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

4+1 reasons why you should not apply for external funding

Abel Polese

Abel Polese is a researcher, trainer, writer, manager and fundraiser. He is the author of “The SCOPUS Diaries and the (il)logics of Academic Survival: A Short Guide to Design Your Own Strategy and Survive Bibliometrics, Conferences, and Unreal Expectations in Academia”, a reflection on academic life, research careers and the choices and obstacles young scholars face at the beginning of their career. You can find him on Twitter at @Abiquitous and @scopusdiaries.


A broken pressure gauge
Pressure gauge, by Shane Horan, on Flickr.

Finally, the message came. Friends had warned you but you couldn’t help feeling disappointed when the request finally arrived. The dean of your school has asked you (and everyone else) to apply for external funding in the next few months.

You have nowhere to hide – stress and sleepless nights loom ahead. Maybe if you submit a few bids that are not funded, you can claim that you are doing your job. But the ice under your feet will eventually get thin. Is the alternative scenario any better? If you win, it will count to your next promotion (or tenure), but it will also mean more work. Evenings spent writing reports and expenditure claims instead of being with your family or friends.

You ask around. Many colleagues say that this is just the way things are. Others admit that they don’t fancy it but they fancy the risk of losing their job even less.

Unenthusiastically, you start gathering information on where and how to apply. You are already doing many things for free – this is just one more. After all, new academics must endure these things to get stronger. At least, that is what you have been told.


Read more of this post

Stitching together an intellectual life

Photo by Quinn Bidmead | unsplash.com

This post is by a colleague we know through our Research Whisperer community.

She has chosen to remain anonymous to share her experiences of being part of the academic precariat in Australia.


I am looking at a flyer for an amazing opportunity to hear one of my intellectual heroes speaking. Registration for the symposium costs $100. In my head, I do the calculations: $100 for registration, an hour to get there and back and probably two hours if I just stay for one talk, so that’s four times $55 (the per hour rate I would be getting for doing what I am paid to do), which makes it $320 to hear a keynote. I sigh and push away the enticement.

Someone asks me to read their paper, or their ethics application, and the calculation fires up – can I afford to be a good colleague this week?

These are the daily decisions you make when you move from a salaried role to a casual one. They are also the decisions that cost the most, not just in monetary terms but also in professional development, networking, the chance to hear about opportunities and to stay current with reading and thinking.

I read articles about following your passion and chasing your dreams and I am angry and tired. Honestly, I’m pretty much always tired and have a low level thread of anger running through my system. I am a very interesting person.

I think what strikes me hardest about my precarious academic life is that this is not where I imagined I would be at this point in my life. We all have mental pictures of our futures and while mine was necessarily vague, it included worthwhile work, financial security, and intellectual challenge…making a contribution in some way to learning about our world. I believed, perhaps naively, that publishing, getting research money, having industry experience, and teaching would lead to job security. It did not. Read more of this post

Ways to help

Photo by Clint Adair | unsplash.com

How do you help and support your precariat colleagues?

At Research Whisperer, we engage a lot with issues of precarity and casualisation. We think it’s a huge issue that needs urgent address in academia, and it’s a global problem.

We were recently invited to speak to casuals at an NTEU Victoria event where I talked about maintaining a consistent researcher profile while being part of the precariat, and Jonathan spoke on how to get research funding as a casual. We acknowledge from the start that while we focus on individual strategy and knowledge the issues of precarity are systemic and heavily embedded in our sector.

One of the things that I wanted to write about after the event was how those of us in more secure employment can help in this bleak landscape of increasing casualisation, and exclusionary and inequitable institutional dynamics.

Those who are in casual or fixed-term appointments are less likely and able to advocate within the academic system. Short (often multiple, simultaneous) contracts and insecurity mean that it is difficult to build momentum in fighting for equitable conditions and opportunities. That is why actions like joining a union (like the NTEU in Australia) can shift the action to an organisation that has more traction and resources in the system. The NTEU and the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) created the Uni Casual website to inform and agitate for change.

Just recently, universities in my state (Victoria, Australia) published data that shows the extent of casualisation in our universities – it’s quite shocking. These figures are for those on casual contracts, and doesn’t count those on short fixed-term contracts (who I would also consider part of the precariat workforce). Read more of this post

Where I stand: Rewriting the academic bio

This piece was first published on Tamson Pietsch’s blog, Cap and Gown (capandgown.wordpress.com) on 17 July 2019.

You can follow Tamson on Twitter at @cap_and_gown.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about expertise and its history and the ways that academics like me deploy it to underpin our knowledge and authority claims.

This is my current bio, taken from my UTS website:

Screenshot 2019-07-17 at 18.14.11I send versions of this bio to conferences and academic journals and reproduce it in thousands of conversations. It follows a pretty defined formula, beginning with my name (often also given with pre-noms), my position in a hierarchy and my employing institution. It then proceeds to mobilise my publications in order to establish my authority and field of expertise, complete with the sanction of academic publishers and grant-making bodies. At the end come more references to credentialising institutions that stand as further markers of status and serve as evidence of my international formation and legibility. Read more of this post

Furnishing our corners of the internet

Photo by Brande Jackson | www.instagram.com/brandejackson

Photo by Brande Jackson | http://www.instagram.com/brandejackson

Things in my life have been a little heavy and stressful lately so I thought it would be good for my heart and soul to write a post focused on the fun and ridiculous elements of the academic internets and beyond.

Working on Research Whisperer through the years, I’ve been more aware of the ways in which the higher education research sector is broken and the bad behaviours and structures that propagate inequity and career crises. It can feel bleak.

I can’t fix these things alone, and it’s easy to get quite down about any number of these issues and their seemingly unchanging (or very-slow-to-change) nature.

For me, retaining perspective on what is meaningful and pleasurable in life can disperse anxieties and enable me to concentrate on things that make me happy and where I feel I can do effective work that’s valued. This post features a bunch of sites and comics that I regularly read. A good way for me to recalibrate my world-view is through engaging with satire and the absurd, by participating in both the consumption and production of such cultural texts.  Read more of this post

A new framework of dynamic authorship

Arjun Rajkhowa

Dr Arjun Rajkhowa works as the manager of the National Centre for Antimicrobial Stewardship at the Department of Medicine and Radiology, University of Melbourne.

His research interests include public health; media, culture and society; human rights; and policy. He writes for academic journals and online media outlets. He has volunteered in the community sector in Melbourne for several years.

His Twitter handle is @ArjunRajkhowa. His ORCID is 0000-0002-3760-2182.


Written in stone, by Jonathan O’Donnell, on Flickr.

In an academic publishing environment that does not require publishers to compensate contributors for their knowledge and output, or to provide an authentically supportive framework for scholars to exercise ownership of their work, what recourse does an author have to dynamic scholarly revision of their work?

English as a second language

Papers produced by academics who use English as a second language, for example, may have language and style-related errors that may need correcting, but this is often not possible. When a paper is accepted by a publication, a modicum of editorial oversight may be expected, but often there is little editorial oversight. If a paper is poorly written, it ought to be rejected. However, if a paper has been written well and yet contains some errors, then it should be possible to revise the work dynamically and correct these minor errors through ongoing revisions. Some writers simply need time to improve their work!

The lack of editorial scrutiny

Unfortunately, even though academic publishers pride themselves on offering rigorous peer review, and sometimes use rejection rates as an indication of academic standing, in many academic journals, there is little (if any) editorial oversight after the article has been accepted for publication.

The peer reviewer’s role is fundamentally content-related. Depending on the nature of the paper, they are to assess whether the paper accurately represents the results of the study, analyses the issues raised in a coherent manner through cohesive arguments, references the appropriate literature in the field, and otherwise presents ‘sound’ scholarship. The reviewer’s job is not, for example, to correct and improve the quality of the language used in the paper.

Unfortunately, many journals do not provide much editorial input once the paper has been accepted for publication. There is little, if any, editorial scrutiny of the quality of the writing. As authors, some of us are acutely aware of the variable quality of our own writing. Those of us who work in collaboration with other authors often find ourselves belatedly struck by (sometimes flagrant) stylistic and linguistic errors in the paper. Read more of this post