Interview with Dr Martina Boese (Department of Social Inquiry)

Photo by Daria Shevstova |
This week's interview with Dr Martina Boese shows how research opportunities can have surprising outcomes, and demonstrates how essential strong collaborative networks are for a successful research career.

Martina is a Lecturer in Sociology, and her research interests in migration and employment have been shaped not only by her own experiences growing up in Austria, but also through working across disciplines with researchers in other fields, and by building up diverse networks with community organisations and government departments.

In her academic career thus far, which spans Austria, the UK, and Australia, she has had very fruitful collaborative relationships, and has great advice to share about them!

1. How did you end up researching in the field you're in?

The shorter and more abstract version of my answer is: through a combination of following my passion and interests, taking chances and venturing into new fields (thematically, institutionally and geographically) when good opportunities emerged, and collaborating with others with shared interests along the way.

The more specific answer: I have always felt strongly about injustice and deeply curious about the making of social hierarchies and processes of exclusion. So, I had to end up studying sociology, after being disappointed by the law degree I had enrolled in. (In Austria students did not have to pay for their studies at the time (!) so I ended up completing both.) My interest in migration and exclusion based on culture, racialization and migrant status was probably also shaped by growing up in a restrictive immigration country. My first paid sociology job was as a research assistant on a project that investigated migrants’ entrepreneurialism in response to unemployment, my entry into researching employment.

For me, there is a clear path between these early beginnings and my current research on migrants’ experiences of employment, mobility and settlement. In between, I worked on a range of interdisciplinary research projects in 3 countries, at 4 universities and 2 non-university research centres including the community sector, with colleagues in linguistics, political science and labour law, as well as sociology. Interestingly, most of these positions built on prior collaborations and networks.

Not every single research project I worked on has squarely contributed to a focused research portfolio, but each has taught me something useful. Not only about employment, exclusion or minoritized groups, but also about doing research, from early design through to dissemination of research findings; about collaboration - with junior and senior peers as well as with stakeholders from government and community sector; about research and workplace cultures, and the challenges and joys of doing research.

2. What aspect of research do you enjoy the most? And the least?

This is a hard one since there are so many aspects I enjoy. One of my favourites is the process of making connections between seemingly disconnected questions and concerns, both conceptual/ theoretical and applied/ practical, as well as connections between different ways of thinking in different disciplines. I value that sociological understanding can make a critical contribution to defining, understanding and addressing so-called ‘real world problems’. Besides, being able to pursue a question by exploring ideas, listening, observing, analyzing and discussing, is such a joy and privilege.

My least favourite part is probably the demands of the neoliberal higher education environment to squeeze and tweak research, from funding applications to outputs, into a performance and attention economy frame that can distract from why research matters.

5. If you were a graduate researcher again, what would you do differently?

Keeping in mind my socialisation in different university systems (undergraduate in Austria, postgraduate in the UK), I would be more mindful of the institutional context and demands of doing research rather than trying to ‘work it all out by myself’. I would make a greater effort to seek out support and the wisdom of mentors including advice on career pathways, writing and publication strategies. While I have been granted fantastic opportunities such as a PhD scholarship in another country for which I still feel grateful, I would have benefited from the advice of others, including more senior academics on professional and publication pathways post-PhD. It's great to see this happening here at La Trobe - go, RED team!

Having said that, had I been more ‘career strategic’, I might not have chosen to be involved in other, very worthwhile projects such as a critical exhibition project on ‘guestworker’ migration to Austria. While this project did not as such add to my academic track record, it taught me a lot about collaborative knowledge production in a public arena and the politics of culture. Incidentally (or not), it also introduced me to meeting my next academic employer with whom I subsequently worked on an international, EU-funded research project in my area of interest.

6. Do you have any advice to offer on scholarly collaboration and/or networking?

After having worked on two ARC-funded projects (1 Discovery and 1 Linkage) and several smaller research projects, I would describe myself as a keen collaborator while having experienced both the joys and challenges of scholarly collaboration.

As in any other collaboration, mutual respect and transparency regarding expectations, objectives and strategies to meet objectives are key. In interdisciplinary projects, a genuine interest in ‘other’ ways of thinking, defining, and addressing problems definitely helps. In my experience, similar working styles make collaborations smoother but are not essential, as long as differences are recognized and negotiated before conflict arises.

As for networking, very useful entries into networks in my area are the thematic groups of the Australian Sociologists’ Association (TASA), as well as any workshops in your area of interest.

In my experience, the most fruitful connections have been forged through genuinely overlapping interests in specific subject matters. Looking back at my own trajectory, which this post has invited me to do, I would say that every opportunity for doing collaborative research can offer great opportunities for networking.


Dr Martina Boese is a lecturer in Sociology in the Department of Social Inquiry. 

Before joining La Trobe University, she held research positions at RMIT University, the University of Melbourne and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. 

Her research is in the areas of migrant and refugee employment, mobilities and settlement. Her current research is twofold, on precariousness in employment of temporary skilled visa holders, and on the relationship between social and spatial mobilities in the employment pathways of migrants.  

Martina’s publications on migration and regional settlement, migrant and refugee work, ‘race’, multiculturalism and migration policies include the co-authored book Becoming Australian. Migration Settlement Citizenship (2014, MUP), as well as articles in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Journal of Sociology, Journal of Intercultural Studies, Ethnic and Racial Studies and the Employment and Labour Relations Review.