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

10 days in

Image from The Leveraged PhD's social challenge page | theleveragedphd.com/social-media-challenge

Image from The Leveraged PhD’s social challenge page | theleveragedphd.com/social-media-challenge

I use Twitter a lot.

I have used it across my various professional faces for over ten years now.

I get invited by other institutions to give masterclasses and invited workshops about creating and managing digital identities.

I teach workshops about ‘researchers and social media’ every semester. I’ve written quite a few blogposts about social media, including what I like seeing researchers post, how to run a shared social media account, what is your social media ‘voice’, what I tweet, why I’d unfollow you (and why I’d follow you), and posts on livetweeting. And I’m still learning a lot about its use and flexibility.

I recently started participating in a social media challenge, and I’m having a great time and feeling rather enlightened about my own practices. I thought I’d share them with you (now, ten days in) and compare my thoughts with when the challenge is over at the end of September.

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Things it has taken me 8 years to learn

Photo by Daniel Cheung | unsplash.com

Our good buddy The Thesis Whisperer wrote a fab post on ‘how to run a blog for 8 years and not go insane‘ in 2018. It is a cracker of a post and gives excellent insight into how TW has managed to maintain such quality and longevity!

At the time it was published, I read it with great interest, hoping that I’d be able to implement some of the strategies and not be writing things at 11pm the night before our weekly publication slot…

Alas, dear readers, Tseen did not implement any strategies.

Is she sitting on her sofa right now writing this post at 10:36pm? Indeed, she is.

The Research Whisperer celebrated its 8th birthday recently, and we posted this on our Facebook page:

Today, we have published 383 posts, have almost 42,000 followers on Twitter, over 6400 subscribers to the blog, and over 9200 followers on our Facebook page.

It was heartening to think about the community that surrounds RW these days, and the wonderful allies and friends we’ve made. For me, it has been a career transformative time. Just before we hatched RW, I was at a low, low career point. Working with Jonathan has been a delight, and I would never have thought that we’d have travelled this far down the road with our blog, being led by doing what we thought was fun. Read more of this post

How to host a successful chat on Twitter

Helen KaraDr Helen Kara has been an independent researcher since 1999 and writes and teaches on research methods.

She is the author of Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide (Policy Press, 2015). She is not, and never has been, an academic, though she has learned to speak the language.

In 2015, Helen was the first fully independent researcher to be conferred as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. She is also a Visiting Fellow at the UK’s National Centre for Research Methods. Her latest book is Research Ethics in the Real World: Euro-Western and Indigenous Perspectives (Policy Press, 2018).

Helen’s website is helenkara.com and she tweets at @DrHelenKara. You can support her work on Patreon. Her ORCID is 0000-0001-7348-0963.


Image by Marc Wathieu | flickr.com

Image by Marc Wathieu | flickr.com

I have hosted and co-hosted a number of chats on Twitter under existing hashtags, and last month I set up my own Twitter chat on creative research methods.

In case you’re new to all this, a hashtag is a way of keeping track of topics and content on Twitter. For example, if you want to know what people are saying about marmalade, you can search Twitter for #marmalade (pro tip: then click ‘latest’ for most recent content) and you’ll find that marmalade is not only a foodstuff but a popular name for pets. You can use hashtags, follow hashtags and invent hashtags. They’re a great tool for reducing bazillions of apparently random tweets to a string of tweets that you actually want to read.

I write about creative research methods. It’s a topic that holds great interest for me and I know for a number of others too. So I decided to set up a monthly chat on Twitter. I played around with a few ideas for hashtags. The obvious #creativeresearchmethods and #creativeresearchmethodschat were too long and cumbersome. In the end I settled for #crmethods (for discussion in between the monthly chats) and #crmethodschat (for the chats themselves). To my delight, neither of those hashtags were in use on Twitter. It’s always worth checking that before you make a final decision. I remember going to a conference where the event’s hashtag was also being used by a European music festival with some quite, er, liberated practices, which meant the conference Twitterfeed was entertaining in rather more ways than the organisers had intended! 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

Being seen

Photo by Aaron Burden | unsplash.com

Photo by Aaron Burden | unsplash.com

Looking for another role can be an exciting and/or daunting state. It could mean that you’re finishing your PhD, coming to the end of your contract (still waiting to hear if your contract will be renewed…), or wanting to move on from where you are. There is work to do, however, before you are actually on that market. It is important work that needs to be started before you’re looking.

Let me start with two examples of what I mean:

  1. I was sitting next to a fabulous, proactive PhD researcher at ‘Shut up and write’ recently – let’s call her Nikeisha because that’s her name. Nikeisha was talking about the various things she’d done to position herself well and boost her chances of finding a position after completing the doctorate. These things included having her CV with her at a big conference where she had a poster and could immediately hand it over to interested lab heads or recruiting colleagues, applying to be part of an internship program (post-thesis submission) and specifying exactly the organisation they want to work in, and having a succinct and effective website. She’s a molecular biologist who worked with squid slime so I’m assuming she’ll get a role in no time – who could resist such a thing?
  2. I was cold-called by a PhD researcher who was almost submitting his thesis. Let’s call him Wade. I agreed to meet with Wade because a good friend had suggested me to him and he had flagged this in his email, as well as giving me the context of why he and my friend thought I’d be useful to talk to. While I may have still met him without the friend’s recommendation, I would not have approached the meeting with the same predisposed-to-like-him manner. In addition, he was very clear about why he wanted to meet with me and introduced himself via a courteous email and very slick and professional CV. Overall, I was dead impressed with Wade’s forthright approach, his clarity about his job-search context, and his considerate manner. He’s now a colleague of mine at the same institution.

The critical thread through Nikeisha’s and Wade’s pre-job search activities is that of positioning themselves to be seen. This is most important before you are actually on the market as, once you have to start applying around, the task of standing out in a stack of applications is that much harder.  Read more of this post

Digital portraits for academics

This post started life as a comment on Yammer at RMIT (thanks, Hans).


Drawing Hands by M. C. Escher, 1948, (via Wikimedia).

Recently, Hans Tilstra was talking about digital twins – online identical models for offline objects. He talked about our personal digital twins, the representations of ourselves online. It is an intriguing idea, but not one that I really buy into.

Our various digital personas are too fragmented to be considered real twins. I think of online personas more as digital portraits. Some are pointillist – search results composed of tiny points of information. Some are abstract – the array of data that retailers collect about you, never fully realised, never really seen. Some, like Instagram, could be self-portraits. Others, like Facebook, may be family portraits.

Of all of these digital portraits, I think that there are three that are vital for any academic:

  • LinkedIn: Among other things, this is the perfect place to build your own personal alumni group. It is your industry portrait.
  • Google Scholar: This is where other researchers are most likely to find your work. It is your intellectual portrait.
  • Your university profile: When industry people, journalists, or other academics find you, they will look for your university profile to establish your bona fides, and find your contact details. It is your calling card.

I’m not saying that you should give up your favourite social media space for just these three. I love Twitter and I’m not giving it up for anything. What I am saying is that I think every academic should actively maintain these three profiles.

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