Posts Tagged ‘work’

Time to shake things up

In September 2016 on September 29, 2016 at 12:17 pm


Sarah: In April this year I wrote an off-the-cuff post about career pathways and dreams for my future.

Little did I know what was around the corner! I’m delighted to report that this month I will start a new role as Adelaide Life Sciences Editor with The Conversation Australia.

So what’s The Conversation? Taken from their website:

The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public.

Our team of professional editors work with university, CSIRO and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.

My job will be to work with researchers to help them craft well-written, accessible and news-worthy articles that anyone can read for free.

It will be a busy, exciting and quite demanding role, so please bear with me as I settle in and work out my new modus operandi for blogging and social media.

Vive le changement!


Why do I work like this?

In May 2016 on May 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm


Sarah: Last week I ran a marathon and juggled burning batons.

Not literally in my running shoes plus fuel and matches of course, but it felt just as massive.

I had taken on a huge writing job for a new client, and it coincided with the second week of school holidays during which I had previously scheduled multiple allied health appointments for me and my kids.

Looking back, I’m amazed it actually got done. With early wake-ups and late nights and very high levels of screens and ignoring healthy cooking and being cranky with my children and pet, somehow it happened. A typical day looked like this:

5.30am –> awake and sitting at computer

7.30am –> love and breakfast for kids

8am –> load of washing on, then walk dog

8.30am –> more work for me, kids play and fight and play

10am –> hang out washing, dash to dentist

12pm –> buy and eat sushi for lunch, play at the park on the way home

1pm –> more work for me, kids on screens

3pm –> yell at kids to get off screens and do something active, they walk dog

4pm –> hair appointments

5pm –> more work for me, kids on screens with intermittent yelling

6pm –> take kids and dog to the local oval for a run and kick of the ball

7pm –> OMG what is for dinner?

8pm –> more work (husband cleans kitchen, plays with kids, gets them into bed)

10pm –> yes, still working

11pm –> suppose I’d better sleep

Why do I do this to myself? Why not just say no to the client, or delay the work, or opt for a simpler life with more sleep and lower income?

I love being busy and am at my most efficient and effective when I have a lot on. But every now and again I wonder if this is not the best way to operate. Things would be a lot simpler if I got a fixed job, walked away from the house to a set office, used more Out of Hours School Care and babysitters, ate takeaway and threw the clothes in the drier every day.

But then yesterday — as I took a deep breath and hid in the laundry and actually found pairs of matching clean socks — I listened to Radio National’s Life Matters program. In this episode, guests of host Cassie McCullagh were Professor Ross Anderson and Associate Professor Susan Bartlett of McGill University in Montreal. Speaking on the risks of heart disease and joint problems, Professor Anderson said:

Individuals who sit for prolonged periods of time, without interruption, are at greater risk.

A lot of Australians commute to work passively, in a car.

Most of us sit behind a desk or at a computer for the entire morning, and in many cases we don’t get up to take a break.

We sit at the cafeteria eating lunch passively, and then we go back to work and back home in our cars.

This is not the way I work. I suppose that’s good.

I also wonder if I would be as efficient if I knew I had endless hours in each day to dedicate to my writing tasks. Even today, when deadlines are less pressing, I can feel myself drifting off, thinking too much, checking out clothing online, seeing what everyone’s up to on Facebook.

Snatched windows of time in-between physical tasks forces me to focus and deliver. And it helps me lose my inner smart-arse.

Now excuse me, the dog needs a run. And so do I.

PS. I’ve written previously about the need to sit less in several posts: Sitting and standing, Making a stand, and The walking meeting

[image thanks to Ky:]

On International Women’s Day, free me from ‘should’

In March 2016 on March 8, 2016 at 1:03 pm


Sarah: ‘Should’. What a terrible word, huh.

You should be eating more greens.

You should get more sleep.

You should exercise more.

All these ‘shoulds’ haunt me! And maybe you as well. Many of us aim to live a life shaped by evidence and best practise.

Research tells us that a healthy body needs regular exercise, plenty of vegetables and fruit, minimal processed carbohydrates and 8 hours sleep a night.

Psychological and pedagogical studies report on best approaches for guiding literacy, optimal amounts of exercise and screen time for children, improving resilience, and managing homework and chores.

Mental health resources compile evidence on juggling the demands of family, work and other commitments, and the need for downtime.

All up, sometimes life feels like a constant battle between all the shoulds.

It would actually be a hell of a lot easier to eat fish and chips every night. To have the TV on from sun-up ’til sun-down. To dump gym memberships and early morning sports practises. To let the kids order their lunch every day.

We all know that’s not ideal. But for goodness sake, let’s also feel OK about offloading a few ‘shoulds’ every now and again.

So today is International Woman’s Day. To celebrate, I’m having a break from a few ‘shoulds’.

You should too.

[image thanks to]

Show us your skills

In August 2014 on August 5, 2014 at 9:21 am


Sarah: Having an 11-year old in my house, I’m used to the term ‘skills’.

“Nice skills, loser”

“Oh yes! Skillage!” (after kicking a goal from an acute angle)

“Show us your skills”

Friday last week I was involved in a great event which also talked about skills. But not footy skills. This time it was PhD skills, or more specifically the skills you can pick up during a PhD and which are transferrable to a variety of work settings.

The event was PhD to Present (see program here, and tweets collected under #PhDtopresent here), organised by ANU Research Skills and Training. I was lucky enough to be a panel member, and also to hear a range of fantastic presentations throughout the day. It got me thinking about some of the skills which I use in my current work, and which I picked up during my PhD years. Here are five quick pointers that occurred to me as relevant to my own career, and might sound familiar to you too.

Getting started
The beginning of a PhD is like the biggest piece of blank paper you can imagine. What to do first? Pick something small, and do it. Then pick the next small thing, and do that. Lo and behold, two things are done, and you’ve started. Those small things can include seemingly insignificant actions like reading a paper and making a few notes, getting some equipment ready for an experiment, writing an email to source an antibody – anything that gets the ball rolling. Imagine someone saying to you “what did you do today?”  – you need to be able to give them a concrete answer.

Start in the middle
Once a wise nun sang “let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start”. As it applies to writing, I beg to differ. Start in the middle. When thesis or paper writing, this can be the materials and methods section. Not creative, not interpretive, but just a good solid way to start seeing words on a page. For article writing, it can be as simple as writing out the quotes from an interview. Suddenly you might see how other words can form around them, and you’re on your way. I’ve also heard Allison Tait give this advice recently.

Task management
Lots of things to finish, multiple deadlines, many clients. Many of my weeks look like this. The PhD equivalent involved several experiments on the run, a presentation to prepare, and an association event to organise. At home, it’s each of three kids howling for attention/food/love. Best approach? Don’t panic! Deep breath, loudest squeaky wheel first, one thing at a time.

Know thyself
After four years of working on a single research project, most of time on my own, I got to know my own brain pretty well. Mornings = good thinky stuff going on. Afternoons = too knackered to be creative. Exercise = critical for a change of pace and making sure I slept well. All these are quirks I still apply – mornings are for writing, afternoons are for editing or cross-checking boring titbits, exercise is very important.

Pick up the phone
Yes, we can all email, SMS, tweet and Facebook to our hearts content. But nothing works like a real conversation for creating action and connecting as a fellow human being. If you’re not sure what somebody’s email meant, pick up the phone and clarify it. If that deadline is not going to be manageable anymore, pick up the phone and renegotiate it. If you need to find a speaker for a conference session, pick up the phone and have a yarn about it. Even better – if geography allows – arrange a coffee meeting. Real life interactions have less room for misinterpreted tone, and make it harder for the opposite person to send a “no can do” answer back purely out of annoyance.

[image thanks to flying cloud on flickr]



Part time everything

In March 2014 on March 6, 2014 at 9:04 am

kirsti ants in vial text

Kirsti: All that talk of time hasn’t left me. In fact, that Sarah blogged about time and then revisited her blogging every day for AN ENTIRE YEAR (a feat that I think is super-human by the way) reminded me of so many discussions I’ve had with friends and colleagues (mostly female, but not all) about choosing to work PART TIME. Whether it was after we’d had kids, or just because there are other things in our lives we want to pursue (unpaid – I know, crazy), choosing to work part time comes with both joys and curses.

I’m a passionate women in science advocate.

But I’m actually not talking about just scientists or related to science jobs here either. I’m talking generally. Because going part time has similar drawbacks and benefits in nearly every job, it’s just that in science the drawbacks seemed to be magnified by what feels like 2000 times, and often have serious consequences for future employment.

I decided to work part time after having my daughter, nearly 7 years ago. Before motherhood, I was a fairly ambitious researcher and assumed I would return to part time, then probably full time research within a year of giving birth, and naturally go on to have a spectacularly productive research career and adventure all around the world doing ant ecology on magnificent tropical islands……


When missy moo arrived, apart from all the normal REALLY HARD parts of having a baby and trying to juggle that with RIDICULOUS commitments to an academic world I would return to, my priorities changed so monumentally, so utterly profoundly that going back to full time work made me feel like I would be neglecting the most important thing that had just been given to me. My new family.

I was unprepared for my change of feeling about family. Like, totally unprepared.  And it took me quite a few years to completely honour it; to feel satisfied with ‘leaving’ research and academia per se, to live by my newfound life-balancing philosophy.

In that time however, I have fought hard alongside women for flexibility, acknowledgement and creative spaces where women can be full time, part time, any time, and for that to be recognised as VALUABLE, REAL and SUSTAINABLE in academic institutions and other careers. I have learnt to be persistent and consistent in my message over time. I have cried over time for the injustices that happen to brilliant women in the face of linear and traditional expectations.

And I have smiled, admired and celebrated the amazing successes where they exist.

Right now though, I am proud to be a part time everything. I want my life to be full with things that fulfil me, that connect my family and heal others and the world. I’ve discovered that doesn’t happen so well when you work full time on one thing. So here I am, part time researcher, pat time teachers, part time communicator, part time gymnast, part time photographer…….(here’s not where you bring up that I’m a part time mum)…

But you know what? I REEAALLLYY want to go look at those ants under the microscope, but I won’t’ be back at work until next week. CURSES.

If you’re interested in the part time thing in science/academia, I’d recommend you read this great article by Kate O’Brien and Karen Hapgood. They used ecosystem modelling to show how women are driven out of research. Brilliant!

High five, Doc.

In November 2013 on November 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm

high five

Sarah: I’ve been somewhat of a grump this week.

Recovering from a terrible springtime lurgy whilst battling an undercurrent of daily hayfever makes me prone to having a whinge. Add a sick kid, lack of exercise and accumulated work, argh!

Today, I sensed a change in the wind.

This morning, prompted by a renewed fever and sore throat in my oldest kid, we tried out the new doctor at our local GP clinic. Mounted on his desk was……a thing. A structured, squarish black plastic thing, on which was perched his computer screen and keyboard. Could it be? Yes! A portable modification to make a standing desk!

I’ve written several times previously (Sitting and standingMaking a stand, The walking meeting) on my urge to make the standing desk a part of my working habit. So this discovery made me excited. Very excited!

I quizzed the doctor,

“Where did you get that? How much was it?”

Turns out it’s a prototype, and he’s the ‘Chief Ideas Man’ over at ZestDesk. He and his team have founded a business based on the mission statement:

One of the biggest causes of modern day illness is the fact we spend a third of our lives sitting at a desk. We are on a mission to make people more healthy by giving them a practical alternative to sitting. More specifically, we are building the world’s most beautiful portable standing desk.

Our prototype phase will be complete by the end 2013 and we will then be opening up pre-sales via a crowd funding site. Please support us so we can take it global!

Oh, did we have a good old chat. I’ll be keeping my eye on ZestDesk.

Also, I’ve broken out of my grumpy funk. My kids’ health is fine too. High five on all fronts, Doc.

[image thanks to johnseidman1988 on flickr]

Day 342. Playing on the see-saw

In July 2013 on July 19, 2013 at 10:58 am


I like to play on the see-saw.

I sit on one end, and encourage others to join me. We mess about, adding and subtracting children and toys, varying the ends at which we sit, and our positions along the axis.

It wobbles up and down, occasionally hitting the ground hard, sometimes sending us sky high but usually hovering at or around the horizontal position.

My life feels like that.

Having learnt that I operate best mentally and intellectually when I’m busy, I have loaded up my life see-saw. Three  children, part-time work, various unpaid work-like activities (which I love), exercise, other hobbies, a social life and shoe shopping.

It’s a precarious balance that works most of the time. We wobble around parallel to the ground and are happy.

Sometimes a big fat monster climbs onto one end of our see saw. The creature is an illness, an extra work deadline or an emotional challenge for a parent or child.


We hit the ground. We try not to panic. We rearrange the various weights at each end of the see-saw. Sometimes, the balance tips the other way.

But eventually, we’re back on even ground again.

I’m scared what might happen when a really big challenge rocks my world. But I’ll deal with that when it comes, I guess.

[image thanks to kIdonnelly on flickr]

Day 337. Household shuffle

In July 2013 on July 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm


It’s a bit of a stretch to say that this post is about science, but it relates to my capacity to work effectively so I’m going to proceed.

(It’s also based on rather of a first world problem, so please forgive me if it irks you on that level.)

We’ve been rearranging the house over the past couple of weeks.

When we renovated nearly 4 years ago, we decided to create two bedrooms for children and one general ‘playroom’ which could house toys, games, puzzles, various shared electronic paraphernalia and drawing and painting supplies. You know, all the stuff that the modern Western child seems to accumulate faster than you can say consumerism. This room is attached to the main living space by two sliding doors.

A spare room in the older front part of the house was transformed into a slap-dash home office to be shared by my husband and myself.

This layout had not been working too well recently for a number of reasons.

Firstly, my oldest child – a boy aged 10 – was well and truly over sharing a bedroom with his three-year-old brother. Their wide age gap and shared tendency to be highly competitive and emotional about most aspects of life was wearing us and them down. Differing times of retiring to bed also got a little complicated. In addition, that their sister had her own room seemed a little unfair.

Secondly, all five members of our family seemed to be spending most daylight hours together in the main living area: the kitchen, the TV area and the play room. This may sound most cosy and loving and wonderful. But it was doing my head in. There was no escape. There was no rest. Nobody ever seemed to leave and find their own space. And the toys. The toys were everywhere.

Thirdly, we hired a piano to support our daughter’s recent love affair with this instrument. Unfortunately, we had no place to put it. She needed a larger room; the only one big enough was the home office.

I had to make a change. Finally, over this past weekend, I’ve completed it.

Three kids, a bedroom each. Big boy, stays where he is. Little boy, into the smallest room. Middle daughter into large ex-home office, with piano. Toys distributed into bedrooms.

Playroom converted to new home office.

And it’s worked.

Kids actually go to their rooms to play! Toys generally stay out of the living area. Kids can go to bed at age-relevant times, and read with the light on without disturbing others. My new home office is handy to the living area, and I am able to use the built-in cabinetry to file work and personal matters rather than endless photo albums and drawings of fluffy bunnies.

Yes, I sound selfish. But when you work from home in a relatively large family, you have to make it bearable. Otherwise it can do your head in.

[image thanks to janetmck on flickr]

Day 314. Soundtrack to my life

In June 2013 on June 23, 2013 at 7:56 pm


It occurred to me the soundtrack of my life over the past 20 years of so has been strongly dominated by Australian Broadcasting Commission radio.

1994-2000: Honours and PhD studies; daily activities structured to allow for listening to Sarah MacDonald‘s morning show on Triple J – for example, I would book shared microscope and FACS facilities to conduct tedious analysis during most mornings from 9am-12pm.

2000-2003: living in Jakarta; limited radio exposure, but ABC Asia Pacific news every day on the TV.

2003-2007: back home in Adelaide, two babies in close succession; a WHOLE lot of radio as a valuable source of adult company; included Matthew Abraham and David Bevan (then Mornings hosts on 891 ABC Local Radio Adelaide) and Natasha Mitchell (then All in the Mind host).

2007-2010: part-time work, a third baby and discovered distance running as a form of exercise; enter podcasts – ABC The Health ReportABC Radio Science Show, Conversations with Richard Fidler.

2010-current: more work, increasingly hectic children’s schedules = snatches of morning and afternoon radio; constantly fighting the urge to sit in my car or fold laundry to the sounds of Natasha Mitchell (now at Life Matters), Books and Arts Daily and By Design.

[image thanks to Ugg Boy Ugg Girl]

Day 312. One of those days

In June 2013 on June 20, 2013 at 2:42 pm


I should be working.

Instead, I’m:

[Image thanks to stevendepolo on flickr]