Who are you at the University? (Clare McCausland)

Photo by Tseen Khoo
I enjoy recalling the blissful years of my undergraduate studies, when I went to “UNI” each day and I was a “STUDENT” (not a customer, as my pin proudly declared).

I was delighted to have a real student email address – my first email address (this was the mid-1990s!) – and login to all that new technology.

Sometime after I graduated, I got a nice office job at a university. I went to “WORK”. I was a “STAFF” member and my ID card said so. I had a nicer-looking staff email address and login.

Then I enrolled in a graduate research degree at the same institution. I was then going to UNI two days a week and WORK three days a week – catching the very same bus each day and effortlessly maintaining two email accounts for their different purposes. I never, ever checked my work email on my days off.

Then I got another job as a Research Assistant. Suddenly, I was a “RESEARCHER” – and also a “GRADUATE RESEARCHER”. I remember thinking to myself, ‘But isn’t that the same thing?’

These multiple identities gave rise to some personal confusion: If I was submitting an abstract to a conference, which email do I use? (Answer: the staff account, because it looked better).

What I found is that I had two email address and two logins to do (almost) the same work. Crazy! But this is the reality for over 40% of our graduate research candidates at La Trobe, who are both staff and students at the university.

Juggling these emails takes a bit of practice, but the benefits of having this flexibility are great. 
In my current role at the Graduate Research School, I’ve had a new perspective on just how complex this juggling is – from the inside! We’ve been working to ensure that all graduate researchers have staff-like accounts and it’s no picnic, especially when it comes to trying to get the software and the institutional and student systems to work together smoothly.

Yes, you read that right! Dual accounts will be the reality for ALL of our graduate researchers, as La Trobe introduces a new “institutional account” for every one of our candidates alongside their student accounts. An institutional account works more or less like a staff account – but without the employment contract (if there is none) or casual paycheck!

It provides better access to amazing things like the university’s intranet, the Research.Latrobe data management tool, room booking facilities and other useful platforms.

But this question of identity goes beyond just having two accounts and two email addresses, right?

We’re introducing this access with good reason. We know that doing a research degree – irrespective of whether you are also employed – brings with it two ways of thinking about and managing your relationship with the university.

YES, you are a student. You enrol. You report on your progress. You can take leave and enrol in additional subjects. You get a degree at the other end.

AND, YES, you are also a researcher and in many respects, just like our academic staff who are researchers. You publish. You manage data. You apply for grants. You engage professionally with industry.

Moreover, we know that doing a research degree often represents a veritable journey in how each candidate identifies as part of their research community – from a student-like ‘learner’ to an academic-like ‘leader’ in their own area of research – and a whole lot of in-between.

Managing two email accounts and working out how to log into the LMS (Learning Management System) is not going to be the most challenging or rewarding thing you do in your time at La Trobe (I sincerely hope). 

Watching yourself transition from student to research professional may well be. 


Dr Clare McCausland is the Senior Manager of the Graduate Research School at La Trobe. 

She also uses her work email address to manage her side-hustle research activity. 

Clare tweets from @kindergentler.