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/

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

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.

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/