Funding an encyclopedia

Image from Jess Nevins' Kickstarted campaign

Image from Jess Nevins’ Kickstarted campaign

One of my favourite Kickstarter campaigns is The Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes by Jess Nevins.

In 2013, Jess raised $15,671 from 444 backers to publish an encyclopedia. Imagine, for a moment, that this was part of a research program. It wasn’t, but it could very well be. Encyclopedia are collections of knowledge, and provide fundamental information that provide the building blocks for new discoveries.

If you are interested in funding your research through crowdfunding, there are some really good lessons that you can draw from the Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes campaign.

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Talking about salaries

Commonwealth Bank of Australia ten-shilling note, showing both sides of the note
Commonwealth Bank of Australia ten-shilling note, via Wikimedia.

At universities in Australia, we get used to knowing one another’s salaries (in rough terms). Every university uses the same basic salary structure, and has relatively comparable pay rates within that structure. So, if someone is a Professor or a Lecturer, you know roughly how much they earn.

This familiarity means that we often forget that this isn’t the case in all sectors. A friend who worked in the IT sector said that he worked for an organisation where it was a sackable offence to discuss your salary with a colleague. Everybody was on negotiated rates, and the last thing that management wanted was for workers to compare their pay rates, especially if they were doing the same work.

That isn’t really a problem until you want to include an industry partner in the budget of an application. Then these differences can be tricky to talk about. Read more of this post

The gendered impacts of funding Australia’s research

Janine Pickering is a senior consultant for CIS Consulting and Implementation Services. She works with individuals, teams, and organisations to design and implement positive workplace change.

Her passion lies at the interface of industry and academia where innovation thrives. So, it was a natural next step to include the role of ‘pracademic’ in her career portfolio. In this, she combines her consulting expertise with part-time lecturing/tutoring and research at Swinburne University. Her PhD is in Economic Sociology, with research interests in gender, work and organisations. She can be contacted via LinkedIn.


Mind the Gap goes feminist! by London Student Feminists [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Mind the Gap goes feminist! by London Student Feminists [CC BY-SA 3.0]

I have a bee in my bonnet about the impact of grant funding on women’s research careers so, last year, I made a submission to the Senate Inquiry into Funding Australia’s Research.

Although gender equity was not the main focus of the Inquiry, it is a crucial issue for productivity in research, hence several submissions raised it. The submission from the Australian Academy of Science EMCR Forum, for example, highlighted the significant disadvantages to women and minorities in the competitive funding process due to systemic biases and poor evaluation of track record relative to opportunity.

On reading the final report (722 Kb PDF), it was apparent that most of the Inquiry submissions as well as the Committee’s recommendations were focused on iterative changes to the current system, not a complete overhaul. However, based on my PhD research (2010 – 2015) into gender dynamics in biotech organisations (2.27 Mb PDF), I believe a tweaking of the current funding system will have only minimal impact on the outcomes for women in research and, consequently, on research productivity. My research was specific to science but I expect is equally relevant to the humanities and other areas.

I compared the career outcomes of women and men in biotechnology. A major finding was that women are more likely to become managers in commercial biotech firms than in public research organisations and, when they do, they hold management roles with relatively similar responsibilities and pay to men. In contrast, in public research organisations such as universities and research institutes, women who become managers tend to congregate in lower level management positions. Read more of this post

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

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.

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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,

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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