Kids in bids

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 7 March 2019 as ‘Let’s talk about the kids’. It is reproduced with the permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


An statue of Clara Campoamor as a little girl, sitting on books and reading a big book with her name on it.
Clara Campoamor (detail) by Anna Jonsson, in Seville, 2007

Before I begin, I need to make it clear that I have no children.

As such, I apologise if some of what I say about families and research is a little off-kilter. This post stands in stark contrast to Sarah Haye’s beautiful piece, ‘How having kids made me a better academic‘. Think of me as the stereotypical reviewer of your research funding bids – an older male, with no kids in sight.

Recently, I read a grant application where the applicant had written:

“I am a mother of two small children (ages 5 and 8) and therefore for this period there was little time for research.”

There has been a strong movement over the last ten years to acknowledge the impact that being primary carer has on research careers. Many granting bodies now make allowance for the impact of raising a family, which is wonderful and long overdue. It is a step towards fairness and equality, and it recognises that researchers are people.

However, we don’t often talk about people in funding bids.

When we write research applications, we often shift into a depersonalised space, where the focus is on the ideas. When we talk about people at all, we speak formally: “CI Needs-Grant will take responsibility for…” and “PI Wants-Funding is a recognised expert…”.

For the most part, these conventions abstract us from our personal situation. I don’t think that is always a good thing, but it is the convention. Also, we describe a fantasy land of Full Time Equivalent workloads and balanced budgets, knowing full well that much of the work will be done out of hours, as self-funded overtime that takes us away from our families. We talk about research partners and research assistants in purely abstract terms, stripping away any indication that they are also friends and valued colleagues, who might be depending on this grant to save their job.

We shouldn’t do that when we talk about our families. They are special and shouldn’t ever be abstracted away. Read more of this post

Drop around for a visit

This article is based on material that I wrote in 1994, when working with Margaret Jackson and Rosemary O’Connor on a project related to encouraging research in disciplines that were not traditionally considered strong in research. It originally appeared in Margaret Jackson and Rosemary O’Connor. 1994, ‘Developing Academic Research Performance’. Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.


Urbex image of an old and abandoned desk, with a bright orange chair behind it. On the wall is graffiti - TSJ
Beauty in decay #10, by Jinterwas, on Flickr.

Having someone come to visit is always nice. Unless they arrive unannounced, or stay too long, or too many people come at once, or… actually, there are a myriad of things that can go wrong with visitors.

Visiting researchers can be like that, too: a great boon to a research group when the visit is well planned, a special kind of hell for the guest when it isn’t.

Visits are usually initiated by individual staff members, based on their personal connections. However, the organisational support for the visit is generally provided by a research centre or group. They take a bit of work to organise, so it’s worth it to put in the planning time to make the visit a success.

How do you plan for a visiting scholar?

Well, if you were visiting, how would you want things to be organised? Thinking about the visit from the visitor’s point of view can help you to:

  • Clarify the purpose of the visit and set realistic expectations.
  • Understand the logistics and funding required to get a visitor to your campus.
  • Plan the actual visit, including a welcome kit for your visitor.

As a visitor, you would probably want to know why you are being invited to visit. This is often assumed and unstated, which can lead to mixed expectations. Read more of this post

Digital portraits for academics

This post started life as a comment on Yammer at RMIT (thanks, Hans).


Drawing Hands by M. C. Escher, 1948, (via Wikimedia).

Recently, Hans Tilstra was talking about digital twins – online identical models for offline objects. He talked about our personal digital twins, the representations of ourselves online. It is an intriguing idea, but not one that I really buy into.

Our various digital personas are too fragmented to be considered real twins. I think of online personas more as digital portraits. Some are pointillist – search results composed of tiny points of information. Some are abstract – the array of data that retailers collect about you, never fully realised, never really seen. Some, like Instagram, could be self-portraits. Others, like Facebook, may be family portraits.

Of all of these digital portraits, I think that there are three that are vital for any academic:

  • LinkedIn: Among other things, this is the perfect place to build your own personal alumni group. It is your industry portrait.
  • Google Scholar: This is where other researchers are most likely to find your work. It is your intellectual portrait.
  • Your university profile: When industry people, journalists, or other academics find you, they will look for your university profile to establish your bona fides, and find your contact details. It is your calling card.

I’m not saying that you should give up your favourite social media space for just these three. I love Twitter and I’m not giving it up for anything. What I am saying is that I think every academic should actively maintain these three profiles.

Read more of this post

Narrative of ideas

Old volumes of books: Historian's history of the world volume XXIII, and three volumes of Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopedia

Ideas of the world, by Jonathan O’Donnell

I’ve just been reading a Fellowship application. The applicant is brilliant. She has a great project idea that is urgently needed, and had excellent potential to lead to both theoretical developments and real changes in practice.

I was excited to read her application, because she has done great stuff in the past. She has an amazing international network, both in her research field and across academia generally. She has developed really innovative methods and theoretical developments, as well as doing exemplary work with the community and the profession that her research serves.

Perhaps you can imagine my disappointment when I couldn’t find much of that great stuff in her CV. There was one specific question that asks for research achievements and contributions. She had answered that question correctly, but… it didn’t sparkle.

All the amazing things that I knew she had done were listed in her CV, but I had to dig for them. I found the fact that she had been offered two different international fellowships at once buried in a discussion of opportunities to do research, along with the fact that she had chaired an international committee auspiced by the UN. I found some of her theoretical contributions and the translation of her research into practice buried in her list of ten best publications. Her leadership work with African researchers was listed as an interruption to her research career.

To help her turn this around, I suggested that she provide a narrative of ideas.

Read more of this post

Ethics in an age of data breaches

This post began as a comment on a blog post, The Ethics of Research on Leaked Data: Ashley Madison, by Neurosceptic on their Discover Magazine’s blog, 14 July 2018.

I’ve expanded it here to provide context and background.


Photo by Oumaima Ben Chebtit | unsplash.com

Photo by Oumaima Ben Chebtit | unsplash.com

In August 2015, a hacking group released data from AshleyMadison.com, a website designed to attract funds from men seeking an extramarital affair.

Before the year was out, academics were drawing on the Ashley Madison breach data.

I’ve found five journal articles or scholarly papers that draw on the data.

  • Grieser, William, Rachel Li, and Andrei Simonov. ‘Integrity, Creativity, and Corporate Culture’. SSRN Scholarly Paper. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, 19 April 2017. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2741049.

Grieser, Li and Simonov (all based in the USA) used email domain names to compare the proportion of staff in the Ashley Madison breach data with occurrences of corporate fraud.

  • Griffin, John M., Samuel Kruger, and Gonzalo Maturana. ‘Do Personal Ethics Influence Corporate Ethics?’ SSRN Scholarly Paper. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, 26 July 2017. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2745062.

Griffin, Kruger and Maturana (all based in the USA) identified Chief Executive Officers and Chief Financial Officers in the Ashley Madison breach data and compared that data with corporate infraction data.

  • Chohaney, Michael L., and Kimberly A. Panozzo. ‘Infidelity and the Internet: The Geography of Ashley Madison Usership in the United States’. Geographical Review 108, no. 1 (1 January 2018): 69–91. https://doi.org/10.1111/gere.12225.

Chohaney and Panozzo (based in the USA) grouped Ashley Madison breach data by US Metropolitan Statistical Area (roughly analogous to large cities) and related this to patterns of affluence and other aspects of those areas. Read more of this post

The effect of impact

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 20 September 2018 under the title “Don’t fear the bogeyman”. It is reproduced with permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


“I … have made impactful contributions to industry and practice…”

As a research whisperer, I spend my life helping people to refine their grant applications. An important part of that is wielding the ‘big red pen of clarity’, and editing their material to help express their ideas more clearly.

You can imagine my reaction when I read ‘impactful’ in a grant application recently. I was appalled. In the Australian vernacular, I nearly choked on my Weeties. This horror appeared in an otherwise excellent application, written by an otherwise excellent applicant. We had words…

At about the same time, Tim Sherratt tweeted:

André Brett replied,

Read more of this post

Saving space

References, listed without any gaps between them.

My least favourite way to save space – turn the reference list into a solid block of text.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had all the space that you needed to explain your research carefully and completely to the funding agency?

Wouldn’t it be lovely if there was space for nuance and complexity?

Wouldn’t it be terrific if your application fitted within the stupid page limit and you didn’t have to delete another half a page…it’s already midnight and you just want to go to bed.

Much as I feel for your sleep-deprived editing self, it wouldn’t actually be very pretty at all. I’ve seen people provide thirty pages when they were asked for two. I’ve had researchers complain that they can’t attach their 50-page CV to an application. I know what it is like to have 130 pages of application to review and comment on, with just a couple of hours to do it. I know that there is never enough space to write what you want, in the way that you want.

I also know that there is never enough time to read what is submitted, with the attention that it deserves. Read more of this post