Commuting stocktake: De-stressing my schedule

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 31 Oct 2019 as ‘Coping with commuting’. It is reproduced with the permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit http://www.researchprofessional.com.


Photo by Wade Kelly – used with permission

My commute is a big chunk of my working life these days. I’m more than five years into a job for which I commute about 3 hours a day (1.5 hours there and back). It’s usually a two-leg journey—train then bus—and occasionally a three-leg one—two trains then bus.

I love my job and the people I work with. It is a dream job that I didn’t think existed.

I feel profoundly grateful for finding a space in academia where I can make a difference and in which I am (relatively) secure. My manager is sympathetic to my commute and I am able to work flexibly on a consistent basis, whether that’s working from home or leaving earlier to avoid the peak-hour crush.

Even so, if I leave this job, it will be because of the commute.

I wrote about starting this extended commuting life back when I was a month or so into my job. Even though I have become used to it and, at times, even look forward to the gift of time to reflect or do such things that can be done on a train or bus, I know it takes a steady and often stealthy toll.

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

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