Being a PhD researcher in a digital world

Carolyn Leslie is a PhD researcher in the Department of Creative Arts and English at La Trobe University, Australia. She is doing a creative-led PhD by writing a novel for young people about girl internees in Changi during World War II who made a quilt in secret, as well as an accompanying critical component. Carolyn is also an accredited editor and an author of works for young people and adults. 

She can be found @carolynleslie on Twitter. Her ORCID is 0000-0001-7622-1975.

Note: Carolyn wrote this post before COVID-19 restrictions came into effect. Because so much has changed in the intervening time, she has written an update that addresses some of the challenges that these restrictions are having on higher degree researchers. Her update appears at the end of this post. This post is simultaneously cross-posted on La Trobe University’s RED Alert blog. 

Photo by Mike Erskine |


During last year, I found myself drawn to attend several workshops run by the research education and development team at my university. They had topics such as blogging and developing a digital profile. My interests sprang from a desire to get my research and writing on girl internees in Changi during World War II – and my wider interests in the editing and publishing worlds – out into the wider world.

However, I kept coming up against an existential blockage: what sort of ‘me’ did I want to be when I’m out there in the digital world? And who did I want to connect with? Who did I want to share my work, words and thoughts with? Read more of this post

How I build bridges

Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction (July 1930). National Museum of Australia, 1986.0117.6558

Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction (July 1930). National Museum of Australia, 1986.0117.6558

A little while ago, I spent a morning writing introductory letters to people. They came about for a range of reasons:

  • A friend had asked me if I knew someone who could help with qualitative methodology and analysis. I knew a consultant who could help.
  • A colleague was looking for work, and I offered to introduce her to some senior researchers who might know of some opportunities for her.
  • A friend had said that her daughter wanted to be an astronaut. Turned out that I knew two women who were associated with space programs.

One of those people suggested that I write a post on how I go about making introductions between strangers. This is that post.

One of the things that I love about my job is that I get to talk to academics about their research. Because I sit in a Faculty (or College) research office, I talk to people from a range of different Departments and Schools. I end up knowing a little bit about the work of a lot of people.

Occasionally, I talk to researchers who are looking at different aspects of the same problem. When I do that, I like to introduce them to each other. A lot of the time, I suspect that not much comes of it – maybe they have a coffee. Maybe they are too busy. However, when it does work, it seems to work quite well. People meet for a coffee, talk about their respective interests. Sometimes, there is enough there for something more to happen. Most of the time, it is just a pleasant interlude amongst the hurry-scurry of modern academia. But it is enough, I think, to have introduced people who respect one another’s work, given them a different view on their research and created a weak tie between the academic silos.

Read more of this post

Forging your post-PhD, during your PhD

Dr Wade Kelly is the Senior Coordinator, Research Impact, at La Trobe University, in Melbourne, Australia.

Wade’s PhD research focused on how and why universities and academics engage with communities.

This is Wade’s personal website and he tweets from @wadekelly.

Photo by Wade Kelly – used with permission

I am, perhaps, a unique creature in academia, an avowed extrovert.

Being around others recharges me and gives me energy.

That said, the prospect of cold-contacting people has never been a thrilling proposition. I once had a survival job working at a call centre that conducted surveys. I realised very quickly how little I liked cold calls. At the end of each call another number would appear on the screen then auto-dial. As I heard the tones through my headset another lump would emerge in my throat — over and over.

The work was soul sucking. I only lasted two weeks. There are jobs you do to pay the bills and hope that you never have to do again, and that was one. It turns out, however, that the skills I acquired during my brief stint in a call centre would come in handy down the road over a decade later!

This post is about how I built skills during my PhD for the post-PhD job search.

In late 2014, I gave up my permanent position as an instructional designer at the University of Alberta to start a PhD in Australia. I was back to square one at the bottom of the hierarchical heap. I left the security of a job, home, family, and friends and found myself in regional New South Wales, Australia, in a town called Wagga Wagga. There, I quickly found that if you wanted something done, it was easiest to pick up the phone. People would sometimes take weeks and even months (six months for one memorable email) to respond by email, but phones were answered immediately. Learning to pick up the phone again was but one of the strategies I identified and employed early in my PhD and throughout.

Early in my PhD program my supervisor encouraged me to insisted that I complete a 3-year plan. It was the first week of my PhD and I didn’t know where to start, but her eye was already on graduation and beyond. She knew that in order to get the most out of the PhD beyond your time as a PhD student, you had to make the most of your time as a PhD student. My plan included stuff about writing the thesis, outreach and engagement, teaching, committee work, post-PhD job-searching, and much more. Read more of this post

Translating technology: Infrastructure literacy for researchers

Sara in StockholmSara King is an eResearch Analyst with Australia’s academic and research network provider, AARNet. She has extensive experience in researcher engagement and training, with expertise in research data and technologies in the Humanities and Social Science (HASS) research areas.

She has built this expertise through university lecturing, working with libraries and as a curator for the National Archives of Australia.

Sara is building networks to lower barriers to digital research methods and tools. You can find her on Twitter at @sarasrking. Her ORCID is 0000-0003-3199-5592.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao |

Do you wonder about the difference between coding and programming? Are you new to these concepts?

If you hear the word kernel, do you think about corn before you think about computing? Do you have maths trauma, believe in the ‘geek’ gene, stare blankly at people who mention operating systems, the command line or bandwidth?

Or maybe you think smart phones are ‘magic’ and that a ‘black box’ is an aviation term?

In short, does technology give you the heebie jeebies and you’d rather not think about it?

We need to talk.

This year I started a new job. Like really new. A job my dad doesn’t understand. After almost 10 years working in archives, I came to Australia’s Academic and Research Network (AARNet) with a bag full of 20th century skills like map handling and retrieving paper records from storage.

Before that I worked in a library. Before that I did a PhD, well before Research Data Management was a thing, just as libraries and archives had started digitising collection items. I wouldn’t call myself technical, but after working with digital materials as a curator, I got a little bit of a bug. Later on I heard about ‘Digital Humanities’ and worked on a ‘Digital Treasures’ project, curated some online exhibitions and dealt with some eye-poppingly large archival quality audiovisual files that took days to upload. The potential of digitised collections in research got me really excited.

In 2018, I was lucky to work with the Tinker team, creating the beginning of a digital lab for Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences (HASS) research, and supporting collecting institutions to work more closely with researchers. During that year I learnt the term ‘tech curious’ which described me to a tee. Read more of this post

How do you start a research network?

Image from Mark Fletcher-Brown |

We had a question recently from Ely asking for pragmatic advice on starting an international research network. Alyssa Sbisa and Sally Grace wrote “Setting up a professional network” a while back and that post has heaps of relevant good advice that I’d strongly encourage you to check out!

I’d written previously on building a research network on a shoestring, and much of that still applies. I realise now, however, that the earlier post presumed a network that needed cohering and development.

I think Ely is after something that addresses a much earlier step: how do you even get a research network started?

This post aims to tackle this, and would welcome others’ input on the topic. I’m speaking very much from my HaSS (Humanities/Social Sciences) point of view, and realise that other areas may have quite different contexts and ways of doing things. One of the things I should make clear from the start is that I’m talking about how to start a research network with few to zero resources. I’m not talking about setting something up with a ready cache of funding, or the need to access such a cache.

These are the key things you need if you want to start a research network: Read more of this post

10 days in

Image from The Leveraged PhD's social challenge page |

Image from The Leveraged PhD’s social challenge page |

I use Twitter a lot.

I have used it across my various professional faces for over ten years now.

I get invited by other institutions to give masterclasses and invited workshops about creating and managing digital identities.

I teach workshops about ‘researchers and social media’ every semester. I’ve written quite a few blogposts about social media, including what I like seeing researchers post, how to run a shared social media account, what is your social media ‘voice’, what I tweet, why I’d unfollow you (and why I’d follow you), and posts on livetweeting. And I’m still learning a lot about its use and flexibility.

I recently started participating in a social media challenge, and I’m having a great time and feeling rather enlightened about my own practices. I thought I’d share them with you (now, ten days in) and compare my thoughts with when the challenge is over at the end of September.

Read more of this post

Things it has taken me 8 years to learn

Photo by Daniel Cheung |

Our good buddy The Thesis Whisperer wrote a fab post on ‘how to run a blog for 8 years and not go insane‘ in 2018. It is a cracker of a post and gives excellent insight into how TW has managed to maintain such quality and longevity!

At the time it was published, I read it with great interest, hoping that I’d be able to implement some of the strategies and not be writing things at 11pm the night before our weekly publication slot…

Alas, dear readers, Tseen did not implement any strategies.

Is she sitting on her sofa right now writing this post at 10:36pm? Indeed, she is.

The Research Whisperer celebrated its 8th birthday recently, and we posted this on our Facebook page:

Today, we have published 383 posts, have almost 42,000 followers on Twitter, over 6400 subscribers to the blog, and over 9200 followers on our Facebook page.

It was heartening to think about the community that surrounds RW these days, and the wonderful allies and friends we’ve made. For me, it has been a career transformative time. Just before we hatched RW, I was at a low, low career point. Working with Jonathan has been a delight, and I would never have thought that we’d have travelled this far down the road with our blog, being led by doing what we thought was fun. Read more of this post