Social media for academics

Earlier this week Steven Hamblin wrote a blog post requesting help as he develops a presentation on social media use in Academia.  This has prompted me to put a presentation up on Slideshare; one that is related closely to this topic. This presentation was something I put together back in March, and looking further back, it evolved from discussions with my PhD student Crystal Ernst, and from a presentation given at the Entomological Society of Canada’s annual conference last autumn.  It’s far from perfect, a bit outdated now, but hopefully contains some useful information. Enjoy! (and please share and comment!).


Expiscor (6 May 2013)

Welcome to May! Expiscor is still going strong, and thanks to everyone for the continued support and interest. I’m certainly thrilled about this, and will continue to post weekly links about entomology, arachnology, natural history, biology and a dash of the curious and odd.

  • Silk farming and biotechnology: the future is here. This paper describes some things that I don’t fully understand, and I am partially fascinated by, and partially terrified about, the idea (anyone read Margaret Atwood‘s book, Oryx & Crake?).
  • On the death of a bug blog? Ted MacRae posts about waning interest by readers, and perhaps by him, with his fabulous Beetles in the Bush blog. Ted will keep posting (phew!) but less regularly. Actually, I have noticed that over the past six months or so quite a few bug blogs have been less active.  This saddens me – high quality entomology blogs are an important way for this discipline to reach a wide audience.  Come on, folks – keep them going!
  • Palpal action. and check out this stunning photo from Chthoniid!  Yes, Harvestmen are among the most lovely of the Arachnida.
A charming harvestmen. © Chthoniid, reproduced here with permission.

A charming harvestmen. © Chthoniid, reproduced here with permission.

  • Worried about the decline of bees and colony collapse disorder?  Read this –> an important message (thanks Bug Girl for posting this)
  • On-line reading – I have been enjoying Nautilus this past week. Here’s their motto: “Nautilus is a different kind of science magazine. We deliver big-picture science by reporting on a single monthly topic from multiple perspectives. Read a new chapter in the story every Thursday”.  Definitely one to follow. And it’s a lovely site to look at.
  • Avoid that mumbo-jumbo.  Here’s Alan Alda’s take on scientific jargon.  Here’s a great quote from him:  “There’s no reason for the jargon when you’re trying to communicate the essence of the science to the public because you’re talking what amounts to gibberish to them“.  He’s right.
  • Think you’r a pretty big deal? What to think about your place in the Universe? Think again. (thanks Sam Heads for tweeting that link!)
  • Kids have an interesting fashion sense. Here’s a photo of my 9 year old, en route to school.  I wish we could all worry a little less about whether or not things might clash, and just be happy that we have clothes to wear and food to eat.
Fashion. That is all.

Fashion. That is all.

  • Unless you’ve been off the grid for months, you have probably heard of the great Canadian Chris Hadfield, up on the International Space Station. He and Barenaked Ladies frontman Ed Robertson teamed up a while ago to write and perform a song (yes, Chris was in SPACE during the recording). Well, this was all leading up to MUSIC MONDAY, which is today. A fabulous celebration about music – all the details are here.  And the video of the Hadfield/Robertson song is below. Worth a listen.
  • ….on a related note, Chris Hadfield has more twitter followers than Canada’s Prime Minster (and for good reason).

Ten fun facts about Daddy Longlegs

Animals with many names: Harvestmen, Daddy longlegs, Shepherd Spiders, Grandfather Greybeard, Phalangids, Opiliones.

Cousins of other Arachnids, but an Order all to their own.   Over the past 11 months, I’ve been on a journal of discovery about these amazing creatures.

After nearly 300 tweets, and over 600 pages of text in Pinto-da-Rocha et al.’s book on Harvestmen, the Opiliones Project (in the way it was originally conceived) is over.  To recap – this was a twitter-based project in which I shared content from that weighty textbook with anyone who cared to follow along (using the hashtag #OpilionesProject).  Many folks followed along, notably my twitter friends Derek Hennen, Jaden Walker, Matthew Cobb, and many, many others…

A lovely Harvestmen - photo by B. Valentine, reproduced here with permission

A lovely Harvestmen – photo by B. Valentine, reproduced here with permission

I learned a lot along the way – and will take this opportunity to highlight ten fun facts about Harvestmen – all of these were part of the Opiliones Project.

Did you know that…

1. Salvador Dali featured Harvestmen in his work!  It’s true – check it out: “Daddy Longlegs of the Evening

2. Harvestmen can breath through their legs!  Spiracles in harvestmen are located just posterior to the coxae of the 4th pair of legs and this supply of oxygen to Harvestmen legs (e.g., after they are removed) contributes to the duration of twitching

3. Harvestmen have been around for at least 400 million years!  Phenominal!  And Harvestmen from the Rynie chert have an extensive tracheal system – the oldest record of such tubes of ANY arthropod

4. Harvestmen are NOT venomous! They don’t have venom glands!  A common urban myth.

5. Over 60 chemical compounds have been isolated from Harvestmen secretions (e.g., the secretions that are often used in chemical defense)

6.  At least a dozen species of Harvestmen are known to be parthenogenetic (females lay eggs that produce only females)!

7.  Harvestmen often show aggregation behavior, and the largest aggregation recorded is 70,000 individuals on a candelabrum cactus!

8. Unlike other Arachnids, Harvestmen males have a penis!

9. In some Harvestmen species, males use their chelicerae to offer oral secretion to female – a type of nuptial gift!

10. In some species, Harvestment moult even after they are have reached adulthood!

So there you have it.  Many fascinating and fun facts about Harvestmen (and there are many, many more) – you can access all the tweets from the Opiliones Project here (all 24 pages of them).

There were some other notable Harvestmen events over the past year, and it was fortunate this project coincided with these events.  For example, the Taxonomy Hulk burst onto the scene, and highlighted an article depicting a mix-up between a spider and a Harvestmen (a common mistake…).  Also, a truly HUGE harvestmen species was discovered – this sucker had a 13 inch legspan.  As May Berenbaum said over twitter…that’s a Daddy Loooooonglegs!

So, to finish – a big THANK YOU to everyone who followed along.  I hope this project was a fun for you as it was for me.

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Another lovely Harvestmen, photo by B. Valentine, reproduced here with permission.

A special thanks to Brian Valentine for permission to use his Harvestmen photos on this blog!

Careful what you say in lecture: a tale of tweets, ice-storms in Quebec, and population ecology

While discussing age pyramids in my ecology class last week, I mentioned that there was a mini baby-boom in Quebec following the 1998 ice storm. In other words, after an extended period of time without electricity, more babies were conceived.  This is one of those ‘urban myth‘ stories for which I had no data to actually discuss whether this was fact or fiction, but it was mildly amusing, and certainly related to the discussion we were having about population ecology and the effect of the baby-boom generation on Canadian demographics.

I expected this story to stop there, but a savvy student in my lecture tweeted what I had said (yes, there are definitely pros and cons of being an active participant in social media, including twitter).  I was being called out, publicly, about my casual comment in lecture.  This forced me to look to the data and test my hypothesis that the birth rate in Quebec may have been higher after the ice storm of 1998.

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Data required?  Yearly population estimates of areas affected by the ice storm (i.e., numbers of females), and number of births in these regions.

Thankfully, these data were readily available.  However, not all data were tabulated in the same way by geographic region in the Province.  This meant that I had to narrow down the region to just the island of Montreal (thankfully one of the more populated parts of the province).    I took the number of births, divided by the number of females to get a per-capita rate of births per female per year in Montreal, and I looked at the years from 1997 through to 2000.

I predicted that if my hypothesis was true, birth rates would be higher in late 1998, therefore if data were collected properly, the ‘boom’ in births would likely be in that year (…or possibly in 1999).

Here are the results:

1997: 0.012 (babies born / female)

1998: 0.012 (babies born / female)

1999: 0.011 (babies born / female)

2000: 0.011 (babies born / female)

So, the data do not support the hypothesis that the ice storm resulted in a higher rate of births in Montreal.

Caveats?  There are a lot.  I have made quite a few assumptions, and my methods are partially flawed… I do expect students in my class to think about this…

Two other points to mention:

First, while searching for information about population-level effects of the ice storm, I came across a McGill press release about how babies born during the ice storm may be stressed later in life – Interesting!  And also somewhat counterintuitive to what I originally proposed in lecture.

Second, (and less related), we must be wary of these myths – they pop up all over the place (e.g. increase in births after the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey?), but without a more detailed look at the data, we must be careful what we say.  Thankfully the urban myth about mini-baby booms and power outages are debunked with some regularity.

In sum, I learned an important lesson. Careful what you say in lecture.

…and thank you to my student who forced me to look more carefully into the story of the ‘ice storm babies’

Good things come from blog posts

I often tell colleagues, friends, and students about the value of social media, and a lot has been written on the topic.  In my own experience, however, many of the examples are intangible, and certainly aren’t easily touted as a scholarly activity within a traditional Academic framework.  I was, therefore, quite pleased that Canada’s Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) picked up one of my blog posts last year and I was able to rework it and publish it in their Fall newsletter.

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This is a real honour, as the STLHE has a vision statement that I can get behind:

“STLHE strives to be the pre-eminent national voice, and a world leader, for enhancing teaching and learning in higher education. STLHE supports research, its dissemination, increased awareness, and application of research through scholarly teaching and learning”

This goes to show you that sometimes really good things can come from blog posts.

(I do hope my colleagues will come to recognize this)

Keep on blogging!  It’s worth it.

We need the Taxonomy Hulk

The Taxonomy Hulk burst onto twitter yesterday. We need superheroes like Taxonomy Hulk. As his/her alter ego, s/he surfs the internet, working away as a taxonomist, doing things that taxonomists do – describing species, inferring their evolutionary relationships, discovering their natural history. However, if s/he spots a taxonomic mistake on a website, news story, scientific article, or blog – LOOK OUT. The Hulk goes through an impressive metamophosis. S/he gets mad and gets even. If you make a taxonomic mistake, you will be shamed. Message: DON’T MAKE A #TAXONOMYFAIL. Taxonomy Hulk points out misidentifications in images (e.g., see this website with a Harvestmen instead of a spider.. oops [although a common mistake]).

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Taxonomy Hulk reminds us to use Latin names, not common names.

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Taxonomy Hulk is also funny. We need humour – every day.

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On a slightly more serious note: correct taxonomy is critically important. Other posts (e.g., see here or here) have pointed out taxonomic failures – and I especially like Bug Girl’s Flickr set!. One letter difference in Miridae (a family of plant bugs) gets you to Muridae (rodents and their relatives) – yeah those two are just a bit different. As an ecologist (although one with envy of taxonomists, and one in awe of the work taxonomists do!), I admit that I am perhaps not as careful as I should be when it comes to checking nomenclature, or ensuring spelling is always correct. I try – but given that my training is not in taxonomy, I surely make mistakes. I fear that some ecologists appreciate the importance of sound taxonomy even less than I do, and we need a watchdog. Reminders about correct taxonomy are a good idea. Taxonomy Hulk reminds us that we must be clear in what we are saying, whether it be in science journalism, writing a blog post, or working on a scientific paper.

Taxonomy Hulk is a concept not a person and this is a good thing: the humour and fun and ‘alter ego’ perspective is non-threatening, and allows taxonomic issues to be brought into the open easily and effectively. We can fix our mistakes, smile about it, and move forward.

Thank you Taxonomy Hulk. (and yes, you should follow Taxonomy Hulk on twitter)

I finish by stating that Taxonomy Hulk’s ‘regular’ persona (the Bruce Banner) is known to some of us (and s/he’s an incredibly competent taxonomist!, and a super-nice person).

But I’ll keep it quiet – it’s better that way.

Reflections: how social media has changed my life

About a year ago I started to write blog posts regularly – this was partially because I was invited to give a talk on social media in Academia at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of Canada (held this past November).   It was around the same time that I started using Twitter more regularly.  Up until that point, I was a casual user of twitter, and did not understand it.

After one year, I can sum up my feeling about blogging, twitter and social media in one word:  exhilarating.

Writing regular blog posts has changed my professional life.  It has allowed me to hone my skills as a writer, and learn to write in a different way – a way that attempts to bring science to a broader audience – an audience beyond the walls of the University in which I work.  An audience that is articulate, intelligent, interested, engaging, and passionate.  Writing blog posts has forced me to articulate clearly about my research, and to think about what I do as a scientist, and why I work on small, obscure animals.  It helps me think about the sort of advice I might give to graduate students, whether it be reviewing papers or thinking about how to succeed as a Professor.

I have learned that there is an incredible community “out there” and this community has something to offer.  I can now keep track of key happenings in science by following Malcolm Campbell, Ed Yong, Carl Zimmer, and others.  I can learn about Higher Education in Canada by paying attention to Melonie Fullick, and I can learn more about my own University thanks to McGill’s amazing twitter feed.  I can learn about Entomology around the globe, and take part in  inspired,  meaningful (and sometimes hilarious) conversations with new friends and colleagues including Morgan Jackson, Derek Hennen, Dr. Dez, Chris MacQuarrie, Bug Girlthe Bug Chicks, Crystal Ernst, Alex Wild, and many more….  These interactions are barrier-free.  It doesn’t matter if the conversations are among Professors and undergraduate students, or with high school studentsIt’s about keeping the conversations relevant, of high quality, and respectful.

I now have new colleagues from different countries – colleagues that I now collaborate with, including Graham Scott in the UK – he and I share many similar ideas about the value of field work in University courses.  Or Leslie Brunetta – she and I are now discussing neat ways to take spider silk research into new areas. Social media has also changed how I teach, and using blogs and twitter in the classroom has allowed students to see value in their course work that goes beyond the classroom. My undergraduate students tell me that they feel their University education is more valuable when they can interact with other experts.

Writing blog posts allow me another way to share my passion for all things Arachnida, from spiders to Opiliones and Pseudoscorpions.  Yes, our eight-legged friends are awesome, whether they are on your ceiling, in your windowsills, or living on the tundra. Social media has allowed me to write about things that I write about anyway – I am constantly answering emails about spiders, whether it be identification help, or general queries about venomous spiders.  By writing a blog post about these topics, (including “spiders do not bite” – my most popular post!), I can now refer people to posts instead or writing emails.  Writing posts does take some time, but it is a productive use of time.

On a more personal level, social media has given me meaningful and important connections to people: really good people.  People that I respect, people that are now part of an evergroing circle of friends.  We need to surround ourselves with good people.  Life seems to throw a lot of challenges – whether it is managing with the work-life balance, coming to grips with local and global tragedies, constant worrying about the health of our planet, or struggling with mental or physical health. It’s a big, sometimes scary and often intimidating world out there – and it’s easy to feel insular, lonely, and scared.  Social media is one antidote.  Social media is not a cure, nor should it be used as escapism – instead, I am saying that it brings a ray of light, a smile and a shot of optimism.  I am grateful to have become a part of this community.

As my PhD student Crystal Ernst and Bug Girl discussed (partially reflected in this post): social media is a tool that allows for productive discussion about science, life and the confluence of these.  It’s a discussion that can take part in a REALLY long hallway – a hallway that is inclusive, honest, and filled with bright lights.

I will finish with a big “thank you” to all my followers and friends (of this blog, and on twitter).  Your interest, comments and enthusiasm are so important to me and highly valued.

I wish everyone terrific end to 2012 and I look forward to continued discussions into the new year!

Science outreach: plain-language summaries for all research papers

1) Scientists do really interesting things.

2) Scientists have a responsibility to disseminate their results.

3) Scientists do not publish in an accessible format.

This is a really, really big problem.

Scientific research is largely funded by public money, and it can be argued that scientists have a responsibility to make their work accessible to the public (and scientists are particularly well suited for outreach activities!).  The main platform for disseminating research results is the peer-reviewed journal paper and this is not ideal.  Let’s be honest – these kinds of publications are often very specialized, full of jargon, and unreadable to most (even other scientists).  Many papers are also behind pay-walls, making them even less accessible to people outside of certain institutions.

Earlier this week I attended a scientific conference (the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of Canada) and as part of this conference I was invited to speak in a symposium that was about social media in science.  It was a great session and some of my favourite social media mentors were also speaking at the symposium, including Adrian Thyssemacromite, the Bug Geek, and Biodiversity in Focus.   As I was preparing that talk the week before, I was also madly finishing a grant application, and in that application I was require to write a plain-language summary of my proposed research.  The granting agency uses this ‘summary for public release’ as a way to communicate research to the public.  Taxpayers fund the research and they might want to know where their money is going; the granting agency has found one way to communicate this information in a clever and effective manner.


Here is the proposal:  Every scientific paper published in a peer-reviewed journal must be accompanied by a short, plain-language summary of the work.

This summary would be placed on-line, free for everyone to read.  It would be concise, clear, free of jargon, and highlight why the work was done, how it was done, and what was discovered.

Here are some examples of how these plain-language summaries could be used:

1. Media: Media offices at Universities are constantly interested in promoting fantastic work by their Professors.  This work, however, is often not accessible and it can be a lengthy process to put together a press release (how easy is it to track down a researcher?).  A plain-language summary written by the researcher would be readable, clear, accessible, and an easy way to start the process of promoting research activities occurring at Universities.

2. Blogging: I am a regular blogger, and always happy to promote the research occurring within my laboratory, the laboratories of colleagues, or just discussing interesting scientific papers that I have read.  If I had plain-language summaries to access, it would make the process that much easier, and help facilitate timely communication with the public about recently published work.  Other science bloggers could also pick up on these summaries for their own writing.

3. Publishers & Editors:  As an editor-in-chief for a scientific journal, I sometimes look for ways to promote great papers, and promote the journal to a larger audience.  If I was able to peruse the summaries for public release,  this would make the process much easier.  Publishers could also take text from these summaries, put together a press release or blog post, and also promote research results from their journals based on particularly interesting papers and findings.

4. For Everyone: In my experience, people outside my area of expertise are always keen to hear about research activities.    It’s sometimes a challenge for me to explain my research results, and if I was always doing plain-language summaries, this would get easier.    The audience for research results can be as big as you can imagine: high school students, friends, family, colleagues, Departmental chairs, graduate students, journalists, libraries, etc…  Finally,  the Bug Geek has a great post about the challenges of talking science to 10-year olds:  it is hard to do, but important.  We need practice.  These summaries will help.

The procedure for getting plain language summaries could be quite simple.  When an author submits the final revisions on a scientific publication, they would be required to write a short plain-language summary.  I would like to think that publishers would be willing to incorporate this (simple) step into the on-line systems for manuscript processing, and be willing to post these, as open-access, on their websites, possibly paired with Abstracts.   These summaries would not diminish the value of the actual peer-reviewed papers – it would probably help increase readership since these summaries would help people find the work they are actually looking for, and give them a doorway into the scientific literature.

Let’s make this happen.  

It will be an effective way to do science outreach.

 Please comment, share the idea, and let’s see this idea grow.  

The transformative power of social media: blogs and tweets in a university course

As part of my field biology course this term, groups of students are working on research projects related to observing species in their natural setting – a Natural History‘ project. Students are working in groups of 4-6, and each group is doing a focused project about a particular species (or group of species) including the following:  American beech trees, sugar maple trees, hemlock trees, shelf fungi, aquatic macroinvertebrates, litter-dwelling arthropods, small mammals, the American crow and chickadees. 

The first part of this project involves providing an overview of the natural history of their study species, and this overview is being released in the form of a scientific blog post.  Starting today, and for the next three weeks, the nine blog posts will be released on the following site.  (Today’s release is all about American beech Trees).

ENVB222 – the first post

I have opted to use blog posts, as one form of social media, as a direct communication tool in this undergraduate course.  This opens the work up to the broadest audience possible, and students have a lot more people to write for than just their instructors.  I believe this will increase the quality of the writing since the stakes are quite high: experts on their topics will be able to read and comment on their posts.    The students are encouraged to connect with the broader scientific community and seek input on their study species.    Another reason to use social media is to allow the classroom work to move outside the walls of Academia.  Students have told me that they are inspired by the idea of taking what they are learning and seeing how it is valued outside the (typically) insular classroom activities.

The use of social media in the classroom would not be complete without Twitter! The groups have set up twitter accounts, and within 48 hours of their posts going live, they will be tweeting a series of facts related to their study species!  This is another informative, collaborative and fun way to seek input into their projects, and a way to bring what they have learned out to the broader community of biologists.  Follow along!  You can simply use the hashtag #ENVB222 to track the tweets related to the project. (by the way, you can follow the Beech tee group @BBDteam ).  Here are a couple of examples of other tweets:

A tweet from the litter dwellers…

The Crow group’s tweet

Students have already started to connect with scientists from other institutions – they are already feeling part of something bigger.  For example, students in a field biology course at the University of Hull in the UK have connected with McGill students – the students from the two institutions can share connect, collaborate and share their experiences.  This can be done easily through #hashtags:

A re-tweet to Hull Students, from their Professor (Graham Scott)

So far this social media experiment in the classroom is inspiring, exciting, and leveraging real tools as a way to take the teaching and learning experience to a new level.  However, it will only work if their blogs are read, critiqued, and discussed with the broader community.  So, I encourage you to follow along and take part in this activity.  You are all invited.

Community.  Sharing.  Collaboration. Outreach. Communication.

This is the power of social media.

The work-life balance: How many hours do Professors work?

Last week I wrote a post about ingredients for success in Academia, and I thought I would follow up this week by examining, in detail, my ‘work week’.  It’s also timely given discussions I have been having with my own students, and about some recent blog posts about time, projects, and the big balancing act of Academia.

I was really curious about how I spend my time:  sometimes it seems that I work ALL the time, and I am constantly feeling pulled in various directions – how much do I really work ? Perhaps more relevant for aspiring Academics:  is it possible for Academics to find a some kind of reasonable work-life balance?   Is it possible to have a family and outside activities and interests and still be successful in your job?

A quick look on-line shows quite a range of opinions on the topic.  You can go back to a publication in 1942 by W.W. Charters.  In this piece, the median hours per week for a Professor was 58 hrs (yikes!) with Associate Professors reporting 52 hrs per work week, and Assistant Professors clocking in at over 60 hrs per week.

More recently, in a nice piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Rob Jenkins discusses a question he fielded during a panel discussion about academic careers: How many hours would you estimate that you work each week?

Here is some relevant text that formed the response:

Both the professor from the liberal-arts college and I said that we spend about 50 – 55 hours per week at our jobs…The professor from the midsize university, who has two toddlers at home, seemed almost apologetic when she noted that right now she “only” works about 45 hours per week, but that she’s looking forward to being able to do more when her children start school. And the research professor from the host university, who runs a large laboratory, topped us all when he noted that he spends upwards of 70 hours per week on campus.

What is most striking in that paragraph is the variation in responses!  And, of course, much depends on how you define ‘work’, and the overall context (Young family at home? Running a large research laboratory?).  I would, however, be curious if the perception of those hours is actually true, i.e., if the hours were quantified.

In a project similar to mine, Philip Nel tracked all his work hours for a week, and determined he worked 60 hours.  That being said, he does discuss how his pay is for nine months (unlike mine, which is for 12), and those nine months are much more intense than the three summer months. Nevertheless, 60 hours per week seems like a lot!

With these thoughts in mind, I decided to track my work week (to the nearest 0.5 hr) from Monday to Friday of last week. I also classified work time into four areas:  Research, Teaching, Service, and Miscellaneous.

Research is a pretty obvious category – this is time devoted to my research program, including grant-writing, meeting and discussing with graduate students, editing manuscripts.  Teaching is focused on preparing and teaching my main undergraduate course this term (a field biology course, with one 4-hour lab and one 1-hour lecture per week), and I organize a graduate level journal club.  Service includes my administrative work for the University (e.g., Faculty committees) as well as my editorial work (I am the Editor-in-Chief for The Canadian Entomologist) and committee work for the Entomological Society of Canada.   These three categories are the pillars of Academia and are typical for most University Professors.

I also had to include a category called “Miscellaneous” – this is for various tasks that don’t fall neatly into one of the other three categories.   Typically, I seem to spend a fair bit of time answering e-mails and switching back and forth between different categories:  it all got very confusing, so I decided to lump these periods of time into the Miscellaneous pile.

The results?

Here’s a screen shot of part of my week:

The Work Week (in part)

Observation 1:

Multitasking: I clearly mix things up a lot – and seldom spend a lot of time on one task.  The exception last week was grant writing, as I did manage to devote some blocks of time to that task (I have a pretty big grant application due before month’s end), and I had to do a big lab clean-up.  I am, generally speaking, unable to keep working on one thing for long periods of time, and switching categories occur many times in a single day.  This is one reason why time management skills are essential for success in Academia!

Observation 2:

The research/teaching/administration balance:  At a research-intensive University, such a McGill, there is certainly a high expectation on research productivity.  Some weeks it feels that I never spend any time doing research (and I fully admit that my actual ‘laboratory’ time working on a microscope is limited), so I was quite pleased that over 40% of my time was in this category.  The second largest category was teaching at just below 40%.   This can be highly variable depending on the Academic term.  Some terms have more intensive teaching demands, and I’m sure that at those times, Teaching could easily exceed 50% of the time.   If teaching a new course, development of lectures and content is also time consuming, and would push the Teaching category well ahead of Research.   For me, I am teaching a course that I have taught before, and have a relatively light teaching load this term, so it makes sense that it is below 40%.

Research: Teaching: Service

I spent relatively little time on ‘Service’, but this is quite variable by week.  For example, some weeks my editorial work for The Canadian Entomologist can take a lot more time, and some weeks I have additional committee work to do with my Faculty / University.

You often hear that at a research-intensive University, the Research: Teaching : Service split should be around 40 % : 40 % : 20 % (and these percentages are sometimes touted as being important in a pre-tenure run).  I am relatively close to this, but again, this varies depending on the time of year.

Observation 3:

Irregular hours:  With an active home life, sometimes I find myself doing an extra hour of work in the evening, or getting up early to get started on the day.  I don’t see this as an issue, or concern.  My job allows for flexibility, and it helps ensure I’m home for dinner, and able to walk my kids to school.  That being said, I think it can be assumed that Academics do not work a standard ‘9 to 5’.

Observation 4:

The work-life balance?  Although I am not providing my total hours per week (some things are just too personal….), I do work less than Charter’s median for an Associate Professor, and I am very pleased about this.  I have an active family life, and many interests outside of work.  Again, my hours are context-dependent and have varied a lot over the past ten years.  I surely worked more hours just before my tenure package was submitted, and when I’m away on a field research trip, I will easily work 10+ hours per day, for many days in a row.

That being said, I thought I worked more than what the total added up to.   Did I miss something?  What’s not included?  By in large, I have not included commuting time, and I excluded any weekend hours.  I often work several hours on the weekend – answering e-mails, and catching up on work that was missed during the week. I also excluded time writing blog posts and other social media.  This is in part because I often do these things at very strange times, and also because I’m not certain how to classify this kind of outreach activity – it’s almost too fun to call work!

Final thoughts:

This exercise could be viewed as ridiculous, self-serving, and a waste of time (especially since time is such a limited resource!).  From a personal level, however, I found it very worthwhile.  I think it’s important to do some navel-gazing now and then, and this can help to re-evaluate the work-life balance, and hopefully make changes if they are necessary.   When I first started my position at McGill, one of my mentors told me that it was very possible to be an Academic and maintain a balance with home, family life, and outside interests.  I was skeptical at the time, but after ten years, I believe he was right.

I encourage others to give this a try – see how you really spend your time.  It may give you encouragement, or perhaps lead you to a few lifestyle changes.