The new generation of academics in the 21st Century are facing a more competitive, more performance orientated, less secure future in Higher Education. There is a lot of negativity out there! So how about some practical and optimistic personal development support from a fellow ECR? Welcome to the Productive Academic blog.
My story – so far
As an early career researcher in the UK I have always prided myself on getting through the PhD process relatively unscathed, and attribute much of this to being organised and determined, having good supervisors and working hard at my research. Now in a faculty (lecturer) position I am excited about the challenges of the academic role. I enjoy teaching students (yes, even the annoying ones) and I enjoy my research (yes, even the tedious parts of the data collection, and yes, even the challenge of the writing process). One of the draws of this career choice for me was the variety of work, the opportunity to be creative and innovative in my research, to transfer knowledge through education and collaboration, and to help develop others whilst continuously learning more myself. Let’s just say, on joining the academic profession I wanted to have it all!
However, I was initially (and sometimes still am) frustrated by the seemingly commonplace conception that approaching this role in a holistic way is not a good strategy for being a successful academic in my field. More experienced colleagues told me “you must prioritise your writing above all else”, “as long as your teaching is acceptable that’s good enough, don’t spend time on it, concentrate on your research”; or “don’t take on any more administrative roles/teaching/PhD students than you absolutely have to, they are such a drain on your time” and I was disappointed by their negativity. Determined to at least give it a shot I vowed to spend the next few years trying to embrace all aspects of the role and at best, prove that it can be done, and at the worst, learn from my own mistakes and know that I tried.
I decided that in order to give myself the best chance of being a well-rounded academic I needed to be as efficient in the way that I worked as possible – albeit without becoming a productivity robot, churning out papers and module courses as quickly as possible. Therefore about a year ago I decided to make my own personal development a top priority and sought out resources, and suggestions on how to improve myself and become better at all aspects of what I do. A year into this journey I by no means claim to have found a solution. I openly admit that the chances of all those voices of experience being right is pretty high but maybe – just maybe, you, like me, hope that they might be wrong. What I can say is that I have learned some tricks along the way and this blog is my way of sharing these with you.
As the title suggests this is a blog about productivity for academics. It is inspired by resources, books, podcasts, blogs etc. on productivity and creativity, but whilst most this content is traditionally aimed at managers or entrepreneurs, I intend to discuss and apply it to the UK academic context. I am generally interested in the following topics:
- Managing and organising our time, juggling deadlines and commitments with different time scales and levels of priority.
- Work life balance (whatever this might be interpreted to mean)
- How to be creative and innovative in our work, to keep those ideas flowing
- How to keep going, build/sustain momentum and stretch ourselves to achieve higher goals, maintain high energy to get more done
- The psychological pressures of academia including rejection, imposter syndrome, emotional labour and self esteem
The content of this blog is aimed to be practical rather than political. I, like most people in the profession have my own views on the higher education climate and current affairs, however, I do not wish to use this blog to preach ideology or criticise the practices of higher education institutions and government policy. Instead, the intended focus here will be more on practical optimism. From my story above, I hope you can see that my intention in exploring these subjects is one of personal development. The aim is to navigate the challenges we face to become a better version of ourselves. These might seem like small aims, but there are many other commentators out there who discuss Higher Education and these wider issues. Here, whilst I would like to remain open to discussing university practices and government policies, I intend to focus on the day-to-day practical impact these have on the way we do our work – whether this may be positive or negative.
Finally, it is worth saying here, that this is not a blog solely about academic writing (I recommend Write4Research or Explorations of Style, for these). Writing for journals, book chapters, etc. is undoubtedly a large part of our work and an area where I have personally faced considerable productivity challenges (as I’m sure many others have too) and therefore the writing process will likely be featured here quite considerably. My intention however, is to go beyond this focus and to write a blog for all-around academic practice – not just about writing.
So, whether you are a PhD student, a fellow early career researcher, have more experience, or even if you are those colleagues who know better, I hope that you enjoy reading about my experiences and that some of them may relate to your own efforts too. I look forward to sharing my trials and tribulations with you, and hearing your comments and discussions. If you would like to get in contact please leave comments on the blog, or get in touch on twitter @Productiveacad