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Advice from successful academics, Part One

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

I always try to end my interviews with questions about research and productivity. Every week, it is my pleasure to speak with highly successful academics; it would be a wasted opportunity if, when the opportunity presented itself, I didn’t ask them how they had made it to their current position. The advice is not always the same, and some run counter to each other, but these pieces of advice demonstrate there is no one route to success. All of our interviewees have advanced degrees and several have doctorates. However, despite this similarity of access to the podcast, they all have a different life story to tell and different advice to give. We have interviewed researchers and materials producers with multiple books, online content, and other published works that form the background to their invitation to take part in the podcast. Our interviewees are also spread throughout the world, from Australia, the USA, the UK, Sweden, and Japan. The proliferation of internet-run communication media has meant high-quality, long-form, widely dispersible interviews are now possible. This is the reason why we encourage listeners of the podcast and readers of our blogs to submit their own content for publication. is an accessible medium, made possible by the ubiquity of the internet, that aims to make the work of as many people as possible available to whoever wants to find it. One of the reasons for writing this blog post is an acknowledgment that not everyone gets to the part of the interview with the advice. The podcasts range from 35 minutes to over one hour, and, as you will see from the timestamps from the interviews, the advice tends to come later in the podcast after the discussion of the paper and research that formed the basis of the interview.

In this paper, I will lay out the routes to success as given by the first 15 interviews of the podcast I produced:

  1. Jonathan Shachter (Kyushu Sangyo University)

  2. Kris Ramonda (Kansai University)

  3. Marc Helgesen (Miyagi Gakuin Women's University)

  4. Todd Beuckens (Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University)

  5. Joe Siegel (Orebo University)

  6. Aya Matsuda (Arizona State University)

  7. Jennifer Jenkins (University of Southampton)

  8. Shaun O'Dwyer (Kyushu University)

  9. Mahboubeh Rakhshandehroo (Kyoto University of Foreign Studies)

  10. Gabrielle Decamous (Kyushu University)

  11. Chris Stillwell (College of the Sequoias)

  12. Ahmar Mahboob (University of Sydney)

  13. Annette Bradford (Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, Japan)

  14. Luisa Zeilhofer (Kyoto University)

  15. Nobuyuki Hino (Osaka University)

Due to time constraints, I was not always able to ask the question or receive a long answer, but the advice can generally be categorized thusly:

  • Career

  • Academia

  • Personal

Although some advice cannot be so strictly separated, these were generally the areas covered. The paper will cover each podcast where the major advice was given and how it connects thematically to the advice given in previous or subsequent podcasts. We offer this blog as it connects to the central effort of we want to connect with academics and content producers because we believe our principles are more similar than we might at first believe and, therefore, we have a lot to learn from one another.

Beginning in April, I interviewed my co-producer, Jonathan. Possibly because it was my first interview or because we had discussed advice in my interview with Jonathan the week before, I did not ask him for his advice in this interview. The first person to offer their advice was (Podcast 4) Kris Ramonda, beginning at 41:18. “I imagine the most important factor would be … you need to research something you are actually interested in answering the question for”, he said, referring to the concept of intrinsic motivation and bringing the energy of completing a project from oneself. He continued “because it’s such a marathon you’re going to be completely burned out if it’s not something you’re interested in doing...that you can keep grinding out over the years” (42:03). He also pointed out that attempting to complete a major project, and especially in the process of undertaking a doctorate, it is not recommended to do so alone: “if you have any sort of network of support you can go to, check ahead of time, make sure that you try to kick around [your] ideas to make sure you have the best possible version before you actually put it into operation“ (43:27). Hopefully, this podcast serves in some capacity as a network of knowledgeable people - inspiration could come from listening to the interviews, but more likely can give support to academics in various stages in their career, knowing you are not alone.

From this stage, Jonathan and I alternated interviews week on week, therefore my next interview was two weeks later with Professor Marc Helgesen. When I asked if he had any advice for people writing research papers, Marc said, “If what you have to say has content, that’s what you need. You should write to be read” (47:26), meaning to think from the perspective of the reader and not to write in a way that is overly complex and authoritative. He continued “so much stuff seems to be written just to get published ... I’ve been at my university more than 30 years and I think I’ve only published in the campus [journal] three times and that was when I first started … if the [campus journal] is your only choice, yes, do that … but I would encourage people to try to get published in things that people are going to read, and try to write about things you have some sense of passion about” (47:47). I brought up the advice from Kris Ramonda to want to know the answer to the research question to provide yourself with motivation. “And how are you going to do all the hard work?” agreed Marc, “Because research is hard work .. so find what you can get passionate about … you’ve got to care about the results” (49:27).

My next interviewee, Todd Beuckens (who, incidentally, is now a contributing editor for the podcast) gave his advice in the form of five examples of technology every teacher needs in their online lesson repertoire. Starting at 37:55, Todd introduced his top 5 apps and services by saying “Here are five tools that will make you look like a rock star when you teach online

1) Near-Pod is a tool that allows you to add all varieties of media to a board for your students to access. (Pear Deck is similar but not as good).

2) Put all your students on OneDrive or Google Drive. This will allow students to have access to you through a shared folder.

3) Blogger is your “class away from class

4) Google Forms is the ”greatest way to have self-graded quizzes”.

5) Quiz apps Quizzes, Kahoot, and Quizlet Live,

As would become evident in subsequent podcasts, Todd has a wealth of experience in online teaching. He is also an accomplished educator of educators and his online course focuses on getting teachers up to speed on the necessary materials and methodologies to be successful in this medium.

In my next interview, I had the opportunity to catch up with an old colleague, Dr. Joseph Siegel. We first met when I was working at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. It does not take long after meeting Joe to notice he is a sharp, intelligent, hard-working man. There is also another word I would use to describe him: driven. We have worked together on several projects, some materials development efforts, some academic research which involved writing papers and delivering academic presentations. His energy and focus are admirable, an observation I raised with him in our interview. When we came to the question of his academic career outside of the paper we were specifically discussing, he spoke about his doctoral supervisor, Professor Anne Burns, and the effect she had on his career. “My supervisor was Anne Burns who has done a lifetime’s worth of work in teacher interventions and actions research, which is the approach I wanted to take,” (34:04) he said, highlighting the importance of making the choice of who to target when seeking a supervisor. Joe also pointed out something else about his choice: “Anne was not an expert in listening or listening instruction, but she’s an expert in many other things.” (34:57) This is important advice, from my experience, about how to choose the person who is going to guide you in your postgraduate work: they may not share your exact field of study, but if you are interested in growing as an operator in academia, using your time in a post-graduate program to learn new skills from a talented supervisor is almost as important as the advances you make in the study of your chosen field.

Joe then went on to discuss the fruits of mutual labors and the work that he and Professor Burns have worked on together after his graduation. “We edited a book together … and we co-authored two chapters in that book, too.” The advantages of having a good relationship with your supervisor is the opportunity to collaborate with a person in a higher status in academia but with whom you have a good working relationship and years of cresting communicative short-hand in the production of quality materials. While this is not always the outcome of a postgraduate or doctoral connection (I, for one, have never co-authored with my doctoral supervisor), a long-lasting bond of trust and respect remains when one has been through a years-long program together. Dr. Rakhshanderoo (podcast 9, in next month's blog) recommended her Master’s professor Dr. Nobuyuki Hino for an interview (he was kind enough to oblige), and Jonathan’s teachers are happy to be interviewed for the podcast and speak with him about their courses and shared experience. These are all examples of positive personal relationships which can begin with post-graduate education.

In the following two interviews, it was my pleasure to speak with probably my most cited academics. Dr. Aya Matsuda and Dr. Jennifer Jenkins are to the modern state of sociolinguistics what Google is to the operation of the internet: you cannot tell the story of one without the existence of the other. The first to be interviewed was Dr. Matsuda in podcast number 12. The advice given by Aya Matsuda was for institutions rather than individuals, although she did accept she had benefited from the opposite of her suggestion. Towards the end of the interview, we spoke about English medium instruction, and she says ”I think certain knowledge will be lost if knowledge-making is not done in that language. So I would hope that university also pushes toward education and doing research in local languages, other than English, and in academia, for example, value those research and publications as much as they value publication in English” (51:01) although she says “I must admit, I am benefiting a lot from the fact or this reality where English is used as a common language because otherwise, we wouldn't be talking to each other today. So yeah, I'm definitely receiving benefits from the system that I sometimes critique” (52:26). As focused on in last month’s blog, the over-reliance on English in academia is an ongoing concern. While some academics would prefer English use be curtailed for the purposes of protecting local and domestic languages, many are happy to acknowledge the advantages that can be obtained by the existence of a de facto international language yet still remain vigilant so as not to overuse it.

When I interviewed Jennifer Jenkins, I asked her which areas she would advise future Ph.D. candidates to focus on: “Back in February, when we had a seminar in the Southampton research seminar on how elf is moving on. And I said to them, I think the two areas that I would if I was about to think about a Ph.D. in health, the two areas, I would want to take choose one, or would be either looking at the role of multilingualism in ELF, which I think is still very under-researched, or testing. Because we've had, we've got all the ideas, or we have a number of ideas about testing, but I don't think there's been very much research so far on it.” (36:08). So, there you have it, folks, from the best in the business: if you are considering taking on a Ph.D. in sociolinguistics or ELF, multilingualism or testing are areas that need your attention!

To avoid this post getting too long, I have divided it into two parts. Be sure to check back for interviews 8 through 15 next month.

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