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

Research as a game of empire

Dr Luca Morini is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Global Learning Education and Attainment of Coventry University.

He holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology and a Doctorate in Education and Communication, obtained researching into the social, cultural and pedagogical dynamics which occur in Do-It-Yourself amateur game design communities. A bit like punk rock, but geekier.

His current areas of interest intercultural education, critical pedagogy, systems thinking and the globalisation of higher education (HE).

Luca tweets from @LucaMorini11.


First of all, an introductory note: to propose a one-size-fits-all definition of colonialism would be itself quite a colonial approach, and I would instead prefer to point you at this extensive reading list.

Image from severnbeachantiques.com/c1930s-glevum-british-empire-board-game-complete

Image from severnbeachantiques.com/c1930s-glevum-british-empire-board-game-complete

For the purpose of this article, it will suffice to say that colonialism is about the oppressive domination of lands and people as much as it is about those people’s alienation from selves, identities, historical heritages and ways of knowing, to paraphrase Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Decolonisation is therefore an effort towards deconstructing structures of oppression as much as it is about making visible the deep histories of identities, cultures, knowledge and institutions (which in turn makes accusations of “tearing down history” either misinformed or disingenuous).

If you would prefer to explore this field of work with a specific focus on the University, pick up “Decolonising the University”, edited by Gurminder Bhambra, Kerem Nişancıoğlu and Dalia Gebrial.

My contribution is nothing more than an attempt to open those conversation to researchers in general.

Second, a necessary disclaimer: I am yet another white, European, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, decently salaried guy. While I undeniably benefit from past and present forms of colonialism, I also think that they immeasurably impoverish all of us. Indeed, they impoverish the whole world, simply by “ruling out” alternative ways of existing. While this is true in all fields, my experience most closely pertains to the field of Higher Education and Research (and, more specifically, Research on Higher Education), which is particularly dangerous due its positioning as a key engine of social replication and production.

It’s a colonially structured research community, and research assessment and funding criteria can’t help but perpetuate colonial patterns of inequality.

While I have previously discussed the impact of competitive dynamics on staff wellbeing, this post focuses on competition in research and, in particular, its colonial dimension. Again, my argument will echo the language of game design, one that is both accessible and, for historical reasons, replete with colonial metaphors. This approach seems even more fitting when discussing research, with all its pervasive scores, rules and rankings, or as I have started to call them the ‘Three Colonial Rulings’. Read more of this post

ERA and Gender Equity-ish

Associate Professor Sandy O’Sullivan is an Aboriginal (Wiradjuri) person, and identifies as transgender/non-binary (they/them/theirs).

Sandy is Deputy Head of the School of Creative Industries at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and part of the team at the national social media platform: IndigenousX.

For 27 years, they have taught and researched across gender and sexuality, the body, performance, design and First Nations’ representation, and hold a practice-focused PhD across these intersecting areas.

Sandy tweets from @sandyosullivan.


Last week, the Australian Research Council (ARC) released their Gender and the Research Workforce report.

While it appropriately positions the need for direct action in providing support to increase the national participation rates of female researchers, there’s an entire group of researchers missing from the analysis, graphs, and the resolutions of gender parity announced on the 10th of October by the Minister for Education.

For ten years, the Australian Research Council has used a tool connecting researcher, research and institution, in the measurement of Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA). Their reporting on gender found in this week’s report is derived entirely from the data gathered in ERA.

ERA aims to identify and promote excellence across the full spectrum of research activity, including both discovery and applied research, within Australian higher education institutions.

ERA has aided the sector in understanding the demographics, influence and reach of those research contributions, with the analysis in this week’s report clearly recognising the need to increase opportunities for women engaged in research.

As a response to the report, the Minister for Education, Hon Dan Tehan MP and Melissa McIntosh MP announced support measures for greater participation by women. This included the appointment of Australian Laureate Fellows, Professor Belinda Medlyn (WSU) and Professor Lynette Russell (Monash) – both exemplary researchers and champions in the participation of women in research – to ‘act as ambassadors to promote up-and-coming women in research’.

This is great news for women, for research, and for society in general. We need greater participation by researchers who are women, and this report and the ministerial announcements go some way to acknowledging and addressing this. However, in the same report, researchers who do not identify within the gender binary have no clear representation, and no opportunity for meaningful measurement, response or supported action.

So, who is missing from the review, and what does this mean for ensuring gender equity? 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

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