Which academics are happy?

Lachlan Smith is Co-Director of Cloud Chamber.

He supports small and specialist institutions to develop their research culture, environment and income through strategy development and one to one research proposal support for academics. Clients include Newman, Leeds Trinity and Harper Adams Universities. He previously worked in research development at the University of Warwick as well as roles in the civil service, local government and economic development consultancy.

Lachlan is currently undertaking a part-time PhD at the School of Business, University of Leicester. He tweets from @HEresearchfund.


Academics everywhere are under increasing pressure to improve their performance and that of their institution, often by undertaking tasks that respond directly to new forms of measurement and management within the sector.

Image by rromer on flickr | Shared via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Image by rromer on flickr | Shared via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

League tables now exist for every imaginable university degree, region and specialism and the plethora of tables continue to grow.

Over the last eight years, since I started working closely with academics, the number of metrics has only continued to expand, prompting the question from an academic I know well: “Which academics are actually happy in English higher education today?”

The question took me by surprise. I had never been asked this question so directly before.

This academic had recently taken the plunge and resigned from her academic role in England and taken up opportunities in South-East Asia. Part of the driver for this was unhappiness with the English higher education sector, including heavy (and often unrealistic) teaching loads, burdensome administration and a lack of support from senior management, coupled with the introduction of more metrics into the everyday life of academics. These include the Research Excellence Framework (REF), Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and the associated National Student Survey (NSS). And, of course, there is the newly emerging Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), as well as a reduction in student fees potentially on the horizon to complicate the policy and organisational landscape further.

It is a pretty exhausting mix for anyone, and that’s just thinking about it, let alone doing any of this. How, for example, do people manage to do research – that key underpinning platform of universities? Read more of this post

preLights: A new way to share research?

Máté Pálfy is the Community Manager for preLights, a preprint highlighting service that was launched a year ago by the not-for-profit publisher The Company of Biologists.

Before taking up this role, Máté did his PhD at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, studying gene regulation using zebrafish embryos. He is a big supporter of open science and is excited to see how preprints will shape the future of publishing. Máté tweets from @mate_palfy and you can follow preLights @preLights

The Research Whisperer was very interested to hear more about preLights because we’re always up for different ways of sharing research, and this model appears to benefit the researchers, our scholarly communities, and the research itself. That’s winning all around!

While preLights is focused on the biological sciences, the potential for its format extends much further than this area.   


preLights 1st birthday cake! Photo from Mate Palfy.

preLights 1st birthday cake! Photo from Máté Pálfy.

When I was a PhD student, one of my favourite things to do was to discuss the latest experiments and results related to my research, and exchange views on where the field was heading.

I particularly enjoyed poster sessions at conferences, where early career researchers can easily engage with more established scientists and discuss unpublished, ‘raw’ science.

In many aspects, preprints (non-reviewed versions of manuscripts deposited on a public server) can be viewed as similar to unpublished research presented at conferences and other meetings. They facilitate collaboration and open discussions about the work, but are much more transparent than conference talks or posters, as the details of the work are better documented. Given these advantages (along with a number of others, discussed here), you might think that researchers would’ve already made the public discussion of preprints part of their routine. Unfortunately, this hasn’t really been the case. Read more of this post

The ethics of conference speakers

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 webiste is helenkara.com and she tweets at @DrHelenKara. Her ORCID is 0000-0001-7348-0963


Photo by Luke Michael | unsplash.com

Photo by Luke Michael | unsplash.com

In March 2018 Stanford University in California held a two-day conference in applied history. There were 30 speakers. Every single one was male and white.

Like most academic fields, applied history is dominated by white men. However, there are also many women and people of colour who work and study within the discipline. No doubt there are also queer historians and historians with disabilities. To be fair to Stanford, three female historians had been invited to take part in the conference, but each of them declined due to previous commitments. To be fair to women, I’m sure that more than 10% of historians are female. Stanford inadvertently made history itself by ending up with the biggest manel ever. (For those who haven’t heard the term before, a manel is a panel comprised entirely of men.)

Of course the media, as usual, reported this event as though gender is binary. While there is some point in prioritising women, who still face structural discrimination in professional life, this also risks further marginalising trans and non-binary people. Their voices are equally important, as are those of people from different sexual orientations, belief systems, and so on. Read more of this post

The joy of Wiki

Photo by Rodolfo Mari | unsplash.com

Photo by Rodolfo Mari | unsplash.com

Earlier this year, I started a ‘Shut up and Wiki’ group at our university. It has been running now for over six months.

Many universities, often with researchers working with the Library, are showing their Wiki-friendly faces with wonderful edit-a-thons, Wiki-bombs, Wiki masterclasses, etc. I wanted to get us in on that action.

The initial idea with the group was to have a set time to meet up with like-minded folk (of all stripes and levels: academic, professional, student, profs, whatevs) and run the session like a standard ‘shut up and write’ session but with everyone working on their own Wiki projects, edits, or pages. Because we have a cosy group of stalwarts, the pomodoros don’t really need to be set and we just end up editing and chatting along as we see fit. It works, it’s fun, and we’re building bridges with other institutions around the these kinds of sessions.

Most importantly, we’ve got a great little group together that would otherwise not have come together in this way.

This post is about creating collegial spaces within our institutions, at a time when finding joy in what we do can be a challenge.  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

How a university punished a whistle blower

Ann L. Berrios is a graduate of Barnard College and received her Masters from Stony Brook University. She has worked as a university administrator since 1983. She has also written about this incident at Citizen Truth. 

We don’t have the resources to fact-check Ann’s story, and we have not asked her to satisfy a burden of proof. To do so would put more strain on her. We present her story here as she presented it to us.

We do this because we recognise that there are entrenched power structures within universities. We know that sometimes people in power commit fraud and break the law. We know that sometimes those people are protected by the universities that they work for. We know that sometimes whistleblowers are persecuted.

We believe that Ann has the right to be heard. 


A brass whistle that has been washed.

Whistle wash shop, by Holly Occhipinti on Flickr (CC BY)

By reporting fraud, my husband acted to protect the scientific integrity of repositories of knowledge in libraries and databases. Protecting these valuable but endangered resources from the introduction of falsified publications must be done early in the manuscript review stage.

My husband was a faculty member in the School of Medicine and Director of a Microscopy Imaging Center at a state university in the USA. There he witnessed, proved and reported scientific fraud in the laboratory of the University Vice President for Research.

Following his medical school’s faculty code of ethics, my husband reported the fraud to his supervisor. Independently, two investigative committees confirmed the misconduct by failing to reproduce the intended results.  Confronted by these committees, the Vice President professed to have had no knowledge of the fraud, which he ascribed to a subordinate in his laboratory.

Investigative committees disagreed, learning that the University and President knew of the Vice President’s long record of scientific and sexual misconduct yet had covered up these acts for years at the expense of witnesses, victims and taxpayers. Read more of this post

A call to arms for established researchers

Dr Matúš Mišík is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. His main area of expertise is energy security within the EU. He also studies the role of perceptions within the EU decision-making mechanism.

Matúš has published articles in Nature Energy, Energy, Energy Policy, Geopolitics, Czechoslovak Psychology, Journal of Popular Culture, Comparative European Politics, Asia Europe Journal and Slovak Sociological Review. He regularly writes for the leading Slovak dailies and comments on energy policy related topics in the electronic media. He has undertaken study / research trips to Norway (2006), Kazakhstan (2009), Finland (2009), the UK (2011), Austria (2012) and Canada (2015-2016). Matúš will be spending the 2018 fall semester at the Carleton University in Ottawa as a EU visiting scholar.

He tweets from @misikmatus.


Photo by Finn Hackshaw | unsplash.com

Photo by Finn Hackshaw | unsplash.com

The decision of Swedish research institutions not to renew their contract with Elsevier after 30 June 2018 is the latest instance in the “database wars”.

Several countries – with Germany in the lead – have gotten into a dispute with major publishers over the rising prices for database subscriptions, which persist despite increasing numbers of open access articles.

I think it’s up to established researchers to initiate change in the way research results are being distributed.

Several governments have already claimed that publicly funded research has to be made freely available, while some research agencies require all supported research to be published open access. For example, the European Commission’s goal is to have all research freely available right after publication by 2020 and its grant schemes require all results to be accessible to everyone without paywall.

Journals have already started to offer open access options to enable unrestricted access to published papers, which requires authors to pay a fee to cover publishers’ costs. Read more of this post