Tuesday, 24 March 2020

RED alert but not alarmed (RED team)

Photo by Nick Fewings | unsplash.com
One thing that everyone can agree on is that this last week has brought about seismic changes for what our 2020 will look like.

We (the Research Education & Development team) are working hard alongside all our colleagues to ensure as clear and smooth a process as possible for moving things to online modes. We recognise the importance of keeping communications open, maintaining quality development opportunities, and supporting the researcher community as we’ve always done.

But we also know that it’s not ‘business as usual’ because that is impossible.

In the midst of these huge transitions for everyone at the university, the RED team wanted to share what these changes mean for our work, and how we’re travelling with the significant shifts to our teaching and everyday practices.


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Jeanette Fyffe 

If you have ever met me IRL (in real life) you would know that I am a classic 'people person'.

So, this transition to working from home, with all of my interactions being mediated by technology, is more than a little discombobulating.

I have also found myself pondering how I will continue to generate those serendipitous meetings in the Agora and the five-minute catch ups between appointments in Writer’s Block that are so enriching for my work. Everything seems just a bit harder now, and lots of automatic ways of working are no longer relevant and require a new consciousness…which is kind of exhausting. I don’t mind admitting, dear reader, there have been tears!

But among the hard things have been some absolute delights:
  • The very real joy of the #AusUniPetWars on Twitter at the moment
  • The many ways researchers are finding to 'turn up for each other'
  • The caring, professional and innovative responses of my team
At RED, we have been making lots of changes with the way we work to support your researcher development needs as well as creating spaces and places for intellectual climate activities – our responses are being staged with immediate critical responses first, and longer-term planning now getting underway.

One of the first things we moved online was Shut Up and Write (SUAW). SUAW has been running continuously at La Trobe since 2013 and we're not letting COVID-19 stop us from being collectively productive, supportive, and writerly as researchers!

The new schedule for our fully online 'Shut up and write' offerings means that there are lots of chances for you to keep writing and stay connected, and opportunities to meet new people. This chance to make some new connections could be a silver lining for us in these hurly-burly times!

Even while writing this post, a new SUAW opportunity has been set up! This one's especially useful for folks who are looking after kids in the day because there's now a chance to SUAW in the evenings. Huge shout out to Hannah Slootjes for setting this one up!

If you are creating other ways to stay connected and want to promote them, I'd love to hear from you.

Go gently, dear colleagues.

Dan Bendrups 

I’ve been reflecting on the needs of supervisors and their candidates through my own supervision circumstances as we head into a period of enhanced social distancing. One of my PhD candidates has had to postpone indefinitely what would have been a defining piece of overseas fieldwork. The good thing is that he’s able to pivot to other work while waiting to travel but, as a supervisor, I need to help produce some useful suggestions about what to do. At this point, I’m uncertain about the quality of advice I can give. To some extent, we are muddling through this next phase of work together.

This sensation of muddling through is something that I anticipate will also be familiar to others, and I’m sure we’ll all be facing increased levels of uncertainty in our work over the coming months. One way of processing this is to foster reflexivity, and the online Supervisor Development Program is there to help supervisors work through some of the finer details of their practice.

Additionally, we can all claw back some control in uncertain times by renewing our understanding of processes and expectations, and to this end, the full range of RED workshops for supervisors and candidates remains available in online mode. This includes critical topics such as Chairing Progress Committees, fostering Respectful Relationships, and Managing Expectations in Graduate Research Supervision. These workshops also provide a space for some of the peer-to-peer interaction that may be missing from our normal university lives in the coming months, and I look forward to working with people in this mediated space, so we can all muddle through together.

Jamie Burford  

I’ve spent a while sitting here trying to think of what to say. I have written and deleted a good number of sentences in the process: it’s hard to strike the right chord. Lots of the words that tumble out onto my monitor seem flat.

I check in with myself for a moment or two, stretch my neck, take a deep breath. 

Sometimes the right thing to say is I don’t know what to say. It has been a big week and I am at a loss for words. Maybe you are, too?

To other La Trobe researchers who have had some big feelings over the last couple of weeks: I am with you. It has been a weird and wobbly time.

Given this weirdness and wobbliness, I want to reassure you of something: we are keeping our development program for graduate researchers humming.
  • Graduate Researcher Orientation will continue to be scheduled - now as an online event. We ran two online orientation sessions last week, with one more this week. It has been such a joy to gather with La Trobe’s newest researchers and hear about all the fascinating projects that are about to begin. If you are new to La Trobe, please look out for upcoming dates.
  • We have workshops to help you understand the key milestones of graduate research at La Trobe: Introduction to Progress Milestones, Confirmation, Mid-candidature Review, and Submission to Examination. These have always been available online, but we are now expanding the number of online sessions available.
  • Our Accelerated Completion Program will commence this week via zoom, and run over the next 8 weeks. Our aim is to help graduate researchers who are in the home stretch of their candidature to finish their theses well.
  • We also have a suite of upcoming writing workshops including workshops on Writing a Literature Review, Structuring your Thesis, and Writing with Confidence. Now might be a really good time to invest in your own professional development as a research writer!
Over the last week, I have seen so many La Trobe researchers show up for each other, and manage a difficult situation with generosity and grace. I'm so glad to be a part of your community.

Tseen Khoo 

I’m very used to working from home and offering sessions via Zoom so I was thinking this transition would be relatively easy. I have been partly right. My set-up at home and my family’s ability to understand my work-from-home (WFH) routine means that that aspect was fine, even with the kids around (and - as of today - on holidays!). Where it has been challenging is realising that WFH is not a choice now, but the way it has to be. I had things to say about this. It has made me much more aware of the importance of the casual proximity and conversation that generated its own sets of knowledge and insight into our work and colleagues. These are things I’m trying to re-create on Twitter (#LTUWFH) and through informal catch-ups with colleagues. For the programs I run, here’s a heads-up about some key items:
  • Intellectual Climate Fund (ICF) and Research Culture Fund (RCF): These schemes are still going ahead but you’ll have to get more creative, given distancing/isolation contexts! 
  • The next ‘Writing for the public (Communicating your research)’ full-day intensive is on 12 May. This is still happening on that date via Zoom, and will have more flexibility in the programming.
  • The ECR and MCR development intensives are currently being reconceptualised as we’re fairly sure no-one wants to spend 2 days on Zoom! Make sure you’re on the ECR or MCR mailing list to receive updates - email red.grs@latrobe.edu.au to join. 
Running as usual - but only on Zoom - are the workshop series 'Researchers and social media' and 'Blogging your research', and the 5 rules of grant club.
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Stay in the loop with our updates by reading Graduate Research Scholar, follow us on Twitter or Facebook and (if you’re an ECR or MCR) sign up to one of those mailing lists.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to ensure a good experience in front of screens! In all of this, as much as we’re all trying to be professional under extreme circumstances, we need to remember that we’re human, it’s a very tough time, and that ‘normal’ has left the building (as have we).

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Relevant resources and updates: 

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