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

Do or do not. There is no try.

Photo by Matthew Henry | unsplash.com

Are you often a no-show?

Or one of those people who says “Maybe” on a Facebook event?

I’m a veteran events organiser.  Throughout my career, planning and running events has been an integral part of the work I do.

Now, as a lecturer in a researcher development unit, convening programs is a big part of my job. It is my everyday. The joy of room bookings, mailing lists, registrations, and constant event promotion campaigns – they are all mine!

But before you feel that my life is just a big ball of enviable funstering (which, it must be said, it can be because I work with funsters), I think I should tell you about what makes me sad: When people don’t show up.

Now, regular readers of this blog will know that I have some very well-ridden hobby-horses (e.g. open plan offices). I’d like to introduce you to another one: people who RSVP for things, then don’t bother attending, cancelling, or sending an apology. This makes me particularly headasplodey when it’s a fully booked event and there’s a waiting list of eager folk.

We talk about this event ‘attrition’ regularly in my field. It’s a common problem across all institutions and disciplines. We keep stats on it. We brainstorm constantly about ways to address it. There are many ways that others have tried to increase their attendance ratios, including increased tracking of registrations, ramped up reminders, consequences for no-shows, etc. All of these options require significant time and resources to manage.

It’s a lot of work to put into supporting people to come along to something they have already said they’d come along to. Read more of this post

I’m new

Photo by Aftab Uzzaman | http://www.flickr.com/photos/aftab

I’ve recently started at a new university. This is a good thing. It was time that I moved on, and I’m going to learn a huge amount in my new role. My new manager is amazing, and the team are excellent.

However, it is also a little bit odd. I’ve gone from being the person who knows everything to the person who knows nothing. Literally, nothing. Someone had to show me how to book a room. I don’t know how the systems work. I don’t know how finance works. I don’t know how HR works. I didn’t even know how the microwave worked (sorted this one out by myself, thankfully).

Some of these (photocopier, microwave) are mundane things, to be expected with a new environment. Some are a result of moving organisations – each university has its own way of doing things. In my old role, if I didn’t know how something worked, at least I knew who to ask. In my new role, I know almost no one. In one stroke, I’ve left behind a network that I’d built up over years. I have to build a whole new network (and I’m pretty terrible at the ‘names and faces’ thing).

Because of this, I’m keen to impress. There is so much that I don’t know, I’m trying extra hard when I do know something. I’m that kid in the class with their hand in the air, “Pick me, pick me!”. So keen to impress. So desperately keen. So desperate. Read more of this post

Going freelance

Dr Dean Chan is a research development consultant based in Perth, Western Australia. He has been working as a freelance consultant on a full-time basis since 2014.

Prior to this, Dean had worked as a teaching and research academic in the Australian higher education sector for almost 20 years, including appointments as Senior Lecturer in Visualisation Technologies and Digital Media at Curtin University (2013-2014), Senior Lecturer in Digital Communication at University of Wollongong (2011-2013), Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Asian Digital Media at Edith Cowan University (2004-2007), and Lecturer in Art Theory and Visual Culture at Edith Cowan University (1999-2011).


Photo by Dean Chan | All rights reserved.

I happily resigned from a continuing academic position five years ago.

After almost twenty years in various teaching and research positions within the humanities and creative arts, I needed a change. I had enjoyed a great career, exceeded all my research and publication goals, and taught thousands of students. It seemed churlish to continue hogging a seat at the table when I no longer wished to be there. It was time for me to go.

But not completely away. Read more of this post

Creating and growing a personal industry group

A group of World of Warcraft avatars, of vastly different races and classes, united by their love of libraries.

Libraries and Librarians Class Photo (cropped), by Michael Pate, on Flickr

Recently, I read a draft grant application that included an allowance for dinner for the industry advisory group. I nixed it.

I explained to the applicant that, while it may technically be an allowable budget item, most reviewers of that funding scheme would see it as an extravagance.

This led to a discussion of how she was going to run her industry advisory group. They were going to meet three or four times a year, probably over dinner, to get an update on the project and provide advice and feedback. Essentially, it was a dinner party with a focus on her research.

That made sense to me. If you want to create your own industry advisory group, create a good dinner party. Invite people that you would be interested in having dinner with, and that you think would be interested in meeting one another. Make it diverse enough to keep the conversation flowing, but not so diverse that it is divisive. Talk about the things that you passionate about. Disagree, and agree to disagree. Build trust relationships. Read more of this post