Should I stay or go?

The early career researcher’s path is punctuated by cross-roads. One of the first and biggest of these crossroads girl-2573111_1920can be: what do I do when I finish my PhD? For some PhD graduates, there may be career opportunities available within their institution; for others, the next career step involves looking further afield. What are the pros and cons of these alternatives – should you stay or go? I posed this question to six fabulous early-mid career researcher colleagues with a range of experiences of both staying put and moving on within the academic field (stay tuned for broader options in a future post). For many of us, including some of these colleagues, there was little choice – so it’s heartening to know that both options have their advantages. I’m delighted to share the generous responses of my colleagues here, and the remainder in next month’s post. Special thanks to Dr Jane Willcox for inspiring this blog topic idea!

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Wellbeing 1-2-3

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Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

In my ‘day job’ I undertake research aimed at understanding and promoting healthy lifestyles. I therefore empathise with many of my friends and acquaintances (and colleagues working in other fields) who ask me to clarify the contradictory and often unnecessarily complex public advice that abounds about how best to stay healthy. For example, is it really healthy/necessary to:

  • Cut out carbs?
  • Cut out fat?
  • Not eat after 8pm/10pm/midnight?
  • Follow a ketogenic/paleo/vegan diet?
  • Juice detox?
  • Eat hemp/quinoa/kale/superfoods/activated almonds?
  • Exercise at high intensities?
  • Use hot pants to reduce fat?
  • Do crunches to reduce belly fat?
  • Sleep in ‘segments’?
  • Take oxygen shots?
  • Balance my hormones by putting jade eggs in strange places? (thankfully a lawsuit put this one to bed…)

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How to stop papercrastinating

Welcome back to Happy Academic 2019!

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It’s amazing how many trivial bits of e-paper you can push around your computer when it’s time to write a manuscript (or thesis, or book chapter, or other bits of academic writing that don’t have an imminent deadline). Or how many times you can browse emails, check social media, watch Youtube (those talented cats/TED talks/tragic 90s music videos!), make cups of tea, or engage in some other mindless task.

Disseminating our research in writing is a core component of academic life, and yet it is one that many researchers struggle to find time for. And yet we typically manage to meet other key academic deadlines – funding and ethics applications and teaching-related tasks, for instance.

As well as the delayed progress on our work, putting off important tasks is not good for us in other ways. Evidence has shown that the habit of leaving things til the last minute can result in low quality work performance and reduced well-being.

Overcoming the tendency to papercrastinate requires firstly understanding why we do it. Why do we find it so hard to sit down and write? Here are some of the reasons I’ve come across: Continue reading

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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