It’s hard to be a happy academic at times like these. How can one focus on much other than the chaos around the world? I post-crastinated over this piece because everything I thought about writing sounded trite. If you’ve been poring over news and social media like I have, you’ll no doubt have seen many suggestions and reassurances that risk sounding platitudinal. Sure, Isaac Newton may have made some of his greatest discoveries, and Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest works while in quarantine from the plague (maybe ‘cos neither of them had Twitter or Netflix?) – but what if it’s a struggle to stay focused on even a mindless task like checking page proofs for more than two minutes? (asking for a friend). Maybe we could be excused from expectations (often our own!) of producing quality academic outputs in the midst of a global pandemic? I spent 40 minutes on the couch yesterday staring aimlessly out of the window – eventually drifting outside with the vague notion of checking the local supermarket’s toilet paper stocks… before looking down and realising I was wearing my Ugg boots (and not as a fashion statement). I was heartened to read in this amusing post that many other writers also met with disdain the suggestion that now is the time to bunker down and produce works of genius. If you’ve similarly struggled with difficulties concentrating, news overwhelm and anxiety, and aren’t particularly productive right now, IT’S NOT YOU – it’s an understandable reaction to a horrible situation.
With the end of 2019 fast approaching, many of us are likely reflecting on the year that was, on what we achieved both in and outside of work, and (possibly, after a big breath) on what we hope to achieve in the year to come. (Frankly though I’m mainly looking forward to some time off over the Christmas/New Year break).
What is often termed the ‘silly season’ in Australia is marked in some academic circles by a slightly less serious take on things than is typical during the remainder of the year. The British Medical Journal, for example, started a tradition of publishing a special “Christmas Edition” of humorous scientific papers on the Friday before Christmas. Highlights include “The side effects of sword swallowing” , “How fast does the Grim Reaper walk?”, and one from my own home-town, “Where do the teaspoons go?”, a longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute.
At this time I often reflect on the research that I’ve done and the types of research I want to continue to do. In a lighter vein to end the year, and in a nod to the silly season, I’ve collated a list of published studies that I wish I’d done (or at least been a participant in!).
I 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.
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).
The 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:
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.
The early career researcher’s path is punctuated by cross-roads. One of the first and biggest of these can 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!
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…)
Welcome back to Happy Academic 2019!
Image 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
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: