Finding your way as a researcher

Photo by Barby Dalbosco |
Research at universities is always breaking new ground.

This could be through conceptual advances, new technologies, moving into new areas, changing funding and policy situations, or the more obvious transitions of starting a research higher degree, moving institutions, or getting a promotion.

Universities are large and complex places, and independent research means you need to find your way through collaboration, technology, permissions or policies for your project.

Guaranteed, things will change, or you'll miss information the first (or second) time around. It can be challenging to be confidently in the know. This lack of knowing how to find the help you need may be holding you back from being able to do what you want.

The start of a new academic year can be a good moment to reflect on this, and find ways to address the gaps in your institutional or researcher knowledge. It's a great chance to orient yourself, which means learning about where you are, then working out how to get to where you'd like to go.

For researchers at all stages of their careers, the RED (Research Education and Development) team work with the Library, Learning and Teaching, the Research Office, Digital Research, and Career Ready to help you find your way.

The program can support you whether you're wanting to work out a university degree system that's new to you, learn a new data visualisation technique, give better conference presentations, ethically store research data, apply for your first human ethics approvals, build research leadership skills, or better communicate your research.

Before you set out on the busy and fast-moving season of O-Week and Semester 1, here are some opportunities to orient yourself, and get yourself moving at speed to the next point in your research journey!

1. How do you orient yourself at La Trobe? 

If you are new to La Trobe, or to research, face-to-face sessions are running now to help you get an idea about what is out there, learn the basics, meet the people who run the systems and teams you will be interacting with, and very importantly, meeting other people who are at the same stage of research as you.

NEW GRADUATE RESEARCHERS: Book in for face-to-face-Orientation! We are now running more frequent sessions, so there will be another opportunity to attend in July (Bendigo/Bundoora) and October (Bundoora). You'll meet people from the Library, the Research Office (which manages grants, ethics, data management etc), La Trobe International, and Industry Mentoring, as well as your peers who are also starting their higher degree by research journey.

Candidates at Albury-Wodonga, Mildura, Shepparton campuses, or external candidates, should contact the RED team for an individual video conference session!

Plan your University Orientation events by filling out the Orientation Planner as a researcher, and you will find our events AND events from Wellbeing, the Student Union, Clubs and Societies, Student IT, the Library, Learning and Teaching, International Students, and many more.

NEW STAFF RESEARCHERS, or researchers who want to know more: Log onto La Trobe's intranet and check out La Trobe 101 face-to-face events near you. The 101 events are face-to-face information and 'how to' sessions designed to give staff the opportunity to learn more about research, administrative, and teaching assistance available from La Trobe's College and central support teams.  They include practical training on systems and processes, and information on key initiatives that will enhance the student and staff experience.

There are also general staff induction resources on the 'Welcome to La Trobe' site, including guides and online modules. It's so important to learn about the University's strategic and cultural direction, connect with colleagues and develop your organisational network, and to become familiar with the Senior Executive Group structure and their portfolios.

2. Find out about your local inductions and attend. 

Staff and students should both have an induction program at your local level. These may include a tour of the work spaces, OH&S assessments, relevant local technical information, and a chance to meet other researchers in your area.

At that induction, you can ask about the intellectual and social climate of your area (are there seminars, lab morning teas, public lectures, reading groups, department poker games?).

If you've been around for a while, you can help out with inductions by offering to run a session, talk on a panel, or guide a new researcher around your area. You remember being new once, too, right? It'd be great to make others' learning curves less steep!

3. Sign up to all the things! We have comms and resources designed to help you.

This is an excellent time to emphasise how important it is to stay informed of opportunities and researcher news! Tseen Khoo's post 'Are you in the loop?' helps you do just that and is peppered with essential links and resources for staying at the top of the information tree!

Particularly for NEW GRADUATE RESEARCHERS: Check out your Induction Checklist! In the first three months of your candidature, you need to complete this checklist. It includes the essentials for settling into research at La Trobe and covers the practical stuff (e.g. getting your student card, connecting to printers) to the higher level candidature stuff (e.g. negotiating expectations with your supervisor and considering the ethical impacts of your research) The Checklist is a great way to remember all the things you should ask about, and ensure you start your degree well.

Do you know about the Graduate Research Online (GRO) modules? GRO is an interactive suite of online modules to help you find out more about becoming a researcher at La Trobe. GRO Orientation and GRO Academic Integrity are already available for you to explore now. New resources for supervisors, academic writing, digital identities and managing your candidature are coming soon. We recommend you complete GRO Orientation within the first few months to help you get a flying start!

4. Get involved in things beyond your research

Universities in Australia now try to look after and develop the whole person, and people who are healthy, happy and connected are often more successful researchers.

Sometimes, we can focus too much on our computers/piles of books/lab benches, and don't step back to remember that exercise, joining extra-curricular activities, attending public lectures, and hobby or social clubs can improve our lives (and feed back in creative ways to our research, too!).

Make time to find out what else you can do while on campus and gain the full La Trobe experience! Don't forget that as a researchers, you become part of an academic and local university community - and building a strong community is about participation and contribution.

5. Not now? Then note for later! 

Knowing you don't know is a strength! And you won't know what you don't know all at once - orienting yourself at this early stage of the year may bring different results compared to later on.

That's fine because our suite of researcher development programs and initiatives will be here when you want to know about them!

Where exactly? HERE. Bookmark it now - you know you want to. That goes for all researchers, whether you're in a PhD, considered Early Career or a Mid Career!

As well as our rich program of workshops and seminars, here are some of the things we run that are good to know about:
  • writing groups (Shut Up and Write, and writing retreats)
  • presenting your research in public (3 Minute Thesis Competition, communicating your research days)
  • coaching and mentoring programs for researchers 
  • Early Career and Mid Career Researcher development intensives

Find out heaps more at our 'Initiatives' page. Supervisors should check out the Smart Supervision Workshops.

This post, bristling with links, might feel a bit overwhelming but you can come back to this page at any time.

What events and resources are you going to put on your map? How are you going to orient, or re-orient yourself, for 2018?

Whatever your path, we look forward to seeing you soon. May 2018 be a year of keen discoveries and learning, and constructive, fun collegial connections!