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

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

Getting realistic about your endless list of writing projects

Aila Hoss is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

Her research explores topics in public health law, health policy development, and the impact of federal Indian law and Tribal law on health outcomes. Her recent projects study law and policy interventions to respond to the opioid crisis. Prior to joining the faculty at IU, Aila served as a staff attorney for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Law Program (PHLP), where she worked to improve public health through the development of legal tools and the provision of legal technical assistance to state, Tribal, local, and territorial governments.

Aila completed her Bachelor of Arts at Emory University and her Juris Doctor at the University of Oregon. She is an active member of the Indiana bar. She tweets from @ailahoss.


Photo by J.J. Ying | unsplash.com

The entirety of my career in public health law has included some component of research and publishing.

This year, I hit an unfortunate milestone: my writing project list had ballooned to nearly 70 entries.

These projects ranged from articles accepted for publication and undergoing the final editing process to random ideas collected over the course of a decade. The volume of unfinished projects left me completely unable to prioritize how I should devote my writing time.

This week, I finally decided it was time to get realistic and trim the list.

Over the course of four hours, I went through each item and evaluated how much research I had conducted on the project and how much writing I had completed. I compared this investment against my research priorities and then deleted; consolidated; and prioritized them.

Here’s what I learned.

Delete What’s Not on Your Research Arc

I am doing a Visiting Assistant Professorship (VAP) and about to go on the tenure-track job market. My public health law practice, although it had a clear thread, included a hodge-podge of public health research projects because I was working at busy public health agency. Now that I am on the academic path and have a foundation of research interest and expertise, I don’t have to work on every interesting issue that comes through the door. So, I cut out ideas that weren’t on my research arc and that I hadn’t started any meaningful work on. It’s not my job to research every important issue that comes along. Read more of this post

How having kids made me a better academic

Sarah Hayes is an urban archaeologist and material culture researcher who focuses on the role possessions play in quality of life and social mobility. Her current research traces the material life trajectories of individuals and families during Victoria’s gold rush.

She is a current holder of a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) and Senior Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University.

Sarah has written for The Conversation and tweets from @SarahHResearch.


Photo by Sarah Hayes | All rights reserved.

Photo by Sarah Hayes | All rights reserved.

I suffered a serious lack of academic mojo when I came back to work after maternity leave for my second daughter.

I’d had to start her in childcare two months before my maternity leave ended so we wouldn’t miss out on a spot and, as is inevitable when a small kid starts childcare, she was constantly sick for about four months. Throw in her asthma, and you can imagine what a stressful time it was. The snowballing of head colds meant she weaned herself overnight at ten months (it might sound silly, but this was to be my last baby and the sudden loss of that closeness with her hit me hard). Though she had been a good sleeper, all the illness meant I was back to an average of three hours’ sleep a night.

The demands of modern academia are complex and at times frustrating. I found myself heartily questioning the purpose of my research and whether I wanted to be an academic. Archaeology wasn’t going to save any lives, so why exactly was I putting my daughter through all this childcare-induced illness? Read more of this post

Leveling up in saying ‘no’

Photo by Jason Leung | unsplash.com

Photo by Jason Leung | unsplash.com

If there’s one thing that seems to dog many academics’ lives, it’s the inability to say ‘no’.

We often find ourselves over-committed and frazzled with deadlines…and it can be a frenzy of our own making. I’m not talking here about being given inappropriate workloads or sky-high benchmarks to be met. These are larger structural and equity issues that need broader institutional change.

I’m talking about the culture of overload that is normalised, and the ways that we sometimes pile on the commitments despite knowing that we’ll regret it. We do have some control over what we take on – it can be a matter of doing some cold, hard stock taking about priorities.

Once upon a time, I was a menace to my future self for taking on too much and assuming things would work out OK. They often did work out OK, but only because I had to put in extreme hours, pull overnighters, or lose several weekends in a row to get things done when there was a deadline log-jam. Now, with a household that includes two kids, an elderly parent, and my partner, as well as various furry and feathery critters, I can’t (and don’t want to) carry out this kind of work blitz any more.

To aim for balance and a good life (not just surviving), I use a few methods that I’ve been trying haphazardly over the years. They’ve now crystallised into a good set of strategies for me to manage work and enjoy life – and manage life and enjoy work (seriously – it’s true). Read more of this post

Laying the research groundwork

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 3 June 2018 and is reproduced with permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


Photo by Jon Tyson | unsplash.com

Photo by Jon Tyson | unsplash.com

When I’ve asked researchers about their funding streams, many want to talk about the projects they want grant money for. Drilling down a bit further, however, it becomes obvious that many of the projects aren’t actually projects…yet.

Some researchers have ideas for projects, while others have started initial discussions but haven’t gotten their collaborators to commit to the project yet. Some researchers have said they have a full-fledged project in their head but haven’t talked with anyone else about it. Often, even if the team has come together, the thinking around the project itself has not.

This makes it hard to talk to your university’s grants team because the research project you want funded isn’t properly baked. It’s all still a bit doughy and unformed. I’ve written before about why you should only submit golden-brown applications, and I know how much work it can take to get to that stage.

Most grants teams are fabulous and want to help you submit strong applications to those competitive funding rounds. However, it’s often neither their job nor do they have the capacity to get you to the project grant application starting block with a red-hot project and a team ready to go.

Grey areas

The problem here is the grey area of where this research development happens.

Particularly for early career researchers who may be fresh out of their PhD, starting that next big project—without a supervisor or the scaffolding of a degree—can be a significant challenge.  Read more of this post