Day in the Life of an Academic #12: Spanners in the work

I had a request for another day in the life blog post. I usually try to pick up days that illustrate different facets of the life of an academic, to help others considering this profession visualise the type of work and experiences involved; and to connect with those interacting with academics (students, administrators, research partners…). But, this time, I just went for the first work day after the suggestion for another DITL post. So, here we go. Apologies in advance, if this is not particularly insightful.

6h30m: Alarm goes off. Check my sleep stats – I have been monitoring my stats, to try and understand why I am feeling so tired, lately. Get up, get coffee, and take a quick glance at my diary to remind me of key tasks for today. Then, sit down to put the final touches on the blog post, and schedule it to be published later today.

7h15m: Wake up the kiddo. Empty the dishwasher while he is having breakfast. After he leaves for school, go for a loop around the block, to help me wake up, and get in the right mind space. Then, quick shower, and breakfast.

8h40m: At my desk. Actually, not at my desk, but rather the kiddo’s desk. My laptop is out for repair, and I have been using the kiddo’s computer + my tablet in the meantime to work. This definitely puts a spanner in the works: It’s a cumbersome arrangement, and more than a little bit frustrating. But, hey, at least I have this alternative.

I send some e-mails that I had prepared during the weekend. Then, sit down to mark coursework. I realise that I forgot to set up the marking rubrics online. Oops, another spanner in the works!!!! Quick rush to do that, and ask system’s manager to link marking rubrics to coursework. Hopefully they will do that quickly, so that I can start the marking, today.

As I have some “free time”[1], I draft blog post for our social media team, about the award recently received by one of my PhD students.

11h00m: Join meeting of the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Sustainability (CES). The topic is our forthcoming slot in Brunel’s Research Festival, and we are fine-tuning who will do what. My task is to introduce the Research Lab that I am leading:

12h41m: When the meeting finishes, I check my inbox and see that there is a problem with one of the referees that I had selected for my promotion pack: they are deemed to be too close to me, and I need to find a new one. As far as spanners in the work go, this is a big one! I have a brief moment of panic: asking for a reference is uncomfortable enough[2], but to do so at such short notice is really embarrassing. Anyway, this is too important to me to spend time feeling sorry for myself. So, I send someone I worked with in the past a request, and she replies immediately. She promptly agrees to write letter, even though she has such a mad week ahead of her. I am so, so, so grateful for her generosity. 

13h00m: Meeting with the team working on the research project looking at use of digital technology by residents in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and its links with wellbeing. We discuss how to recruit participants for our focus groups, and what to include in our online data collection. Then, a quick lunch.

14h00m: Interview with person interested in doing a PhD, with me, at Brunel. Unfortunately, it’s a no. 

15h00m: Quick catch up with e-mail inbox. Issues include filling in forms for a PhD that I will be examining next month, and trying to organise the interview panel for lecturers that we are recruiting. After that, I start working on the smart retail paper, but I can’t really focus because I am distracted by the reference letter issue. But I don’t want to give up on this writing session. So, I draw on the writing advice by my friend Joao Vieira da Cunha, and focus on low cognitive effort tasks such as editing, checking references, creating tables and so on.

16h30m: The kiddo arrives from school, so I take a break to have a quick snack and a chat with him.

17h30m: A colleague calls me, to discuss a personal issue. After that, I catch up with the person that agreed to write the reference letter, to provide some information that they need. 

18h30m: I take another quick look at my inbox, and deal with a couple of urgent issues. Then, take a look at my diary for the next day, and decide to close the working day with a walk.

So, what do I make of this day? There were a few spanners in the works, and the day ended up being different from what I had planned. The iPad + Kiddo’s laptop combo was helpful but time consuming, and frustrating. I didn’t make as much progress on marking as I had anticipated. My writing session wasn’t as productive as I needed it to be. And I missed a webinar presentation that I was keen to attend. But, at the end of the day, stuff still got done, and people’s generosity still filled my heart. So, it was a good day.

Tell me about a day in your life.

[1] I.e., the time that I had blocked for marking, this morning

[2] Because I am using up their limited time to sing my praises

One thought on “Day in the Life of an Academic #12: Spanners in the work

  1. I’m not surprised you are tired! 5 hours of sleep is not a good thing. But what matters is the quality of the sleep, I guess. My smart watch (Garmin) gives a reading of “stress”: this seems to be based on an algorythm around pulse, but in my experience it correlates well with experience. You can have 8 hours sleep but still feel terrible, because of high “stress”. Also, there seems to be a correlation between eating late and sleeping badly, and consuming chocolate and wine make things worse (as far as stress and sleep goes, counterintuitive).


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