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For a word of just two letters, “no” can be very hard to say.
Just ask Associate Professor Michael Clarke, Deputy Head of Deakin University’s School of International and Political Studies.
After taking on his new administrative role, he discovered that his time for research was in danger of being whittled away.
“In the past, when I said yes to outside opportunities, I was able to minimise my teaching work load to accommodate them,” he said.
“With the addition of the admin work, which I do enjoy, when I took on something like writing a paper or doing consultancy work for AusAid, it was the research that was being affected.”
Enter Professor Bill Logan, one of Deakin’s elder statesmen, who became Matthew’s mentor as part of the University’s highly regarded Developing Research Leaders Program (DRLP).
“At the first meeting I had with Bill, I sought his help on how to say no,” Associate Professor Clarke said.
“I have been contracted to write a book by the end of August this year and I was due to starting writing it in January last year.
“But I took up two projects in the first two months of 2009 and lost those months.
“By the time I had my first meeting with Bill in March 2009, I needed his advice.
“So we decided on a process in which I would have to tell Bill about all the things to which I said no.
“It has worked. The major chapters of the book are now all in draft form and it looks like I will meet the August deadline.”
The book and the research work that has gone into it will play an important part in helping the effective and harmonious growth of developing nations, and also in helping re-develop those countries affected by major natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis.
“The book looks at the link between religion and development,” Associate Professor Clarke said.
“A lot of people in the NGO community, for instance, might not understand the centrality of people’s faith to their material existence.
“Religion is often a taboo subject in development, it is a very secular activity.
“However, you can lose the trust of people if you build them something they don’t want, or act in ways that don’t reflect the importance of their religion to the lives.
“That can also happen in places that have been subjected to natural disaster.
“Many Christian aid organisations in Aceh couldn’t relate to the Muslim organisations.
“Some of the smaller Christian groups probably even saw it as an opportunity for evangelising.
“All aid groups needs to have a better understanding of this so that they don’t go treading on toes and becoming inefficient and ineffective.
“There is a growing recognition of this.
"The World Bank has recognised the importance of faith and spirituality in people’s lives.
“The University of Birmingham in England is also doing important research in this area and I am going there to present two papers.”
Now back on track with his research, Associate Professor Clarke said he was grateful for the support he had received from Professor Logan.
“Bill has been travelling much more than me in the past 12 months,” he said.
“His finding the time to meet with me is appreciated.
“Even though we might not have met a large number of times, just the confidence that he would be available has been reassuring for me.
“I think there are two components to the program. One it has been good to me as an individual to be involved, but it is also a clear message from the University that it takes seriously its role in helping Mid Career Researcher like me.”
Professor Logan had another piece of advice for his mentee, one that might also resonate across the University as its research profile continues to grow: Don’t be modest!
“It is my view you push forward and stick your neck out and don’t be too modest,” he said.
“You’re just as likely to get your journal article published in a top journal as a mediocre one, so go for the top journal.”