Doing Research for Impact: Working with Politically Tough Topics

You’re studying a topic that is meaningful to you, it’s been hard work, and it’s also politically fraught. How does that work? How to have the stamina to do media and receive critique? And where should you draw confidence and solidarity from?

This panel and discussion is about how to engage with the sometimes difficult and political issues that we face as researchers, and how to work effectively on a contested issue. The event gives students from across the Honours, Masters and HDR cohorts, the opportunity to learn tools to deal with politically difficult topics under pressure. Fenner School experts present the approaches they take to researching and covering topics with their own particular political difficulties, and this is followed by a Q&A session.

Subsequently, students who attend will be invited to nominate a panellist for a five minute conversation with at a later time, about how you might want to approach the challenging political aspects of your own topic.


Prof Robert Heinsohn
Rob's primary research interests lie in conservation biology and evolutionary ecology of vertebrates, with a focus on birds. To date, he has completed four major ARC/NSF funded field projects, three on the behavioural ecology and conservation biology of birds (White-winged Choughs, 1985-1997, Eclectus Parrots, 1997-2007, waterfowl movements in northern Australia, 2007-2010) and the other on mammals. Increasingly, Rob is directing his research at the landscape level as he seeks to identify the broad-scale processes shaping conservation problems. The bird species he chooses to work with are often large and wide-ranging, and make excellent tools for investigations of habitat use over large areas. He is also actively developing a broad research program on the conservation biology of parrots, the bird order with the highest proportion of endangered species. Rob finds this research particularly stimulating because it combines his strong background in behavioural and evolutionary ecology with my more recent passion for conservation biology.

Dr Virgina Marshall
Virginia is the Inaugural Indigenous Postdoctoral Fellow with the Australian National University's School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) and the Fenner School of Environment and Society. Virginia is a practicising lawyer and legal scholar, her research doctoral thesis won a prestigious award and published as a ground-breaking Aboriginal water rights book titled "Overturning aqua nullius: Securing Aboriginal water rights" and launched in Sydney by the Hon. Michael Kirby. Dr Marshall is a former associate & researcher with the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney and professional member of the NSW Law Society and Women Lawyers Association of NSW. Former Senior Legal Officer of the Australian Law Reform Commission and inquiry into 'Family Violence & Commonwealth Laws: Improving Legal Frameworks' (ALRC 117), Executive Officer of the NSW Government's 'Aboriginal Water Trust' and criminal defence lawyer with NSW Legal Aid.

Prof Jamie Pittock
Jamie worked for environmental organisations in Australia and internationally from 1989-2007, including as Director of WWF’s Global Freshwater Programme from 2001-2007. His research from 2007 has focused on better governance of the interlinked issues of water management, energy and food supply, responding to climate change and conserving biological diversity. Jamie directs research programs on irrigation in Africa, hydropower and food production in the Mekong region, and sustainable water management in the Murray-Darling Basin. He is also currently the acting Director of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists.

Dr Carina Wyborn
Carina is an interdisciplinary social scientist with background in science and technology studies, and human ecology. She works at the intersection of science, policy, and practice, where she is interested in understanding how decisions are made in complex and contested environmental management challenges. Carina is particularly interested in the capacities that enable future-oriented decision making, and the methods and practice that are used to support decision-making in the context of uncertainty.