Academic Life(style)

Work less, do more, live better (@timeshighered)

botanical-garden-gazebo-1430498-mI am SO EXCITED to be reading this piece in Times Higher Education – over the last year I’ve been seeking to work in a healthier pattern (although ironically this week has been a 6 day-week & I need to do some more over the weekend so that I can take a week off… to write a book proposal … carefully planned this is though!)

Great Intro:

Some years ago, I heard that a colleague characterised me as “someone who didn’t work weekends”. This description was not meant as a compliment. It’s true that I make a concerted effort to keep something approximating normal working hours of 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. But I haven’t always worked like this. As a postgrad, I anxiously counted my hours and consulted with fellow students, worried that I wasn’t spending enough time at my desk. Eventually, I allowed myself one full day off weekly. When I became a lecturer, I stayed in the office until seven or eight in the evening, in part imitating the working patterns of my new colleagues, and continued to work weekends. Yet when I reduced my hours at the desk some years ago, my productivity did not decline. Instead, my mindfulness to follow regular hours means that my productivity is the same as or even greater than it was before, when I worked 50, 60 or whatever hours it was per week.

Further down, there’s a series of historical figures, and their living styles (most were writers)

The common feature in these workday schedules is walking, bipedalism, that form of locomotion that distinguishes us from the other primates. Walking and thinking seem to go together so naturally that perhaps it’s walking that made us thinkers. Aristotle famously taught while walking along the colonnade connecting the temple of Apollo and the shrine of the Muses. That link between philosophy and walking has stuck and was memorably parodied in Monty Python’s sketch about the Philosophers’ Football Match. Rebecca Solnit, author of Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2000), concurs that walking is good for thinking: she concludes “a desk is no place to think on a large scale”.

Exercise and sleep are highlighted as of key importance to being creative (and I’ve certainly been working on my sleep), and then  How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing (2007) is quoted: 

His suggestions are simple: write and do your research daily in small blocks of time (schedule it in and don’t cheat on that schedule); keep track of what you do in that time; stay attentive to your writing goals and, ideally, get yourself a group that will help you keep to these goals. You might protest, what good are small blocks of time? But small, regular amounts of work build up to significant productivity. A few pages often make a big difference. If you were learning how to tap dance or play the French horn, you wouldn’t set aside one full day a week for practice or cram it into your Saturday afternoons; instead you’d practise for short periods, daily. Why should research and writing be any different?

As academics, we are used to research, so we should research our own habits (oh yes – and being ‘completely detached’ from the good and the bad of a job – is key) –

It is in our best interest to not only be productive but satisfied with our work, because work is vital to our identity and self-definition. We need work not just to put bread on the table but to feel of use, to serve, to contribute, to make and to connect. But the long-hours culture and the cult of busyness saps meaning away, as we tick through never-ending “to do” lists, becoming chronically tired and working less efficiently with each overtime hour.

There’s mention that even in the factory shorter hours have demonstrated increased productivity .. and I remember this from my research in the Second World War – it was SO essential to get arms out, that an extra day was added to the ‘week-cycle’ … productivity went down! And, even in times of crisis, this is key:

Before, Red Cross workers put in as many hours as necessary until the job was finished. Now the Red Cross recognises that workers need breaks in order to be able to respond effectively to the humanitarian crises they face.

Yes, yes, yes… (read full article – and also the opinion piece Know Your Worth).


Academia: Does it have to be 24/7?

One of the reasons that I declared that I wasn’t going to work in academia when I left the University of Manchester was the expectation that you chuck every hour that you’re alive at “work”. It’s one of the dangers of working with material that you love, and it can be different to find boundaries. In moving to Durham, there was a particular choice to work 4 days a week to get more balance – it worked for about 2 months – and I’m now seeking to find a way back to it. Encouraged by this article in the Guardian:

A former head of department is reputed to have said: “If you are in the office fewer than 40 hours a week, they had better be really good hours.” Departments in which 60 hours per week is the accepted norm are not unusual. Overseas collaborations can mean teleconferences at all hours, and it is possible for a document to be edited round the clock between the UK and Australia.

The list of things academics “should” do pushes us towards unmanageable workloads, particularly at the early stages of our careers. Holidays appear to be a strange concept. Funding agencies and universities alike insist on setting proposal deadlines on 4 January, encouraging work over the holiday period. One colleague sent me a paper on Christmas Eve requesting comments back by New Year’s Eve (my institution shuts down completely between the two). Recently, I have had several “something to read on your sun-lounger” emails. The next such one I receive will be filed in the recycling.

Read full article.


Survey shows that social media has graduated to academia


JISCA new survey of colleges across Scotland shows that social media, and particularly YouTube, has firmly entered the learning environment as teaching and learning tools, with its use growing significantly year on year.

In the 2012 ETNA (Enhanced Training Needs Analysis) survey, carried out by the Jisc Regional Support Centre (RSC) in Scotland and launched today at their annual conference in Edinburgh, nearly three quarters of academics in further education agree that social media tools enhance the quality of the learning experience. YouTube is by far the most popular tool, while Facebook and particularly Twitter, lag well behind. However, the survey also identifies a strong need for staff training in the use of social media.

The 2012 ETNA survey is the fifth of its kind in Scotland, with ETNA surveys having been carried out for more than a decade across Scottish colleges, analysing technology in further education and able to show trends over time. In 2012, 1,700 staff took part, including more than 700 academics across 40 of the 43 colleges. Together with responses from admin and support staff, managers, learning resource staff, learning technologists, and technical and network staff, it provides a comprehensive picture of technology in the learning landscape.

Of those surveyed:

  • Academic staff seemed most in favour of social media: 70% agreed that its use enhances the quality of the learning experience and 69% agreed that students were at ease using it
  • Some academic staff felt that social media is a distraction to learning
  • Around half of all middle managers said their department uses social media tools for learning and teaching
  • Fewer than 10% of staff in any category, however, had received training in social media
  • More than a third of staff identified a need for staff training.

Of the media channels:

  • The video world of YouTube stood out strongly, used by 62% of academic staff and 40% of learning technologists
  • Other media lagged far behind, with Facebook used by only 15% of academic staff and Twitter used by just 3%
  • Blogs and wikis sat just behind Facebook at 14% and 13% of academic staff
  • Emerging platforms such as Pinterest and Flipboard were used by just 1% of academics and not at all by managers
  • Facebook was more popular among admin and support staff, learning resource staff and learning technologists than it was among academic staff
  • All social media access was still completely blocked by a significant minority of colleges.

Celeste McLaughlin, advisor: staff development at Jisc RSC Scotland said: “It’s clear from the survey that social media is now here to stay in colleges as learning tools. They offer a familiar environment for students and, at the same time, teaching staff clearly like them. In particular, the ability to share videos online has made YouTube a clear favourite. But training is patchy, so Jisc RSC Scotland aims to help college staff improve their social media skills.”

The 2012 ETNA survey, Growth and Development – an analysis of skills and attitudes to technology in Scottish further education, is to be launched at today’s Jisc RSC Scotland annual conference, Bring Me That Horizon!

Academic Digital

Pod Academy: Academic Podcast

Excellent idea, I must look further into this:

Pod Academy is an independent, not-for-profit platform for podcasts on academic research.  Set up by a group of academics, techies and journalists, it aims to inform public debate and uncover intriguing and challenging new ideas.

We are always looking for interesting new research, including research that throws light on events in the news, and work with researchers to develop entertaining podcasts that are accessible to the general public, as well as rigorous in their scholarship.

I read about it in Times Higher Education.


Academic Leadership?

An interesting (short) article on where academic loyalty lies, and the need for academic managers to recognise the professionalism of academics, rather than viewing them as ‘products’ for students:

In conclusion, the study – titled Academic Leadership: Changing Conceptions, Identities and Experiences in UK Higher Education – offers a series of possible ways forward.

For example, university managers “anxious to encourage high levels of performance” would be best advised to “step back from mechanistic managerial approaches, and to emphasise instead the values associated with academic excellence”.

Other concluding principles include the need to “engage with academics as professionals” instead of as a human resource to be applied in the service of students or “customers”.

Universities are also advised to “safeguard ‘membership’ of the academic community”, a principle that may be at odds with the changing higher education landscape, the study acknowledges. “Competition between universities will become characteristic of the sector, driving attempts by management to emphasise academics’ loyalty to the institution rather than their scholarly disciplines and networks,” it says.

“However, we should reiterate that we found little sense that academics generally identify with their employing institution.

Read full article.