Alex Taylor on research at the boundaries, moving from industry to academia, the labour of academia & the power of the collective

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Alex Taylor is a sociologist and a Reader in the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design at City, University of London. Alex moved into academia in Sept 2017, having worked at Microsoft Research Cambridge prior to this for over a decade and as a post doc researcher at Surrey University before this. Alex talks about his work at the boundaries of disciplines where he doesn’t feel like he has a clear disciplinary home, and about his experiences working at Microsoft. He explains his very conscious decision to then move into an academic position. The trigger for this conversation was a twitter post where he commented on the many different skills that he had to draw on as an academic. He reflects on the labours of academia, and the need to prioritise and make choices. He also talks about generative resistance in the face of the demands of the academy, taking principled stands, saying no and offering alternatives. And he talks about doing this as a collective endeavour and the power of small everyday actions. In all he does Alex is deeply reflective and values-driven and asks How do we create the opportunities and the spaces to do the academy differently? He shows many of the practical ways we can all be part of this.

“I never felt I had a [disciplinary] home and that took a while to come to terms with. … maybe that’s just the kind of person I am, the work I thrive in.”

“We all have to make choices within our lives about what we prioritise. And I realised for me being a parent and partner were very important.”

“[Recognising] the sheer number of skills that were required of me in one day. … It’s a very clear indication of the labours involved in being an academic. And the recognition that you can’t be good at them all.“

“How do we create the opportunities and the spaces to do the academy differently?”

“Important for me in the Centre is how do collectively say no to that? … It’s not just about saying no, what other things might we offer up as a solution?”

Overview (times approximate)

02:07 Research background and dealing with the press/impact

13:49 How he decided to work at Microsoft & sticking to his guns

34:24 Consciously deciding to move from MSR to university

43:40 The labours involved in being an academic

57:42 Collective generative resistance

In more detail, he talks about…

Research background and dealing with the press/impact

02:07 Alex talks about working at University of Surrey and Xerox Europarc and then going to Microsoft Research. A sociologist with an interest in the sociology of technology and he did his PhD on teenagers and mobile phones, a long time ago when it was still a surprise to the industry because SMS was originally something to be used a back channel for engineers. Fortuitous in a way that he realized young people might be the thing to look at.

07:55 Alex reflecting on his use of words like fortuitous and luck. “It was just about meeting the right people at the right time. I fully recognize I’m in a privileged position.” And the topic was an important one at the time, how youth were using mobile phones and SMS at that time. Talks about being on the Radio 4 today program as a PhD student and wondering what he was doing there.

11:12 We discuss more on his experience engaging with the press over the years, especially having worked at Microsoft and their PR machine. Told throughout his career about the need to make his writing more accessible. Part of him as resisted/struggled with that, making it accessible to a public audience. He has written pieces for a journalism context and been on radio and TV but doesn’t find it easy. Attuned to the demands of UK’s academic impact from his years at Microsoft.

How he decided to work at Microsoft & sticking to his guns

13:49 We discuss his decision to go to Microsoft Research. At some point he recognized he was going to be in academic life and he did do a post-doc at Surrey straight after PhD. Then Microsoft approached him to work for a couple of years as a contractor, he asked for something ludicrous thinking they wouldn’t take it up. He was uneasy working for a big institution working for a profit. But they said yes. Then Richard and Abi set up this group together and he ended up swapping 6 months in into full-time employment.

17:57 So how did he reconcile working for a big corporate profit driven company? A very particular institution when he joined it – he understood it as driven by a philanthropic attitude to research and scholarship. There was scope to do what you wanted to do as an academic. “We’re hiring you to be a good researcher.” Didn’t believe it but gave it a shot. And for 8-10 years it was like that. Prior to starting at MSR he had already turned attention to studying the home. This was a point of departure for MSR but they encouraged it. So research and papers about how the home becomes the place it is. A mutual relationship where you are also aware of working for a company with particular concerns. So was able to justify this slightly uneasy relationship as work was about scholarship.

22:23 Was there too much freedom? Still not that different to writing grant proposals etc asking what you might like to do what was the context we are working in and how to scope our conversations there. Privileged – absolutely compared to the academy. “Many of us who believe in what we do and enjoy what we do don’t have a problem finding things that interest us.”

24:39 Alex discusses how he was always testing out the boundaries and came to realise that he sees himself as inhabiting the boundaries. Now it has become a conscious thing in his research. But it takes time and looking back to recognise the red threads of interest. “Played out in sense of uneasiness in the periphery and how to reconcile this space I’ve made for myself, along with colleagues, but it is peripheral to HCI, Computer Science, Sociology. I never felt I had a home and that took a while to come to terms with. … But in recognising that I thought that maybe that’s just the kind of person I am or the work I thrive in.”

26:43 We discuss the challenges then in communicating his work across these boundaries. The obvious challenge is that it is a work of translation. Feels that he stuck to his guns, that there were things that mattered to him, that he knew would get kicked back (proposals, papers, teaching specifications). All these things are where the tensions get played out. He tries to resist the formula and tries to encourage his students that they can do this too. Discusses how the CHI research community is now letting in other forms of scholarship, a gradual change, and that’s good.

29:55 Being reflective about sitting at the boundaries. Through his academic training, reflexivity is built in. Our thinking, the lived experiences we have both within academia and outside pervade everything. He doesn’t feel dissimilar in the way he lives his live, his family life in London as a peripheral mode of living. Pervasive identities. And always asking questions and putting oneself somewhere else occasionally.

32:44 Any costs to sticking to his guns? Has been lucky, working with the right people, and working in an organisation where it was ok to try things out. The choice to be in the periphery is a privileged position. Costs in that the work has been subject to criticisms of various kinds. But probably not more than others. Important for him that the work does make a difference.

Consciously deciding to move from MSR to university

34:24 We discuss his thinking then in moving from MSR to a university position. Microsoft was changing and MSR in the Cambridge Lab became much more business focused and product driven – topics and methods shaped by something else that made him feel uncomfortable. Doesn’t begrudge Microsoft making those decisions but it made those tensions in himself out of kilter and he didn’t want to work in the spaces that were being set. They weren’t meaningful to him. A profit driven approach to research.  Two years before he left he knew he was thinking in this way and that things need to change for him. Realised it didn’t feel right to him.

37:27 Talks about having a young family, two kids. At MSR, serious scholars but demands weren’t the same as in academia (though changing now). The changes aren’t detached from one another. So spoke to a few people, advised never to go into academia (by people who were in academia)! Points to the twitter discussion that triggered me talking to him. One comment that wasn’t framed in a positive way was ‘what right do you have to comment on the academy coming from industry’. Not meant spitefully but didn’t feel like it was part of the rest of the generative discussion of others. But an important question to ask. Didn’t feel outside of the academy in MSR. All colleagues/peers were in academic positions. Cared for them. Their concerns were my concerns. And shifts in MSR and the academy not accidental. Decision to come back to academia was an intentional effort to come back to a place he knew needed more people and recognising many people get worn out and coming to it fresh might just be one more way to make a difference. So a very conscious decision despite many warnings against it.

41:52 Saw a position at City. Met with people at the centre. Immediately felt like a generative place. Experience has told him that the people and place is worth more than anything. That outweighed anything. Geography mattered as well with a young family. Felt the centre was open not just to welcoming but change. “I had in my mind, could a place be made that felt different, that made an effort to resist many of the pressures we feel subject to.” An ongoing project.

The labours involved in being an academic

43:40 We discuss his experiences now having worked at City for a year and a half. Returns to the twitter discussion. The tweet he sent out commented on the sheer number of skills that had been required of him in one day, from working on a grant to prepping for a class to preparing for an exam script etc. And required to be good at them all. So not intended as a political statement but at the shock of recognition at the skills expected of us. Felt like he had a sense of it before but coming to work at it on a daily basis, moving between tasks, and trying to be good at them all, a clear indication of the labours involved in being an academic. And the recognition that you can’t be good at them all.

45:42 “That was another realisation I had, […] that we all have to make choices within our lives about what we prioritise. And I realised for me being a parent and partner were very important. And that was going to take away from academic life. And the people I aspire to in the academy I might not ever be able to live up to in my own practice.” According to what criteria? Recognition of one’s work and position within the fields. Who are the influential people in your field of practice? Why those names? And what choices have they made? And on a daily basis we are continually making choices and it’s not a simple equation.

48:42 We discuss negotiating those choices within a group and faculty context (and family context) in light of their pressures. What are the limits of the work he was willing to invest, stretched by moral and functional demands? Not willing to put some things in jeopardy e.g., picking kids up two days a week. Choices made on routine daily basis. “There’s a value system that’s important for me in the work that I do here in the Centre and I want to stick to that. The trouble is that it takes work.” If you say no, no comes with its costs too.

52:05 Alex talks through a specific example of saying no, and sticking to his values/ethical system. As a program director for a Masters course in HCI he was up against the pressure to increase numbers without extra resources. “A neoliberal project of extracting labour for the same or less.” He stood up for that. Said no. Something has to give, either the number you are giving us or the resources. They got resources! And now pressures for the next year. He made clear to his department head he is not in this to further the neoliberal project. Laying his cards on the table.

55:07 He is in a tenured position but it still means they can’t shut the department down. Standing up is important to him though, from his position of privilege. “I’m in this for a collective project of resistance and I use resistance carefully. […] Those no’s are not just for me.” Alex talks about how the Centre has engaged with this notion of resistance. “How do we create the opportunities and the spaces to do the academy differently?”

Collective generative resistance

57:42 Alex talks about listening to Ali Black’s podcast. “I think we forget that to resist is also its own project.” The easy answer is to maintain the status quo. How would be define generative? He points to books he has on the table (see below for names and links). Inspired by feminist forms of resistance and generativity. How do we make possible other ways of becoming? Links back to Ali Black’s work. And the power of small things like a writing group to lay the seeds for a critical reading of where we are and how we might be something else. A collective source of making a difference. It’s deeply structural. If you say no it goes to someone else. It’s a divide and conquer regime. “Important for me in the Centre is how do collectively say no to that? … It’s not just about saying no, what other things might we offer up as a solution?” An unending project. Reflects on what he enjoyed about the twitter discussion and having all types of scholars involved in the discussion. For early career researchers, advises finding the right people who won’t subject you to pressures. But of course a non-trivial recommendation.

01:04:56 Other key lessons moving into academia – no easy answers but the sense of having people with you and creating an environment where everyone can be the best they can be. And it gets done in small ways. Meetings that allow thinking to flourish. Writing group and new person setting a tone. A reading group to think about content and also introducing these layers of thinking and criticality. A research group run by Simone Stumpf. These things all take time. Not everyone comes. About giving a sense of the environment we’re in. Also thinking of writing retreats. Have a once/week seminar. All start to add up and set the conditions for what we’re in business about. All very collective.

01:10:16 So has this been a good move for him? He asks himself that on a regular basis! The sheer weight and demand of the academy on all of us upsets him. But he is determined to change something and make it better in the small ways any one person or collective can. Seeds for other things.

01:11:43 Final reflections. So much of thinking inspired by many different people. So many good people.

01:13:18 End

Related Links

Alex Taylor’s blog https://ast.io/about-alex-taylor/

Richard Harper https://www.rhrharper.com

Abi Sellen https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/people/asellen/

Simone Stumpf https://www.city.ac.uk/people/academics/simone-stumpf

Xerox EuroPARC https://wiki.cam.ac.uk/crucible/Xerox_EuroPARC

HCID Centre https://hcid.city

The Feb 25 2019 twitter post and following discussion https://twitter.com/alxndrt/status/1100110754248908801

Ali Black podcast - http://www.changingacademiclife.com/blog/2017/3/20/ali-black 

Books:

Donna Harroway, Staying with the trouble.

Sarah Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life

Isabelle Stengers et al, Women who make a fuss: The unfaithful daughters of Virginia Wolf

Tom Erickson on industry research, telecommuting, and practising for retirement

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Tom Erickson is a cognitive psychologist by background and was a researcher (social scientist and designer) at IBM Research since 1997, having previously worked in the early days of Apple and their Advanced Technology Group, and at a start up. Tom reflects on his experiences working in industry research, some of the pivotal work he has been involved in. He has also telecommuted most of his work life and he talks about how he made this work. Tom has also recently retired and he managed his transition to retirement in a really thoughtful way, being very deliberate in thinking about how to make a better life for himself and in what he calls ‘practising retirement’.

“I have a limited amount of time and do I want to spend it all working?”

“What is it that I do during the day that I love? And for me it’s design, it’s interviewing people, it’s reading interview transcripts. I just love the details of stuff.”

““How I am perceived and what I am valued for within the corporation and [keeping] that separate from how I am perceived and valued professionally.””

“As scientists or designers… we need to be mindful that the ultimate thing we’re doing is we’re shaping ourselves and how we see the world, so that we can help the field collectively move in a good direction.”

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:30 Tom talks about his psychology background, how a better climate was a factor in deciding where he wanted to do his PhD in cognitive psychology and human cognition. PhD with McClelland. Published one paper as a grad student in late 70s early 80s. One paper has had a resurgence of popularity in the last years because of a mention without reference in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast Thinking Slow book.

06:16 Ended up dropping out of grad school and many people do not know that he does not have a PhD. Combination of things – personal reasons, not really passionate about what he was doing, supervisor being away, getting involved in a small start-up, funding ran out and start-up then wanted to pay him. Became their UI tsar for a company making software for first IBM PCs. Competitor was Lotus. Did that for 5 years. In the good times he was the design guy, in the bad times he might be writing marketing, or manuals (Software Products International).

10:15 Towards the end of that time got married. His wife was in Stanford. So he got a job at Apple by sending in a resume for a job in the paper. Word got around during the interview process and Joy Mountford said ‘you should be in our group’. That led to a job in Apple in the Human Interface Group. It was like a quick course in design school. Learned three rules of design: cheat, steal and keep it simple!

14:57 Started off in Stanford but then his wife graduated and got a job in the Uni of Minnesota. Was looking for a new job but then got a contact by Don Norman who was a new Apple fellow and wanted Tom to work with him. He suggested telecommuting. So Tom switched to Don’s group. Some face time in Stanford for about 6 months then transitioned to Minnesota.

16:57 Lasted 5 years until second coming of Steve Jobs. Jobs was against Apple having a research organization. Tom moved to the Advanced Technology Group (ATG). Talks about some of the innovative products they were working on in the early 90s.

22:02 But Steve came back. His team ended up getting laid off about 3 months before the rest of ATG which gave them a shot at the market. Had previously gotten to know Wendy Kellogg, they started talking and he ended moving to IBM Research. Had a 3 day break between jobs. Initially hesitant about moving to New York because of his wife’s work. In the end he was hired as a telecommuter. And they made a plan for how to make it work. One condition of his contract was having to work 15-20% of his time building up connections with other groups at IBM and that ended up being really good for the first period. Talks about how they made the telecommuting work and the telecommuting culture at IBM.

27:54 Tells people there are three things to think about re telecommuting: needs to work for you; has to work for the group and working out ways to pay your own dues; and navigating the organization since at a distance and not visible. And thanks to his manager Wendy Kellogg for always helping to make him visible. And he used his time on site to make himself more visible, e.g., design sessions, working one-on-one with people, sitting in public spaces.

33:16 Retired 6 months ago (when recorded in November 2018). Did a lot of work to prepare for it. Was anxious about it. Practised for retirement. Thought about what he would be losing. Did his greatest invention, despite being shy and introverted, ‘the pleasant chat’. The pleasant chat is a repeated meeting with someone called a pleasant chat. Has 5-6 people he has ‘pleasant chats’ with to keep in touch. “Big challenge is how do I get these new channels of ideas and stimulations coming in. […] You have to figure out what works for yourself and that kind of structure works for me.” Been at IBM for almost 21 years. Cast of characters has changed entirely. Only known 1 person from beginning to end.

38:55 What else he has been doing to practise retirement. Explains how the practice came about. Period of 6 months where he and his wife lost three remaining parents, plus a couple of friends who passed away, shifted the notion of being immortal. Limited time. Oldest generation. A head shift. Sees generation losing ability to do things eg always like to hike. Might not be able to do that later. “I have a limited amount of time and do I want to spend it all working?” Reflects on an exec who died two weeks after retiring. This shifted him to thinking about retirement, as well as an IBM reorganization to focus on AI that he doesn’t believe in. Took advantage of an IBM program to allow him to work 60% to figure out what else he would like doing. And started restricting work to 8 hrs a day on work days.

43:52 Would have worked previously 10-14 hrs/day but never felt resentful. “Work segues into play for me. […] Pretty much wrote all the papers out of working hours. And I love to write. … mostly seems more like fun than work.”. Reflects on roles of organisations and not being dependent on the individual and not expecting the organization to care for him.

46:25 Shifting to 8 hrs not a hard transition. Not excited about the AI focus. Started thinking about “what is it that I do during the day that I love? And for me it’s design, it’s interviewing people, it’s reading interview transcripts. I just love the details of stuff.” When he moved into the AI area, got into interviewing scientists and it was doing what he loved even though he didn’t care for AI. But didn’t write this up.

47:54 Instead started figuring out “What do I need that will keep me happy afterwards?” Did a couple of things. The main thing that worked better than he expected was he started taking piano lessons. Hard to start with but loves practising. And can see himself getting better. Would play for 2 hrs before starting work, Which means that when he retired, he still got up had his coffee, did 2-3 hrs piano practice. The routine. Also runs as a routine – took this up when he turned 50.  “The piano was probably the best thing I did for myself.”. So taking up piano, the pleasant chats.

And began working on developing some individual friendships. “I think friendships and one-to-one relationships are crucial.” But needing to put in more deliberate effort on this.

53:02 I reflect on him being very self aware and deliberate in creating his good life. He reflects on one of his strengths in both being self aware and then sitting down and developing a strategy to achieve what will make his life better.

54:05 Advice to younger clueless self? Thinks the younger self did a lot of things right. Industry getting more and more applied and topic for research changes because every 3-4 years you get someone new in the executive changes and they want to make their mark. He did well fitting into this while maintaining a consistency of themes by choosing themes at the right level. Also occasionally took on side projects that weren’t funded. Some of the work he enjoyed the most had not funding.

58:30 Advice – would encourage younger self/younger people to be mindful – you do have to follow the corporate agenda but if you are doing a good job there can be opportunities on the side.  And taking a dual approach – “Thought about how I am perceived and what I am valued for within the corporation and kept that separate from how I am perceived and valued professionally.” Ie how he depicts the type of work he does to which communities.

1:01:45 Always driven by his personal situation. Tries to draw inspiration from things he sees in the world, problems he faces. Don Norman as inspiration. Having experiences, making them into stories, turning them into constructive research.

1:05:10 Wrap up – one thing he is grappling with now he is retired is how does he remain involved in the field or does he? What ways to continue activity in the field? One idea is writing a blog or column, maybe called ‘Late reviews’ reviewing books and making them accessible to the field eg mentions ‘Governing the commons” by Elinor Ostrom and ‘Seeing like a state’. The other thing he is thinking about I show to stay connected without being full-time. Maybe a workshop as people are aging out of professional roles? Are there ways they can remain available to the community? Also thinking about what impacts has he had.

01:11:53 Talks about HCI Remixed book with David MacDonald – importance of reviewing older research. And changing how researchers see the world. “As scientists or designers…we need to be mindful that the ultimate thing we’re doing is we’re shaping ourselves and how we see the world so that we can help the field collectively move in a good direction.”

01:14:16 End

Related Links

Some of the people he mentions:

Joe Konstan - http://konstan.umn.edu

Joy Mountford - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joy_Mountford

Don Norman - https://jnd.org

Austin Henderson - http://rivcons.com

Paul Dourish - https://www.dourish.com

Wendy Kellogg - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Kellogg

Christine Halverson - https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/author/christine-halverson

Elinor Ostrom - http://www.elinorostrom.com

 

Apple Advanced Technology Group - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Advanced_Technology_Group

CSCW – Computer Supported Cooperative Work - https://sigchi.org/conferences/conference-history/cscw/

 

Tom’s highly cited 1981 cognitive psychology paper – Erickson & Mattson, ‘From words to meaning: a semantic illusion’ : https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022537181901651

Poem: Theory Theory: a designer’s view - http://tomeri.org/theorytheory.html

Book: HCI Remixed - http://tomeri.org/HCIremixed.html

 

Jen Mankoff on managing an academic career with a disability & finding good ways forward

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Jennifer Mankoff is an endowed professor in the School of Computer Science and Engineering at University of Washington in the US.  Jen’s journey to this position though hasn’t been straightforward because she has been dealing with ongoing chronic health issues since her PhD days. Jen talks about managing disability as an academic and in particular the ways in she positively frames her experiences and points to the support of family and colleagues. She also has interesting experiences about being part of an academic couple as well as managing parenting and extended family caring roles. While considering herself a private person, she recognises it is important for people like herself to share their experiences, not just of successes but also about what is hard, and to give the message that we all go through these hard times and can find ways forward. 

“It was a really positive learning experience in the end to have gone through [dealing with repetitive strain injury during grad school].”

“[Learning] how to parent slowly…not to measure parenting success by the amount that is accomplished but instead by the quality of time I spend with the kids”

“Every day I feel full energy all day long I get to feel grateful for it because I have enough reminders in my life of what else it could be.”

“I’m respected for the fact that I manage my career with a disability.”

“It’s really important for anyone to share not just what their successes are but also what’s been hard to let everyone know that we all go through these hard times and find ways forward.”

Overview (times approximate):

01:40 Dealing with repetitive strain injury in grad school - having a supportive supervisor, writing 30 mins twice every day, still getting published, making it work, gaining excellent time management and self-care skills because of it.

08:10 Dealing with Lyme disease - talking about working 55 hours as low compared to colleagues, shifting to 35 hrs when having children, dealing with the disease, and still being able to progress tenure case with a supportive department and spouse, and learning how to work with the fluctuations in health, to write when intellectually active, and how to parent slowly 

12:30 Talking about the many ways in which faculty and colleagues were supportive despite it being an invisible chronic illness

14:56 Describing the impacts of Lyme disease, the process of getting diagnosed, starting treatment, still trying to see through teaching commitments and dealing with the unpredictability of the disease. Diagnosed in 2007 and the positive progression of both lifestyle management techniques and illness, feeling grateful, and creating visibility of the disease with a cane.

22:00 The positive framing, and reflecting on how she has come to this, dealing with imposter syndrome and also with the knowledge that you are not performing in the way you are capable of if you were healthy, the difficulty of accepting second best constantly, and the question of whether she was choosing illness, and learning to love herself

26:40 Doing research on assistive technology, moving to Berkeley, getting educated on disability rights movement, eventually embracing an identity as a woman with a disability, and the challenges of studying and talking about her own situation, and the value of support from mentors and colleagues

35:04 Managing situations day to day, not being good at separating work and family, needing to prioritise children or students at different times, putting out a personal newsletter every week to communicate what’s going on in her personal and professional life and how that week will be juggled, modelling time management.

39:00 Reflecting on being part of a couple in the same research area. Moving from Berkeley to CMU and then to Washington. Having a partner as head of department and the challenges this entails. Now being in different departments. The importance of explicitly dealing with potential conflicts of interest between partners, and setting boundaries by not communicating through partners.

50:52 Talking about her current research directions, doing a lot of work now around making, discrimination, sexual assault, gender and medical interactions especially with chronic disease patients, and a study with students to understand their major life events and stressors and how to support them.

59:30 Final comments about learning to expose her experiences and to allow people to see this sort of diversity in faculty life. Encouraging others to share: “It’s really important for anyone to share not just what their successes are but also what’s been hard to let everyone know that we all go through these hard times and find ways forward.” And that you are not alone in experiencing these.

1:02:43 End

 Related Links

People Jennifer mentions:

Anind Dey - https://ischool.uw.edu/people/faculty/profile/anind

Gregory Abowd - http://ubicomp.cc.gatech.edu/gregory-d-abowd/

Scott Hudson - https://hcii.cmu.edu/people/scott-hudson

Gillian Hayes - https://www.gillianhayes.com

James Landay - https://www.landay.org

WISH - https://wish-symposium.org

Articles about or by Jennifer:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennifer_Mankoff

https://www.cs.washington.edu/people/faculty/jmankoff

https://news.cs.washington.edu/2017/06/28/allen-school-set-to-amplify-uws-leadership-in-human-computer-interaction-with-new-hires-jennifer-mankoff-and-jon-froehlich/

Jennifer’s story around disability and chronic disease as an academic

https://www.lymedisease.org/disability-community-mankoff/

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-00112-7

https://www.geekwire.com/2018/working-geek-uw-computer-scientist-jennifer-mankoff-channeled-adversity-career-path/ 

Publication: Early et al, 2018, Understanding Gender Equity in Author Order Assignment

https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=3290265.3274315  

Jofish Kaye on industry research, having an impact, and values-driven decision making

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Jofish Kaye is a Principle Research Scientist at Mozilla, and before this he worked at Yahoo and Nokia. Jofish made a deliberate decision not to pursue an academic career after he finished his PhD and it’s interesting to hear how his decision-making criteria evolved from being primarily about the people he could work with to being more values-driven and being able to make an impact. A strong sense of values and having impact are threads in a lot of what he talks about. He also discusses his experiences more generally working in an industry context and also moving into more management/leadership roles.

“I think I’m the only person on the planet who likes job searches because you get to re-invent yourself.”

“I am concerned the way we treat publications as the way to make success in the world.”

“It’s so important and so incumbent upon research as a field to make clear and visible how valuable what it is we do.”

“We need to be taking seriously this call for public outreach.”

A full transcript is coming soon!

Overview:

Jofish discusses (approximate times):

01:38 Getting a PhD at Cornell and moving into an industry job at Nokia and being able to teach at Stanford

09:24 Why he didn’t want to apply for an academic position – the difficulty getting funding vs the freedom to do what he wants in industry, the current Mozilla grant process and research they have supported

19:16 Triggers for moving to different companies, looking at what he really enjoyed doing (CHI4Good), and seeking out a way to do that – the job search as a way to reinvent yourself

25:11 Moving from more of an industry research role to now also being concerned for shipping product to customers and having impact in the world in a different way

30:55 How his thinking about job searching has changed over time, from thinking about the people he would work with, to more values-driven decision making with some additional criteria

36:00 Broader accessibility for young people to universities, and the role of public universities,

38:40 His usual pattern of working now with kids/family; and experiences being in a management role, recruiting people, and the ‘Noah’s Ark’ theory about having people who share the same assumptions

42:00 Being a leader and manager – managing as administration, checking boxes, etc; leading as trying to build a strategic narrative and the difficulty of coordinating with people who have different epistemological assumptions and how you measure impact

50:45 Practical team strategies when people are distributed, combining in-person and online techniques, daily video ‘stand up’ meetings

57:18 Challenges around issues of diversity and inclusion across the industry and in particular how to improve diversity in an open source volunteer community

1:01.40 Challenges for academics moving into industry, getting to actionable insights quickly and how to communicate those in the slide deck (the coin of the realm)

1:07:38 End

Related Links

Phoebe Sengers - http://www.cs.cornell.edu/people/sengers/

Elizabeth Churchill - http://elizabethchurchill.com

Wendy Ju - http://www.wendyju.com

Pam Hinds - https://profiles.stanford.edu/pamela-hinds

Terry Winograd - https://hci.stanford.edu/winograd/

John Tang - https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/people/johntang/

Jed Brubaker - https://www.jedbrubaker.com

Allison Druin - https://www.pratt.edu/faculty_and_staff/bio/?id=adruin

Casey Fiesler - https://caseyfiesler.com

Anna Cox podcast - http://www.changingacademiclife.com/blog/2017/3/5/anna-cox

CSCW Medium posts - https://medium.com/acm-cscw

DeleteMe - https://abine.com/deleteme/

TallPoppy - https://tallpoppy.io/

Katie Siek on dual careers & children, mentoring & lobbying, & dealing with illness

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Katie Siek is an associate professor in Informatics at Indiana University in the US Katie shares her experiences being part of a dual career couple and has some excellent advice for faculties on how to handle this better. She talks about the challenges having children and learning to take proper time off with her second child. She talks about her passion for mentoring, recognized by a special mentor award and learning how to lobby upwards to effect policy change; also about building her group and their wall sit challenge. We finish with her very personal story of managing an invisible illness at work, and she calls us to have more open and honest discussions about these issues and to advocate for and support one another.

“I like to call it a dual career opportunity [because] it's really great to have your partner who is committed and passionate about the areas and understands your struggles.”

“I would encourage all my colleagues not propagate the Amazon Warrior woman myths.”

[To create change] “Get involved with your faculty council, see if you can create policy at the university level.”

[Dealing with an invisible illness] “How do you show you're a good colleague and you're there, and [also give yourself] that time to recover.”

[Supporting colleagues with illness] “Advocate to administrators that if you allow someone to recover now they're going to be a stronger colleague…next year in two years or whatever they need.”

Full Transcript- click here

She talks about (times approximate) …

01:59 Her computer science background and the experience of her mother having cancer being the motivation for shifting her PhD topic to health informatics.

04:50 Coming back to Indiana as faculty, being part of a dual career couple, and both getting an offer –a two body opportunity. This was in contrast to previous positions in Colorado where only Katie was tenure track and her partner had a research position.

07:40 Getting pregnant during tenure process, and also going out on the job market to find a tenure position for both of them while pregnant.

11:40 Advice for how to handle dual career couples, for faculties to go after both people.

15:20 What she has learnt in having a child, getting out of algorithmic thinking and getting balance and the difficulties juggling baby and work (but worth it).

20:04 What she would recommend now – if you have leave do it correctly and don’t propagate the amazon woman lore.

23:37 The different experience with her second child. And the importance of a male colleague encouraging them to ‘do it right’ this time.

26:02 The pros and cons of remote participation at a PC meeting.

29:44 Strategies for making transitions between work and home and doing shifted working windows between them.

33:27 Her special mentor award for her women in computing group on campus and her passion about diversity work.

37:44 Strategies for how she practically manages her passion research and her mentoring passions, e.g., being selective about events, finding collaborators

40:38 Lobbying upwards and learning how to get involved in the Faculty at a policy level. Having people to ask for feedback.

47:28 The wall sits.

50:25 Reflections on setting up a group coming back to Indiana and establishing the family in the community.

55:41 Looking after her own health and wellbeing through goal-setting around running.

59:33 Dealing with illness, invisible illnesses, being an advocate for one another.

1:10:07 End 

Related Links

Yvonne Rogers - https://uclic.ucl.ac.uk/people/yvonne-rogers

Kay Connelly - https://wphomes.soic.indiana.edu/connelly/

Judy Olson - http://www.changingacademiclife.com/blog/2016/6/6/judy-olson

Book: David Sedaris (2001) Me talk pretty one day

Leysia Palen on creating a new research area, the long path to tenure and starting a department

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Leysia Palen is Professor and Founding Chair of Information Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has also led the establishment of the Crisis Informatics research area. Leysia shares her career journey in getting to this place, an amazing story of being a first generation PhD, dealing with imposter syndrome, and moving to a new university to support her spouse. It is also a story of focus and perseverance, defining a new research area, being supported by her own soft money, then finally getting a half-time faculty position, while at the same time having a family and growing the internationally recognised Project EPIC. It was only relatively recently that she got tenure and then quickly became a full professor. Leysia also talks the challenges and lessons learnt in setting up and leading a whole new department and what higher education can be in this era.

“I was a trailing spouse…and the closest fit for me was Computer Science…but it wasn't an easy fit. […] It's important that both people [academic couple] be valuable in terms of how other people measure value.” 

“The truth was I still was uncertain if I belonged in the academy. […] I was smarter than I knew and I was more naive than I knew.”

“To do research and to do teaching, you have to just be present all the time. You have to stay with a problem. You have to stay with other people and where they are. And that's a particular kind of energy .”

“It's naive to think science is only about pursuing ideas that just come to one's head. They have to be good ideas, they have to be tractable ideas.”

For a full transcript, click here

Overview:

02:45 Being a first generation college student, undergrad at UCSD and PhD at Irvine

08:51 Moving to Colorado CS department as a trailing spouse, focusing on keeping the research thread going

11:34 Working in soft money, needing to reduce work to what she could do well while she was having children

15:08 Moving to a half-time tenure track position, trying to deal with not being a close disciplinary fit, moving to formalize research to make a difference

18:23 Setting up a crisis informatics research agenda, and getting it funded

23:16 The challenges doing crisis informatics work and self care

27:07 Eventually getting tenure, the challenges getting there, and juggling family, physical movement, and home/work, getting a full-time position in 2007 but still not tenured, eventually went for associate without tenure, then later with tenure. And then in a short time to full professor.

35:06 Being noticed by the campus for the impact she was having, the multi-disciplinary group, graduating 7 PhD students all women. Setting up a new department of information science. The opportunity to think about the nature of disciplines, what an ischool in 2015 could be like, and re-thinking education.

42:34 Learning to be a leader, no training pathways for leadership or role models for setting up a new department, and defining discipline vs department.

52:21 Final reflections and working with a 50 year view.

56:51 End

Related Links

Department of Information Science - https://www.colorado.edu/cmci/infoscience

Palen & Anderson, 2016, Crisis Informatics – New data for extraordinary times, Science. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6296/224

Ed Hutchins - http://pages.ucsd.edu/~ehutchins/

Aaron Cicourel - https://sociology.ucsd.edu/people/faculty/emeritus/aaron-cicourel.html

Don Norman - https://jnd.org

Amy Voida - https://www.colorado.edu/cmci/people/information-science/amy-voida

Ricarose Roque - https://www.colorado.edu/cmci/people/information-science/ricarose-roque

Brian Keegan - https://www.colorado.edu/cmci/people/information-science/brian-c-keegan

Mike Twidale on agile research, leading from strengths, and story-telling

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Mike Twidale is a professor in the School of Information Sciences at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, recipient of numerous teaching awards including Outstanding IS teacher in 2017, and more recently becoming program director for a new Masers degree. We talk about how he handled the tenure process, his teaching approaches, and his notion of agile research and what this means. We also discuss stepping up into leadership roles. Having thought he would never be any good at leadership, he has developed his own leadership style by playing to his own strengths and the complementary strengths of those around him, among other effective strategies. We also talk about the value of story-telling to make more explicit the multiple different ways and realities of how we do academia. And he talks about metrics as just being an indicator of something and looking for other complementary ways to also explore that something.

“Our job as we get more senior is to speak up for a diversity of different ways of doing scholarship.”

“If it’s really research we don’t actually know what the answer is.” 

“How do you design something so that it is easy to change rather than how do you design something so it is right so you don’t need to change it?”

“When a faculty works well it is nurturing and it’s like a family.”

Overview:

04:26 How thinking about getting tenure matters

10:15 Teaching

15:05 Agile research

25:00 Stepping into a leadership role

43:05 Storytelling, self-care and metrics

And in more detail, he talks about (times approximate) …

01:40 Moving from Computer Science in the UK to a School of Information Sciences at UIUC in the US in 1997 as an adventure to “try it out”. Seeing how he could go with the teaching. The challenges of multi-disciplinarity. Learning the US academic tradition including tenure.

How thinking about getting tenure matters

04:26 Going into a tenure track position, via an exception as a Q appointment. He talks about how he approached the tenure process. Was successful but always in the back of his mind was that he could always go back to the UK. Didn’t put pressure on himself – viewing it as an adventure, had a backup of being able to find another job if needed, and realizing it is “just a set of rules rather than something that is about my identity”. Vs treating it as about identity creates pressure and leads to conformist about what will be acceptable to the tenure committee. The paradoxes. And the value of the uni documents about tenure rules creating many different opportunities for excellence.

09:05 “Our job as we get more senior is to speak up for a diversity of different ways of doing scholarship.”

Teaching

10:15 Winning an excellent teaching award. How excellent mentoring helped him. A strong culture of excellent teaching in the school. Talks about the contrast of being a soft person in a computer science and then being the hard techie person in the iSchool. All relative.

11:55 The formal and informal mentoring he received – an Australian historian, Boyd Raywood, who could help translate the US academic system for him; Betsy Hearn and the power of storytelling. The teaching techniques he has developed – more hands-on activities

Agile Research

15:05 Drawing inspiration from agile software development to ask what might agile research look like and how can we speed up the iterations. Compares this to the ‘straw man’ logical waterfall method for computers but it doesn’t work as the world is a lot messier than we would like and we are fallible human beings who can’t follow rational methods. Compares this to grant and thesis proposals which look like the waterfall method but we all know that this doesn’t work like this.

19:40 Influencing funding bodies about this? So far no but he has a plan. He has just written a paper to justify agile as a reasonable research method. And talks about how it can fit into deliverables reporting requirements for funded research. Needing more honesty and transparency about the process of doing research. Not doing anyone a favour particularly our students who look at the post-hoc constructed representations of senior researchers’ work and compare it their messiness of their own. Honesty especially important given the increasing interest in reproducible research. “So long as you admit that thing you are doing is a legal fiction to save other people the time and bother and not pretend that is the thing we did.”

22:55 “If it’s really research we don’t actually know what the answer is… have some guesses… but time and again we discover something far more interesting than what we intended to look for.”

Stepping into a leadership role

25:00 Reflecting on his program director role. 5-6 years would have said he had no desire to do any academic leadership thing as didn’t think he would be good at it. No ambition. Thought he would be a bad fit as good at divergent thinking but not good at details, keeping track of things, person management. However the need and opportunity arose to be director of new masters program. Thought he would have a go. Brand new degree to be created out of nothing with help of fellow faculty. So an opportunity to build something new and interesting. That piqued his interest. He had written an article about what an agile university might look like. So given they didn’t know what should be in this program, how could he design the process to learn as they go? So coming up with structures and getting input from people and nudge it so they are not getting locked into early commitments. “How do you design something so that it is easy to change rather than how do you design something so that it is right so you don’t need to change it?”

29:08 Setting it up to enable learning from the start. Helped by colleagues working with him and delegating things to people who were really good at doing things that he was bad at doing. A struggle at times as can egocentrically think that if I hate doing it others do too. [30:34] Learning what it is that plays to other people’s strengths – so getting to know people, reading from their body language that this is something they like. Meg Edwards is very good at systematizing things. Having someone who has complementary skills but also not embarrassed about raising things that really need to be done. An important culture thing (mid-western nice, being polite, not wanting to offend – so have to move it along to see if people actually agree or disagree and what do we disagree about)

32:41 The important role of the leader in setting the culture. The importance of having lots of very small meetings including one-on-ones. Lots of little conversations more productive. And if it goes wrong it’s my fault, my job.

33:51 The people he learnt his leadership skills from – actual and implicit mentors. Discusses Doug Shepherd, Ian Sommerville disagreeing; Doug Shepherd – managing by walking around; Alan Dix - playfulness; Tom Rodden – sharing and including people;

38:35 The value of managing by walking around, understanding needs. Staying curious. Bringing research interests to management/leadership, figuring out strengths and what other things are needed, who can do those. “If you play to your strengths you are going more with the grain as opposed to against the grain.”

41:50 Role of systematization, structuring, as program matures and as you get bigger. Breaking into small teams work because of way humans work.

Storytelling, self-care and metrics

43:05 Role of story-telling. For example telling graduate students how to get a job – collections of stories that reveals getting jobs in different ways.

45:20 Story-telling in the faculty as well? Some happens already. Easier when smaller faculty and now needs more effort.  Stories – for new professors and doctoral students who want an academic career – stories of struggling around and how people overcame adversity, or even admitting not knowing and then things clicking into place. Those stories revealing the processes. Also stories of people who are successful and how much appears to be luck, seizing opportunity – “the factor of luck, happenstance, we often don’t want to tell because it doesn’t fit the heroic story but it is still an issue of seizing that, but helping people to realise, don’t be dispirited if one doesn’t work out, these things happen.”

48:25 We’d like to believe the world is rational. Same in the hiring process. But it’s not. Discussion of trying to be fair in hiring, to see the whole person, being open to different research approaches. Still times when you are not sure. Incredibly difficult issue.

51:05 Story of Leigh Estabrook who recruited him – one of her famous phrases was no grant proposal is ever wasted. You will be benefitting from that in the future in a way you don’t know about. “When a faculty works well it is nurturing and it’s like a family, that recognises that each individual in the family is different and unique.”. Other practices building a nurturing culture – always there, sustaining it via eg faculty retreats, sharing ideas, sharing stories. Key is inviting more than one story. Hallway conversations. Collaborations around teaching. Also need to recognize it can be intimidating for new people and need to be welcoming. The problems of comparing yourself to many others and thinking you need to be the union set of all those people.

55:55 Self-care – needing to do more on this. Commute time of 12 mins on average. Always temptation to do more and more work. Tries to make time for himself at the weekends. Travels a lot and tacks on an extra day of sightseeing. Sets a puzzle in his head and leaves his subconscious to chew over it but this needs time and relaxation and can’t force it. 

58:15 Talks about listening to podcast with Tom Rodden – do good work and other things will flow. Problems with metrics. Interested in looking at metrics as part of a socio-technical system, the doing of science. Have to remember is it the proxy and not the think itself. The challenge is to allow the telling of other stories. What you lose by turning it into a number. Getting qualitative and quantitative data working together. Numbers can help us when we want to be fair. But numbers are not unbiased. And what’s that something else we are actually looking for and how can we look for that. Eg looking for potential. What are some indicators of potential? Different people show potential in different ways. “Reminding ourselves it [metric number] is just a proxy and what are wanting it to be a proxy for may help.”

01:03:20 The challenge of academics being encouraged to be individualist. But you don’t have to do it all on your own.

01:05:13 End

Related Links

Boyd Rayward - https://ischool.illinois.edu/people/w-boyd-rayward

Betsy Hearne - https://ischool.illinois.edu/people/betsy-hearne

Meg Edwards - https://ischool.illinois.edu/people/meg-edwards

Leigh Estabrook - http://cirss.ischool.illinois.edu/person.php?id=69

Twidale & Nichols, ‘Agile Methods for Agile Universities’ - https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/129936578.pdf

Kjeld Schmidt – ‘The trouble with “tacit knowledge”’, Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): The Journal of Collaborative Computing and Work Practices, vol. 21, no. 2-3, June 2012, pp. 163-225.

Tom Rodden podcast - http://www.changingacademiclife.com/blog/2016/11/2/tom-rodden

Lindsay Oades on academic wellbeing, connecting to strengths, meaning and purpose, and not taking the system too seriously

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Lindsay Oades is a Professor at the University of Melbourne, where he is also the Director of the Centre for Positive Psychology at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.  He has co-edited the Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Positivity and Strengths-Based Approaches at Work. I caught up with Lindsay in Budapest at the 2018 European Positive Psychology Conference and was keen to talk to him because of his expertise in positive organisations and taking a systems perspective to promoting wellbeing at work. In this conversation we talk about his own experiences of changes in the academic sector, and his key learnings getting to full professor. We also talk about what positive psychology can contribute to academic work environments and wellbeing, covering issues around values, purpose and meaning, strengths, promotion processes, performance reviews, job crafting, and academic leadership. Listen out for his great terms like ‘academic feudalism’ and ‘justificationism’.

We got so caught up in the conversation that neither of us noticed that his microphone had dropped so there is about 5 mins towards the end when he is talking about job crafting. If his distant voice is too difficult to hear, stay on to the end of the podcast where I repeat what he said word for word. The verbatim text is also below for that section.

“Don’t take it too seriously, don’t get sucked into the rumination and the competitiveness that people go through, and the valuing of each other based on the academic gaze.”

“A lot of academics mistake seriousness with excellence.”

“I…coped through…humour, patience, relationships, being in good teams, being quite purposeful…about why I was doing it, so I didn’t have an instrumental view of academia of publications for publication sake, grants for grants sake.”

“Academics love autonomy. The best way to manage academics is to get out of their way.”

Overview:

01:30 Background

09:00 Changing challenges of academic life

16:45 Key learnings getting to full professor

25:30 Values, purpose, meaning and the promotion processes

32:40 Well-being and academia, and how considered academics create to absurd systems

41:00 What Positive Psychology is about, and how it impacts his management role

50:05 Taking a strengths-based developmental approach to performance reviews and job crafting

1:02:57 Final thoughts – towards the positive university

And in more detail, he talks about (times approximate) …

1:30 Lindsay talks about the different phases of his career, from clinical psychology, to doing an MBA and then moving to a business school, and now moving “from negative to positive, from individual to larger system”, an evolution in scale, and what systems thinking offers for him. From health to wellbeing to business to education.

Changing challenges of academic life

9:00 The changes he has seen in academic life over the course of his career – huge. Increased in student numbers, internationalization, reduced funding, more managerial/commercial style, contracting of competitive funding, freezing of PhD scholarship levels and students having to work much more. Quite a different place. What hasn’t changed is the undervalue that the Australian culture places on academics. Anti-intellectualism. Thinks intellectual life valued more in some parts of North America and Europe and popular media. Changes have led to fewer positions, skepticism about ability to develop careers, larger teaching loads, multiple people scrambling for small amounts of money (academic feudalism). “You see these so called good minds spending huge amounts of time to get access to $10K…relatively small amounts of money”. “A lot of academics are very detailed oriented people, what I’d call naive rationalists, they think they are going to get a solution through reasoning and then get frustrated when politics or economics knocks them around.”

13:30 Own experience? His academic vantage point quite different as professor and director of a centre. Reflects on when he was a lecturer, dealing with teaching load and applying for funding, but was doing more applied research so used consultancies as a way of generating funding to side-step the feudalism. A deliberate decision. Institution allowed him to have a slush fund. But not all academics or disciplines are able to do this. Still went for competitive grants but now with a base level source.

Key learnings getting to full professor

16:45 Key learnings getting to full professor? Patience. Not taking the system too seriously because academic life can be very disheartening. A lot of academics would say this, that they feel very undervalued by their own institution and most of the recognition they get is from people they don’t see, from overseas who recognize the quality of your work, yet in your own institution you are told you are not producing enough or teaching enough classes or whatever. So this weird local invalidation and validation from someone a long way away. So don’t seek validation in the wrong place. And remembering what a university is, this incredibly resilient organization. They’re 8 or 900 year old institutions. They do this partly through the slowness of themselves. A lot of academics mistake seriousness with excellence. The constant workload and multiple roles that academics have to cross between teaching, research, community engagement and administration, without a lot of understanding – most think of academics as a teacher. So no real understanding of what academics do. What he learnt was probably a light touch, non-grasping view of what it is, don’t take it too seriously, don’t get sucked into the rumination and the competitiveness that people go through, and the valuing of each other based on the academic gaze. Finds it comical at times. Valuing the absurdity.

21:45 Need to find good mentors, get into good teams. A lot his good research output is from being in good teams. And a healthy skepticism and sardonic humour. When he was younger, he felt academia was ageist. Couldn’t achieve criteria for professor unless you had time. “I’ll keep doing what I’m doing because I’ll get to professor anyway because age will take of it.” So somewhat of an ageism in the way it is structured, the system values declarative knowledge that comes with age. So he probably coped through a bit of humour, patience, relationships, being in good teams, being quite purposeful, “I’ve always had my own purpose about why I was doing it, so I didn’t have an instrumental view of academia of publications for publication sake, grants for grants sake.” So a non-instrumental approach. Care about it. Always been attracted to ideas and learning. Love of learning is one his number one strengths. Conceptually strong. Good with ideas. That comes naturally, easier for him than some other people. That combined with a value and purpose for why I’m doing it, that has buoyed him along.

Values, purpose, meaning and the promotion processes

25:30 In a team at Centre for Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne, 17 people. A very values and purpose driven group of people. He has some very clear things he is working towards, helping other people, changing systems in service of well-being. So quite purpose, meanings-based initiatives. Keeps those close. And reminds himself. So no surprise he is attracted to ideas like impacts rather than h-indices and metrics of how we stack up against others. One of the frustrating things about that when going for promotion- it is very extrinsically focused. He didn’t like the psychological impact because it took him away from what he valued about what he was doing. But having to report on all the extrinsic things that don’t connect to love of learning or meaningful impact you are trying to have. [27:40]. Lower down the tree it was the external impacts. But now at professor it was about being able to get on committees, have an impact. He calls it rampant justifactionism.

29:07 His ideal promotion process? Prefers whole of career approach, more portfolio-based, less constrained of how you have to fit yourself into a box. Stories would provide more mechanism for people to tell their stories. Using other media to make the case in more variegated and meaningful ways. From a managerial point of view, one of the ways to exploit the workforce where people love their work. It’s a strength of the workforce but also makes it easier to exploit them. It’s a danger for people who love what they are doing.

Well-being and academia, and how considered academics create to absurd systems

32:40 Well-being impacts? Has been involved in surveys of academic and managerial staff. Academic experiences different to other sectors. Has seen in the data academics have high levels of workload and stress but reasonably high levels of job satisfaction. That says there is another variable accounting for that – some value they are getting through their work. Meaning, impact, connection. And not the place to go if money is your key driver. The triggers for the stress? A lot of factors – individual, institution, department. Which institution, which faculty? Different pressures. At the individual level, obsessiveness, narcissism, perfectionism – we see these in academics, we select for these qualities too. Overthinkers, good but if overused it is problematic. All these things play out. “One-on-one I find academics generally very nice people, easy to relate to, usually quite kind and considered people. Yet the systems we create and inherit can be kind of absurd.” And it is at the individual level, the considered academic is good. But put them in committees to make decisions and they can’t make a decision and they develop systems that provide justifications. So the systems they create are not that effective. The effect is that it slows everything down. So one-on-one good people, well-intentioned people, smart people, but not always smart in the sense that they understand organizational life. Some serious problems with that that need re-dressing.

What Positive Psychology is about, and how it impacts his management role.

41:00 Positive Psychology – science of optimal human functioning, taking a strengths-based approach in the service of wellbeing. Historically a re-dressing of a deficits-based focus of psychology.

42:55 Impact of PP on how he plays out his role? All understand the language, have the expertise. But rest of the uni don’t have that language. And still a knowledge-behaviour gap in how they manage their own wellbeing, purpose etc. Everyone in the team has a wellbeing coach, wellbeing in the context of the strategy of the centre. Some take more a physical health approach. Others trying to manage their own perfectionism, change their mental attitude about how much they have to work. Ever since he had kids, he doesn’t work weekends. When he told team members they were shocked because they had themselves in the habit of working weekends. Not a sustainable practice. The critical point for him was having kids.

48:05 Another example: they have 8 people here at the conference, an expense to the centre, his view is that there is a wellbeing component to it. “My problem with my staff is not do they work hard, but do they work too much.” So this is an opportunity for them to have time to get sustained, rejuvenated. Not about reductionist managerialism/ROI.

Taking a strengths-based developmental approach to performance reviews and job crafting

50:05 At performance reviews, ask people what are they really trying to do, where are they trying to go. Have authentic candid conversations about what do people really want to do. What’s in this for them. People are varied. How do we enable different career trajectories? About knowing the people you are working with, and appointing them to match the role you want them to play. A problem though in the way universities appoint. He hasn’t formally done strengths-based recruitment but they have done teams-based strengths assessments with VIA and Realise2. Get individual profiles. And also get a team-based profile. “Academics love autonomy. The best way to manage academics is to get out of their way. If you want to manage a wild beast, give it a large paddock. …Academics love autonomy but they also love a rationale.” What Self Determination Theory tells us about this.  Autonomy doesn’t mean anything goes. Have some external research income targets to hit. Not negotiable. How do we do it. Then let the smart people do it. Don’t tell them they have to have micro-managed parts. They’ll usually find a way.

55:50 [Lindsay’s microphone dropped down here so the audio is not so clear. Here is a word for word transcript as best I could hear]

56:23 You have to do this both individually and as a group and I’ve been trying to push this strategy document so people can see where they fit into where we want to go. And that takes time.

[Turning the lens back to academia?]

It sounds really trite but the evidence bears it out. Fundamentally people at work often feel undervalued, in general or by their immediate boss. So simple things about what do you actually value about your staff and have you told them and in what medium have you told them. So that is number one.  And number two would be the stuff we talked before about strengths. Have you actually had conversations with staff about their role and the job description and how it can be crafted so that they can use their strengths more than they currently are. And that might take time as well because there are organizational constraints, that you have to deliver this or get this class taught or we’ve got to generate that income or we’ve got to get that contract done. So while at this moment we can’t get you exactly fully there at least have that conversation so there is a plan of how it is going to migrate there and those conversations are really important. Because again with academics, if there is a rationale and there has been a conversation, they will probably accept it for a while if there is good intent. So there’s a couple of things there, enabling them to feel valued and enabling them to use their strengths and mould their work, job craft their work from a strengths base.

[Doing that for each other too?]

59:03 I think too if you look at the history of the universities as well, they’ve been gendered so you have rationalist males that might not see the value of some of the stuff I was just talking about.  And […] they might not have had the skills for how to do it. And I don’t mean that in a nasty way. People have different skills. If academic life was originally a very cognitive, individual endeavor, you go into your room and do your work. That was old academia for a lot of people. This new academia, looking after people, many many more women in the academic workforce, also culturally much more externally focused than it used to be, much more community engaged, more demands from students, I wouldn’t say more demands, students have been enabled to give more feedback and they do expect a higher level of teaching quality. So a whole range of things that are different to how they have been.

[Loved job crafting, same job, but control, choices] And by job crafting I don’t just mean offloading your teaching. [Specific example of job crafting?]

1:00:53 Yeah there are a few. In academic life there is obviously research and teaching but the …it may be changing the type of teaching you are doing at a subject level or also gradually doing more research led teaching or face-to-face teaching or particular type of teaching like workshop style, lecture style. Or gradually trying to move to more admin and leadership roles but doing in a way that uses my particular skills or strengths. [end of lost mic – shorter notes continue]

1:02 So there are different types job crafting might look like – tasks, relationships, So different forms of what job crafting can look like. So different ways. Enabling people to take charge of their work life, their career. Academics are sophisticated people. They think a lot and they are willing to work hard. So it’s about capturing that.

Final Thoughts

1:02:57 Currently trying to champion the idea of positive universities. People usually just think of student wellbeing. But it is broader than that – student wellbeing, staff wellbeing, positive organizational practices. How do we take science of wellbeing approaches and apply them to universities? A group of universities around the world currently thinking about it. A bigger picture way of looking at it. He has a paper called “towards positive universities” about how to do it at a tangible level. When people talk about wellbeing, they think it’s the positive experience, feeling happy, but don’t take the functioning bit. Wellbeing from a eudemonic perspective involves positive functioning, growth, virtue. Wellbeing includes good functioning, not just feeling good but functioning well and doing well. That’s where the meaning and purpose part plays a big role. Big changes coming. Universities resilient, they adapt. Not as simple as the commercial arrangement would suggest.

Student wellbeing programs still deficit focused. Working on wellbeing literacy. We don’t have a way to communicate about wellbeing. Positive attributes. More than the absence of anxiety and depression. Wellbeing in the broader sense –where students can communicate about what is self-regulation, what is using strengths, what is wellbeing, what is meaning, what is purpose, and communicate in a way that is meaningful for them. Having senior leaders able to see this relationship between wellbeing and performance and communicate this to staff and students explicitly and implicitly.

01:10:46 Repeat of the content where Lindsay’s microphone dropped

01:14:43 End

Related Links

Lindsay Oades: http://www.lindsayoades.com

Centre for Positive Psychology, Melbourne Graduate School of Education: https://education.unimelb.edu.au/cpp

9th European Conference on Positive Psychology 2018: https://ecpp2018.akcongress.com  

Barbara Frederickson’s Broaden and Build Theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broaden-and-build

VIA character strengths: https://www.viacharacter.org

Strengths Profiler Realise2: http://www.ppquarterly.org/portfolio/realise2-next-generation-strengths-assessment/ Now Capp: the strengths experts https://www.capp.co/Home

Self Determination Theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination_theory; http://selfdeterminationtheory.org

Job Crafting: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/job-crafting/

Book & Papers:

Oades, Steger, Delle Fave, Passmore (eds), “The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Positivity and Strengths-Based Approaches at Work”

https://www.wiley.com/en-gb/The+Wiley+Blackwell+Handbook+of+the+Psychology+of+Positivity+and+Strengths+Based+Approaches+at+Work-p-9781118977651

Oades, Robinson, Green & Spence, “Towards a Positive University”: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439760.2011.634828?journalCode=rpos20

Oades & Johnston, “Wellbeing literacy: The necessary ingredient in positive education”. https://juniperpublishers.com/pbsij/pdf/PBSIJ.MS.ID.555621.pdf

Jan Gulliksen on middle management, leading autists, and building values and trust… with drama

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Jan Gulliksen is a Professor in Human Computer Interaction and Vice President for Digitalization at KTH in Stockholm Sweden, among various other national and international leadership roles. He was also Dean of school for 7 years and we talk here mostly about his experiences and thoughts on middle management and academic leadership. He shares his personal development as a leader as well as some practical strategies, many using techniques from his background in theatre and drama, for example, in how to read and interact with people, or in using improv theatre to create insight and shift values around PhD supervision.  We also touch on a range of other issues including the nature of academic freedom, building organisational values, the importance of 2-way trust, what makes good role models, the problems with meetings, the ‘too’ in working too much, and much more.

"You are building an organisation and you are actually building values. This is probably the single most important thing…around the values that you are bringing…and trust is then intimately connected to these values."

"Everybody should be able to play in the organisation on equal terms."

"I never say I work too much. It’s when people add that word ‘too’ that it becomes a problem…claiming [it’s] more than they want to [and] not in control of setting that. But...it is always our own choices how many tasks we take on."

"We have too many [meetings] that don’t contribute and don’t make efficient use of people’s time."

Overview: He talks about (times approximate) …

1:30 Jan introduces his background and current role.

3:27 He notes the values embedded in my question about his choice to do more strategic impact and management work. Discusses being in management roles for the last 10 years and motivation for doing this. Got a management role of 45 people as part of his package when he moved to KTH. Must have done well as he was then promoted to Dean two years after, which is not the obvious way to do this as usually appoint older people. A former colleague said “Jan are you going to be a dean? But you’re actually a good researcher!”. Fascinating because it showed the values that says doing leadership or management is not considered as prestigious or as good as other things. He finds this strange.

6:35 Strategic choice for management an option? But we don’t always do strategic choices. Discusses how we didn’t use to have metrics or Google Scholar and no-one was talking about citations etc then. So you can look at different people in the past who happened to make choices that benefit them now eg in high h-indexes but they were lucky to have made that choice. He believes that leadership roles should be valued much more. He didn’t do leadership as a prestigious thing but because he thinks he has something he can contribute and wants to be part of shaping how we do these things.

8:45 Formal training for leadership roles? Yes. He really likes these internal training programs. Started with pedagogical training courses because they were rewarding and he learnt new things. Inspiring and wanted more. What came next were different types of leadership courses. Every time you join a leadership course, half of it is about leadership, the other half is about personal development. So that was a way to use these courses to mature and reflect on how you. Joined every leadership course he did at Uppsala. And when he came to KTH, joined their leadership courses. Final step was that he went to INSEAD and did their advanced management program for a full month which is something that shapes you up a bit. He also joined as a mentor for others which is also a way of developing.

11:05 What were the personal qualities that made the role a good fit? Jan finds an enjoyment in seeing other people’s development. That’s why PhD supervision is the most fun and rewarding thing academics do. Similarly the thing he likes with management roles is not what people would think. Now that he has gone from dean to Vice President, he used to have staff responsibility for more than 400 people but as vice president has no staff responsibility. People say ‘lucky you’ but he thinks that is the most rewarding part, the between 4-eyes meeting with staff, mutually solving problems to help their development. Much more fun than working on strategic plans or management group meetings that you also need to do. Typically HR issues is the biggest part of leadership roles.

14:00 Practical skills he brought? One of his backgrounds that he uses a lot in his leadership role or any role is that he started out with theater and drama. Wanted to be an actor, director. Read a lot, did a lot. Learnt a lot. Uses that knowledge every day without being aware of it, reading people’s eyes, trying to watch what is happening from the outside as a director, shape what is happening there, simply by how you phrase things and speak you can control the stage there. Thinks drama should be one of the core subjects for schools. Can use that knowledge to control your voice, your body, how you pause, create awareness by being silent and being ready to be silent for a longer time than you do. Both reading, seeing, observing and then also turning it into something you do yourself. Classes on improvisation, and how they make the story line continue etc but clear rules on how you make an improvisation that you need to follow to develop the story. These happen in real life.

19:15 Subtle herding of cats, or leading clever people? Management book, writing about management from a conductor’s point of view (Esa-Pekka Salonen). Leading artists. Which is bit like herding cats. He felt that when he became Dean. Wants to do a follow up, leading autists, simply based on the experience of leadership in academia. Can seem like an insulting title but clearly have brilliant people, many of whom probably have some cognitive special skills, that makes you need to be more aware of your leadership skills. Another aspect of academia that should be debated much more, compared to leadership in business or public sector, and that is the concept of academic freedom. Academic freedom means nobody should influence you on what types of methods or research questions you use but many academics, particularly the higher you get up in the academic career, would want the concept of academic freedom to be read as “I don’t have a boss, nobody should tell me what to do” rather than it is about your research and the freedoms in relation to that. So management in that sense becomes very complicated because you are supposed to be a manger of people who are of course highly skilled, more skilled than you are in their particular topics but still there are things you can contribute to their development. This is something that probably will change in the future because he doesn’t think it is a sustainable solution to have universities run in the leaves of the organization and where the management roles don’t have any opportunity to steer or control how things are happening. He has heard something said about a president at a university that when they make a decision it is heard as a statement in an ongoing debate. This is bad as it means a president can’t make any decision and how can you develop and change a business if that is the perspective.

23:50 Business of academia? Discussion of different way that the term ‘business’ is used. In Swedish have the word ‘verksamhet’ which is best translated into English as business but it is a concept about ‘work activity’ but more than that. Wants English to inherit that word. So talking about teaching, management tasks.

27:20 Navigating boundary, encouraging people to participate in the business of academia? Usually go to a leadership course on individual management between two people to have difficult conversations, then courses on strategic management, but really not a course for middle management and middle management probably the most tricky side of management. He has had a manager above him and is managing people so has seen this tension in the middle management role. Also works fairly well in industry but there are things that need to be developed in academia for middle management. How do you contribute to delivering on the development plans of the manager above so decisions are channeled through. But he sees this autonomy makes a management meeting on the top a tricky issue, and need to come up with a decision. Middle manager may have been fighting for the opinions of their groups but may not have got their will through and how do you deal with that. He has seen many middle managers go back to their group and instead of saying “we had discussions, made tradeoffs and agreed on this that we have to deliver”. Instead they say “I really fought for you and these stupid managers above didn’t listen to what we said so now they are forcing us to do this.” But this is not in the management spirit. He would love to see a management course to help with the struggle of that role that has contradiction in terms, fighting for subordinates upwards and then have to communicate decisions down.

32:10 A better way of doing it? Role play or drama might help you think about these different roles. When you are middle manager, you should talk much more “we”, “we made a decision, we did this” and talk about the collective of management that made the decision. But he hears instead that “he made the decision” and distancing from the decision and keep on fighting that instead of being part of the collective making that decision. As a manager of a group, need to be the advocate for the joint decisions being made and even if you didn’t like the decision, your role is to make it happen than fight against it. Need to reflect on how to tell the story about why the decision was made. We are in the trust business. So need to build that trust so people can see that different views were considered. Then eventually decisions had to be made and different tradeoffs.

37:00 Trust also works both ways. Talking about needing to trust our managers, but managers also need to be able to trust staff to work in this fashion. You are building an organization and you are actually building values. This is probably the single most important thing to do, is around the values that you are bringing – so that people like we are moving in this direction because we share a set of values in this organization and trust is then intimately connected to these values. How to do this practically? Openness and transparency is a value but you can’t be open and transparent about everything as a manager, sometimes not even allowed to be. But if generally have the notion, openness needs to work in collaboration with trust, that if we appoint someone as a leader, we need to trust the leader to take the wisest choices. Delegating the management role.  Equity also important. Everyone’s point is important and valid. The more heterogenous the group is, the better choices you actually make. It is involving every staff, students, administrative staff in management team.

42:00 Next issue is a lack of respect between faculty and administrative staff. In Swedish, the word ‘administration’ is seen as not prestigious, for the lowest in the income scale etc. But still everybody should be able to play in the organization on equal terms. How to have these conversations? In groups, coming up with concepts you can stand by. In other situations, they come in organically. Busy academics can feel these types of discussions are beyond the limit of what they can do. So may need to trick that in to get discussion. Talks about some issues related to harassment based on what people are earning. How to work with these issues? 

47:12 Did a long project over a year and a half called a Sustainable Work Environment. Could see it was working in the annual work environment survey that harassment went down and trust in management went up. PhD students felt most pressure, to work long hours, not getting enough support from professors. These were also things to discuss. Got a theater company to come, interview PhD students and supervisors. Then gathered with all supervisors with theatre company re-enacted student views, then stopped and asked for what could be done differently that was then discussed. Then re-played with the new approach. Afterwards people could really see this was for real and how difficult it was to recover. So trying to come with these things that are fun, efficient, social, these are activities to help with development.

52:20 Did a lot of activities with PhD students. A lot of their problems is with time management. Didn’t do any relaxation. Tools to get more relaxed and work with own attitudes to work and lower self-expectations. And working with the supervisors about what is reasonable and to think about how expectations are communicated. Need to talk about it in a different way. Role models? Role models usually ‘stars’. Female role models to show what you can do/become. Didn’t work out as good as getting role models that were more ordinary that people could identify with and see this path as a great outcome. Role models shouldn’t be the top people in excellence.

55:25 Working hours role models? Talks about this freedom that we have … to choose where and when to do work is something that we really should treasure and treat with dignity. And trusting people to deal with their own time properly. Better to work with people’s way of managing their own time/work. It’s your own choice. That’s the important thing. Email is what people think is their biggest work environment problem. Interested in seeing what work will be like for the next generation that don’t do email. Talks about our digital environment, being able to take work with us everywhere we go.

1:02:45 How does Jan manage that flexibility? A lot is about how happy and satisfied you are with what you are doing. So not a big problem if working too much in periods. Other periods where you don’t work as much. Would never say he works too much. It’s when people add the word ‘too’ it becomes a problem, working more than they want to work, and perhaps not in control in setting that. As academics, our own choices how many tasks we take on. We need to set reasonable levels for what we are doing. Discusses his strategies for saying yes/no. Most of tasks are ones he has chosen because he can contribute something and add value. But we also go to too many meetings. Need to think through how we do meetings. Could have done better over the years having fewer meetings. The most rewarding meetings are between 2-3 people. Big meetings cost and we have too many that don’t contribute and don’t make efficient use of people’s time.

1:07:45 Discusses his own strategies as Dean for handling meetings, collecting them on one day, some you have to have. Could have prepared meetings better to have a more efficient meeting. But schedule became too crowded to do that. And maybe didn’t delegate enough. People also didn’t open agenda before they came to the meeting. Experimented with ways of making them more efficient eg Google doc that all could contribute to, removing need for a secretary. Good for losing time to translate notes to document but created less dynamics at the meeting with people distracted by their laptop in the meeting.

1:10:34 Final thoughts – for another discussion, about engaging with politics and think there is a lot we can do there. National and international politicians and their interests in wanting to contribute to society and their openness and curiosity to get knowledge from academia. An issue of them getting access and we’re not very good at communicating with them. Also brings in selection of research topics – do they contribute to our career development or to changing the world.

1:14:15 End

Related Links

Jan’s personal web page & blog: http://jangulliksen.com

Jan’s KTH web page: https://www.kth.se/profile/jangul/

INSEAD Advanced Management Programme:

The conductor Jan referred to is Esa-Pekka Salonen and he has given several talks and seminars on leadership in relations to the orchestra - how you see the individual and look at the whole picture at the same time. We’re unable to find the book but there are several articles in the newspaper media about it but not the exact quote, such as: https://www.metro.se/artikel/stjärndirigent-leder-chefer-xr. Or he talks about his leadership here: https://www.aktuellhallbarhet.se/esa-pekka-salonen-han-vagrar-att-lamna-havet-bakom-sig/

The word “verksamhet” is untranslatable as the following statement from the dictionary in Swedish explains: https://sv.wiktionary.org/wiki/verksamhet. A Google translate of the concept brings the following: https://translate.google.com/#sv/en/verksamhet. But Jan feels that the concept of  “Operation” clearly does not capture it.

Rowena Murray on writing retreats, academic friendships and dealing with discrimination

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Rowena Murray is a Professor of Education, Director of Research, in the School of Education at the University of the West of Scotland. She is an internationally recognised expert and author on academic writing and on running writing retreats. In this conversation she talks about the writing retreats for both the importance of learning behaviours around how to write, and for the value of the academic friendships that arise from such writing groups. She also talks about the challenges of being a woman professor dealing with unremitting criticism and undermining, and in having to fight for academic writing as a legitimate research topic in its own right. And she gives very practical advice for creating the support you need to deal with this and how to care for yourself in the process.

“When you give smart people dedicated writing time, it is astonishing how much they do. Immediately.”

“They know that a rough draft is called rough draft for a reason. But they still hesitate to write … they have the perfectionism and then they have the procrastination.”

“It’s a different set of relationships [developed at writing retreats] that are collegial and positive and sympathetic and intellectual as well.”

“As a woman professor, the undermining, the bullying, the pressure, the unremitting criticism has intensified throughout my career.”

Overview:

01:30 Rowena’s background, learning about writing and starting writing retreats and workshops

08:00 Teaching writing as being about behavior change, how writing retreats help, creating the retreat environment, and the importance of the social aspects

18:15 Practical strategies and SMART goal setting for writing

34:05 The personal/career challenges finding a place in the academic infrastructure, the long path to becoming a professor of academic writing, and the importance of her writing group as support

46:00 Why there are more women at writing retreats

49:00 Discriminations faced by female professors, and advice to younger women

58:25 Rowena’s various self-care

1:02:00 Final thoughts on the importance of special intellectual friendships

And in more detail, she talks about (times approximate) …

01:30 Rowena introduces herself as working at Uni of the West of Scotland, a wider access college, and talks about her first degree at Uni of Glasgow in Scottish language and literature, and then going to Pennsylvania to do volleyball coaching where she also did a PhD in English at Penn State.

05:02 Rowena discusses how she came to be fascinated by writing, through learning to teach about writing, and reflecting on her own experiences. When she came back to Scotland she decided to start teaching thesis writing courses in the mid 80s. From doing these courses for around 10 years she wrote the content for the ‘How to write a thesis’ book. And it kept growing as people recognised there was a need for it. Hesitates to use the word ‘need’, everyone loves them, but has been told by someone they hope there comes a day when people won’t ‘need’ a writing course. But they miss the broader context in which writing retreats are essential, for those who choose to go. It is a haven, a behaviour change model, it’s a network. Mostly women who choose to go. Not a sense about ‘needing’ but about the environment that doesn’t allow us to write in the ways we really want to.

8:00 What’s driving this need? It’s about individuals not being sure how to fit writing in their personal lives. Also a need because we don’t learn how to write, how to construct arguments, or the behaviours for managing writing and other complex tasks. There are specific output targets in people’s plans, but the quality writing time is not in the plan, and knowing that it will be protected.

09:12 When you give smart people dedicated writing time, it is astonishing how much they do, immediately. Partly because someone is there to say start now, stop now, take a break. Insisting on the break. How quickly write in that context is fascinating. Which tells you how important the environment is. And how much less stressful it is. People talk about it as ‘positive pressure’.

10:15 She had said it wasn’t possible to transfer writing retreat environment to campus environments but now thinks it is possible if they replicate the dedicated writing time, away from the phone, internet etc, having coffee on tap, then they can do this on campuses, in their homes, in cottages. Need the level of concentration for the writing. Both space and other people are crucial. People often say “why can I do this so well when I’m in the writing retreat and I can’t do this at home?” May be that they are learning to change behaviours. Or may need to write with other people in a different space to hold them to the change. What the literature says about behaviour change. And it does work. Having said that, Lucy Hinnie has developed remote retreats with twitter threads, using Rowena’s material, and sending out tweets to structure the time. So that is early days and shows it can work that way without physically being in the same room, using a virtual group, and holding each other to the time, which does seem to be a key part of it.

13:50 When in a retreat and everyone else is typing, can smell coffee, would say they would normally stop then. But they keep writing and work through what might have been a stop or a block and surprise themselves by getting it done. So specific changes and benefits from sticking to the timing. Rowena is also listening out for distracting noises and will tell someone if they are stamping their feet while listening to music on their headphones, or will ask the person mowing the grass to move somewhere else.

15:47 But the social thing is key, it is the haven and it’s a different set of relationships that are collegial and positive and sympathetic and intellectual as well. Lots of exchanges about research methods and ways that people are supporting each other eg in the breaks or out on the walks. Time for activity important in the writing process. And in the evenings. Have evenings off. Which is surprising for people who think they should be writing for 10 hours a day. And she says no, should be resting. Obvious. But again giving people permission.

18:15 So lots of behaviour change about the process of writing. Is there also input about structure of writing? Yes. And sometimes will read people’s stuff as well. Encourages people in the last 7-8 months of thesis writing to do a 750 word thesis summary, set at the end of the introduction, paragraph for every chapter (in 4th edition of her book). So will suggest these things in the break, and look at it, then give feedback and they can work on it in the next session. Once they get this summary it is sorted (after looking at it 20 times). Doesn’t take a lot of time as a supervisor but such an important task. Tries not to read a 5-10K chapter at retreat. So there are retreat-specific things she can suggest for a next session. A lot of them are in the books.

20:50 Another behaviour that is useful is goal setting. Smart people are good at setting SMART goals eg for marking scripts. But not so much with writing. So 80K words, how many words for literature review, so decide on specific goal, think about how many words, and how you will produce in the first 90 minutes. Have a verb for the text. “the purpose of X is to…”. Intellectual work in deciding on the structure and microstructure, goals, subgoals and subsubgoals, and designing the writing for the time you have, and then monitoring how you achieve this. So learning to set realistic subgoals. Motivation there as well. Goal setting, monitoring how well you are achieving the goals, and developing self-efficacy, the belief that you can achieve your writing goals. In contrast Rowena talks about the dark side, just carrying on, not getting done 45 things to do, guilt fuelling anxiety. But did it to yourself. Use goal setting principles with writing as you do with other stuff.

23:40 Different writing styles? All can benefit from specific writing goals, structure of writing arguments. Everyone is different but the retreats/workshops provide a framework and within that, what everyone does can be quite individual. Benefits from planning and setting goals and academic writers can do this more than we do. Intellectual decisions. About targeting, style.

26:35 Getting better at estimating, learning process. Been doing a writing retreat just about every month. Has to watch herself. Blasting out a chapter. Recognising after reviewer feedback that it wasn’t good. Need to also watch the fluency. Learned behaviour. And gives an intellectual life around writing in universities, something we are craving, exposed by writing that is done at the retreats. Reflects on this regularly, why is she not more of an activist and she realizes she is, but more like a resistance movement, providing immediate change and help, getting people through rather than standing at the front line and blasting away. Finds committee work and standing up giving big talks, writing up big reports, meaningless work for her. But she can do this more immediate work, achieving stuff with her own writing and helping people get through. And that’s part of intellectual work as well, as a PhD supervisor, that is what you are doing.

30:39 A myth we know this all already. But when start talking about writing, which happens rarely on campus, it can also be seen as a weakness as well. And when talk about publications, can get your wings clipped as well. The exchange of knowledge of what your paper was about would be useful. The exchange of knowledge of the process of writing, never going to talk about that in these academic settings. There are structures, processes, activities to learn around writing. At a workshop last week, talking about perfectionism. Know that a rough draft is called rough draft for a reason. But they still hesitate to write that first sentence, or to write the second sentence because the first one is not perfect. PhD students and academic and researchers. So they hesitate to write, they have the perfectionism and then they have the procrastination. So there is an existing paradigm that is quite dysfunctional and stressful for people, that we need an alternative to.

34:05 How to hang onto this as something she is committed to in the current climate? In the beginning committed to bringing some of that knowledge to the UK. Clearly no department in the UK wants to teach these courses. So must have helped hundreds of people get their PhDs that other people took credit for. Happy to do that. Started writing books but was told books didn’t count so did that in her own time – so very clear conscience about keeping the royalties. So certain frustrations about it not finding a place in the infrastructure and Rowena not getting credit for all the outputs she was helping people do. But as began to get research funding and journal articles, became established in field of academic writing and now has a peer group. But just last year had someone quite senior sit back quizzically and ask “so you do academic writing about academic writing”. Just said “yes”. What can you do? That person’s mind is closed to this being a field in itself. But have to be fluid in finding a job. Jumping areas. Complex, tricky. Have to be flexible. Fortunate to have got to where she is in this field, as a professor of academic writing. Was asked in her interview what her international reputation was in and she just said “academic writing” without elaboration, sounding defensive. They either look at the CV and see that or they don’t. For her that was quite a turning point. Not sure where that came from. Doesn’t have as much fear of that perspective anymore. Such an important intellectual task. If they don’t get it, what can you do.

39:20 What kept her going up to the point of getting that comfort? Was very challenging, felt held back in terms of promotion. Applied and knocked back for a number of promotions. What kept her going was playing competitive volleyball, had to concentrate on the match and it took her mind off what was going on at work. Currently writing about this in a book on women professors and facing these barriers. What she is writing about is how she set up the first writing group, the first in an academic setting, and that kept her going because she was doing the job of helping people write, writing her own publications, and was working with like-minded people cutting across agendas of departments. Writing groups have been a haven for her as well. Doesn’t know what she would have done without that sort of social support throughout her career. More about having alternative space whether it was sport or writing groups or whatever. Looking back, she started the group because if was supporting her, but also doing her job and that fended off some of the criticism.

43:40 Getting grants and papers doing what she wanted to do? Intellectual curiosity of interrogating that this works and getting evidence. So that was the bridge but still an ambivalence about it, conscious of providing counters in somebody else’s game but also about improving her game in a sense in understanding more about what is happening at writing retreats. Gives example of containment theory paper, and then writing about her role in creating the container. A learning process for her about retreats and her role in retreats, and the sensitive stuff she is doing. Actively protecting the space, in a number of senses, because threatened by other people’s understanding of how writing gets done.

46:00 Why mostly women?  Always observed and discussed. Almost always women not just at her retreats but also others’ retreats, unless built into a course or a departmental group where the head came along and other men came as well. The theory about why only women is that it is called writing retreat which can sound touchy feely and you might be exposed in that environment, and should call it bootcamp to attract more men. But she isn’t going to do this. Knows there are others like Inger Mewburn, one of her heroes, she calls some of her things bootcamp. But Rowena won’t be doing that. Thinking of advertising a men’s only one. Other theories are that it is a more discursive collaborative model even though most people sit and write on their own. Also run by women. Just did some research on this by talking to women and sent a paper into a journal a few months ago. What she found is that the writing retreats are a space away from all the other demands of so many different kinds of women in their work lives and personal lives. Getting away from both are really important. And getting away from discriminatory settings is really important.  

49:00 Ways she is still discriminated against? As a woman professor, the undermining, the bullying, the pressure, the unremitting criticism has intensified throughout her career and that is in different universities and settings. Not about her as a person and has talked with enough senior women and men and knows that this happens in other places as well. Tries to warn younger colleagues that this might not go away when are promoted. An intensified undermining and bullying. Knows men who became professors had a much more positive experience with celebrations etc but knows women who have experienced none of that – experience instead of others leaving you out of things, deciding things without consulting you, and gradually diminishing the role over a number of years. Almost like there is playbook. Discrimination at all levels, borne out by statistics of men and women at all levels. Strategies eg working on women’s confidence and networking all well and good, but if we’re not working on the infrastructure, the people making the decisions, not sure we are going to fix it. Men and women who don’t have the right behaviours to get that to top level … but she doesn’t want to be at this level or be the minority in the room. Has done all this. But doesn’t want to do that, doesn’t thrive on it. Doesn’t want to be the person in the room representing her gender, sexuality. But can help women and men who want to write and get on with each other.

53:45 Advice to younger women? She talks about her own experiences and the intensification of the unremitting undermining. To make them aware, not to say it will happen. Advice is to get themselves into groups like this. That will get them through. “If you try to get through your academic career in this discriminated position, yourself, I think this can break you.” You can then internalise it and think it is just about you and so you need the group to help process all that stuff and this group might need to be outside of the department as everyone competing there. Rowena built this support through creating writing groups for herself. So the writing groups are about much more than just the writing. In the course of talking about writing, you’ll inevitably talk about other stuff. The key is not to let that talk interfere with the writing.

56:55 How to get good people into senior leadership to make larger changes? There are young men and women who have the capacity to go into leadership positions. But would say get some way of protecting, having an intellectual peer network and doing the work together, not just a support network. So encouraging them to get some kind of insurance policy against the competitive stuff.

58:25 Self care? Stays active fit. Wears her fitbit. Mixture of training and exercise, all thought out. Also does nothing sometimes. After a retreat, exhausted. So will read fiction or see a film or something completely different. A great believer in not working in the evenings and at weekends. Keeps clear boundaries. Doesn’t ever talk about work much at home. Spending a lot of time with friends. Village community, altruistic stuff, raising money for the hospice. Now 0.5 half time professor and half time business. Was suggested by line manager that she does the retreats for her university. Has to monitor the finances of all that. Gets a sense of self-sufficiency. Meets lots of new people at retreats. Eating well. Hydrating well. And banter so it doesn’t get too heavy.

1:02:00 Final thoughts? Relationships have been super important. Special intellectual friendships you develop because you have been at writing retreats. Acknowledge the importance of academic friendships and conversations like this. See that there are some things we can do to make it better. Putting a protective barrier around these friendships. That’s what life should be about, it’s about these intellectual exchanges, the connections you make through initially maybe a brain thing and then you get to know each other as people and think that is a win win win. So just acknowledge academic friendships. Retreats give two days to build the friendships a bit more.

1:04:46 End

Related Links

Writing retreats: http://www.anchorage-education.co.uk

Rowena’s many great books on academic writing: http://www.anchorage-education.co.uk/books-rowena-murray/

Including: ‘How to Write a Thesis’: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Write-Thesis-Open-Study-Skills/dp/0335244289

Lucy Hinnie: http://www.lucyrhinnie.co.uk

Lucy’s #remoteretreat: http://www.lucyrhinnie.co.uk/remoteretreat.html

Inger Mewburn: https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/mewburn-i

Article about Inger’s thesis bootcamp - https://thesiswhisperer.com/2015/01/16/how-to-write-10000-words-a-day/

Kirsten Ellis on shifting goalposts, motivation, flying & being a working mum with a disabled child

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Kirsten Ellis is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash University in Melbourne. She discusses how she deals with changing goalposts around performance outputs, being passionate about her research, having success at getting grants but trouble getting published. She discusses the impact that repeated rounds of redundancy have on morale and culture, and on being open and authentic at work. Authenticity comes through as theme throughout. And she talks about how she manages being a mother of three teenage girls, including one with a disability, as well as having a mother who is sick. Her non-negotiable going flying time every week is a key part of how she cares for herself so she can care for others.

Notes: For context, she also mentions a session with me around values. This was done as part of a Career Development Workshop that I ran at Monash at the beginning of the year, where I first met Kirsten. The audio quality is a little problematic in places but still understandable hopefully.

“Tell me to do amazing research and I will. I’m passionate. Having a matrix that says you have to submit blah papers per year is not going to motivate me.”

“If I look after myself first, I’m a much nicer person and can look after everyone else and bear a much greater burden the rest of the week.”

“Authenticity, this is part of me… my work is not completely separate to everything at home. I am a whole person.”

“Know your strengths, know your weaknesses…leave the ones that don’t matter to you, and work on the ones that are going to make a strategic difference.”.

She talks about (times approximate) …

1:30 Kirsten introduces her background in multimedia, starting PhD, and permanently employed 3 months into PhD as a lecturer, the advantages and disadvantages (missing mentoring, everyone very junior). Has been at Monash Uni since ’95 and at senior lecturer level (second level) and received her PhD 10 years ago in Oct.

4:55 Reflects that her honours student maybe didn't get as much support due to her inexperience; and as faculty they used to publish where ever they wanted, now there is much more pressure. Persistence beyond stupidity is her motto – serves her well as an academic. A lot of grant success. Also a lot of grant failure. So persistence an important aspect.

6:50 Goal posts changing. Originally encouraged to send out papers to count three times. So understands that the national research assessment exercise ERA is trying to stop this. Her research is in children and disability but her preferred publishing venues were not ERA ranked as high/A*. Told “not allowed to publish there anymore”. Driven by politicians who want to be accountable.

9:05 “Management in universities an interesting thing. One of my big bugbears is: Tell me to do amazing research and I will. I’m passionate. Having a matrix that says you have to submit blah papers per year is not going to motivate me to do amazing research. Tell me to do amazing research and it’ll get published because it is amazing, it will break new ground, it will help people. That’s going to inspire me, that’s going to make me work hard. But telling me I have to produce an unreasonable number of things per year. I don’t know that many people are motivated by the big stick, especially people in academia. You’re a HD (high distinction) student before you arrive. So they’re managing people the wrong way around for the type of people they have.” Discusses how the message comes down from vice chancellor level to the message she then gets that she has to publish 5 high quality papers in X venues and guess those venues 3 years in advance.

11:15 Strategies: went ERA chasing for a while and got a whole lot of rejections. De-motivating. And got confused about what she needed to do to get published. Grants above professor level but can’t get published but what she is doing has really good social impact. Discusses her work developing software for sign language teaching, 100% uptake in the market but can’t get published, very applied, can’t prove learning. Her strategy now: “I want to do amazing research that has huge impact. And if I do really good research it should get published.” So shifted from chasing ERA to focusing on research. And should be able to publish. Other strategy is using creativity as antidote to bean counting measures. Creative work eg braille keyboard. A lot of people like to have a clear separation between work and home. But for her sitting at home in front of the TV at night building new circuits is fun. “I’ve made it in the world. I get to have a job where I get to play with play doh and make a puppet without having to put up with children.” Using it in a grown-up way and doing good in the world. May also address gender gap as it appeals to different people. Easy to do creative things with technology now.

16:55 Importance of re-framing. Did a session ‘with me’ around values (Note: ‘with me’, Geri Fitz, at a Career Development Workshop GF ran at Monash) – recognizes equity and making a difference in the world are things she values so if she can do research around this it is motivating but ticking boxing is not. How to hook into people’s own motivation.

18:05 Is she benefiting from emphasis on impact? Impact becoming more important in other countries but not so much in Australia at the moment. Starting to have impact stories and that will make a difference to the acceptance of her work. Faculty is also changing. Great things happening and getting support through those mechanisms and clear definitions of where she needs to target, more acceptable to her work. Works in sign language teaching. But only 5 people in the world working on this. So won’t get high citations. How do you define quality? Is it popularity ie number of citations? “What is popular is not necessarily what is important.” And sometimes hard to get published when breaking new ground and proposing things that haven’t been done before and people aren’t there with you but doesn’t mean it’s not unique, important. A problem with the reviewing process, overwhelmed, reviewed by junior people, different reasons for rejecting the paper – is it rejection bias to get down to certain number of papers rather than a problem with the paper?

21:40 Most frustrating thing is not the rejection on paper but that this information is not distributed into the community, losing out on papers that could add value but don’t fit in the box of what is acceptable. A loss to the community. Her response: Using mentors. Taking feedback and speaking to people about what she is not getting quite right, how to present it so people can understand it. Discusses an issue where reviewers raise a critique about not focusing on children but it’s the teachers/parents who need help. Shows they don’t understand the context. All people she has approached for help have been helpful. Feedback is often around re-framing.

24:20 Being a senior lecturer level impacted by these publication issues? Explains the Australian context and what it takes to advance to the next step of associate professor. First time applied for senior lecturer, told she didn’t have ARC grants but a 10% success rate, hard to get, and hadn’t needed one 3 years prior. Shifting goalposts. Need to jump through hoops but the hoops are getting smaller and higher every year. Can miss a hoop because don’t know how they are going to change.

26:30 “Love my work! Do stuff that interests me.” Talks about how she spends time exploring/learning things to “put in the toolbox”. “It’s not about the technology it’s how we use the technology”. But have to learn those technologies. Often tech is a solution looking for a problem. She has things in her toolbox and can apply to a problem.

28:30 Biggest challenges now? Re-vamping a unit so the unknown and exciting. Department is growing and have now started an assistive technology group. Now feels she has more of a community happening, no longer on the outer, has a place. So change is not always bad. Some fantastic things happening. One course she’s not inspired about but have to take your load.

29:30 Has a daughter with a disability so a challenge being a mum working, with a disabled child. Difficult but also modelling for her three daughters. Mother is sick. Balancing out time at home and time at work. Careful about looking after herself. Always had a horse riding lesson every week but has hurt her hip. So need a certain amount of adrenaline to function. So now flying! That time when all problems go away. Just there and have to concentrate to survive. That puts the week in perspective. “ It’s a non-negotiable that I have this time every week.” Can be flexible when that time is. “If I look after myself first, I’m a much nicer person and can look after everyone else and bear a much greater burden the rest of the week as ensured my footings are strong first.” “Very important to me. It’s almost like mindfulness.” Did mindfulness with students with one of her courses. “My activity is a form of mindfulness. It’s where nothing else matters for a couple of hours a week. And that’s enough for me. … Resets everything and makes the world function better.”

32:40 Other strategies? Using creativity, children would say craziness. Reflect on stuff a lot. Having a growth mindset. Recognising you don’t have to be perfect, reflecting on what didn’t you get right, what would you change. In everything. In teaching. Continuously improving.

34:25 Importance of protected time each week. And strategies in place to be able to function eg with handling mother being sick. But we don’t talk about these sorts of things enough together. Using time before meetings to say hi, build relationships, not sit on the phone. How she also tries to care the sessionals (casual lecturers) below her. How does she have those conversations? Overshare … “authenticity, this is part of me… my work is not completely separate to everything at home. I am a whole person.”

37:38 Been through three rounds of retrenchments. Has effects on her. Thinks management don’t understand the impacts or manage the process well or recognize how much damage it does to culture. Impacts mentoring, collegiality, if concerned about yourself, hard to mentor others. Establishes competitive rather than collegial environment. No easy solution. Complex. Articulation of vision from the top can help to understand and process the changes, understanding where they are coming from, the reason. It’s not only about the bad news but the way it is delivered. Change often comes from government. But if we can have an articulation of why things are happening it can help make more sense.

43:20 Being a female in IT has some advantages, and some disadvantages. She is currently participating in a women’s shadowing program, to see why some of those decisions were being made and to understand the process more. Shadowing a Dean of Education in another faculty. Key insights? Book about ‘managing clevers’, managing smart people who are already motivated, get more out of them if give them freedom. And understanding structure of uni. Leaders at every level, always power relationships.

47:00 How does she play out her leadership role? Importance of being realistic and having a career plan, being strategic, whether in or out of academia, what skills are needed. “Know your strengths, know your weaknesses…leave the ones that don’t matter to you, and work on the ones that are going to make a strategic difference.”. So having a plan with staff she works with on. Tradeoffs of being in a teaching and research role rather the 3yr limited research only role. Permanent position enables taking a long-term view with research. If you are on a 3yr contract, difficulty of taking on a PhD student.

50:27 Two ways of moving through academia: those with a commitment to being in the one city because of family/other commitments; others who can move around because that works for them, easier for those without family. Different journey. So importance of having realistic conversations with people you work with/lead. Changing landscape of academia. Fine as long as people know what they are participating in.

52:15 Dealing with sick mother, and 3 daughters, one disabled? Actually working 0.8 not full time. Kids at an alternative school. Drops them off/picks them up. Works every evening. But that works for her, not a burden, a joy. Three teenage daughters. Always struggled going to conferences. Problem when submitting a paper of predicting what space her daughter will be in at the time of conference travel. Makes sure she writes those statements about “Relative to opportunity” on grant applications to explain impact of her circumstances on her academic track record. Not a whinge. But stating the facts and where the impact is.  Helping people interpret what they are reading.

57:20 Daughter with aspergers and anxiety. Thinks there might be clusters around IT/engineering. Wonders if there are things we can do as organisations around this to support people with children where there are clusters. Having conversations together. “You will get to the other side of this.”. Does this face to face. Not on facebook. Authenticity of connections.

1:01:46 End

Related Links

 Kirsten Ellis: https://research.monash.edu/en/persons/kirsten-ellis ; https://sites.google.com/site/drkirstenellis/

Book on leading clever people: Goffee R. & Jones G., 2009. Clever: Leading Your Smartest, Most Creative People, Harvard Business Press.  https://www.amazon.com.au/Clever-Leading-Smartest-Creative-People/dp/1422122964

Book on Growth Mindset: Dweck, C. 2009. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books.  https://www.amazon.com/Mindset-Psychology-Carol-S-Dweck/dp/0345472322

Janet Read on charm bracelets, finish tape & the work to be a complete academic

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Janet Read is a Professor in Child Computer Interaction at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. Janet’s path to academia was via maths teaching, and then falling into a PhD after she had a family. Our discussions are wide ranging and throughout she is incredibly thoughtful, reflective and proactive in how she goes about unentangling processes and challenges, always striving to understand and develop, not just herself but also those around her. Because this ends up being a long conversation, the high level topics are below, along with more detailed notes, and has two parts - see below.

We have a problem right through the whole system, understanding what the academic does.

So the complete academic probably collapses on a Friday evening with a glass of wine. And gets up on a Saturday and starts doing work again.

Daughter (9yr old) said “Mum when you are working at home, the children don’t know if you are being a mum or not.”.

Deep work is the valuable work for academics... A really hard thing for academics is finding that deep work space.

[Management ideal] It’s the encouragement, understanding individual needs, motivate, say well done. Wouldn’t it be nice to get “a well done”!

In the first part, up to about the hour, she explores her own journey learning how to do research, how to supervise students, and how to support good learning experiences. She has some really interesting things to say about today’s university process-driven culture and argues that we need to do much better at understanding students and how to better support the learning experience, not equating attendance with learning.

In the second part, she talks about being a complete academic, that one of the challenges is that no-one really knows what an academic actually does. She talks about how she deals with the demands on her time, the potential costs of being too efficient, being proactive and looking after your own needs, creating a collaborative group culture, wishing for encouraging and supportive leadership and saying ‘well done’.  

  • PART 1:
    • 02:40 Path via teaching to a PhD, and into academia
    • 18:50 Learning to supervise PhD students
    • 32:45 Getting to understand processes, value of reflective writing
    • 39:08 University culture, process management, monitoring attendance, supporting the student learning process
  • PART 2:
    • 1:01:09: The complete academic
    • 1:06:05: Understanding what the academic does, being efficient
    • 1:14:20 Speaking up, looking after yourself, managing time
    • 1:22:45 People management & leadership

With more detailed notes, she talks about (times approximate) …

PART 1: Path via teaching to PhD and Academia:

02:40 Janet talks about her unusual path to a research/academic career via a maths degree and high school teaching, wanting to have children and working part-time, having to change schools to do this, resigning in response to an unreasonable unfair workload demand compared to male colleagues, moving to a local college as an IT lecturer, and landing in university by pure chance to cover classes when someone went off for an operation, so never had an interview for her current job!

09:10 Moving on to do a PhD part-time while working, with four kids, cats. Well supported but no-one on university team did research. Advised to go out and meet people, get work published. First experience at Sunderland HCI conference, heard Leon Watts ask a good question and thought ‘I want to be that guy’. He was gentle, constructive, and clearly coming with deep knowledge. Dead cool!

13:25 Got PhD. And got the bug (not the book :-)). Got into child-computer interaction at the right time when it was accelerating. Wrote a book with Panos [Markopoulos] while doing PhD. Quite a lot of luck but also some of it active on her part going out travelling and doing things.

14:36 Every single time she asked for money for travel she got it because no-one else was asking for it. So had opportunities. Sad thing now about how PhD work is funded in the UK as doesn’t typically come with travel funding so doesn’t support the process of delivering a really useful researcher at the end of. So was lucky, met some great people, made friends with everybody.

15:40 Lots of networking, mainly with men, over beers; much less good at networking with women. Went to a couple of women meetings and they felt a bit like moan fests and didn’t want to be somewhere with just women but lot of women in academia felt they could only go in women spaces. Networks better with women who don’t have a gendered position.

16:34 And British HCI Community was really good to her. Joined committee, went to conferences. But the changing academic situation means that regional things like this become less important and people don’t publish there so much and then the community I lost which is a shame. When she first started, BHCI was well regarded. Now they go to one conference a year and send students to regional conferences but they don’t get to meet senior people.

Learning to supervise PhD students:

18:50 Now been trying to run PhD schools at their university to invite PhD students from the UK as networking for the students. PhD system in the UK is broken. Can’t get PhD students from EPSRC grant money and push for doctoral training centres (DTC) so puts all students in one place, turns out cloned set of PhD students, any uni that doesn’t have a DTC becomes second rated. What you want is a student working with a supervisor who is passionate to get that work done. Ultimate success story. If you have a supervisor with 10 students they’re not getting s good experience from that. Once read you can’t supervise more than 6 students at the one time ideally. At times she has had 14! Crazy. Currently has four. Would like to have 3 full-timers and a couple of part-timers. Currently 1 full-time, 1 part-time, 2 overseas, and named on a couple of others.

21:40 Learning to supervise students? Back when she did her PhD, had a dedicated supervisor. At time her PhD finished he quit and department had just Janet left to take on supervisions as she had a PhD and was research active. So she took on being director of studies of three other PhD students he was supervising, felt a rookie. Happy to take them on. At the uni, was supposed to put people on teams so they could get some experience. But didn’t want to get people put on teams if they couldn’t do the work. A tension there. Wrote an essay on this: ‘Supervise to fit or fit to supervise?’. Also read papers on supervision, and so not going to be beaten down on decision not to put people on just for their ‘tick’ box.

24:43 So went out and found three friends, experienced professors in the UK, to help out on these supervisions. They did this for free. Great. They were all different and she learnt from them. One was like a butterfly thinker. Absolutely brilliant at the beginning of a PhD, though less brilliant these days. Would work with a part-time PhD more than a full-time. Others were better at sitting back and letting the student say what they wanted to do and gently pushing them back to where they thought they should go. Some more hands off, some more hands on. Students all different too so might be different for different students. Learn as you go along. Supervision changes.

26:40 Core lessons around supervision? Maybe a bit of a dinosaur but still maintain that you should be supervised by someone who is an active researcher, who is publishing, and who knows the community you are publishing in. Should be no supervision under that line. Need to know methods, how they publish, what others are doing. But prevalent in universities. Many years ago made a ‘Doing a PhD with me’ booklet, saying here’s what you can expect. When she was first supervised didn’t know what her supervision team brought, how she worked with the, publishing protocols, their limitations. Will tell them what her experience and style is. Lays it out. They also have to express what they think they’re getting. It’s kind of like a contract, as a trigger for a conversation. Where you start from important. Was asked to reflect by Head of Department on PhD success, what made some more successful than others, what they were doing as a team, about supervision process. Had a big conversation about that. One of the key things was also understanding what skills the student brought.

30:50 Got to do a Doctoral Consortium when she did her PhD. And they asked them to line in order of how far into PhD. Struck her though that years into a PhD is not a good measure. Was about understanding your maturity. So how do you figure out how far you are in PhD? And how to know you are finished? Has another booklet on ‘How do I know I’m ready to be examined for a PhD’. Has a checklist. And has a cosy model around progress. Written up somewhere. About assessing how much you know, how famous you are, how significant your work is, against learning outcomes for a PhD.

Getting to understand processes, reflective writing practice:

32:45 Influence of teaching background? Early days could teach without a lot of paperwork, but now unis are doing this too. Quite analytical because a mathematician at heart. So likes to understand processes. Knows they’re noise but likes to try to tidy them up. Detangling problems, step-by-step as you do in teaching maths. So says build a website, being published, meeting your community, identifying your heroes. And from this had a charm bracelet, could win charms. Has used this in Doctoral Consortium. What students want there are your pearls, your wisdom, the nuggets. So used the charm bracelet in a BHCI consortium to try to help them understand the low/high points, that it is a journey, understanding that others have done it. So has a gun for the night when you felt like shooting yourself, a rope when you have untangled a really complex problem. Used as props to help people understand the process. If only there were props for academic writing. All academics should have charm bracelet. When started PhD had a fight to get topic agreed at the uni. Wrote an essay about being in the tunnel and not coming out (reflecting a Thomas the Tank Engine story).

37:45 Reflective writing? Comes and goes. One of aims is to build a blog page. But then thinks has to write something. Had done the 750 words/day challenge, spent a week reflecting on teaching with students (teaching in Hanoi). Good to express. Sometimes have to rant but not to the wrong people.

University culture, process management, monitoring attendance, understanding the student learning process:

39:08 Don’t work in the greatest university in the world, ok, a modern university so has modern uni behaviours, like no confidence in itself or its academics, doesn’t trust the academics, everything has to be double checked, quality audited. Creeping to old ones too. But in that space has great colleagues, who will stop her when she gets to the ‘quit’ moments. Have honest conversations. Gets grumpy about justice issues, wants things to be adequately explainable. Gets angry about things in the background, shady dealing. Believes we should be entirely transparent, justify what we do. A lot in many universities is decided by a little gaggle of men in the corridor, sometimes women. A lot of decision making without reasonable or adequate awareness of other people and not being involved in the decisions.

41:30 Interesting thing about women, not just women, a family thing going on. Putting in for an Athena Swan thing. About realizing people with any caring responsibilities – sometimes less likely to get involved in these peripheral things but this is where things happen. Even promotions, promoting people they feel are safe. Would be interesting to turn it upside down and let the professors run the place. Would have happier staff, people feeling that someone actually understood what they wanted to do, a set of processes. The amount of process management has probably doubled in the last four years. Gone crazy. And the responsibility devolved down to staff from above a tragedy, nobody has thought about the quality of teaching or student experience. Equate student experience with attendance and grades. Who cares if they are attending if they are engaged with the learning process in any way that suits them. Instead have an attendance rule. Had a rule they had to sign in to classes. She would say ‘sign in and leave’ if it was clear they didn’t want to be there. Can’t do that anymore. Have to swipe in with electric cards. All pretend activities that make someone in uni think the students are engaged. What happens when your managers don’t understand education and the modern student. The modern student is not the student the academics were when they were at uni. She used to go to only 4 classes a week herself, got to the end of the year, crammed, got through. Top 5% can get away with this. Wrong approach, how can we give our students good experiences they can learn from.

47:05 Talks of own kids going through uni. Eye opener to see the other side of the learning process - given powerpoints, Moodle, then exam at the end of the year. How do you find what you want to revise when they are all on Moodle. Can’t search. She now chooses to stack her ppt slides so one set of slides at the end so they can search on it. Other thing is student email. No student reads email. But we talk to them via email. So we completely misunderstand them. Doesn’t know the answer. Communication is a challenge. The answer is not to not understand the student.

49:20 Deadlines at midnight Sunday. Then they get sick Sunday afternoon but can’t contact the tutor. Deadlines should be on a weekday. Only come to that knowledge by observing, saw this with her own daughter who got a migraine at the weekend and couldn’t email the tutor. Universities typically lag behind the school system. Predictive scoring, personalized learning trajectory. Can criticize. Uni just starting, trying to show student at risk. These work in schools where you have a relationship with your teacher but doesn’t map to the uni environment.

53:14 Brought in originally to deal with Tier 4 students on visa who have to be in attendance – government made it the university problem, they have a legal requirement to mark attendance. Now mark everyone to not discriminate. Stephen Fry, one of the smartest guys on the planet, he never attended at Cambridge. Think in the future unis will start to credit learning from somewhere else, dual role in giving out knowledge. An interesting way to think of unis. Has read history of unis. First unis in Germany. Prof would announce a lecture on topic. People came to listen. People access their education because they are curious. Now end up with a curriculum. John Ruskin, great philosopher’s story. Once with a curriculum, hard to get credits. Versus making your own curriculum.

57:30 Quality – remember being shown a graph of number of first class degrees awarded by competitors. They were lower. Drive about not giving out enough firsts. Policy changes. Now give out more firsts. In the UK, 70 was a first. Now closer to 80. Classification of degrees an interesting space. A tool for governments. Same with PhDs. Can be a broad difference but considered enough. Also does external examining of courses. I do believe you have to be a complete academic. And will say about standards and say “you are overmarking”. 

PART 2: The complete academic:

1:01:09 What makes a complete academic? Teaching, research, administration, outreach. Have to teach some of the time. Have to do research. Good friend Scott MacKenzie says research isn’t research until it is published. Some outreach. Just finished doing 5 weeks in a school. STEM important. Innovation strand because if only writing papers, not making a difference. By making or changing something. Likes the impact agenda of the REF. The REF in the UK (research excellence framework) a lot wrong with it, have to capture publications that are ranked, just gone through a big review, the Stern Review. Downside of ranking that uni equates whether a publication is ref-able so if you want to go to the British Computer Society can’t go because it isn’t counted (though REF doesn’t say this).  National conferences low in the ratings. Impact agenda – have to tell a story. Likes that. Hard but it says your research does more than just an academic paper. People can play the game too.

1:04:26 Has to write two impact cases in next two days. In her group, all say together, brainstormed, came down to four, now wanting to invest in these. But need money. Great work with children in India, Mumbai, in Africa. Put in for money to do this but didn’t get it. If in a big institution have lots of people behind her. Also discusses lead in time that no-one notices.

Understanding what the academic does, being efficient:

1:06:05 We do have a problem right through the whole system understanding what the academic does. So the complete academic probably collapses on a Friday evening with a glass of wine. And get up on a Saturday and start doing work. Has spent a lot of time reading time management books. Has conversations in her group, most have young families, she now has young grandchildren. Sometimes just want to have coffee with a daughter. Nice to be able to do those things. Has four children, when two youngest were little, older ones noticed, 9yr old said “Mum when you are working at home, the children don’t know if you are being a mum or not.”. Says to group don’t work at home when you are being a parent. Look after the kids or work from home. Productivity Ninja book – says there are different types of work you can do. Can decide to delete your inbox as low effort job. And another great book called Deep Work. Talks about how people do deep work. Deep work is the valuable work for academics, completely engrossed. Really hard thing for academics is finding that deep work space because there’s so much noise and clutter. Can be in the building for 8 hours and come home and not think she has done anything.

1:10:05 Has all these sheets at home, when children were young and doing her own PhD. Printed out on A4 paper. Would count in and count out the hours.  Counting in if had overworked. Had a nice female head of dept, once said, ‘Janet if you can do 100% of the job in 80% of the time because you are super-efficient, then don’t feel you have to fill the other 20%.”. She is efficient can do full time job in 3 days. If you are good at your job, if you are not careful you have this terrible protestant work ethic guilt and what else can you take on. Very subconscious. Academics find it very hard to accept doof (?) work. Clears work before holidays. Doesn’t think about work. But we're really bad at understanding and giving ourselves rewards [when we get things done with time to spare]. Trick is to work fast 3 days a week and then walk in the hills. Shouldn’t have to justify that. Last head of department said they were interested in outcomes not hours. But that is hard. Many years struggling with children etc. Feel guilty that she had to make up the time. Management problem to deal with people who also take 7 days to do 5 days work, helping them do good enough work on a job.

Speaking up, looking after yourself, managing time

1:14:20 Sometimes go into carnage, meltdown. Fascinated especially about academics as never really studied. Has a bullet journal book, makes a list of projects, when she has 53 projects, recognises too many, and that’s when you go the head and say you are in carnage, important to be able to do this. Example June 17, emailed head of dept and said I am going to be in carnage next semester because she had looked ahead. Smart academics, look ahead. Needed something taken off her. Didn’t happen. So carnage did happen. But she could say she had warned them. In academia this sort of thing isn’t taken seriously. People have to be honest. IT’s the number of projects you end up, not necessarily the size. Saddest thing then is that things that really matter get left. The book you are trying to write. Deep work. Importance of protecting that time. Shut up and write days. Protect your time, protect your space. Another colleague, taking the journalistic approach to writing, writing every day.

1:17:40 Interesting when you go into academia, no-one tells you these things. You have to find them out. Why does no-body learn. You have to look after yourself. Does some sewing, sailing in the summer, running. For a little while did the miracle morning. Meditation, affirmations, visualisations. Has moments when she goes on off things. Meditation, read on the bus. Don’t pretend I am magic. Sometimes on a roll. Great productive day. Other days a rubbish day. Every so often you get on top of things. Great under pressure. Written 5-6 big EU grants. Never got one but likes writing them with great team. Deadline juices it. If you need the adrenaline to get it out of you, hard to get started early. Other people can never work like that, need everything ready 6 days before. Have to understand the people around you. Have to understand each others’ team practices and how you want to work. Collaborative management task.

1:21:25 Think the Uni assumes people don’t have anything scheduled apart from teaching. And will suddenly put a meeting on the Wed and say you have to come, telling you on a Mon. Easy to say I’ll come because it is scheduled. That’s a trick you have to learn, to say no I have actually something that is more important than your meeting and stick to that. Talks of another book ‘Lean In’ – often listens to self help books when she goes running. Play them over again. Sandberg said she would put an appointment in her diary that sounded like something else when she wanted to go home.  About protecting time.

People management & leadership

1:22:45 Not person managed at a university. One daughter a manager at Clarks. Manages a team. -he is such a good manager. Hadn’t understood management until she watched her daughter doing management. That is active person management. She gets the best out of those people. Thinks to herself “Why have I not had the luxury of that kind of management”. Even her appraisal processes are really robust but at universities you don’t get any of that. All a bit ad hoc. Would have thought the least you would do is … not manage as in manage … but it’s the encouragement, understanding individual needs, motivate, say well done. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a “well done” from time to time. The other day emailed boss to say “hi had a great day today…” and did get an email back saying great. But want a little bit of encouragement. They have a finish tape (like on school sports days) and anyone who finishes something they’ve been struggling with can come and get the finish tape and tape it to their door to prove they finished something. And have certificates and rosettes ‘great work’. But the university don’t do this. Partly because of idea of academic freedom. Not really true. But also this idea that no-one quite knows what you are doing.

1:25:35 Final comments “I love my job” 87% of the time. I hate it when I am expected to do administrative tasks, not a snob about tasks, but they used to be done by administrative people. Think that is the administrative creep going on. Hate it when endeavours, hers and people she identifies with, are thwarted by some sort of random decision making that happens elsewhere (government, university). Derailing. Other 87% it’s a great job. “Still enjoy my job.”. If she didn’t like it she would quit. Lucky to have a spectacularly good team of people. Could be …. But a great team of people. Has some Readers promoted. Maybe you end up working with nice people because you are lucky, or you create the culture of being with nice people. Would love to manage them really. Management versus leadership. Leader is at the back, making sure no-one is getting lost. About enabling, helping people do things. Have done a course, read about leadership. Very few good books on academic leadership, partly because the context is so different. How do you help them bring out what they are good at. One of heads as leaving, said “Whatever you do you’re a star, continue shining, but don’t do admin, you’re rubbish at it.” Sometimes we don’t want to hear the reality of what we should and shouldn’t be doing. One of the tricks of leadership is helping people understand what they should be doing, what they’re bad at and could be fixed, and what things they should avoid at all costs. Got to know people, understand them.

1:30:34 End

Related Links

Janet Read - https://www.uclan.ac.uk/staff_profiles/professor_janet_read.php

People mentioned:

Leon Watts - http://www.cs.bath.ac.uk/leon/

Scott MacKenzie - http://www.yorku.ca/mack/

Janet’s book: Child computer interaction: advances in methodological research” Panos Markopoulos, Janet Read, Johanna Hoÿsniemi, Stuart MacFarlane. Springer.  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10111-007-0065-0

Resources Janet has created:

Essay ‘Supervise to fit or fit to supervise?’

Booklet ‘Doing a PhD with me’

Booklet ‘How do I know I’m ready to be examined for a PhD’

Paper on cosy model

Charm bracelet

UK initiatives:

Athena Swan - https://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan/

UK REF - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_Excellence_Framework

Stern Review of the REF: https://www.bisa.ac.uk/files/Consultations/ind-16-9-ref-stern-review.pdf

Books mentioned:  

 “How to be a productivity Ninja: Worry less, achieve more and love what you do.” Graham Allcott. https://www.amazon.com/How-Productivity-Ninja-Worry-Achieve/dp/1848316836         

 “Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world” Cal Newport. https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/dp/1455586692

 “Lean In: Women, work and the will to lead” Sheryl Sandberg. https://www.amazon.com/Lean-Women-Work-Will-Lead/dp/0385349947 

 

Kylie Ball on supporting early career researchers, virtual mentorship and wellbeing

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Kylie Ball is a Professor in the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Faculty of Health at Deakin University in Australia. She is also Head of early- and mid-career researcher (EMCR) development and publishes a very impactful blog targeted to EMCRs called The Happy Academic. We have a wide-ranging discussion about the EMCR support initiatives she has put in place, including workshops, mentoring programs and virtual resources, as well as the blog which she talks about as a form of virtual mentorship that can have a wider reach. We explore her own strategies for physical and mental wellbeing and how to form good habits. Themes throughout are around how much there is that we can actually take control of and make choices about, and we get a good sense of how to create a kinder and more supportive culture within our faculties.

"Leadership can happen at every level. …Every researcher is leading something."

"We forget that we’re in a career where there is so much choice and flexibility. Seeing busyness as within our choice and there are things we can do about that really helps to give that sense of control."

"I’m a big advocate that we can all find opportunities to be kind and it’s never a wasted act."

She talks about (times approximate) …

1:50 Kylie discusses how she got into research, instead of being a clinical psychologist that she had thought she would end up doing, and still has drive to help people

04:20 Discusses research area around helping people have better health behaviours, translating research and having broad impact, and how long this can take

06:50 Examples of where her research has had impact; how the relationship was built; and the long time frame to impact

08:35 Recognises this as a privileged situation. More difficult for newer people coming in on short term contracts. And recognizes she might be able to help.

09:10 Her own experience of short term contract, moving interstate for a one year contract; fortunately a permanent position did arise; but not the case now. Mentors many people and sees many people concerned about the future, and raising the same sorts of problems.

10:10 Her role as head of early and mid-career researcher development. Keen to defines this inclusively, roughly as academic level A-C (entry level, associate, to lecturer, to senior lecturer). Wanted to know what the challenges were so spoke individually to all ECRs in the institute – 54 – and 15-16 senior people. One of the best things she could have done. Some based on another campus. Well set up between campuses for virtual meetings.

13:30 So met and got a good sense of needs, coming up repeatedly: how do I establish myself as an independent researcher; how do I get my first grant; how do I achieve work life balance. Universal issues in this field. Gave a good sense of what people were struggling with. Then set up a range of initiatives to address this. Included: workshops mentoring matches; other professional development; also virtual resources like the blog.

14:35 Workshops: looking at most pressing needs first, grants and fellowships, so first workshop with internal people to present eg strategy, lead times, planning, how to find sources, the process, compliance, internal funding scheme (great for pilot data, experience, confidence). Can see the trajectory of research funding from this first step. Most of workshops fully subscribed, tried to limit to around 17:25. Reasons for good buy-in? Culture very much around encouraging students and ECRs to get along to everything offered, can get something out of everything, fostering a vibrant research culture; also that this is what they had asked for.

18:30 Other workshops around how to be a strategic researcher. Great to have internal expertise but also good to bring in external experts for fresh ideas, also level of perceived credibility of external. About saying no to things strategically, time management, writing. Another workshop around leadership – broad and difficult to do in a one-day workshop but as exposure to some of the challenges of leadership in academia and tendencies that impede us becoming the best leaders we can. Type of leadership? Leadership can happen at every level. Everyone is leading something. Qualities of a good leader in an academic context? Learning to take the step back from being the drive in everything and putting others forward and supporting them. A challenge of mid-career stage. Being willing to hand over the reins to others. Not trained in that.

22:20 One of the other workshops from last year addressed that issue – mentoring for mentors. Idea is lots of use mentor others but have not had any formal training in that. Sometimes junior people come with issues and say struggling herself. But don’t have to have all the answers, can say “this is what I may do in this situation; have you thought about these different options”. Useful for getting some confidence around this.

23:46 Mentoring scheme – not a formal scheme as people didn’t want to commit to this but asked early career people if they wanted a mentor. Sometimes their supervisor might provide some of this but sometimes there is a risk that discussions with supervisor can be very operational. So have tried to match people up with someone more arms-length from within the institute. Have also facilitated external mentor when people asked for this. Set up general guidelines around this. Eg meet 3-4 times per year, mentee brings the agenda and drives meeting, and provides a few resources such as types of questions to get best out of mentor. Almost all now have at least one senior mentor. The ones who have chosen not to feel they are well supported already. Left loosely structured (no fixed time limit). Uni does have a structured program with contracts, outputs etc but a deterrent for some people. Depends on the situation. Just flagged that either mentor or mentee felt relationship not working well … sometimes relationship naturally progresses. It’s very natural for mentoring relationships to have a set period of time. Also think people can benefit from having a number of mentors.

28:25 Digital resources – three main aspects. Lots of senior staff had given presentations, lots of resources existing but sitting on people’s computer drives so wanted a repository to store these that are relevant to early career issues eg powerpoint presentations, resource sheets, templates, grant and funding related resources eg successful grants. Collated in a dedicated place. Used? Refers lots of people to them. Workshop resources also stored there too.

30:45 Been running 18 months now. Did an informal evaluation after 1 year. Had conducted a survey before starting, as baseline, asking people what they thought about support available to them and also about generic things like job satisfaction, morale, perceived academic competence, work-related distress, work life balance. A year after assessed again and found good results. Satisfaction with program very high. Perceived competence, academic capacity, morale increased and decrease in workplace distress. Subjective feedback that favourably received. Part of the happy academic. Can’t underestimate their impact on harder outcomes like retention rates, productivity and KPIs like publishing.

33:20 Connectedness from workshop. When asked about the needs, social element identified as critical, being connected to other ECRs, having a support network. So try things like put an hour at the end of the workshop for social get together. Also set up regular ‘shut up and write’ sessions. Part is to progress writing but part is the social situation and people talking to others they might not talk to. Do SUAW about every month. Limit to 12 people and they sign up. Part is pragmatic re room available but generally found haven’t had people wanting to come and can’t, also find people can’t attend at last minute, but people who have gone along have found benefits. Shared office with one other person.

36:10 Describes institutes and school structure at Deakin. How is wellbeing being promoted in policy? In Kylie’s role. Also fortunate in having a head of school who is committed to these issues of wellbeing so a number of initiatives. Eg: Have had a consultant come in to work with people one on one, a mindfulness expert run mindfulness workshops regularly (quite popular, running it again this year), also have a team that are focused on creating fun events throughout the year eg easter bbq, celebrations for events through the year. Keeping a focus on fun.

38:40 Role of KPIs in stress/reduction? Senior staff tried to convey a culture of delivering excellent teaching, research, yes there are KPIs and need to be agreed on in performance evaluation discussions, but the message is yes targets but they shouldn’t be the end driver so don’t e.g. have a strong focus on checking citations. Citations are out of our control. You can control submitting X papers per year but you can’t control how many citations you get. So while KPIs are there and they’re important, and we need aspirational goals for these things, we also try to balance that with a view to aiming for excellence in what we do and that’s not always easily captured in some of these metrics. Flexibility in performance reviews that all staff won’t be doing all things at all times … so might be some flexibility in workload allocation. Hate the word balance.. becomes another stress for people, “do I have balance?”. Going to be times we feel one particular part of our role takes over, so long as you can see that it’s a short term thing so in grant season (gives writing grants example). So long as you can see it is not forever and you have some strategies in place to cope with that. About perspective, insight, reflection, choice. Choice is critical. We forget that we’re in a career where there is so much choice and flexibility. Seeing busyness as within our choice and that there are things we can do about that really helps to give that sense of control.

43:56 Often our own worst enemies in this field. People have to be a little bit obsessive, perfectionistic to persist with the things we do but think stepping back and reminding ourselves that we do have more choice than we probably realise and rather than doing everything automatically, saying yes to everything automatically, … try to encourage ECR people to build in white space, thinking and planning time to step back. Can’t see it when you are on the treadmill.

45:05 Own strategies? Three main things: 1. Down time with family. Has 10 yr old daughter. Likes to switch off completely and spend time with her. Challenging to switch off. Mobile phones, blurring. Tries to get away eg to beach. Symbolic in a sense to get out of your normal environment, into nature.  Amazing how restorative that can be. 2. Exercise. A mad advocate that exercise can cure almost anything, and help with almost anything, a life line, Mental health strategy. For physical health. Time out. Tries running three times a week. Doesn’t need equipment. Can do anywhere. Doesn’t’ cost anything. Feels a million times better after 6-8 kms, mind much clearer. Feel much better. Evidence for that enormous. The ironic thing is that when you get busy it is often the first thing to go but it can be the best thing to help you think more clearly. Has tried to be consistent since high school. Doesn’t write it in the diary but has a regular time set up. Know from behavioural research, the value of regular habit.

48:50 Other non-negotiables? Not really. Being a single parent, more stressful trying to block non-negotiable things, being more flexible works for her. One thing is Friday night is non-work night. Switches everything off. Came up a few years back when was on brink of burn out and working with a coach who asked what was the one thing she could do. Friday night ‘switch off’ was it. Small changes but they do add up.

50:20 Third thing she swears by is meditation. A time to step back, reflect, and put down things carrying all day. Aim is to do it every day for 10 mins. Doesn’t happen every day. Training mental skills of attention and focus, skills we are at risk of losing because of social media, emails, interruptions, meditation a buffer against that short attention span. Lots we can be doing to improve our own mental/physical wellbeing but the challenge is lots of us know thus but how do we put it into place.

52:15 Tips as behavior change expert? Write it down, book it into your calendar, make it an appointment. The other is about trying to make some of these automatic. Setting up your environment so you need less conscious effort to do it, to make it a habit, things that cue us towards some of these behaviours. The other is social support, who hold you accountable.

54:00 The Happy Academic blog – started when she took on role as head of early and mid career research and development. Was hearing the same kinds of challenges again and again, not just in own institution but people internationally. Can’t reach all these people one on one, gets lots of requests for mentoring but can’t do it all. Thought a blog might be a good virtual way to help lots of people. Virtual mentorship. Feedback suggests it is achieving that aim. One of the most satisfying things she did last year. Always wanted a career where she was helping people. And loves writing. So this ticks a lot of boxes. Now takes a couple of hours to write a post, also jots down ideas in prep. Questions that people ask are a source of ideas. Schedule – tries to post once/month.  

58:25 Blog post on kindness – sparked by a PhD student who finished and wrote a lovely card, saying “thanks for all your support and in particular thank you for your kindness, a quality which I feel is often missing in academia”. That resonated. Also consistent with stories over the years. Academia can be such a cut-throat and ruthless environment. And dealing with critique, rejection, awards, promotion. Hear all the time how thick-skinned you need to be to survive in this field. So wanted to highlight that this doesn’t have to be the norm and there are small things we can do that might a spot of joy in someone’s day, a question about how your day is going, can I get you a cup of coffee. I’m a big advocate that we can all find opportunities to be kind and it’s never a wasted act. Came across some great resources on kindness.

1:01:25 Another of virtual resources is sending an email out highlighting some of the successes. Aim is that we don’t often celebrate these enough. Other thing that it can be good to share more is the rejection and failures side and how we have dealt with these. A hard thing to share. Another post on rejection showed some brave people who posted about their failures. Need to be careful, don’t want to focus on what doesn’t work, but recognizing we’ve all had rejections and your not alone and how we have dealt with it.

1:03:45 Last post around saying now – key messages that resonated? Post got a lot of responses. People seemed to like was thinking about saying no is thinking about saying yes. Saying no to one thing means you are being strategic about saying yes to the other things that are already on your plate or are more important. You can’t do it all. Doesn’t mean you are not a good person.

1:05: 40 Criteria for what to say yes to re mentorship – isn’t taking on more people now. Currently stretched, and referring people to the virtual mentorship through the blog. Advice from a coach previously was to consider yourself a free referral service, so she tries to find another link or mentor.

1:07:58 End

Related Links:

Kylie Ball - http://www.deakin.edu.au/about-deakin/people/kylie-ball

Happy Academic Blog – https://happyacademic.wordpress.com

Indago Academy - Inspiring Research Excellence. Kylie's newly launched  development consultancy business- https://www.indagoacademy.com

Blog post: “Let’s make kindness the next academic disruption” - https://happyacademic.wordpress.com/2017/12/06/lets-make-kindness-the-next-academic-disruption/#more-877  

Blog post: “the foolproof approach to saying no” - https://happyacademic.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/the-foolproof-approach-to-saying-no/

 

Carman Neustaedter on research identity, work tracking surprises, and taking perspective

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Carman Neustaedter is an Associate Professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada and is also Director of the Connections Lab (cLab) research group. He talks about the importance for him of taking time to reconnect with his identity and values, and building in regular time for reflection, both on the bigger issues of where he is going and also on day to day work like writing challenges. He also discusses feeling overwhelmed and deciding to track his work time over a whole year, which led to surprising findings about how he actually spent his time and how he worked fewer hours than he thought he did. He also touches on issues around handling reviewer critique, managing his email inbox and how he structures time and prioritises family. A thread through a couple of stories is also the importance of being able to take on the perspective of others, whether these are the critical reviewers or colleagues.

“It’s really hard to figure out who you are because you’re often so focused…, you don’t stop to step back and say who am I and what is my path. But it’s so valuable to do.”

“It’s easy to slip into the habit of doing work at all sorts of hours. … It’s about choice and recognizing ahead of time what my priority is and making sure that priority is my family in the evening and at the weekend.”

“When I’m working, I’m really on and working really hard but then I purposely stop and say you know what it’s family time now, they deserve my time.”

“It’s really valuable for all walks of life just to empathise and understand others.”

He talks about (times approximate) …

2:09 Start

2:39 Current position, PhD from Calgary, experience working in Kodak Research Labs for three years before moving back to academia; how he got to the industry position as a post doc; finding it routine, and the decision to come back to academia and loving it.

5:02 Trigger for coming into academia – working with students, the agency and flexibility. Considered thinking to come back. Lucky to land something back in Canada, close to family. Obvious move back. Now in academia 8 years.

6:19 Experience of shifting back into academia – a struggle, paid far less, working way harder, so many things coming at him, hard to transition back into. Having the break allowed him to understand the situation a lot more, more reflection on own lifestyle and work-life balance. At Kodak, emails stopped coming in at 5pm on Fri and not much at weekend and as an academic getting emails from students at all hours. Had to adjust to it.

8:04 Other challenges in trying to set up as a new prof – establishing his identity and setting up a research group, what to focus on and how to present it to the world; critical to have a web page early; trying to establish identity and use that as framing for everything else he was trying to do. Finding the focus tricky but the job hunt helped as had to figure out ‘who are you, what’s your vision for the next few years’. “It’s an especially challenging task… it’s really hard to figure out who you are because you’re often so focused with your head down on your work, you don’t stop to step back and say who am I and what is my path. But it’s so valuable to do.”

9:54 How to do that practically? “It’s time. I can work on another paper or spend a half day thinking about what my identity is and how I want to project myself… it’s important to reassess that identity.” Example of using a hike or run on sabbatical last year to do this figuring out. Answer was realizing he had actually accomplished a lot and pretty proud of it and to continue on the same track, with tweaks. “Being happy with what I accomplished was really key.”; talking of being, purpose; “About what’s important and that thread weaves through the work we do, what we choose to do for [service, teaching, research] and weaves through how we balance work and family life and the personal endeavours we want.

12:09 Values as a researcher – being real, true to yourself and what you do. Talks about example of writing papers in a certain way, telling people what you did and why and not being afraid of the scrutiny. A tough profession when we have so many people critiquing us but it’s ok to show you and what you’re doing and stand up for it.

13:29 Handling the critiques – a long process but now tries to empathise with the reviewer and think about where they are coming from. Trying to connect with the reviewer, sees it as a conversation, understanding their perspective. More often than not getting critiqued rather than praised about the work we do. Probably not a lot of professions that get critiqued that much.

15:59 Other ways for helping handle this? Likes to go running, several times a week early morning, time to get out there and gives chance for reflection on what I’m doing, think up new ideas, and reconnect with myself”.

16:54 Other routines? Particular about when he works, tries hard not to work on evenings or weekends. Family and evening routines makes it easier to achieve. Weekends are family time with wife and kids. “When I’m working I’m really on and working really hard but then I purposely stop and say you know what it’s family time now, they deserve my time and so I’ll spend it with them.” Not like that before he had family. Notices he works more when he is away at conferences. “It’s easy to slip into the habit of doing work at all sorts of hours.”  “It’s about choice and recognizing ahead of time what my priority is and making sure that priority is my family in the evening and at the weekend.”

18:59 Hard when requests for stuff keep coming in.  Gives example of email on weekend with a request. Has a habit of inbox at zero 80% of the time. So if something comes in at the weekend it bothers him. Needs to handle it by getting it out of his inbox and onto a to-do then he can leave it for Monday. But if it sits in email he will think about it. Didn’t always do this but helps to keep his weekend to himself. Other email strategies – touching email only once;

21:49 Talks about tracking his work for a year. 2014, approaching tenure time, felt he was working tons of hours, feeling overwhelmed. Decided to figure out where he spent his time. Used a spreadsheet and recorded in 15 min time blocks. Tracked tasks, time of day, weekend. Tracked for a year. What time of day, who it was spent on, and how the numbers came out.

23:19 How tracking for a year was a pain but why he kept doing and the slivers of insight he got on the way.

26:00 Results surprising. Thought he did way more service and teaching than research but not the case. Research time was actually 67% over the year. Teaching was only 15% and only 18% was service. “So it was way different than what I thought. I was spending most of the doing the research stuff I really loved and not a lot time doing the teaching things that I thought was taking up a lot of my time.” On average worked about 39 hours a week. Felt over 50 hours. “It felt like I was completely overwhelmed and working all the time.” Didn’t realise how many hours he was actually working.

26:50 Flexible way of handling his day, on campus between 4-8 hours, will work from home when he can. Works early morning time. Helps kids. Finish up in the afternoon. Email in the evening. Some days only 4 hours. Flexibility of the job to let him do this lifestyle structure. Balances out with 10 hr day.

28:22 What contributes to it feeling so much more? Asked himself some tough questions about why feeling overwhelmed, exhausted. Maybe a lot of it comes down to choice.  So many demands on attention can be overwhelming, A lot of contact points. So many things coming at him overwhelming. The sense of responsibility and loving helping people. Feeling obligated and wanting to help.  Lack of getting to what he wants to do, don’t feel he has as much as choice as he wants to. Teaching feels a little more like work, less control over it. Loves teaching, reinvigorates but freedom of choice issue.

32:09 How does it feel now with requests? Looking through time makes it easy to recognize this is happening and use it to leverage different choices, and also figuring out when he works best and how to adjust his schedule. Talks about how he structures his work now. Also gives example of writing the discussion section that he finds hard, and timing it before a run or a break (drive into work) so he can then think back on what he just wrote and see if new insights come up.  Works well except for keeping notes. Wouldn’t have tracked that as work time. 34:54 “Work is on my brain a lot of the time. It’s hard to get it off my brain.” Think best ideas come when he is not working. Never know what you are going to see that is going to spawn a great idea. Fluid work and locations makes it even muddier. Even though ideas flow in non-work time, easy enough to separate them and not linger. Gets a note down and then get back to the personal stuff.

38:19 Not managed so well … when family visiting, guests, etc. But also forces you to engage with family and friends more.

39:09 Criteria for making choices, saying no? “Doing what I know I love to do”. Gives example of telepresence chair service role. “It’s stuff I love doing so it’s not really like work.”

40:34 Sabbatical experience. Three months recognized missed his normal job and couldn’t do research full on. Needed the breaks. Realised how much he valued them when gone. Feeling of guilt for not working. Tension of should and wants. Wanting to get away from the job but then realizing he really loved it. His choice to re-engage with some teaching and service while on sabbatical. Still mental turmoil, would he wish he stepped back more. But felt good at the end of the year. Accomplished more than planned. Happy with what he did because he was making choices, saying no and also saying yes to things he really loved.

44:54 “It was a turning point, and I realized moving forward - get back that choice. Really think about what I want to do and don’t be afraid to do that.”

45:29 Seeing career moving forward. Knows research direction, more admin work in department coming up, understanding internal politics. Talks about getting to know people more now and seeing where they are coming from. Tries hard to understand people from their perspective. Easiest way of getting policies through is understanding people’s perspectives and incorporating them. Talks a lot with people, prep work, understanding people. Came out of empathy training some years ago (in context of running a study) but “it’s really valuable for all walks of life just to empathise and understand others.”. Created less butting heads, faster to get on same page, accomplish more. But takes time/work.

50:51 Gives other examples of other situations where empathy helps, from family/kids to co-author/grad student and teasing out what is going on. Involves a lot of listening. Aim to get the best work, mutual goals.

52:59 Tries to foster a lab culture, about being dependent on each other, helping each other. Learnt from advisor Saul Greenberg. Shared responsibility in helping people out, a team, a family.

54:49 Final thoughts – “I think so much of our time is spent with our heads down and trying to get things done. I still really struggle with lifting my head up and getting that broader perspective. But I really think scheduling in even a little bit of time every once in a while to get that perspective back is super important.”. Advice from Joanna McGrenere – schedule time on sabbatical for personal reflection. Applicable beyond sabbatical. Schedule that time block eg for a run, walk, or silent drive. Making it a point of your regular routine is so incredibly invaluable. Recognise you are doing good stuff and how to keep that path going forward and how to have time for yourself.

57:35 My reflections on harmonious passion.

59:55 End

Related Links

Saul Greenberg podcast – on supervising, building a lab, creating good work life balance  

Sheelagh Carpendale - http://pages.cpsc.ucalgary.ca/~sheelagh/wiki/pmwiki.php

Joanna McGrenere - http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~joanna/

Jolanta Burke podcast – on burnout, harmonious passion, positive workplaces & helping others

Some articles on passion, obsessive passion and harmonious passion:

James Wilsdon on impacts, responsible metrics & evaluation practices

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James Wilsdon is a Professor of Research Policy in the Department of Politics and Director of Impact and Engagement for the Faculty of Social Sciences, and Associate Director in the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield in the UK. He has been involved in many policy and think tank initiatives. Of particular interest here, he chaired an independent review of the role of metrics in the management of the UK’s research system, publishing a final report in 2015 called The Metric Tide. More recently he has chaired an expert panel on Next Generation Metrics for the European Commission. In this conversation we talk about his experiences working in both policy think tanks and in academia, about the increasing focus on research impact for academics and how the UK has created some culture change in this direction. He also discusses issues around metric-based systems of assessments for academics and calls on us not to indulge processes of evaluation that we know empirically are bad science.

“Impact is a team sport.”

“A new breed of brokers and boundary spanners … placing a premium on a skillset that is not the traditional academic skillset.”

“Metrics are a technology and there is nothing intrinsically good or evil in them, it’s all about how they are used.”

“It is incumbent on us not to indulge processes of evaluation that we know empirically are bad science.”

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:40 Introduction of background as professor of research policy, politics of science and research and director of research impact for faculty of social sciences; and working outside of academia as director of science policy for the Royal Society

03:40 Moving from an academic context, working out of academia in policy jobs, and keeping a foot in academia through PhD and collaborations, and then coming back into the academic system proper; not being strategic about PhD and future plans when at the think tank; bridging brokering skills becoming more valued as academia more concerned with impact

06:55 Moving from think tank to university – pluses and minuses of both; pace and speed of think tank, shorter cycles, but can be too swayed by pressures of speaking to think tank audiences; in university time for longer deeper research when you get the funding; just different; think tank more proximate to power and potential to impact policy debates, in university setting harder to earn that seat at the table; impact.

10:30 About having impact as an academic? His role is facilitating academics having impact, part networks, part credibility; for faculty supporting academics at different career stages to strengthen their approach; also in the UK, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) that has 20% of its weighting on impact and needing to think about impact case studies now for next REF cycle; an industry of box ticking around the REF just as much as anywhere else; argues reason to do impact is not the REF but to have real impact, as starting point, so starting with the substance

14:30 Describing REF – institutional assessment done at disciplinary or departmental level, university makes subject-based submissions to a particular panel eg politics that assesses research outputs over 6-7year period of all the politics departments in the country in their area and scores accordingly; 65% on research outputs, primary unit is journal article, 15% about research environment, 20% on impact, here through narrative case studies. Not all academics expected to have an impact case study, usually 1 out of 10. Real money attached to it, as research funding allocated to universities on basis of scores, strategic research funding very valuable to institutions.

17:42 At what costs? Huge debate. Considerable amount of effort. Have just gone through a government review of the exercise, led by Lord Stern. Conclusion was exercise was working effectively and valuable because a trusted accepted mechanism on both sides and provides the accountability for allocation of substantial money. On uni side, while cumbersome and takes a lot of work, a self-governed process. A lot of the debate rests on what’s it purpose is it good value for money; if purpose just to allocate that grant could do it with a lighter touch or purely metric basis. Reason for Metric Tide review.

20:24 REF as it has evolved, now been through successive cycles since the mid 80s and it (REF) has now taken on range of purposes: allocation of funds; accountability mechanism; benchmarking function; driving culture behaviour change through the uni system, affecting wholesale change. In Thatcher times, focus on improving productivity of unis and still has pronounced effect eg UK has most productive research system in the word based on pounds in papers out. Now in part driven by the REF. Productivity a part of that. But in terms of behaviour change, introduction in 2014 of impact as a focus alongside outputs has had a massive cultural effect, positive effect in terms of creating an incentive structure/economy and enabling a more strategic and professional approach to impact, and supportive of a more diverse career paths in the system. China as alternative example, cash bonuses for publications, personal profit, but led to huge problems. In British system, had focus on outputs, now a focus on impacts and by and large a good thing.

25:24 How it now impacts appraisal discussions with staff.  Now have research, teaching, impact. A good thing, good research will have impact. Accepts some areas of research where impacts much longer term e.g., particle physics. Value as part of portfolio of what they do, now system in place to support academics doing it (impact) and doing it better and rewarding them. Now have a body of case studies from the exercise by topic, institution, discipline – a great resource. Means we can be much more strategic of understanding of how impacts arise. Most impact case studies were based on some kind of multi or interdisciplinary research, and often collaborative. Impact is a team sport.

29:20 Funding in UK to support that interdisciplinary emphasis? On the cusp of biggest shake up of funding system in the UK. Since mid 1960s a set of discipline-based research councils (see links below). All are about to be drawn under umbrella of a new mega funding agency, comes into being April 2018. Existing councils will still exist as committees under that body but goal now better support and enable cross disciplinary work. That’s the ambition. A big shift. Other things that have happened alongside that to further incentivise greater inter-disciplinarily are two big new strategic funding sources: global challenges research fund from aid budget, development money so research relevant to needs of developing worlds and in collaboration with partners in eligible countries, starting with their problems, and more global impact; and other is around industrial strategy, pump priming commercial realisation, not been as good at that e.g., as Germany to do the translational funding, more immediate commercial impact with industry partners.

34:45 Also opening new career paths. He talks about this as a new breed of brokers and boundary spanners that the system now demands and placing a premium on a skillset that is not the traditional academic skillset. Has flow on effects for how we think about doctoral training, early career research. But how does a boundary spanner submit e.g., to the politics panel? An inbuilt tension in the system over time. If you push the system towards more interdisciplinary work should you come back and evaluate people in the politics department? A question for the REF in 2027. Now is the time to start thinking about this. If you push all the incentives in the system towards new ways of working design, how do we design the assessment system in 10 years time? Incentives drive behaviour so how do we have complementary incentives systems. Two schools of thought on the new mega structure, negative is its terrible monolithic and inhibit diversity in the system, positive is it allows us to be more strategic and more collective intelligence to arise. By and large he is focussed on the positive.

38:00 What are the issues around metrics? The Metric Tide (report) was commissioned by the minister on role of metrics in management of university system. REF is by peer review over a year, it is labour intensive not metric driven. Looked at whole system for the REF. Committee had mix of great people, and did consultation, workshops, etc, a big process. Conclusion was that in the narrow context of the REF, more negatives in going hard to a metric-based systems than positives, in that yes you might remove some of the burden of the exercise but you shake off a lot of what was good about the REF. Current allows for a whole diversity of different outcomes, journal articles a part but can also put in books or arts-based outputs. Metrics tend only to cover journal articles. In politics area, about a quarter of the outputs were books and monographs but you don’t get metrics for those. Another reason is concern for diversity e.g., gendered nature of citation practices. Also re impact, currently recording through narrative case studies and can’t easily convert that to a metric. New metrics coming up e.g., social media measures but again could unleash perverse behavioural consequences like twitter bots if included in REF.

42:55 Interpreted mission more broadly though and in the broader sense of how metrics are interpreted and used in the university context, they expressed a serious concern about rising pressure of quantification on academic culture and how to manage that sensibly. Argued for scope to govern and manage systems of measurement much more sensibly, intelligently, and humanely in terms of their effects. A lot of that is about being responsible in the way you design and use metrics. Metrics are a technology and there is nothing intrinsically good or evil in them, it’s all about how they are used. Came up with set of principles for how metrics should be used eg diversity of indicators. More awareness now than 2-3 years ago, not just their review but growing chorus of voice gathering in volume and intensity internationally eg San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment that came out 2012 or 13, pushing hard against emphasis on journal impact factors, the Leiden Manifesto for Research Metrics which was closely aligned with what they were doing.

Seeing in the UK more universities adopting policies and statements of good practice in terms of how they will use bibliometrics and altmetrics. Also having an impact on the REF in not going to bibliometrics.

46:50 Impact on own CV and presenting academic persona? Would never use journal impact factors and h-indices to make decisions, would look very bad. Wouldn’t use it in a panel because he thinks there are better ways of dealing with filtering applicants. “I think to simply look and say they’ve published in Cell therefore they’re better than this person… is the worst kind of sloppy practice. And we know this is statistically illiterate…. A very hard-edged reason why this is bad practice. It is incumbent on us not to indulge processes of evaluation that we know empirically are bad science.” All sorts of subtle signifiers we use and academia is full of these. “All we can do if you’re on an interview panel or evaluating stuff at a departmental level is try to be very conscious of what you’re doing, being quite reflexive about it and do stamp explicit bad practices.” Hasn’t experienced resistance to this where he is. “It’s my friends who are the hard-core scientists and who have looked at this and realised what utter bullshit it is.”

50:33 End

Related Links

James Wilsdon - https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/politics/people/academic/james-wilsdon

UK research funding councils – Higher Education Funding Council - http://www.hefce.ac.uk

Research Excellence Framework (REF) - http://www.ref.ac.uk/2014/

The Metric Tide report – https://responsiblemetrics.org/the-metric-tide/

San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment - http://www.ascb.org/dora/

Leiden Manifesto for Research Metrics - http://www.leidenmanifesto.org

 

Luigina Ciolfi on giving back, mentoring, and finding your own work-life strategies

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Luigina Ciolfi is a full Professor of Human Centred Computing at C3RI – The Cultural, Communication and Computing Research Institute  and member of the Communication and Computing Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University (UK). A common theme of the conversation is her passion for giving back. We talk about peer service organising a conference, and about her early career experiences as a junior faculty with responsibilities for a program, and what sorts of training and support were or could have been useful for her. In giving back now to junior faculty, she also talks about recent training experiences to take a coaching/mentoring approach and the value of this. We then talk about some of her recent research studying how nomadic workers and how work-life balance plays out for them and how there is no one strategy that suits everyone. She reflects on her own strategies here and also on the challenges of working in a different country to your families.

BONUS full transcript available here

“To keep the good work [of the research community] going it’s only fair that I contribute to it”

“Junior faculty struggles are for both men and women.”

“Mentoring is just supporting someone to make decisions.”

“Balance is not something that everyone aspires to…There’s no strategy that fits everybody.”

“Knowing yourself is part of being confident about your strategy and it takes time to know yourself as a professional, to know what you can achieve. It’s a learning curve.”

In summary, she talks about (times approximate) …

02:00 Discussing the experience of chairing the ECSCW conference and losing a good friend who was going to be the papers co-chair

09:15 Talking about her Masters in Siena, Italy and moving to Limerick, Ireland for PhD

15:22 Transitioning from student into a faculty position, role of mentors, experience of submitting proposals; early demanding lifestyle of teaching, research etc as an young faculty; early teaching experiences a lot work; wishing she had some shadowing opportunities

Experiences around learning curve to be a teacher and program director; advice re handling problematic people; wish for training, e.g., mediation training, respectful training language; the meta skills of academia

26:45 Most recent course on coaching techniques and mentoring skills; the people skills being important; discussion of most interesting skill/technique – ‘what will happen if’ scenarios to help decision making, helping them think but not giving direct input; how to answer to ‘what would you do’ questions from coaches/mentees

32:00 Discusses research on work life balance, the research project that led to this, and the most recent work.  Everyone having different strategies and giving examples of these strategies. Blurring, balance and boundaries.

40:50 Discusses differences with academics compared to other professions. Having a lot of freedom, less bound by constraints, having strong ambition and passion, but also a lot of similarities with other knowledge workers. One person’s story about a revelation moment listening to ‘Cats in the cradle’ song, recognising himself in the song, and the trigger to be quit his job and be a freelancer. Rather than giving instruments for balancing we could be giving instruments for re-arranging.

47:40 Reflecting on working ‘more than is healthy’; partner support and weekends for more than work, though can be exceptions. Working less weekends and evenings now than used to as junior academic. Reflections on working more as a junior academic and why and what she might have done differently. Discusses strategies now eg stopping when she is tired, knowing yourself.

53:55 Structuring own time. Not a morning person so leaves menial tasks until the morning. Being reflective about own patterns and practices. Tends to schedule meetings in the morning. Upsides and downsides of a mainly research position.

55:05 Being active on social media and how she uses different social media tools. The support of others in the same situation. Use of scheduled posts. And the cats.

59:10 Discussing other strategies, eg one day of a weekend completely work-free, role of partner, visiting mother, downside of not having any scheduled hobbies but doing other things. And not working in the evenings unless a good reason. Not ever having email notifications or social media notifications on phone.

1:01:30 Final thoughts – having part of your family in different countries. Common, complicated. Making choice of staying in Europe even though heart might say going somewhere else, as a conscious choice to be closer to family. Feeling the tension of being far away from family. Common situation but not a common strategy. Distributed roots and always difficult to think of the very long term, just accepting you are at home in more than one place.

1:06:49 End

Related Links

Lui’s home page - https://luiginaciolfi.net ; https://www.linkedin.com/in/luiginaciolfi

ECSCW2017 - https://ecscw2017.org.uk

Dave Martin - https://ecscw2017.org.uk/2017/02/21/announcing-the-david-b-martin-best-paper-award/

Charlotte Lee - https://www.hcde.washington.edu/lee

Liam Bannon - http://www.idc.ul.ie/people/liam-bannon/

Daniela Petrelli - https://www.linkedin.com/in/daniela-petrelli-518b1658

Fabiano Pinatti - http://www.wineme.uni-siegen.de/en/team/pinatti/

‘Cats in the cradle’ lyrics - https://genius.com/Harry-chapin-cats-in-the-cradle-lyrics

Nomadic Work Life project - https://luiginaciolfi.net/projects/

Managing Technology Around Work and Life project - https://techworkandlife.wordpress.com/

Choosing an Academic Publication Venue: A Short Guide for Beginners - https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CcqRitAeUEuTJRiGAtWSPFVDoJZh7JAz/view

Reflections on 2017 & creating kinder better work cultures

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As with the end on 2016, this is a short podcast (18:58) where I reflect on the year that has been. (Does this make it a tradition now?) I also add my call to increasing compassion and kindness in the workplace and discuss the benefits of doing this and various options for how to play it out.

I would also love to hear your feedback and  ideas for what and who you want to hear about in future podcasts:

            Email: gerifitz at changingacademiclife.com  or Twitter: @ChangeAcadLife

Wishing all of us a balanced, authentic, vibrant, joy-filled academic life for 2018, whatever that may mean for each of us!

Related links:

Kylie Ball's blogpost on making kindness the next academic disruption: https://happyacademic.wordpress.com/2017/12/06/lets-make-kindness-the-next-academic-disruption/

Book: ‘Awakening compassion at work’ by Monika Worline and Jane Dutton: https://www.amazon.com/Awakening-Compassion-Work-Elevates-Organizations/dp/1626564450

Compassionate management: https://hbr.org/2013/09/the-rise-of-compassionate-management-finally

Random Acts of Kindness: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/random-acts-of-kindness.htm

Chancellor et al, 2016. The propagation of everyday prosociality in the workplace. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439760.2016.1257055; Chancellor et al 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28581323

TedX TU Wien "The craziness of research funding. It costs us all": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66_DRDYJz4g

Michael Muller on principled engagements, value tensions, liking people & giving back

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Michael Muller is a researcher at IBM Research in Cambridge MA. We cover a lot in this conversation, Michael reflects on his long PhD process in cognitive science, long in part because of chronic diseases that he still deals with. He talks about the decision to move to industry and his experiences working in various industry positions since then, including interpreting participatory design methods for a North American industry context, finding out he wasn’t suited to management, and loving the work he is doing now. A theme across many of the stories is the tension arising from navigating organisational demands and his own deeply held values, and throughout you can hear his deep care for people.

Work in any organisation involves some kind compromise of principle at one time or another.”  

“I’m a white American boy, got all this honour and privilege, let’s do something constructive with it.”

“Mentoring very quickly becomes two ways.”

“I like the work I’m doing, I love the people I’m working with. And it’s work I can hold my head up about. It’s work that I’m thinking is making good kinds of changes. That’s a good life.”

“That’s the core spiritual practice… Take care of people… be in relationships in which we are exchanging affection and support.”

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:30 Introducing his cognitive psychology background and now working in a research organisation in industry (IBM), scored like academics, managed by objective and the processes in trying to get criteria for preferred publication venues changed; cushioning of researchers in the organisation

07:30 Discussing reasons for his 9 year PhD – two chronic diseases, costs money, working part-time, and moving across parts of Psychology Dept at Rutgers

09:15 Going to work in an industry organisation straight after, seeing academic psychologists not very happy, story of his role model Mark Altan (?) who was dedicated to teaching, received a teaching award which he was told was a ‘kiss of death’, told not going to get tenure, and went to work at Bell Labs. Michael lost his role model. A shearing between surface and deep values – “Didn’t fancy being in an academic environment in which each time I wanted to do something kind or considerate or useful for students I would be jeopardising myself”. Advisor told him “Michael you will have to learn to be a mediocre instructor like the rest of us” because he was being too dedicated to students. So he went into industry, thinking industry jobs were relatively stable compared to not getting tenure.

13:55 After finishing degree with 4 hours to spare, finished winter at uni as a research assistant then took his first job at IBM in Charlotte NC but was not the place then as it is now. Within months, the choice was stark, he could stay at IBM or stay married – he chose love and found some way to get them out. Spouse depressed at isolation. Then went to Bellcore for 8 years.

16:13 Sometime was in Seattle for a CHI conference, went to Participatory Design Conference nearby, first one in North America and “got religion”! A year later he began to think with two colleagues about how to adapt participatory design (PD) to the American context (though says Susanne Bodker still doesn’t think it was Scandinavian PD); became the existence proof this could work in industry. Industry attention span is brief so they shortened PD methods down to less than 60 mins and conducted a series of conversion experiments. Glory days. They were revelations to people. Showed it was fun, information rich. Local management in Bellcore got it. But then baby Bellcores started taking each other over.

20:30 He was doing something pioneering in North American industry context, had thought they were following the Scandinavian model, but with modifications for industry attention span and culturally had to make changes, mostly by intuition, mostly got it right. Said ‘workplace democracy’ over and over again but sometimes got push back and this probably delayed their promotions.

22:55 Eventually made the mistake of trying to get a promotion when at Microsoft and within 10 months Microsoft and manager explained what a bad mistake that was! He was given a performance improvement plan – could see it was designed to be non-survivable and the criteria for success were not well spelt out so he could be fired at any time without protections. Accepted that judgement and went away.

24:30 Had moved from New Jersey because of spouse at the time found her spiritual life in nature, and a job came up in US West Advanced Technologies in Boulder Colorado – called Terry Roberts (manager) about it, moved there. A different kind of job, interviewing telephone operators to help them lose their job but was also able to show they were doing important knowledge work. CHI 1995 presentation explaining this (link). But he was deemed by management to have helped the wrong side.

27:10 He talks of observing operators’ work in a bunch of places, their work being monitored by management, the tension of having sympathies with the workers but reporting to management. He reflects on having just listened to Mark Ackermann talk at ECSCW17 about the far right organising on the internet. He was helping management use technology to displace labour. Principles in a grey area. Lost sleep over it. “I’d say work in any organisation involves some kind compromise of principle at one time or another.” Making it an explicit topic of conversation.

30:55 Eventually his work supported using technology to reduce operators so not a clean story. “A politically pure person would have walked away from that job.” Tells Arnie Lund’s story when he worked in a ‘doomed organisation’ and was made to lay people off then lay himself off -because they knew he would hate it and knew he would do it with care for the people. That was their gift to the employees. “So I tried to do things with care […] but at the same time I was hopelessly compromised. That’s the life in an organisation.” Thinks it also happens in academia. “If we work in organisations, organisations have their own logic and it’s a little bit more reptilian, cold blooded, than the logic that most of us bring to each other.”

33:50 Continuing to work in industry contexts, for family reasons. Discusses options for moving to academia. Currently has an unpaid academic role at Wellesley College. Paying back white male privilege. If could find a way to increase work in academia without letting people down (the only social scientist now in his group) he would do it. Mentors students in internships.

37:45 Doing mentoring, “I’m a white American boy, got all this honour and privilege, let’s do something constructive with it.”, can open doors, and ongoing relationship with students/mentees. Has roughly same job title as started with 1984 because he tried the ‘manager thing’ at Microsoft and it didn’t work. Managing not his skill set but can mentor, also has friends who are female, LGBTQ, native American, etc, and can understand he has had a blessed life so helping to open doors for others. An ongoing mentoring relationship but also responsibility of person to walk through the door. But opening the door an important first step.

40:40 Discusses doctoral consortium and career development workshop mentoring experiences. “Our own failures are an important part of what we bring to those.” Some about careers. And it’s thinking together. “Mentoring very quickly becomes two ways.”. Gives example of Shion Guha. Reflects on internship mentoring and transitioning to peers/colleagues.

45:55 What is keeping him excited at work? Asked by IBM to work on employee engagement. Doing engagement surveys, find out if there are issues, do an intervention in Jan, but can be too late in next Nov to find out if it worked. So trying to use data from IBM’s thriving social media ecosystems (Bernard Geyers, David Millen’s work) but first attempts didn’t work; now fixed and can get monthly reports. So can describe, predict and now into fixing it by gathering ideas to increase engagement. Making the experience of work a better experience, and helps the organisation. It’s fulfilling.

52:56 Other part of job is to help IBM think about leadership position in AI and ethics. Collaboration with Vera Lia0, bringing qualitative methods. Returning to some participatory themes and design fictions and value sensitive design to explore.

54:56 Navigating long working hours. “Our work could expand to cover every waking moment that we have and then cause us to have more waking moments. We all have to work out work family balance.” Talks about current partner and “supporting each other as they both over work” and her passion for justice, where both are “trying to make positive change in the world, make up for the good stuff we’ve got”. And the work content is extremely interesting. “I like the work I’m doing, I love the people I’m working with. And it’s work I can hold my head up about. It’s work that I’m thinking is making good kinds of changes. That’s a good life.”

59:00 How he maintains his health and wellbeing? “I love people that’s a very healthy thing to do.” “That’s the core spiritual practice… Take care of people… It is to be in relationships in which we are exchanging affection and support.”

1:01:03 End

Related Links:

Michael Muller - http://researcher.watson.ibm.com/researcher/view.php?person=us-michael_muller

Wendy Kellogg - http://researcher.watson.ibm.com/researcher/view.php?person=us-wkellogg

Scott Robertson podcast - https://changingacademiclife.com/blog/2017/7/27/scott-robertson

Susanne Bødker - http://pure.au.dk/portal/en/persons/id(87d4fbb6-b38c-449e-b87d-59f693b7d6f0).html

Terry Roberts - http://terroberts.home.mindspring.com/IntDesUAPortfolio/index.html

Mark Ackermann - https://www.si.umich.edu/people/mark-ackerman

Arnie Lund - https://www.linkedin.com/in/arnielund

Shion Guha – https://www.shionguha.net

David Millen - http://researcher.watson.ibm.com/researcher/view.php?person=us-david_r_millen

Matt Davis - http://researcher.ibm.com/researcher/view.php?person=us-davismat

Vera Liao - http://qveraliao.com

Wellesley College - http://cs.wellesley.edu/~oshaer/index.html

CHI conference - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conference_on_Human_Factors_in_Computing_Systems

Participatory Design Conference - https://pdc2018.org/about-pdc/

Usability Professionals Association - https://uxpa.org

CHI95 paper: Telephone operators as knowledge workers: consultants who meet customer needs - https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=223904.223921

Human Computer Interaction Consortium - https://hcic.org/hcic2018/index.phtml

Value Sensitive Design - http://www.vsdesign.org