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 | unsplash.com

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 to write a successful ethics application

Dr Kathryn Snow is an epidemiologist whose work focuses on vulnerable populations.

She has a particular interest in tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, adolescent health, and the health of people in criminal justice settings.

Kat advises colleagues from diverse backgrounds on research ethics, study design, and data analysis.

She tweets from @epi_punk.


The word “ethics” strikes fear into the hearts of most early career researchers.

Some of the reasons are beyond our control, but there’s actually a lot we can do to make our own experiences of the ethics approval process less painful.

Photo from Bernard Hermant | unsplash.com

Photo from Bernard Hermant | unsplash.com

I’m writing this from two perspectives: as an early career researcher (I finished my PhD in 2019), and as a committee member (I’ve sat on an ethics advisory group since the start of my PhD in 2014).

The job of ethics committees is to identify the possible risks in a project, and then assess whether the research team:

  1. are aware of the risks.
  2. are taking appropriate steps to minimise them.
  3. have a plan to handle anything that does go wrong.

To do this, ethics committees need information. If you want your ethics application to get through the process as quickly as possible, you need to give the committee enough detail so that they understand your project and how you are managing any risks.

Getting your application as right as possible the first time makes the whole process go more quickly. If you don’t provide enough information, the committee will come back with questions. You may need to resubmit your application to the next meeting, which could be a month or two away.

Spending more time on your application for the first meeting can save you months later on! Read more of this post

Research as a game of empire

Dr Luca Morini is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Global Learning Education and Attainment of Coventry University.

He holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology and a Doctorate in Education and Communication, obtained researching into the social, cultural and pedagogical dynamics which occur in Do-It-Yourself amateur game design communities. A bit like punk rock, but geekier.

His current areas of interest intercultural education, critical pedagogy, systems thinking and the globalisation of higher education (HE).

Luca tweets from @LucaMorini11.


First of all, an introductory note: to propose a one-size-fits-all definition of colonialism would be itself quite a colonial approach, and I would instead prefer to point you at this extensive reading list.

Image from severnbeachantiques.com/c1930s-glevum-british-empire-board-game-complete

Image from severnbeachantiques.com/c1930s-glevum-british-empire-board-game-complete

For the purpose of this article, it will suffice to say that colonialism is about the oppressive domination of lands and people as much as it is about those people’s alienation from selves, identities, historical heritages and ways of knowing, to paraphrase Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Decolonisation is therefore an effort towards deconstructing structures of oppression as much as it is about making visible the deep histories of identities, cultures, knowledge and institutions (which in turn makes accusations of “tearing down history” either misinformed or disingenuous).

If you would prefer to explore this field of work with a specific focus on the University, pick up “Decolonising the University”, edited by Gurminder Bhambra, Kerem Nişancıoğlu and Dalia Gebrial.

My contribution is nothing more than an attempt to open those conversation to researchers in general.

Second, a necessary disclaimer: I am yet another white, European, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, decently salaried guy. While I undeniably benefit from past and present forms of colonialism, I also think that they immeasurably impoverish all of us. Indeed, they impoverish the whole world, simply by “ruling out” alternative ways of existing. While this is true in all fields, my experience most closely pertains to the field of Higher Education and Research (and, more specifically, Research on Higher Education), which is particularly dangerous due its positioning as a key engine of social replication and production.

It’s a colonially structured research community, and research assessment and funding criteria can’t help but perpetuate colonial patterns of inequality.

While I have previously discussed the impact of competitive dynamics on staff wellbeing, this post focuses on competition in research and, in particular, its colonial dimension. Again, my argument will echo the language of game design, one that is both accessible and, for historical reasons, replete with colonial metaphors. This approach seems even more fitting when discussing research, with all its pervasive scores, rules and rankings, or as I have started to call them the ‘Three Colonial Rulings’. Read more of this post

ERA and Gender Equity-ish

Associate Professor Sandy O’Sullivan is an Aboriginal (Wiradjuri) person, and identifies as transgender/non-binary (they/them/theirs).

Sandy is Deputy Head of the School of Creative Industries at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and part of the team at the national social media platform: IndigenousX.

For 27 years, they have taught and researched across gender and sexuality, the body, performance, design and First Nations’ representation, and hold a practice-focused PhD across these intersecting areas.

Sandy tweets from @sandyosullivan.


Last week, the Australian Research Council (ARC) released their Gender and the Research Workforce report.

While it appropriately positions the need for direct action in providing support to increase the national participation rates of female researchers, there’s an entire group of researchers missing from the analysis, graphs, and the resolutions of gender parity announced on the 10th of October by the Minister for Education.

For ten years, the Australian Research Council has used a tool connecting researcher, research and institution, in the measurement of Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA). Their reporting on gender found in this week’s report is derived entirely from the data gathered in ERA.

ERA aims to identify and promote excellence across the full spectrum of research activity, including both discovery and applied research, within Australian higher education institutions.

ERA has aided the sector in understanding the demographics, influence and reach of those research contributions, with the analysis in this week’s report clearly recognising the need to increase opportunities for women engaged in research.

As a response to the report, the Minister for Education, Hon Dan Tehan MP and Melissa McIntosh MP announced support measures for greater participation by women. This included the appointment of Australian Laureate Fellows, Professor Belinda Medlyn (WSU) and Professor Lynette Russell (Monash) – both exemplary researchers and champions in the participation of women in research – to ‘act as ambassadors to promote up-and-coming women in research’.

This is great news for women, for research, and for society in general. We need greater participation by researchers who are women, and this report and the ministerial announcements go some way to acknowledging and addressing this. However, in the same report, researchers who do not identify within the gender binary have no clear representation, and no opportunity for meaningful measurement, response or supported action.

So, who is missing from the review, and what does this mean for ensuring gender equity? Read more of this post

How do you start a research network?

Image from Mark Fletcher-Brown | unsplash.com

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

A good example

Little Free Library, Madison, by Ali Eminov on Flickr.

Do you share your grant applications with people?

Writing an application from scratch is hard work. It is particularly hard when you haven’t done it before. That might be because you have never applied for a grant before. Thankfully, that only happens once. More likely, it is because you’ve never applied for a particular grant before. That might be because the scheme is new or because it is a new opportunity for you. It might be because you’ve moved to a new country, and need to put in an application to a funding agency in your adopted home.

One of the best ways to understand what the research funding agency is asking for is to see a worked example. The very best way is to read the guidelines (and I’m sure that you all do that). But guidelines can only go so far – sometimes they are a bit vague, or ambiguous, or repetitive, or just poorly written. Sometimes it isn’t the fault of the guidelines at all – the fear of the task (and the ramifications of failure) overwhelm your capacity to understand the instructions. In all these cases a good example can go a long way to helping the writing process. So where can you find examples of applications?

Read more of this post

How do we support research engagement?

Joann CattlinJoann Cattlin is project manager on the Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project, an ARC Linkage project at the University of Melbourne.

Building engagement is central to her role in coordinating the team of 20 researchers and 17 partners across four countries. The project has achieved significant collaboration with partners and has generated international interest from other researchers, industry and community.

She has worked as a researcher and project manager for the last 10 years and was previously an academic librarian. Joann received a Universitas 21 scholarship to undertake this study tour and is conducting ongoing research on the link between project management approaches and engagement. Joann is presenting case studies from her trip at the ARMS conference in Adelaide. You can find her on Twitter at @jocattlin.


Shape Lab at MoMA, by Michael Nagle and MoMAlearning on Flickr.

Research engagement is a government priority in many countries. While the requirements differ, there is a growing body of research and practice that can help inform how we respond.

In June 2019, I visited eight universities in Canada and the USA and met with 65 managers and academics to find out what  how research engagement was supported in North America.

North American context

In Canada and the USA, the drivers for research engagement are a combination of funder requirements, mission-driven community engagement and growth of research partnerships. In Canada, research engagement – or knowledge mobilisation – has been a requirement of major government grants for over 10 years. In the USA, the National Science Foundation is the only funder requiring engagement or broader impacts.

Universities have developed a range of responses to support researchers and there are also networks and communities of practice like Research Impact Canada and the National Alliance for Broader Impacts.

I met with research managers and academics within central research offices, faculties and research centres across a range of disciplines, which provided me with a detailed snapshot of what engagement looks like in practice. I was interested in the way universities structured support within both centralised and devolved structures, and how they addressed the common challenge of connecting researchers and professionals across complex and often siloed organisation.

Four key areas emerged: Read more of this post