Monday, 21 May 2012

On Busyness

Posted by Martin White

Finally, I have committed pen to paper for my first blog post. Why has it taken me so long? The truth is, I just can’t find the time. Sounds like a lame excuse and one that is often interpreted as ‘I just can’t be bothered’. So, just in case you need convincing, here is a snapshot from a recent week.

Monday was a bank holiday. I helped organise and spoke at a two-day multi-disciplinary workshop in Glasgow, the previous Thursday and Friday. Spending the weekend Munro-bagging was a no brainer. Going to the hills is a great way to forget about the pressures of work, but by Monday afternoon, my in-box beckoned and deadlines loomed.

Stob Dearg from Ben Cruachan, Munro no. 79, 5 May 2012 (Photo: Martin White)
Sharing the five hour drive home meant I had time to read a PhD chapter in the car. Stopping for food in a pub allowed the first wi-fi access for three days and the chance to delete a mound of spam and identify priorities. Inevitably, this led to a couple of hours work back at home, responding to emails and assessing key tasks for the next week. I knew there was going to be no time to get all this done when I got back in the office on Tuesday.

On Tuesday I woke at 0555, an hour before the alarm. My brain was already in overdrive so I got up, made tea and tracked the changes on the PhD chapter from the previous evening. My diary was stuffed: seven hours of meetings with two 30 minute breaks.

Everyone wants a slice of my time. Sometimes for my scientific expertise, but more often these days because I can make things happen. I don’t resent this, it’s the nature of the job, but it’s frustrating not to be able to do more thinking, reading and writing.

The meat of my day was two one-hour research project meetings, one face-to-face; the other a teleconference with colleagues in Finland, Holland and the US. The rest of the day was taken up by individuals: helping a post-doc think through a fellowship application, a PDR, helping a senior lecturer work out how get the curriculum time we need for undergraduate teaching. 'The 'fillers' were unscheduled meetings relating to the day-to-day assortment of human and political (small p) complications a director comes across when dealing with staff on a personal level. No actual research, but all essential to keep the research going.

I usually go for a run after work, but having been in the hills all weekend, I ached. So I hung back and ground through the 50+ emails that had accumulated through the day. Then I had to go find my car, which I had left at the garage for an MOT when I went to London en route to Glasgow. Having been away for a week, the fridge also needed replenishing. After the supermarket, I eventually arrived home after 8pm.

Given the choice I would prefer not to work this many hours in a day or a week or a lifetime. But, everyone I know in positions of significant responsibility has a similar workload as far as I can tell. However, there are benefits. The job is incredibly stimulating – I learn loads from the interesting and talented people I meet at every research funding board, conference, research network, centre, school, consortium or project meeting I attend.

More importantly, for the first time in my career, I feel I am beginning to make a difference – in public health policy circles, with research funders, and, most importantly, supporting the career development of my daily ‘fillers’.

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