Romance your writing

James Burford is a Lecturer in Research Education and Development at La Trobe University.

He researches too many things. 

Recent preoccupations include: academic conferences, academic mobility, gender and sexuality in education and the felt experience of doctoral education.

Tweet him @jiaburford and find his writing at the blog he co-edits with Emily Henderson, Conference Inference. His ORCID is 0000-0002-0707-7401.


Photo by Element5 Digital | unsplash.com

Recently, I found myself sitting on a panel offering advice to graduate researchers who are trying to finish their theses. Even though I wrote my own PhD about the feelings involved in writing a PhD, it is easy to feel inadequate to the task of advice-giving.

Theses are so intricate, so specific, so personally transformative, that you are never entirely sure if you and another becoming-doctor are even talking about the same kind of thing! (See my thesis here, and a blog post about it here)

Sitting on this panel, I decided to be as honest as I could about the lumpy rhythm of my own doctoral experience.

My doctoral life involved multiple moves of house, city and country. It was punctuated by a relationship break-up and new love, part-time then full-time work at universities, and intense care work for a sick relative, which resulted in changes to my candidature (see more on this here – subscription required). My doctoral research was also intellectually challenging in ways I never really anticipated, leaving my brain bent into new shapes and leading me to question beliefs I’d long attached myself to. It is, as many doctoral education researchers have written, as if an important threshold (subscription required) has been crossed. There is no going back to pre-PhD me. Read more of this post

Learning to be a co-author

Dr Katherine Firth is a Lecturer at La Trobe University. Her PhD was on collaboration in writing.

Her recent book How to Fix your Academic Writing Trouble was co-authored with Inger Mewburn and Shaun Lehmann. She has collaborated on academic books and journal articles, and is currently working on three book projects with three different teams.

Katherine manages the blog Research Degree Insiders and tweets from @katrinafee.


Co-authoring can be very different for researchers from different disciplines.

In the social sciences and the sciences, for example, co-authored articles have become the norm over the last few decades. My academic background is in English Literature, where we do not usually write collaboratively (Leane, Fletcher and Garg, 2019, Nyhan and Duke-Williams, 2014). Publishing a collaborative article or book can still be a career limiting move in the Humanities where single authorship is the norm.

Co-authoring can lead to additional disadvantage for women (in both STEM and HASS fields), for junior researchers, and researchers from developing countries, who are more likely to find that their contributions are under-recognised or devalued.

Photo by John Schnobrich | unsplash.com

As an early career researcher, I tried to keep publishing in the traditional ways, what is sometimes called ‘lone wolf’ scholarship (as in this previous Research Whisperer post ). It is pretty tough and solitary out there. You travel to the library or archives on your own, you read alone, you write alone, you edit alone. You might eventually get to work with a Research Assistant, but their intellectual contribution to the work is typically small: transcribing, fixing references, fact checking, copy editing (in other words, work that doesn’t merit co-authorship). You might go to conferences and present a paper on your work to build an audience and get feedback, but there’s a still a gap between what you present at a conference, and whether anyone actually wants to publish the finished article. Often, the only feedback you get is from peer reviewers. Read more of this post

How to run a shared social account

Back in October 2014, my buddy @deborahbrian asked about running a shared Twitter account. I quickly wrote up a post and dropped it into the Banana Lounge (my personal blog). This is an updated, revised version of that post, informed by another couple of years’ experience and more trial and error. 


Photo by www.flickr.com/photos/carlos_maya | Shared under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/carlos_maya | Shared under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

Since getting into social media – especially Twitter – in a big way, I’ve had a fair amount of experience in running shared accounts.

  1. My research network’s Twitter (@aasrn) and Facebook group started as a shared account.
  2. Research Whisperer (@researchwhisper) and its Facebook page has always been a joint one with @jod999.
  3. Since the beginning of 2015, I’ve run the La Trobe Researchers accounts (@LTUresearchers | Facebook page) with my colleague Jason Murphy (@murphy_jason).

I should present this post with the caveat that I have no formal communications qualifications or training. All my experience is on the job, and self-taught.

When I run social media and digital research profile workshops, I’m often approached about how to run institution-face accounts: research centres or institutes, specific major projects, social that’s associated with group research blogs, etc.

By institution-face, I mean the specific context of formal university units or academic groups, but this advice would apply across a range of situations.

Read more of this post

The price of poor grant feedback

Photo by Dietmar Becker | unsplash.com

Photo by Dietmar Becker | unsplash.com

There is that moment when you find out the results of a long-awaited grant round.

It can be euphoric and somewhat surreal, or it could lead to much shoulder-slumping.

Given today’s research funding environment and the success rates in major funding rounds, there’s probably more shoulder-slumping than anyone would like.

This wrenching, life-affecting result is a tough phase to get through. That’s why I wrote “Picking up the pieces“, for researchers to look ahead and get back into the grant application cycle, after the requisite, understandable period of ranting and tearing of hair.

Recently, I’ve heard several anecdotes about unsuccessful grant applications and their aftermath, and it made me want to revisit this topic. Not quite in a white-hot rage (as can be Research Whisperer’s wont), but certainly with a sustained seething.

My issue is the poor to non-existent feedback that often accompanies unsuccessful grant applications.

Read more of this post

Exhaustion

Jonathan Laskovsky Jonathan Laskovsky is the Senior Coordinator, Research Partnerships in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University. He is primarily responsible for managing research partnerships support and administration within the College.

Alongside this role, Jonathan has research interests in modern and postmodern literature with a particular focus on fictional space and critical theory.

He tweets infrequently @JLaskovsky and can be found on Linkedin.


I’ve been playing squash for about 12 years.

I play quite poorly (especially given 12 years of practice), but I enjoy it. Although I don’t really have any desire to get any better than I am, I’m naturally quite competitive. So, I’m there to win even though I’m only playing with friends for fun.

Over time, I’ve found that the one advantage I have is persistence. I run down every ball. Balls that I’ve only got a 3% chance of getting to – let alone making a shot off – I’ll run down. I’ll run down a ball if it means hitting a wall, hard. If I can’t run the ball down, I’ll throw my racquet at the ball on the 1 in 1,502,402 chance that it may just bounce off the racquet and hit a winning shot (which, not surprisingly, hasn’t happened in the 12 years).

Man playing squash - the image is blurred because he is moving fast.

Blurry, by Ed Houtrust on Flickr

Inevitably, this is an incredibly tiring way to play. After four games or so, I’m usually exhausted and my advantage has pretty much been nullified. At that point, something strange starts to happen. I start to play better shots. I’m now so tired that I can’t run everything down so I need to play better shots to avoid total defeat. Remember, I’m there to win.

All of this sports malarkey leads me to this: there’s something to be said for exhaustion. For being tired, miserable, irritable, and downright sick of your grant application. Because there’s a certain amount of clarity that comes with the exhaustion.

At that point of exhaustion, you are in a similar frame of mind to your reviewer. They have read 50-odd applications and are tired of it. They are incredulous that ‘an interdisciplinary approach’ is still being touted as innovative (it isn’t). They are probably wishing they hadn’t volunteered to be a reviewer. They’re trying to fathom the incredible project that is hidden in the convoluted language and structure of grant applications because they want to still believe that it is in there.

Your exhaustion is the key here. Like the poor squash player, you can harness your exhaustion to play a better shot.

READ MORE

Golden-brown grant applications

Mmm, pie (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Mmm, pie (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

A colleague once boasted to me that she had pulled together an ARC Discovery over a weekend.

I asked if she thought the application had a chance of being awarded. She shrugged and said she didn’t care; she was under pressure to submit an ARC application and that was what she was doing.

Even then, before my life as a research grant developer, I immediately thought, “Well, that’s a waste of everyone’s time.”

Yes, major grant systems are overloaded and under-resourced.

Yes, many excellent and worthy projects go unfunded.

And much that is not so excellent or worthy goes unfunded, too. I would venture to say that these should never have been submitted in the first place.

You can’t write a great major grant application from scratch in a weekend.

You just can’t.

As I’ve become more experienced on this other side of the fence in the area of research development, this fact has crystallised.

Even if you devote the whole weekend’s 48 hours to pulling it together, it won’t be great. It might be eligible and compliant, but chances are it’ll be flabby, inconsistent, and unpolished.

In other words, half-baked.

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Easing the load

The Fairy Horde and the Hedgehog Host, an artwork featuring a hedgehog that has been colonised by fairies

When fairies attack, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

People seem to be talking about how the peer review funding system is in crisis – more applications, less funding, not enough reviewers, etc. Always eager to help, here’s this Research Whisperer’s Top Five ideas on how funding organizations can reduce their workloads.

My examples are based upon the Australian Research Council (ARC), as this is the system I know best. However, these ideas can adopted by any funding agency. After all, I pinched three of them from existing funding schemes.

1.  Review a set number of applications

One of the fears seems to be that a rising number of applications is forcing the quality of peer review down. The thinking goes like this: more applications means more reviews required. More reviews means more applications per reviewer (on average). Reviewers, therefore, may be spending less time on each review, or even be refusing to review applications. Without suitable reviews, the system of peer review falls over, catastrophically.

If this fear is justified, one response could be to cap the number of applications accepted. This process is known as ‘demand management’ in the UK context. The ARC knows how many admin people it has, how many people it has on the College of Experts, how many assessors it sends applications to, how many reply, how long the average application is for each scheme. These figures could be munged together to provide an upper limit of applications that the ARC would accept for each funding scheme that it runs.

If they know their capacity, the question then becomes how to make sure that only that number of applications are presented each round.

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