How to turn off (when you can’t take off)

girl-3528292__340I recently took some long service leave (for readers outside of Australia/NZ, this is a leave entitlement granted after  extended service with the same employer), including a few months away from the Happy Academic. This break and time away from the office was a great reminder of the importance of white space.

It’s easy when caught up in the pace of academic life to neglect to take downtime, yet occasionally unplugging from the pressures of work and focusing on recharging is like gold not only for your health and sanity but also for your working life. As described here, many brilliant discoveries and creations in science and other fields came about during periods of rest and relaxation.

“Almost anything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes – including you” (Anne Lamott, American writer & political activist)

It seems some of the biggest commercial companies have recognised the value of leave: Netflix and Virgin for example offer unlimited holidays to employees, allowing them to take off as much time as they want.

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Greetings of the day!



Sound familiar? As a researcher you will likely get many (hundreds of) emails starting off like this one, inviting you to:

  • Submit your best work to a dubiously-titled journal
  • Join the editorial board of a journal in a field in which you have zero expertise*
  • Serve as an eminent ‘keynote’ speaker at an even more dubiously-named conference
  • Grace some other odd gathering in a weird location with your presence

(* I work in public health – but I’ve been flattered for my expertise in countless fields, including Forensic Science; Forestry; Gynaecology; Gerontology; Plant Biology; Water Science and Engineering, among others).

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When’s the best time to have a baby?

baby-2709666__480The short answer is: I can’t tell you. But since that advice doesn’t help very much, I’ll aim here to provide some suggestions and resources that might aid in considering this question.

Instead of concentrating on what career stage might be best as an academic to have a child, it may be better to consider what life stage is best. This is because becoming a parent clearly impacts – and is impacted by – so many factors outside of work: health, fertility, partner, other relationships, social support, access to childcare, plans for more children, housing and financial situation, etc.

When it comes to the work side of things, there are a number of potential implications for academic life of childbearing and rearing that start from early during pregnancy. For example:

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Should I stay or go? Part 2



Image by Yakir from Pixabay

Last month this blog featured the first of a series of posts in which colleagues shared the career pathways they took post-PhD, highlighting some of the pros and cons of staying in the same institutions versus moving further afield. This month I’m delighted to feature Part 2, in which three more colleagues generously share their stories. So far we’ve focused on the experiences of those staying in academia, but I’d love to consider this issue with those who’ve left the sector – see ‘Act Now’ at the end of this post for more.

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Should I stay or go?

The early career researcher’s path is punctuated by cross-roads. One of the first and biggest of these crossroads girl-2573111_1920can be: what do I do when I finish my PhD? For some PhD graduates, there may be career opportunities available within their institution; for others, the next career step involves looking further afield. What are the pros and cons of these alternatives – should you stay or go? I posed this question to six fabulous early-mid career researcher colleagues with a range of experiences of both staying put and moving on within the academic field (stay tuned for broader options in a future post). For many of us, including some of these colleagues, there was little choice – so it’s heartening to know that both options have their advantages. I’m delighted to share the generous responses of my colleagues here, and the remainder in next month’s post. Special thanks to Dr Jane Willcox for inspiring this blog topic idea!

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Wellbeing 1-2-3

Meditate sunset unsplash.jpg

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

In my ‘day job’ I undertake research aimed at understanding and promoting healthy lifestyles. I therefore empathise with many of my friends and acquaintances (and colleagues working in other fields) who ask me to clarify the contradictory and often unnecessarily complex public advice that abounds about how best to stay healthy. For example, is it really healthy/necessary to:

  • Cut out carbs?
  • Cut out fat?
  • Not eat after 8pm/10pm/midnight?
  • Follow a ketogenic/paleo/vegan diet?
  • Juice detox?
  • Eat hemp/quinoa/kale/superfoods/activated almonds?
  • Exercise at high intensities?
  • Use hot pants to reduce fat?
  • Do crunches to reduce belly fat?
  • Sleep in ‘segments’?
  • Take oxygen shots?
  • Balance my hormones by putting jade eggs in strange places? (thankfully a lawsuit put this one to bed…)

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How to stop papercrastinating

Welcome back to Happy Academic 2019!

laptop-3087585_1920Image by JESHOOTS-com on Pixabay

It’s amazing how many trivial bits of e-paper you can push around your computer when it’s time to write a manuscript (or thesis, or book chapter, or other bits of academic writing that don’t have an imminent deadline). Or how many times you can browse emails, check social media, watch Youtube (those talented cats/TED talks/tragic 90s music videos!), make cups of tea, or engage in some other mindless task.

Disseminating our research in writing is a core component of academic life, and yet it is one that many researchers struggle to find time for. And yet we typically manage to meet other key academic deadlines – funding and ethics applications and teaching-related tasks, for instance.

As well as the delayed progress on our work, putting off important tasks is not good for us in other ways. Evidence has shown that the habit of leaving things til the last minute can result in low quality work performance and reduced well-being.

Overcoming the tendency to papercrastinate requires firstly understanding why we do it. Why do we find it so hard to sit down and write? Here are some of the reasons I’ve come across: Continue reading

Academic first aid


This week one of Australia’s largest competitive research funding bodies, and a few smaller ones, released funding outcomes for 2019. A handful of colleagues were fortunate to receive a smile from the funding gods/goddesses; but many more did not, and are now struggling to cope with (yet another) rejection, trying to piece together the options for their research program, career and in some cases, salary into 2019 and beyond.

Most of us have been in this situation and it’s worth trying to remember all the good advice:

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Are you ok?

sad-505857_1920October 10th was World Mental Health Day. Mental health was the focus of many a discussion, media story and social media feed, and the news was mostly not good.

In the academic world, a recent study showed that 41% of graduate students worldwide reported signs of moderate to severe anxiety, and 39% reported signs of moderate to severe depression  – rates six times higher than those in the general population.

This is concerning, but perhaps not surprising. While academia has its perks, it is also often an insecure and hyper-competitive environment where work-life balance feels as mythical as a unicorn and rejection is the norm. This is the perfect recipe for contributing to, or exacerbating mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

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Balance: how do you find tranquility in chaos?

Balance pic

Life is more than career progression

This month I’m delighted to post a piece written by a wonderful ECR colleague, Dr Ashley Ng from La Trobe University.

ECR life can be challenging at the best of times; but these challenges are compounded when you’re also dealing with significant health issues. Not only is Ashley a dedicated and thoughtful researcher, she also utilizes her lived experience with the healthcare system and chronic disease management as a passionate advocate for improved healthcare services. Ashley co-founded Beta Change, tweets at both @Beta_Change and hangrypancreas, and blogs at

Ashley generously provided this inspiring post on gratitude, self-care and balance.

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