Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Lesson learned - Research Week 2016 (Tseen Khoo)

Our wonderful 3MT finalists
You know that feeling when you say yes to heaps of stuff, then don’t feel like doing it all?

Well, that was me at one stage during Research Week.

La Trobe held its inaugural Research Week from 5-9 September 2016. The five days were focused on the university's researchers and their varied, fascinating work, and it was a packed with things to see and do.

It would’ve been excellent to get around to everything but I settled for committing to attending and livetweeting the lunchtime talks as much as I could, as well as La Trobe’s 3MT finals.

Now, when the lunchtime talks came about that first day, I thought to myself, “Hmmm. I have so many things on. I might just skip it…”. I sat there for about 5 mins having that internal argument.

But I forced myself to go – partly because I’d stated on Twitter that I’d be livetweeting (public accountability ftw!), partly because I spend a lot of time in a research bubble of similar disciplines and approaches and it’s always – always – good to break that up once in a while.

I ended up having a hectic, wonderful time over the week, and it was for many reasons. Some may not be the ones you’d think!

Courtney Lai (La Trobe Sport and Exercise Medicine
Research Centre) 
speaking on knee health
and 
ACL surgery outcomes.
Here’s my incredibly subjective take on what I found most valuable about Research Week 2016:
  • As I’d thought, hearing researchers talk about their work when their disciplines were far, far removed from my ‘home’ ones was refreshing and mind-bending. Getting to know how other people approach their work, and having that specific insight into diverse methodologies is extremely useful for someone like me, who works in a central unit that takes care of the whole university. My enjoyment of the lunchtime talks was definitely helped, of course, by the fact that the presenters were engaging and approachable. That cuts across disciplinary divides every time! If you missed the lunchtime research talks, you’re in luck! They were recorded.
  • Wandering around the Research Showcase, and chatting with graduate researchers about their posters and research. I don’t normally rate this as a thing I’d do, because I’m not a ‘roll up to a complete stranger and start a conversation’ type of person. But the alluring promise of many of the posters and topics made it easy and fun to get into it. I learned a lot, and the passion of the researchers for their topics was the best kind of contagious! 
    Research Showcase - food, posters, conversation. You couldn't go wrong!
      
    Director of La Trobe's Research Office, MaryAnne Aitken (centre), with two
    poster-presenting researchers.
  • The university 3MT Championship is a major event on the researcher calendar and I look forward to it every year. Especially now that I’ve been at La Trobe for a few years, I know a lot of the competitors, and have usually seen them come through the College finals. I ended up MC-ing both College finals this year so had a unique insider’s view as to how all the university finalists got in! The grand finale was excellent fun, and a buzzy atmosphere was generated by the big turn-out and audience enthusiasm. Congrats to all the prize-winners (see full list below), and best of luck to La Trobe champion Sangeeta Rathi for the Asia-Pacific Final at the University of Queensland on 30 September! I made a Storify of the livetweets from the La Trobe 3MT Championship so you can check out the action from the day. 
  • Missing out on all the research site tours. Yes, you read that right. Missing out on them. This was valuable because, as we know, we really only appreciate things when we can’t get enough of them. And I’ll know next year to make time for them as much as I can! 
The biggest lesson of the week was that following through and giving time to nourish one’s research sensibilities is never a wasted effort.

Steven Chang's tweeted image of the maritime simulation lab
from the research facility tour.
Yes, we’re all very busy. Yes, we could self-justify skipping things and feel like we’re making up time.

But by NOT skipping things and investing myself in Research Week, I learned heaps, had fun with colleagues, met lots of new researchers, felt part of a happening research community, and renewed my own embrace of research (others’ and my own) and what it can mean. This latter outcome is priceless.

>>  Special shout-out to Rob Chong (Marketing, College of SHE), Jason Murphy (Graduate Research School) for their work on Research Week overall, to Kelly Farrell for her 3MT coordination and expert coaching, and to my dedicated co-tweeters across the week, especially Andy Hastings (@andyhastings) and Steven Chang (@stevenpchang).

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Dr Tseen Khoo is a lecturer in research education and development with the RED team at La Trobe University. Melbourne. She has held research-only fellowships at the University of Queensland and Monash University, and was a research grant developer at RMIT University.

Tseen created and manages the Research Whisperer with Jonathan O'Donnell. 

She convenes the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN), and publishes on critical race studies, diasporic Asian cultures, and racialised academic identities. 

She's on Twitter at @tseenster.

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