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How do you actually do it?

(30 Posts)
FarmerGilesRockfordFiles Thu 05-Oct-17 10:36:54

I'm really struggling to see how to actually fit everything in and wondered how others do it.

I'm a lecturer. I can cope with my teaching and administration workload- I run two modules, contribute guest lectures to another couple of modules and have a medium-sized administration role.

However everything involved in my teaching and administration workload (teaching preparation, actual teaching, academic advising, PhD supervision, my administration role, attending department meetings) basically takes me my full working week and more leaving me no time for writing publications or grant applications.

I try to get these things done over summer but teaching tends to creep in plus I actually want some time off so I end up achieving far less that I'd hoped to. I've almost completely given up on writing grants because I just can't find the time.

I feel as though the only solution is to stop giving as much time/attention to teaching and PhD supervision but I find these the most rewarding parts of my job and I don't subscribe to the underlying idea of this that research is more important than teaching (though I know it is for promotion purposes).

Another option is to just start working 20 hours a day, 7 days a week though I'm not convinced this would work particularly well.

So, I'm interested in how others manage to juggle all of the expectations that are placed on us? I'm in my early 30s and looking at the next 40 years of working life in academia sad so I need to get good practice in place now!

IHeartDodo Thu 05-Oct-17 16:30:28

Sadly I think the answer is to spend less effort on teaching!
How much time do you spend preparing sessions? After the first year about 15 mins per hour of teaching is probably reasonable...
Or you could do what one of my supervisors does and just disappear from your office for a couple of days a week so nobody knows where you are!

IHeartDodo Thu 05-Oct-17 16:31:20

Or what a former supervisor did: push your phd students to do loads of experiements and publish lots, then make sure your name goes on it first...

murmuration Thu 05-Oct-17 20:02:55

Prioritise. Get more efficient. Learn to be satisified with 'good enough'.

Academics simply have too much to do. This is why they are infamous for not responding, being late on things, etc. I don't have an answer, because no matter how much you do there will always be something you've not completed or not completed as well as you want.

Dealing with my complete mess of an inbox and non-existent filing system for notes, I sense that had I got an organisation system going and stuck with it, I'd be doing better on the efficiency right now. (actually, not entirely my fault - Uni made everyone change email and I had lovely organisation system that was incompatible with the new system; unfortunately what I should have done at that point was prioritise getting a new system in place, but I didn't, instead teaching, writing grants, papers, etc., and now I'm struggling to pick up the pieces 5 years later...) So perhaps the lesson there is make sure you include prioritising organisation.

I also feel that teaching is important, and I do put a lot of effort into that and my students. But I also write 'good enough' grants for the long shots, and polished grants for the 'I'll have a chance'.

Also - think about 'non-urgent, important' tasks - are you keeping your CV up to date? You don't want to spend days updating that (and proofreading to make sure you haven't forgotten anything) when you suddenly need one for a grant proposal, or something else. Taking the minutes to type in a new paper or a new talk when it happens is more efficient than trying to remember later. Are you gathering little things that will be useful for promotion - like a file with good student feedback? (I'm not quite doing these things - but I know from how much time it takes me to remember and do it later, that when I do manage to do it on time it is so much better). And similar.

Summerswallow Thu 05-Oct-17 20:07:07

It sounds like you don't have sabbaticals. We still do, ok only every few years, but they have been invaluable for me to catch my breath, and I've found that having just one term out of teaching allows me to at least start writing grants or papers in a way that then allows the momentum to continue. I've also put in grants that aren't huge in monetary value (under £100,000) but buy you out of teaching for a while- depends on your area but there's quite a few fellowship schemes that do similar. This all assumes you work somewhere which will genuinely allow you to buy yourself out and/or might have a sabbatical, even if it is every few years. If you don't work in such a place, then you have to conclude they want you to slog away at teaching making yourself exhausted- and perhaps then think of other ways around the problem.

Summerswallow Thu 05-Oct-17 20:09:12

Plus teaching prep takes me no time at all- once you have stable courses, which is the key thing, to get your allotted courses and stick with them. After that, once you have written the course the first year, there's little to do - the odd bit of updating, I glance at the lecture notes on the way to the lecture, but I in no way spend time preparing once I'm 2/3 years in. don't print anything for students, little to organize. That's where being in the job a while pays off.

GiantSteps Thu 05-Oct-17 21:24:41

I cut a lot of corners on teaching, but I've been doing it for 25 years. I'm an excellent teacher and I know my stuff. I think sometimes spending all one's time on teaching is an elaborate avoidance of research writing.

For me, it's the writing - or the not-writing so I need 3 days a week to do it regularly. I do most of my teaching and admin in 3 days and research in the other 3 days.

highinthesky Thu 05-Oct-17 21:28:46

Or what a former supervisor did: push your phd students to do loads of experiements and publish lots, then make sure your name goes on it first...

Classic byline banditry. No one does it like a professor, though.

user918273645 Thu 05-Oct-17 21:30:18

You need to cut down the time you spend on teaching and admin, and ring fence quality time for research. One way to do this is to prepare teaching/catch up on admin towards the end of the day or in the evening.

With teaching and admin, you also need to switch to an attitude of "good enough".

Also turn down things that aren't valued by your institution and won't help you. Be as ruthless as many of your colleagues are being.

Staying with the same courses for a while is good advice. It's also not bad for the students - you get to know the material very well - until you get stale at delivering the same courses over and over.

murmuration Fri 06-Oct-17 07:02:53

Plus teaching prep takes me no time at all- once you have stable courses

I just had to laugh at this - it only works if your dept doesn't keep shuffling the courses! They can't leave well enough alone. I don't think I've managed to teach the same material more than 3 years in a row.

And your field changing doesn't help either, but at least there are a some specific features that you know will need updating each year, not wholesale creation of new lectures on new topics. Sigh.

try2hard Fri 06-Oct-17 07:50:05

Get bulshy about timetabling so your teaching is condensed onto 1-2 days, do all admin and teaching prep in evenings, stick to office hours for students - if they drop by out of office hours tell them you're not available to talk, come back in office hours. Don't do committees etc that aren't valued, start saying no to more things. Be realistic about what you can get done each term.

FarmerGilesRockfordFiles Fri 06-Oct-17 08:02:29

Thanks for all the responses.

I do have two stable modules where teaching prep takes very little time.

However, we've repeatedly been absolutely destroyed in the NSS over modules so we've introduced a few new ones this year that require everyone to contribute a set of brand new lectures. Also, the university are getting fucked off with our repeatedly awful NSS scores and have demanded a fundamental re-shuffle of our honours-level modules. This will take time and will mean more new teaching materials to prepare.

My teaching is all condensed into two days, which is great but it can be hard to pick up a paper knowing you've only got a day or two to work on it before it's another manic teaching day.

We do have sabbaticals and I've had one since I started my job (four years ago) and due another one soon. Unfortunately, they're only one term long and we're still expected to do PhD supervision during them. By the time you've caught your breath and had a bit of AL you're already a week into the nine-week sabbatical, then you can take a few days out for PhD supervisions and general faffery and the long stretch of pure research time is suddenly starting to look, instead, like a manic six week cram.

The advice about being just good enough is great, thanks. I am a perfectionist (sorry, very cliche) and I know I spend far too long polishing papers and lectures that really don't need it.

FarmerGilesRockfordFiles Fri 06-Oct-17 08:04:22

I also really value the advice to start saying 'no' to things. I've really struggled with this in the past and have ended up with a massive PhD supervision load and sitting on a couple of committees that I don't want to be on.

I'm going to email today and step down from the committees.

I have worked hard to take a bit of a step back from PhD supervision this year but a couple of my students are very, very needy.

Summerswallow Fri 06-Oct-17 08:08:24

If you can, take your sabbatical in the second term, so from Jan to March, that's what I do, so then you run into the summer and have most of a year off. You can request that at our institution and I've really enjoyed having the more prolonged time off.

If I were preparing new lectures to satisfy the NSS (ours were dire too, perhaps everyones were dire! we were usually good NSS performers but the uni doesn't want to admit that cramming in more students, more pressure on the library, bigger teaching classes etc might be the reason so is tinkering around the edges as if it's the teaching at fault even though our TEF was gold standard!) I would spend very little time on it indeed.

If you are doing two days teaching, one day prep/recovering, that's still two days a week, plus say a half day on weekends (perhaps 8-2 on Sat/Sun if you want to work weekends, if you don't so be it) that could be used to sustain research- not necessarily start papers or grants from scratch, but definitely keep going anything you start in the next sabbatical.

Summerswallow Fri 06-Oct-17 08:10:42

If the students are needy- discuss this with them, say you are in your third year now, I cannot see you every week and that's too much as you need to be moving towards independent study etc, I'd like to see a draft of chapter one in a month's time, email it to me. Sometimes they seem to think you should be doing the intellectual work for them and coming to you is a substitute for their own lone working- stop this now and tell them how it is going to be. I did this with a needy student and they did eventually fly the nest a bit more (and got a job as an independent researcher, though I doubt they'll make an academic career out of it).

diodati Fri 06-Oct-17 08:10:54

Could you drop the admin role or reassign it? I take it you’re already tenured...

FarmerGilesRockfordFiles Fri 06-Oct-17 08:22:32

I can't really have sabbatical in Jan-March (though would love it) because I teach a short/fat module over this term which can't be moved to term 1 or dropped. I'll see what I can do but I suspect the answer will be no.

I'm not trying to perfect teaching for NSS, what I meant was that our teaching loads are going to increase with new modules being put on to address our dire NSS.

summerswallow Yes, I'm going to have to I think. I also need to make better use of second supervisors (all students have two supervisors).

Yes, already have permenant post.

Summerswallow Fri 06-Oct-17 08:31:43

You sound too nice. Stop being so nice! Fewer committees, help but don't over-enable your PhD students, work out the core of what you want to achieve paper/grant wise and drop all the activities that aren't that (e.g. book reviews, papers that aren't doing this, favours for people, non-ref-able books). Then do that in the time you have. You will feel much better for streamlining everything. At the moment, the committees and PhD students are getting the best of you and you aren't getting the concentrated time to think...

FarmerGilesRockfordFiles Fri 06-Oct-17 08:35:29

grin I've been told before that I'm too nice (too nice basically meaning a fucking push-over)

GiantSteps Fri 06-Oct-17 10:43:07

Needy PhD students need pulling up very short. I do the big "This s what independence means" at the start of their third year. I tell them that once they have a PhD, technically, that qualifies them to supervise other people's PhDs. That shocks them. I tell them that they will now set their own deadlines, and let me know when they want me to read something, and that I need a minimum of a week to read a chapter draft, and a month to read more than that, and they need to factor that in to their scheduling.

We work a lot on scheduling throughout supervisory process, so they have a model for how to do it. But by the 3rd year, I expect them to take the lead in the process.

try2hard Fri 06-Oct-17 15:24:57

You'll need to get better at picking up papers for an hour or so in between things, even if it's just writing one paragraph you can edit later it will progress things

murmuration Fri 06-Oct-17 20:06:15

Or keep a list of things you can do in a short period of time. When I'm doing well, I've got one of these - I can do a literature search in 10-20 minute spurts, even if I need a few hours to sit down and actually read through the papers and understand them.

Marasme Sat 07-Oct-17 10:44:07

your teaching is condensed AND you have access to sabbaticals? you are in a pretty good position, so will probably need to implement a few tricks and the rest will follow

1 - good is always good enough
2 - NSS: have you done some student engagement to find out what "they" want? are all the extra lectures actually required?
3 - PhDs - do you hold documented monthly meetings and weekly informal meetings with them? do you have a group meeting? I see mine once a week at gp meeting, the senior students mentor the junior ones, we have weekly informals, and monthly formals - all with targets. Out of these times, it needs to be super critical for me to see them (or for me to be procrastinating, which is another topic). We also use social media platform as a group comm tool

but even with the best tricks in the book, everyone I know on a research and teaching contract work through nights and WE....

20nil Sat 07-Oct-17 10:48:44

Took me a long time, but I finally learned to say no to outrageous requests. Still too busy but changed my life. Also, put down clear lines when meeting new graduate students. Tell them how often you want to meet and how many drafts you’re prepared to read. I have colleagues who see PHd students every week or fortnight! That’s crazy.

RaindropsAndSparkles Sat 07-Oct-17 10:56:36

Module 36 hours plus 36 for prep and marking so 144 over 24 weeks. In those 24 weeks there are a total of 840 hours. Additionally there are another 500-600 hours depending on the workload model plus about seven weeks of paid holiday.

I think if promotion is an aim then in your 30's a 50 hour week is standard in most professions in order to achieve a Chair or director/partnership - often more for the driven.

I still think that academia is as flexible as it gets and the "family years" allow a bit of coasting.

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