As we trudge towards the end of this year, we wanted to spend some time thinking about how it has been for us, and for the blog. It has been a tough year for so many. In Australia (where we live), it started with horrific bushfires, then COVID-19 came along and turned our whole world upside down.
In the academic sector, we saw how the closing of campuses and schools reinforced hierarchies, with early career researchers and those with caring responsibilities most adversely affected. We got to know that restrictions and campus closures affected some disciplines more than others, with lab-based or fieldwork-dependent scholars finding it particularly hard to pursue their research. We felt the curtailment of social and familial connections. People did heroic work to move academic and administrative processes fully online and, in the end, were often rewarded with restructures and job losses. Thousands of university workers have lost their livelihoods and careers, with more to come in the following years. It has been an awful year. Many of us are grieving for different things.
Early on in 2020, we abandoned our Research Whisperer weekly publishing schedule. There was too much going on. We were stressed and sad; it was just too hard. We’ve published about half as many posts as we would have in a normal year, and most of those have been from our lovely guest authors. In the end, they helped us to keep going when we were feeling overwhelmed.
In that spirit, we thought that we would use our last post of the year to reflect on what sustained us.
For me, this has been a strangely terrible yet nourishing year. I spent about eight months more or less in isolation. I wrote about this twice this year (10 days in and 131 days in). Right now, going into the holiday season, Australia is mostly COVID-free (except for quarantined international arrivals). We still wear masks in enclosed spaces, wash hands a lot, and physically distance, but much of everyday life is coming back.
It has been a terrible year because it started with disastrous bushfires and moved into a pandemic, and all of this has a consequent toll nationally and globally on society and our communities. We’ve talked about this with regard to higher education in the intro to this post. I have a long-term ache in my heart for colleagues’ stress, panic, and anger as the redundancies (voluntary and otherwise) roll across our universities. So many excellent folks are suffering and it hurts to not be able to help beyond bearing witness and offering seemingly empty words. Closer to home, my institution has had two rounds of voluntary redundancies and there is a looming round of forced redundancies in 2021. I may be one of those; I don’t know. We live in a state of uncertainty. Voluntary redundancies are painted as a kinder option but this doesn’t stop them being extremely hard, sad decisions for many. The nature of people’s leaving during locked-down Melbourne meant that they often had barely a Zoom farewell. The generous, kind, and savvy support that I see among colleagues has sustained me through these constant bouts of awful news.
You may be wondering how this year can be ‘nourishing’ in the midst of all this. Basically, I haven’t had to commute since March. This has had major positive effects on my life: my health is the best it has been for years; my energy levels are excellent (despite occasional Zoom fatigue and sitting at my desk way too much); my stress levels are much lower all round, every day; and I have loved hanging more with my kids, partner, and mum. I didn’t quite realise how always-tired I was, and what this meant for other aspects of my life. I have found direction and enthusiasm for my research and this is the most active/productive it has been for six years. I have enjoyed my teaching and development work, and had new ideas about things because I had the brain-space to do so. I have worked more hours this year than I have previously but they are mostly good hours rather than always rushed ones that are top and tailed by gruelling legs of public transport. The lack of commuting has definitely sustained me and enabled me to do more, better work than I’d previously felt I had the capacity to do.
I found this year terribly difficult because I lost faith in the Age of Reason. I believe in a rational world. My work in universities helps to promote that world. This year, I saw major world leaders reject evidence-based policy for policy dictated by fear and superstition. I saw Australia’s ruling government throw the university sector under the bus. I saw the universities put their assets ahead of their workforce, as they sacked staff, restructured jobs and generally made people’s lives even more miserable.
My psych helped when she pointed out that I would survive. I may not have a job. The sector I loved may no longer be recognizable as it once was, and may not want me anymore. But I would survive. That helped. It helped a lot.
My partner sustained me. She is the centre for me. She makes my world make sense. We enjoyed our quiet little lockdown life. We had each other, and that was enough.
My work colleagues sustained me. For a short while there, I was their boss. I’ve never liked that position – I don’t think I’m suited for it. Together, we did OK, and when our new boss arrived, we worked together to get through the year.
My Research Whisperer colleagues sustained me. One of the best things that we did this year was run Whisperfest with Inger Mewburn (Thesis Whisperer) and Narelle Lemon (Explore and Create Co). Early on, I had to say that I couldn’t do it. I had small tasks to do, but I just couldn’t do it. They said, “Don’t worry. That’s what we are here for.” They made a wonderful event, and I loved it.
Finally, you sustained me. Research Whisperer brings such joy to my life. I learn so much from it. It recharges my batteries and provides me with renewed faith in the world. Thank you.
Guest posts for 2020
As this post indicates, there would’ve been much less Research Whispering this year if it wasn’t for our wonderful friends and supporters who contributed posts and worked to share their experiences and wisdom with our community. We are more grateful than you know.
- Romance your writing (Jamie Burford)
- What harm can it do? The emotional cost of asking for something in academia (Kylie Smith)
- Looking like a scientist (Emma Beckett)
- When you choose to re-locate (Donna Weeks)
- Life as a writer outside the boundaries of academia (Alex Goldberg)
- Who is allowed to talk about equality, diversity, and inclusion? (Lachlan Smith, with Jakob Feldtfos Christensen)
- Being a PhD researcher in a digital world (Carolyn Leslie)
- When I write, I write for myself (Anuja Cabraal)
- Working towards a generous scholarship – during and after COVID-19 (Andrea MacLeod)
- So, all the conferences are cancelled. Now what? (Ali Black and Rachael Dwyer)
- Some ECR responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (Susan Gasson)
- Shining a light on the dark side (Moira Clay)
- Woke science: 3 tips to boost the impact of research (Krishna Rao)
- Fantastic funding and where to find it (Alyce Mayfosh and Guneet Bindra)
- Climbing out of the rabbit-hole and building wellbeing (Silvia Pignata)
- A new model for data support – Melbourne Data Analytics Platform (MDAP) (The MDAP team)
- Coping with a (COVID-induced) mental health crisis (Sabrina Islam)
- Collaborative editing for convivial and inclusive global scholarship (Helen Kara and Su-ming Khoo)
- The privilege unspoken (Lauren Robinson)
- When it comes to being productive, it’s best to embrace uncertainty (Olga Degtyareva)
- Times are bleak but don’t despair – just do stuff and meet people (Shaun Khoo)
- How to get confident with statistics (Danielle Bodicoat)
This is our last post for 2020! Our first post next year will probably possibly maybe be on Tues 2 February 2021 (let’s not put on the pressure right now…).
Our warmest wishes to you all – our RW community – for a safe, restorative break where possible. Look out for yourselves, and each other. In the end, that is all that really counts.