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

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.

Read more of this post

What I like seeing researchers post

Photo by Jason Leung | unsplash.com

Photo by Jason Leung | unsplash.com

‘But I haven’t got anything to say!’

This is one of the most common laments I hear when I’m running social media workshops, particularly from emerging scholars.

Researchers – many of whom we know are rather fond of holding forth (it’s tough to make them stop) – suddenly clam up when they’re staring at their newly created Twitter account or Facebook page. They’re sometimes wary of the exposure, often anxious of doing something ‘wrong’, and rarely at ease with platforms from the start.

To address this stumbling point in my ‘Researchers and social media’ workshops, I indicate what might be good content for a researchers’ social media stream. It’s a starting point to think about what types of information to include, how they’d source that information and what they might ‘sound’ like.

This post is a more detailed version of my earlier post about what I tweet (when I was running three different types of accounts…which was before I was running four different types of accounts!).

Small caveat: What I include in that workshop is not definitive; it’s not based on scads of data. It’s what I find in others’ social media streams that I think is valuable, and the people and organisations who share this kind of stuff will probably be followed or liked by me.  Read more of this post

On leaving home and growing up

caitlinnunn-smDr Caitlin Nunn is a researcher in refugee studies. Her work focuses on refugee settlement, including in relation to youth; identity and belonging; cultural production and media representation; and generational change and intergenerational relations. Much of her research is participatory and arts-based.

Caitlin is currently an International Junior Research Fellow in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University.

Her fellowship project uses a participatory arts-based approach to explore experiences of local belonging among young forced migrants in North East England and Central Victoria, Australia. 

Photo by Deniz Altindas | unsplash.com

Photo by Deniz Altindas | unsplash.com

I won’t pretend it was what I planned.

It’s hard to ‘plan’ anything as a precariously-employed early career researcher, but I was looking for a position closer to home.

Like the university fifteen minutes from my house.

Nor will I pretend it was easy.

Moving across the world with a partner and toddler in tow to establish oneself in a new university, city, and country certainly has its challenges.

But here I am in the UK on a two-year research fellowship.

I will spend this time conducting an ambitious research project, chipping away at my ‘guilt’ folder of works-in-progress, and preparing to pursue my next, yet-to-be-imagined, academic adventure.

Most days, when I enter my office, it is as though I haven’t travelled at all. The globalised nature of academia means that everything is pretty much the same. The same email program and library search engine. The same bibliographic and data analysis software. And the deeply familiar bureaucracy.

Beyond this, however, something has changed: how I relate to colleagues, potential project partners, my work, and my academic identity. Read more of this post

RO Peeps: Deborah Brian

The RO Peeps page lists the research office profiles of friends of The Research Whisperer. It showcases the talent and myriad trajectories that make us who we are.


Deborah Brian [Photo courtesy of Kimberley Nunes]

Name & Twitter handle: Deborah Brian / @deborahbrian

Position title: Senior Administrative Officer, Research

University: The University of Queensland (UQ)

Location: Brisbane

Highest qualification?  Bachelor of Arts with Honours (in Anthropology and Archaeology) and *half* a PhD (I know, I know …)

How did you get into this role, and how long have you been a research administrator/developer?  I’ve taken on a range of academic and professional roles in research and teaching over the years, mostly around my own studies.  There is a fine tradition of graduates and postgraduate students making up the backbone of the administrative workforce in universities.


RO Peeps: Brenda Massey

The RO Peeps page lists the research office profiles of friends of The Research Whisperer. It showcases the talent and myriad trajectories that make us who we are.


Brenda Massey (Unitec, NZ)

Name & Twitter handle: Brenda Massey / @FundingChickie

Position title: Grants and Funding Advisor

University: Unitec Institute of Technology

Location: Auckland, New Zealand

Highest qualification?  Bachelor of Arts

How did you get into this role, and how long have you been a research administrator/developer? I’ve been at Unitec since March 2010. I don’t have a background in research or academia, but I do have experience running funding schemes and part of my role at Unitec is to manage our internal research funding round and our postgraduate scholarships scheme.

We’re a small research office so even though my job title is ‘grants and funding’, I pitch in to help our ethics, research and postgraduate committees, as required. I’ve organised a number of events such as book launches, professorial addresses and our 2011 Research Symposium and inaugural 3 Minute Thesis Competition.

The Dean of Research was looking for someone willing to get stuck in and create their own niche within the office and the institution and that’s just the type of challenge I was after.

What other kinds of jobs have you had?  Prior to joining Unitec I ran a local government community grants scheme, so I have a background in community development and support. I developed funding guidelines and processes, assessed funding applications and made recommendations for grants to senior management and local government politicians. That experience has definitely helped me put myself in funders’ shoes now that I’m assisting Unitec staff to apply for external grants. I’ve also had roles in pensions administration, accident compensation claims entitlement and legal aid case management.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?  It’s such a buzz when a grant application that I’ve assisted to prepare has been successful, irrespective of whether it’s a small amount of money or a large amount of money that’s been granted. It’s validation, not just that the proposal has been pitched correctly, but that an organisation external to your institution agrees that the project is important enough to resource.

What’s the thing you’d most like to change about your job?  I love working with staff and students to develop their grant applications, but once they have their funding my contact with them can become fairly sporadic, and might be via email or phone rather than face-to-face. I would relish the chance to be involved in some of the projects that are funded as a team member, rather than as a facilitator.

Favourite hobby-horse?  I’m still passionate about community development. I was recently pleased to be part of a team that put together a successful proposal for funding that will see Unitec staff provide academic guidance on a research project conducted by a local community group. Unitec’s involvement will increase the group’s capacity, and the capacity of other groups that they will go on to work with.

Dream job?  I would love to be on a panel that makes decisions on funding applications!

Best advice to researchers?  I’m a big advocate of the importance of ‘critical friends’ in the grant writing process. 

Unitec’s Professor Linton Winder recently advised his staff as follows:

“Try and persuade colleagues outside your area, preferably with panel expertise, to read and seriously critique your grant [application]. Many will not want to offend and will tell you the application is “wonderful”. This may make you feel better in the short-term, but if they pick out a flaw that the panel would have, that will make you feel better in the long-term”.