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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full Transcript- click here

She talks about (times approximate) …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

47:28 The wall sits.

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

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

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

1:10:07 End 

Related Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A lot of academics mistake seriousness with excellence.”

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

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

Overview:

01:30 Background

09:00 Changing challenges of academic life

16:45 Key learnings getting to full professor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing challenges of academic life

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

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

Key learnings getting to full professor

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

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

Values, purpose, meaning and the promotion processes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Turning the lens back to academia?]

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

[Doing that for each other too?]

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

01:14:43 End

Related Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book & Papers:

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

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

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

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

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/

 

Rafael Calvo on technology and choices for mental health and well being

Rafael A. Calvo is an ARC Future Fellow, Professor and Director of the Positive Computing Lab  at the University of Sydney. He is also a co-author with Dorian Peters of the book, Positive Computing, published by MIT Press. Rafael describes a fascinating academic journey that spans physics, philosophy, computer science, and cognitive and affective computing. He talks about his current work on Positive Computing and designing technology to support people’s mental health and well being. He also shares experiences in managing his own mental health and well being, that includes some great tips.

“[a setback] was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me”

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:42 His current work and his varied career path – “sometimes they seem disconnected but there is a very strong thread in the middle”

08:30 His work on Positive Computing technologies, impacts of technology on people’s mental health, challenges of email

10:00 Responsibility to design so that we don’t hinder people’s health and well being, changing the mindset of designers to look beyond productivity … with examples eg the psychological benefits of effort in endorsements

14:45 Engaging with psychology theories and working with psychologists and interdisciplinary partnerships

19:18 Looking after his own mental health and well being and the impact of too much travel

20:50 Learning to say no, how you decide what to say yes/no to, email strategies, choosing admin work he can contribute what other people can’t, exaggerated risks of saying no as a young academic

26:56 Looking for opportunities where he doesn’t have technology, blocking times without interruptions, and more strategies

29:40 Keeping use of devices for work and home separate

35:10 End

Final notes:

Book: Calvo and Peters, ‘Positive Computing’, MIT Press 2014 - https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/positive-computing

Book: Wulf, Schmidt and Randall (eds) ‘Designing Socially Embedded Technologies in the Real World’, Springer 2015 - http://www.springer.com/us/book/9781447167198

Time Management software: RescueTime  - https://www.rescuetime.com

Paper: Cox et al, Design Frictions for Mindful Interactions: the case for Microboundaries, CHI EA 16 - https://uclic.ucl.ac.uk/content/4-publications/0-design-frictions-for-mindful-interactions-the-case-for-microboundaries/cox.chi.2016.pdf 

Video: Brad Feld on tech and well being - http://www.positivecomputing.org/2016/04/brad-feld-on-tech-wellbeing.html