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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Let’s make kindness the next academic disruption


Academia can be a tough world. The environment is competitive, funds are limited, egos are large. The metrics by which we are judged focus heavily on first authorship or principal investigator status, and self-promotion is an art form; there are workshops in how to do it. Fellow academics are at times colleagues and other times competitors. Lots of EMCRs are clamouring to climb the academic career ladder – or merely just to stay afloat – with increasing desperation and decreasing reserves of energy. Many are doing it with minimal support.

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Knock knock. Who’s there? Opportunity

How do you answer when opportunity comes knocking?

hold world

Opportunity arrives in many guises. As an EMCR it might be an invitation to:

  • work with a new collaborator
  • become involved in a new project
  • present your work at a particular forum
  • peer review for a journal or funding body
  • take on a new research student
  • apply for funding from a different source

Sometimes as an EMCR it can seem like every new opportunity that comes your way in the course of your work should be seized. It’s a competitive environment, and opportunities don’t drop into your lap every day; you may worry about when the next one will crop up. You may be flattered to be offered, or respect the person offering the opportunity and not want to appear ungrateful or let them down. The opportunity could lead to something amazing! Indeed, it might! But the downside of jumping onto every new opportunity that knocks is that they inevitably DON’T all end up leading to amazing things. They may end up leading to a whole lot of hard work, or stress, for little gain, or not the gain you’d hoped for. Adding to the frustration is that they’ve also displaced time you could have spent pursuing things that matter more to you.

So how do you weigh up whether a new opportunity is worth taking on – or whether it risks you becoming an “opportunities addict”? (yes an actual thing – see this great post where academics share their tips on the fine art of saying no to what might seem attractive opportunities).

‘The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything’  – Warren Buffett.

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My PhD in rejection: 5 survival tactics

I have come to the conclusion that I qualify for a second PhD: in academic rejection.

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Image by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash


I have:

  • lived, breathed, and grappled with it for well over 3 years
  • formulated and discussed with colleagues numerous hypotheses (yes, it’s claimed that time spent writing unsuccessful grant applications is never wasted, but how strong is the evidence?)
  • taken a multidisciplinary approach (I’ve had not just funding applications rejected, but also papers, job and award applications)
  • collected loads of data from different sources: dozens of granting bodies, zillions of journals
  • triangulated my data (as a grant applicant, manuscript author, grant and journal peer reviewer, grant and fellowship review panel member)
  • been kept awake many nights turning over in my head the best way to analyse and interpret findings (Revise? Resubmit elsewhere? Ditch it? Give up altogether?)

– and am finally now getting around to write-up. Continue reading

How to master the EMC teacher-researcher balancing act

One of the difficulties I most often hear EMCRs express is how to balance teaching and research responsibilities. As much as I empathise, it has been many years since I was employed in a combined teaching-research role, so this month I’ve drawn on the expertise of a colleague, Dr Megan Teychenne, who does a fabulous balancing job every day, to share how she does it. Here is Megan’s post, including her top 6 sure-fire teacher-researcher balancing tips.  ~ Kylie


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Dear EMCR Self

What advice would world-leading academics give their EMCR selves?

One of the best things about a career in academia is that you get to work with some of the smartest people in the world. As serendipity would have it, I’ve found that most of those people are also incredibly generous with their time, energy, ideas and mentorship. This month’s post is proof. I recently gave a shout out to around 20 of my favourite colleagues, all highly successful academic leaders doing amazing things in their careers. I asked them to consider, if they could go back in time, with the benefit of hindsight, what advice they would give to their early-mid career selves. Collating the responses, I was not only enormously inspired, but also touched by the genuine thoughtfulness and kindness with which they were prepared. To my contributors, heartfelt thanks for your wise words, and for the outstanding examples that you set. To my early-mid career colleagues, I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I did.

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Network for success: 5 non-scary networking strategies

networkingAs researchers, we live in an era where collaboration – with other scientists, practitioners, policymakers, across disciplines, institutions, sectors and countries – is increasingly common and necessary. Addressing complex global problems requires a range of skills and resources that are typically not possessed by a single researcher or their immediate research team, but rather necessitate the input of a number of collaborators. This can be seen, for example, in changes in the nature of co-authorship of research papers. Across a range of disciplines, the number of papers with more than 100 authors has risen from virtually nil in the early 1980s, to over 500 by 1990; the first paper with 1,000 authors was published in 2004; in 2011 44 papers in physics alone had more than 3,000 authors; and in 2015 a paper with a record- breaking 5,154 authors was published. Admittedly co-authorship is only one indicator of research collaboration, and most of us will never publish papers with anything like these co-author numbers, but they do speak to significant changes over time in collaborative approaches underlying the production and reporting of scientific knowledge.

In order to form collaborations – as well as to help our day-to-day work run more smoothly, contribute to our institution and discipline, facilitate our career progression, and for a range of other reasons – we need to network. Most of us accept this, and some EMCRs enjoy it. But for others, the idea of networking can be daunting or downright frightening. “The thought of reaching out cold or pushing myself onto a stranger because I want something makes me incredibly uncomfortable”, is a refrain I’ve heard in a number of similar forms. But networking need not involve this at all. This post is dedicated particularly to those EMCRs who struggle with networking, although hopefully also provides some inspiration for seasoned networkers too.

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How to ace your service

smiley tennisTypically researchers, particularly in a University or Research Institute, are expected not only to conduct and disseminate research, but also to engage in professional ‘service’. This is important to do, not just for an extra line on your CV (although that’s important too, especially for promotion or funding applications), but also for contributing professionally to the broader circles in which you work, and critically, for your own leaning and development. Service presents invaluable opportunities to learn, grow, connect to the scientific community, and become a more well-rounded researcher.

So what is service, and how do you go about it?

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The #1 key to academic success

Mentoring light morgan-sessions-6255In speaking with lots of academics over the years about how they’ve achieved success in their fields, I’ve heard a remarkably similar theme repeated many times.

And it seems this recommendation for success is not unique to the academic world; apparently most business owners who do this one thing will survive in business twice as long as those who don’t. In fact, highly successful business people including Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson all credit this one thing as being essential for “making it” in business, and in life generally. People who do it report greater job satisfaction, higher salaries and more likelihood of promotion.

What is the number one thing to which many successful academics and business people attribute their success?

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