Academic first aid

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This week one of Australia’s largest competitive research funding bodies, and a few smaller ones, released funding outcomes for 2019. A handful of colleagues were fortunate to receive a smile from the funding gods/goddesses; but many more did not, and are now struggling to cope with (yet another) rejection, trying to piece together the options for their research program, career and in some cases, salary into 2019 and beyond.

Most of us have been in this situation and it’s worth trying to remember all the good advice:

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Are you ok?

sad-505857_1920October 10th was World Mental Health Day. Mental health was the focus of many a discussion, media story and social media feed, and the news was mostly not good.

In the academic world, a recent study showed that 41% of graduate students worldwide reported signs of moderate to severe anxiety, and 39% reported signs of moderate to severe depression  – rates six times higher than those in the general population.

This is concerning, but perhaps not surprising. While academia has its perks, it is also often an insecure and hyper-competitive environment where work-life balance feels as mythical as a unicorn and rejection is the norm. This is the perfect recipe for contributing to, or exacerbating mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

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Balance: how do you find tranquility in chaos?

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Life is more than career progression

This month I’m delighted to post a piece written by a wonderful ECR colleague, Dr Ashley Ng from La Trobe University.

ECR life can be challenging at the best of times; but these challenges are compounded when you’re also dealing with significant health issues. Not only is Ashley a dedicated and thoughtful researcher, she also utilizes her lived experience with the healthcare system and chronic disease management as a passionate advocate for improved healthcare services. Ashley co-founded Beta Change, tweets at both @Beta_Change and hangrypancreas, and blogs at bittersweetdiagnosis.com.

Ashley generously provided this inspiring post on gratitude, self-care and balance.

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Research integrity and the ‘academic dark arts’

I’ve wanted to write about research integrity for some time, but can’t go past this post that conveys key issues so beautifully already – so this month, reproduced with permission is Pat’s wonderful piece on the ‘dark arts’ of academia.

Professor of the academic dark arts

Professor of the dark academic arts. It’s a job. Yes, really. No, you never see this position advertised. But it exists. And not just in J K Rowling’s world. In real life. Professors of academic dark arts magick away other people’s work and get away with it. They cast spells which do in their competition.

We have all heard about the dark arts of stealthy plagiarism, unethical appropriation of other people’s research agendas, fudging research results.

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What if I’m not good enough?

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When I was a PhD student I once confided in my supervisor my fears that ‘people’ were going to find out sooner or later that I didn’t know as much as I should. She responded “You know what? Those ‘people’ don’t know as much as you think they do either”.

Two decades on, while I can recognise this as a clear case of imposter syndrome (the “internal experience of intellectual phoniness”), in all honesty I can’t claim that I’m completely cured. And neither, so it seems, are many other researchers. EMCRs speak to me regularly about pervasive feelings of self-doubt, beliefs that, despite evidence to the contrary, they aren’t smart or talented or deserving but rather have got to where they are simply by luck, or conning people, and they live in fear of being ‘found out’ and exposed as frauds.

The good/bad news is they’re not alone. Estimates are that 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some stage. While it seems particularly rife in academia, where it can feel like we constantly need to prove ourselves, we are not unique. You’d be surprised at the company we’re in, which includes:

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How do I win a grant?

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Image by rawpixel, Pixabay

‘How do I get research funding?’ is one of the most common questions I’m asked as a mentor of Early and Mid-Career Researchers. Doing research usually costs money (and other things, which we’ll save for a future post!), and writing grant and funding applications is often a key component of academic life.  Trying to ‘teach’ grant writing, even over extended periods of time, is challenging; I can’t pretend I can do it much justice in a short blog. But given the clear need for more support and advice on this topic I’ve summarised three key strategies I’ve observed are helpful for approaching the search for funding (i.e. before you even start), as well as links to some of the many other resources out there, that I hope provide a useful framework for EMCRs in early grant-writing endeavours. I’ll cover subsequent stages in future posts. Continue reading

Dear ECR self…

One of the most popular Happy Academic blogs last year was the post featuring advice that senior researchers would, in hindsight, give to their earlier career selves.

This month I’ve built on the theme, by posing the same question to a handful of my fabulous mid-career researcher colleagues. Once again I was struck by the enthusiasm and generosity with which they shared their expertise. I hope you enjoy this collated wisdom as much as I do! Heartfelt thanks to all contributors, and special thanks to my talented Research Fellow, Dr Lena Stephens, for illustrating this post. (And please be sure to read to the end, to hear about an exciting new EMCR initiative!)

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Homage to white space

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What makes a piece of art a masterpiece? Great artworks are composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not. Artists and designers often use blank or white space to convey visual power. One of the finest examples of the dramatic use of white space is Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, which forms part of a fresco in the Sistine Chapel.  In the painting, the hand of God reaches out to spark spiritual life into Adam – but it doesn’t touch him. The resulting atmosphere in this painting is electric; it’s left to the reader to complete the act. In examples like this, what is missing serves to magnify and highlight what is present.

This same principle of white space is applied in other artworks, including novels and literary works; architecture; symphonies; even speeches, where sparse words and pauses have made for some of the most memorable orations in history.

While white space is a design element, it can be applied much more broadly. In essence, white space is effective as it allows the most important components to be the focus, by reducing background tension, clutter, fuss, and less critical details; and introducing more harmony and balance. Does this sound like something your calendar (or your life!) could benefit from?

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When and how to go for promotion (and when and why you shouldn’t)

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Being promoted up the academic ladder is widely viewed as a kind of holy grail. A Professorship or other academic leadership role is something we’re almost indoctrinated to believe is where we as academics must head, what we must aspire to.

So what I’m about to say might seem almost sacrilege. You don’t have to want a  promotion! One of my Early Career Researcher mentees recently said to me, “I see what Professors do, and I don’t know if that’s for me. I’m happy and doing fine at my current level – is it ok to just want to stay where I am, and do good work here?”

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The foolproof approach to saying no

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Welcome back to Happy Academic 2018!

Already we’re into the pointy end of February. Have you stuck with any of your New Years’ resolutions? I’ve heard from several people who shared some version of my single resolution this year: Do less. There are myriad reasons that doing less/creating white space/taking down time are very good things to do (there are whole books written on it, like this). But many of us don’t do these things and I suspect one of the key reasons is because we’re NOT VERY GOOD AT SAYING NO.

There are lots of reasons you might struggle with saying no when asked to take on a new task, and as a first step in addressing no-aversity it can help to understand what they are.

Is your no-aversity due to:

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