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.


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

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

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.

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

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