By Dr Regan Early (@ReganEarly), based at the University of Exeter. Regan studies the effects of human activity on wildlife around the world. Her basic approach is to use patterns in species distributions to understand many aspects of species ecology – climate tolerances, biotic interactions, population dynamics, phenology – and how these will be affected by changes in climate and landscapes. Regan will take part in our Exeter Soapbox Science event, on Saturday 11th June 2016, 1-4pm. There she will talk about “The Great Climate Change Race”
I love being a lecturer because I work 60 hour weeks, because my days can be meetings stacked on top of meetings, because my students demand the best of my abilities in every class, and because the only time I can fit a haircut into my schedule is 8am on Sunday morning.
I’m under no illusion that either my work schedule or sense of elation are sustainable. I know I need to switch off soon to avoid burnout. And the sense of elation is interspersed with moments of exhaustion, fear, and incredulity that my workload is only likely to increase as I continue my job. I worry that I say yes too often and get myself in too deep. But I want to hold onto my gung-ho enthusiasm for as long as I can. This is a record of why I’m feeling buoyant even as I struggle to cope with what is expected of me.
Almost everything I’ve done this year is reactive. Whereas when I was a post-doc I used to make time to prepare before meetings with the people I supervise, I now have to switch on to their project or problem as soon as they walk in the door. I realise that a big reason I needed so much time to prepare for meetings previously was that I was worried my supervisees would doubt my abilities if I couldn’t remember exactly every element of their current research. However, removing the ‘crutch’ of lengthy prep is building my confidence in my scientific capabilities. I’m assimilating information and I’m reasoning quicker. As my own confidence grows I feel less pressured to respond to questions with the answer. Being able to bounce the question back to my supervisees means we get to discuss problems more thoroughly, and the decisions we arrive at feel shared. It’s a much more productive way to run a lab group. An added bonus is that my group are also being forced to be more proactive, and I love that I have a team of constructive people around me doing fun science.
A related positive of my packed schedule is that I simply have less time for self-doubt. I think this is the biggest obstacle I face in my career, and have sometimes been crippled by it in the past. When making decisions, writing grant proposals, or framing papers, I don’t have time to do more background reading, so I simply have to go with the knowledge I already have – which is considerable, once I stop and draw on it – and my gut scientific training.
As well as self-doubt, I’ve reduced my level of procrastination. There are so many things I could be doing, other than whatever it is I am doing at any given moment that the only thing to do is shout ‘enough already’ and just focus on getting that task done. I’m having a hard time allocating priorities and time, so undoubtedly I’m not being as efficient as I could be. But knowing that I simply can’t do every task perfectly or on time even while operating at maximum liberates me from worrying that I should be working differently.
As for all those stacked-up meetings, they’re where ideas develop, plans are made, new collaborations are formed, and importantly, where tasks get ticked off. My scientific colleagues want to work with me, and I have the freedom and resources (money, expertise, and the all-important man-power) to say yes.
And finally I love being a lecturer because of my students. They deserve my best because they want to do what I love to do. I owe them the best start on their way.