The Research Whisperer blog has the tagline ‘Just like the Thesis Whisperer, but with more money’. A lot of people ask me if The Research Whisperer is one of my aliases or a group of people who are trying to rip me off.

In fact, it’s neither.

Tseen Khoo and Jonathan O’Donnell who run The Research Whisperer are old friends from RMIT university, where I worked until 2013. In 2011, we had a meeting about their idea to start a blog for early career researchers looking for grant money. I suggested they co-opt the Whisperer name to leverage the small amount of brand recognition I had at that time. I don’t remember who thought up the ‘with more money’ tagline, but I do remember we all laughed a lot. Tseen and Jonathan are both professional grant experts and know their stuff, and The Research Whisperer has gone from strength to strength for nearly a decade now.

While the Research Whisperer and I are not in a formal partnership, we are definitely fellow travellers. RMIT, specifically the Pearson and Murphey’s cafe Shut up and Write! Friday morning meet up, was good place to bond with like minded people. This is where we Whisperers connected with our other fellow traveller, Associate Professor Narelle Lemon. Narelle is an educator at Swinburne University and also runs the ‘Explore and Create Co’ site. We call ourselves ‘The Whisper Collective’ and, each year, the three of us collaborate on a ‘Whispercon’ event.

Whispercon is more of a meeting of minds than a conference. Each of us invite 5 people who are doing interesting work and introduce them to each other. We try to invite new people each time, so our collective network of like minded people expands a little. A small group of 24 is easy to manage, so we run it ‘unconference’ style, with the agenda set by mutual consensus. Whispercon usually features short talks on topics of interest, activities, break out discussion groups and (of course) long tea breaks and lunches. In this way, we strengthen our collective network and foster new collaborations and friendships.

I suppose you could call Whispercon an example of ‘grass roots collegiality’: the kind that often goes missing in our contemporary academic spaces. I’ve often experienced academia as hypercompetitive and quite lonely. Collegiality is the antidote for these feelings. When academics lived together, collegiality organically happened. In our neo-liberal, highly casualised institutions, collegiality doesn’t just happen anymore: we are members of the precariat to some extent. In the 21st century we can’t fall back on old models of academia to help us connect with like minded people and enjoy ‘the life of the mind’ together. We have to intentionally make collegiality happen, and Whispercon is one model for how to do it.

We’ve kicked along in a low key way with Whispercon for 5 years now; spinning out into a couple of whisperer writing retreats and playing with the format each time. We were talking about setting a date for the 2020 meeting when the pandemic hit and suddenly the world was a burning dumpster fire in a 1 in 100 year flood:

We toyed with letting a year slide, but honestly we needed the connection that Whispercon gives us more than ever. We also recognised the pandemic as an opportunity to spread a bit of our grass roots collegiality out in the world.

We rebranded Whispercon into #Whisperfest2020 and started on crafting it into a public, completely free, online event. We chose a week in November and divided the days into four separate themes: wellbeing, collegiality, facing disruption and taking back control. We reached out to people we knew across the world who were doing great work in the research support space to join us. Before we knew it, we had built a full, online conference!

Whisperfest will run from the 23rd to the 26th of November, Australian Eastern Daylight Time. Each day features different events, with a ‘fireside chat’ in the evening. You can see the whole calendar of events and links to registration here.

We each took charge of different parts of Whisperfest. I am hosting or cohosting four events:

A Live-taping of ‘On the Reg’: a semi-regular podcast about academic working lives with Dr Jason Downs
(@jasondowns). In this session Jason and Inger will take your questions about how to be more productive at work and try to answer them, while showing you how we produce our joint podcast at a distance.  REGISTER HERE (Can’t make it to the podcasting session? You can send in your academic productivity questions via Speakpipe)

The future of universities with A/Professor Tamson Pietsch ( @cap_and_gown): Tamson Pietsch is an expert in the past university, particularly the British academic networks and practices from 1850 – 1939 (see her amazing book ‘Empire of Scholars‘). As a historian, Tamson keeps a keen eye on the present and the future and has just finished doing a podcast series called ‘The New Social Contract‘ where she thinks through the issues with a list of interesting guests. In this chat, Tamson will share her insights on the future of the academy with Inger. REGISTER HERE

So, you’re graduating your PhD in a pandemic. What next? Typing ‘I have a PhD’ into Seek won’t get you far, as most employers don’t know what a PhD can do for them. In this session, Inger will demo PostAc, a new tool to help PhD students into non-academic research careers. REGISTER HERE

Rich academic, poor academic? Side hustles and start ups with Dr Tim Cahill (Managing Director, Research Strategies Australia) and Dr Craig Davis (CEO, GRIFFIN Accelerator): One way to take back control is to set up a consultancy or other business that builds on your skills and background. This session gives you the low-down on how you can do this, and what it’s like to shift into this space. REGISTER HERE

Narelle took charge of our wellbeing stream. Given that 2020 has been a shit show inside a dumpster fire, it’s hardly surprising that these sessions are nearly sold out already. There’s a few spots if you are quick:

Please put your mask on first: Self-care as self healing with Dr Michelle Tichy (Rollins College, USA – @drmichtich):  Positive psychology and contemplative practices inform this interactive session where we highlight what wellbeing and self-care is for those of us working in higher education. We dig deeper into a toolbox of resources that can support you, us, and we. REGISTER HERE

Let’s talk about perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and burnout with Dr Desiree Dickerson (Neuroscientist/coach/clinical psychologist, Spain): In this campfire conversation, Narelle and Desiree dig deep and get dirty with our wellbeing and self-care, unpacking specific scenarios and responding to pre-asked questions to support you to approach your work, research and engagement with others. We acknowledge that systemically we have a problem, but we want to empower you to make changes for yourself that can help others at the same time. REGISTER HERE

Let’s talk boundaries, habits and self-care: Staying focused and motivated with your writing
A/Professor Narelle Lemon (Swinburne Uni of Technology, Australia) | @rellypops: Times have changed and we find ourselves grappling with new ways of working and being. This is both confronting and exciting. We have an opportunity to readdress some of our habits and ways we approach organising our time, how we write, and how we care for ourselves. In this practical workshop, we work through activities that assist you with how you use your energy and focus, habits, boundaries, and self-care. REGISTER HERE

Jonathan and Tseen leaned into the collegiality theme, with great speakers from Mexico, Canada and Australia:

Build relationships to build your career with Dr Jen Polk (From PhD to Life, Canada) | @FromPhDtoLife: Learn how building relationships is the secret to success in any field, and how to do it in a way that draws on your strengths and feels great, not gross. REGISTER HERE

Building online community through promoting others’ work with Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega (CIDE Region Centro, Mexico) | @raulpacheco; In this session, we will be discussing strategies to build community online, particularly promoting the work of others in your academic, social, professional and personal spaces. REGISTER HERE

Missed collegiality: Making space for community with Dr Troy Heffernan (La Trobe Uni, Australia) | @troyheff, Dr Wade Kelly (La Trobe Uni, Australia) | @wadekelly, Dr Becky Willson (McGill Uni, Canada) | @rebekahwillson: The nature of research can make academia an isolating place. This session explores strategies to engage colleagues (including research collaborators) to increase research productivity, promote career trajectory, and increase happiness. REGISTER HERE

Voices from the outside: Careers beyond academia: Dr Sue Forrest (Senior consultant, Mexec Careers), Marilyn Jones (Director, Mexec Careers), Dr Sara King (E-research Analyst, AARNET), Dr Ben Kraal (Director, Symplicit): This session addresses what working outside academia can be like. There are a lot of different ways it can happen. Come and hear our speakers discuss careers, finding opportunity, and what works when you’ve crossing sectors. REGISTER HERE

Why academia shouldn’t be a competition with Professor Kylie Ball (Deakin Uni, Australia) | @kylieball3: Tseen and Kylie will be talking about the hyper-competitiveness of academia and how we can resist being held hostage by it. We’ll discuss the creation of our blogs and their philosophy (Kylie’s Happy Academic and Tseen’s Research Whisperer), Kylie’s research on highly productive and happy research teams, and why sharing is better for everyone in academia. REGISTER HERE

If you’re interested in seeing all four of us together, join us for a fireside chat, where we talk about our ‘grassroots collegiality’ approach and how you can mobilise these tactics to build a community of your own fellow travellers:

The #circleofniceness: the origin story: The #Whisperfest creators get together to talk about how the #circleofniceness has become a part of their scholarly and networking practices. We discuss how we met at one of the first academic ‘shut up and write’ sessions in Melbourne, stayed connected through various role and institutional changes, and are now collaborating on a major international event like #Whisperfest! REGISTER HERE

Sadly we can’t make recordings of every session available to people who are not in our timezone, but we will be working on a Whisperfest podcast series. I hope that I will see some of you at a #Whisperfest2020 event!

In solidarity,


Related links

Whisperfest 2020 calendar of events and links to register

Most recent ‘On The Reg’ podcast: ‘All quiet on the email front and Jason is the Mayor of Baker’s Delight’

The Whisper Collective members

The Research Whisperer
Twitter: @researchwhisper | Facebook |

Explore and Create Co
Insta: @exploreandcreateco | Facebook |

The 2020 Covid Diaries

You have to believe what you do matters

Should you quit (go part time or pause) your PhD during Covid

The valley of deep Covid Shit

Where I call bullshit on how we do the PhD

Why academic writing sucks, and how to fix it

How NOT to be an academic asshole during Covid

Rich academic, poor academic: making an academic living in Covid times

Do you need clown shoes? Finding a research job in Covid times

Imposter Syndrome doesn’t exist, but I call mine Beryl

Want more content like Thesiswhisperer?

Visit The Whisper Collective, a site we built to continuously curate all the best research education material on the web.

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I cover all the expenses of operating the Thesis Whisperer out of my own pocket. If you’d like to support my work, please consider becoming a $1 a month Patreon or buy a copy of my (cheap!) ebooks: Tame your PhD or The Year of Living Covidly.

Jason Downs and I have our first ‘On the Reg’ podcast book – on TextExpander. This book shows you how to use TextExpander to reduce your everyday cognitive load.

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