I’m back in academia this year after over three years in a professional role as a grant developer. I had thought it would be easy, a case of ‘going home’ because academia is where I had spent the majority of my career.


It has been an ongoing challenge through this year, and will be for a while longer. I said ‘yes’ to many opportunities that I found scary. For the most part, they’ve been delightful experiences that have stretched my understanding of my own skills and ability to learn and adapt. I was an academic tourist at conferences and other events far away from my normal disciplines, getting to hang with entomologists and cancer researchers, gerontologists and public health types. Being able to have these experiences is extremely valuable for my ability to know more broadly how researchers from across different areas approach and do their work. I work mostly from a humanities/social sciences bubble of personal and work experience, so popping that every once in a while is good.

Occasionally, I’ve felt that I’ve failed with some of the opportunities, that I haven’t delivered on what I was supposed to. I have a tendency to overthink (no, really) and be hard on myself, so these incidents probably took longer than they needed to to get out of my system. (Over)thinking about them now, I realise that these worked well to set boundaries for what I need to work on (or, indeed what I want to work on), and how my profile fits different situations, or not.


This year has ended with me questioning the validity of the system that we work in. I love research! Most researchers that I know are trying to help make the world a better place. However, I also know that much research doesn’t get read, rendering it pointless. I’ve learnt just how precarious work is for many staff at universities. I know that this can make life tremendously hard for people who just want to do what they love.

So, the question becomes whether to keep working within a broken system, or take my bat and ball and go home. Sometimes, I really wonder.

What keeps me going is the people that I work with. Narelle Lemon, who looks at art, social media and education, and is so much fun! Yolande Strengers, who taught me about Resource Man and introduced me to her sometimes love, Grant. Eva Alisic, who works with kids who have experienced trauma. Iain Campbell, who is trying to fix long-term homelessness. Helen Lingard, who is making construction sites safer. Soumitri Varadarajan, who taught me that systems can be designed better, just like objects can. Jessica Wilkinson and her devotion to non-fiction poetry. Darrin Verhagen, who really is a mad scientist masquerading as an artist and musician. Glen Donnar and aging action heroes. Larissa Hjorth, who is just a genius at everything (imho). Chris Wilson, who inspires as both a researcher and a research whisperer. And, of course, Tseen, who is a constant source of inspiration.

Like Tseen, I’ve learnt about doing new work. For much of this year, I’ve been partly a research whisperer, and partly a research office manager (alongside with my long-suffering compadre, Jonathan Laskovsky). It has distracted me from the work that I love – reading and reviewing draft applications. I haven’t been as effective (at either task) as I could have been. I’ve made mistakes and some things have taken too long (or not happened at all).

Earlier this year, if you asked me what I wanted to do next, I would have said ‘run a research office’. I think that I’ve learnt, through this year, that I don’t really want to do that at all. What I want to do is what I do best: work with researchers, one on one. I want to help them get funding so that they can do what they do best: get research done.

As we come to the end of each year, it’s also a wonderful chance to acknowledge with grateful glee those of you who have contributed to the Research Whisperer. We think it’s brilliant what enthused and clever collaborators you are. Guest posters enrich what the blog can offer in terms of expertise and perspective, and the Whisperers are always aware that you write for us in the midst of very busy schedules.

For 2014, the lovely guest-posting crew was:

Thank you also to our Twitter translators:

This has been a wonderful experiment in trying to bridge the language barrier. It has been very successful so far. Next year, Mandarin and maybe Polish!

Thanks also, to our wonderful readers on the blog, Twitter, and Facebook. You took us to 10,000+ followers on Twitter this year, which made at least one of us absurdly happy.

See you next year. We’ll be posting again on Tuesday 20 January 2015.

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