What it means to be a contemporary humanities scholar

AAH News Academy

By Dr Chloé Diskin and Felicity Ford, The University of Melbourne

In May of this year, we attended the Communication and Engagement for Humanities Early Career Researchers (ECRs) program, an initiative of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, hosted by La Trobe University and La Trobe Asia in Melbourne. The day focused on connecting ECRs with resources, skills, and networks to better equip us for the next stage in our careers. The event featured a range of different speakers and offered practical tips and advice for scholars situated along different points of the academic career trajectory.

One of the most useful aspects of the event was a session on how ECRs can develop their ‘professional narrative’. We were reminded of the importance of knowing how to explain what we do to others in accessible, jargon-free language. First impressions are so important, and we need to be able to communicate our work to key stakeholders, be they the Australian Research Council, our colleagues at a discipline-specific conference, members of a community organisation, or the media. Developing our professional narratives involves knowing our audience, keeping our message concise and to-the-point, and presenting our work as both interesting and relevant. It’s also pretty important to be able to answer the dreaded What is it that you actually do?! to our friends and family around the dinner table!


Participants at this year’s program, photo by Academy communications team

The event also included a panel discussion with Emeritus Professor Graeme Turner FAHA (University of Queensland) and Dr David McInnis (winner of the Academy’s 2016 Crawford Medal for outstanding achievement by an ECR in the humanities) on what it means to be a contemporary humanities scholar. We were reminded of how the humanities have been evolving in response to developments in technology, and how broad the interpretation of ‘humanities’ has become. We are both scholars who may not always have considered ourselves in the humanities sensu stricto: linguistics, the ‘scientific study of language’, and with its data-driven approach, is often regarded as a discipline on the border with the ‘hard sciences’ and screen studies, malleable to interdisciplinary crossover, can be difficult to pin down. However, it was inspiring to realise that our work does indeed have a place in the humanities, and that we have much to learn from our peers working in areas ranging from the broadest to the narrowest interpretations of the discipline.

Dr Tseen Khoo’s workshop, photo by Academy communications team

At the end of the day, we were asked to reflect on strategies that would best help ECRs. Many of the suggestions drew upon networks of support and collaboration, particularly in relation to mentoring. For both of us, mentoring has made a significant contribution to what it means to be an academic. Our identities as researchers surface in interactions with our peers during conferences, staff meetings, and in hallways. They are also shaped through feedback from our supervisors and collaborations with groups that allow us to build and refine our professional profile. These networks of mentorship not only provide us with advice and support but also allow us to, in turn, become the mentor and share our own experiences. Invited presenter, Dr Tseen Khoo of La Trobe University’s Graduate Research School, talked through strategies for maintaining and maximising these networks in the digital world. These interactions and collaborations continue to inform how we see ourselves in both a professional and personal sense. They allow for collaborations and correspondences that diversify and challenge us. It is these very moments that build and shape a humanities community and provide us all with a little insight into what it means to be a researcher.


This piece was written by two participants of the workshop.

Dr Chloé Diskin (right) is lecturer in Applied Linguistics in the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. She completed her PhD in Sociolinguistics at University College Dublin in Ireland in 2016. She is incoming president of the Discourse-Pragmatic Variation and Change Research Network (www.dipvac.org) and has been invited speaker at the Universities of Stockholm (Sweden), Newcastle (UK), and Galway (Ireland). She is interested in the effects of migration and globalisation on language variation and change and she is currently leading a project on the adoption of Australian English by migrants in Melbourne. Chloé tweets @ChloeDiskin

Felicity Ford (left) is a PhD candidate in Screen and Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne and has recently been appointed Project Co-ordinator for the Graduate Researcher Peer Networking Program at the Graduate Student Association (GSA). Her research focuses on contemporary global cinema and disruptions to cinematic form in relation to sound, movement, time, and vision. Of particular interest is how cinema intersects with broader questions of access, consent, ability, and privilege with specific attention to films that engage with narratives of disability, sexuality, criminality, trauma, nationalism, and guilt. She is on the board for the Melbourne Cinematheque and is a sessional tutor in screen, gender, media, and cultural studies. Her work has been published in Film Philosophy, Screen Education, and Senses of Cinema. Felicity tweets @flick_ford


One of the Academy’s strategic objectives is to provide a focal point for the wider humanities community in Australia. We recognise Early Career Researchers and support the next generation of humanities ECRs through a range of initiatives. One initiative being piloted in 2017 is a professional development program – Communication and Engagement for Humanities ECRs. The pilot program bought together ECRs from a range of institutions and disciplinary fields who have been involved in Academy events and initiatives over the last few years. We gratefully acknowledge La Trobe University and La Trobe Asia’s support as the principal sponsor for this event.

Featured image by Mauro Mora on Unsplash