Twelve Days of (an Academic) Christmas

After the popular carol, and the passing of twelfth night this morning, I thought readers might like to see what an academic gets up to over the twelve days of Christmas…so here’s a peek at my Christmas break.

First Day of Christmas


Nativity at St. Columba’s URC

This year, I hosted Christmas for some of my family for the first time. My father joined me, and my brother (who was working in Durham over the holidays) drove himself down to Oxfordshire for the 24 hours’ or so leave he had. Nothing out of the ordinary happened: church, Christmas lunch, crackers, Queen’s speech…and I’m glad to report that my cooking didn’t poison anyone (although that might be largely down to my brother’s catering skills, rather than mine….) .

Second Day of Christmas

Waved good bye to my brother at doesn’t exist o’ clock this morning, for his drive back up to panto-land. The essays and exam scripts I have to mark are sitting menacingly in a corner of my living room….but my father’s still here, and it’s Christmas….spent the day crocheting, and watching DVDs.

Third Day of Christmas

Off to see some relatives in deepest Oxfordshire today. Had very lovely time by blissful log fire, playing games with three boys under twelve, and re-discovering my finger skateboarding capabilities. Essays and exam scripts are still in the corner, and still beckoning, but I’m resisting them for now. Besides, the Christmas decorations I borrowed need to come down, to go back home with my father.

Fourth Day of Christmas

teaAfter waving good bye to my father, and tidying the flat, and doing the laundry, to try and deafen the sound of the scripts, I finally give in to their wailing, and lug some to the nearest coffee shop. Mark some stunning third year essays. Maybe marking isn’t so bad after all.

Fifth Day of Christmas



Church today. Then off to a coffee shop to mark the remaining third year essays. Not bad at all. Go for a swim, get home, and write up the mark sheets for them, ready for printing, and settle down to crochet and hot chocolate. The exam scripts (due in four days’ time) can wait.

Sixth Day of Christmas

Realize that New Year’s eve is tomorrow, and I don’t have a dress to wear for a 1920’s themed party I’ll be going to. Make a dash for the charity shops, and find an ideal dress for  under £10. Try it on, and realize it is see-through. Invest in slip. Together with accessories from a previous 1920’s party, am sorted.

Seventh Day of Christmas

Scripts due minus two days. Go for a swim. Do laundry. How long is it going to take me to mark them anyway? The longer I leave for them, the longer they’ll take right…? Maybe. Get them out, and start to go through them. Get about a third of the way through. Enough for today – time to go out and party.

Eighth Day of Christmas

Party was good stuff, so am too tired to mark anything this morning. Ring my mother to wish her a Happy New Year, and get into a conversation about how to use Google Drive. Explain to her that we use it at work to share protected spreadsheets with essay grades. In doing so, I realize I haven’t uploaded any of my grades. D’oh. On with that then.  And some more script marking. I see the end of the tunnel: all done :-).

Ninth Day of Christmas

Return to work today, to deliver exam and essay scripts (and get in some weight training into the bargain: they’re stupidly heavy), and do lots of itty-bitty tasks that need to be done before the start of term. It’s quiet in the Department, but office-mate has returned, and it’s good to see people again after the break.

Tenth Day of Christmas


Stole my brother’s (Robin Hood) sword backstage

A few months ago, I thought it would be a good idea to go to Durham for the day, to see my brother in panto’, as Robin Hood. So, at 4am this morning, I was on a train to Durham, writing a piece  for Developmental Forum  and having an email conversation with colleagues about where to send a rejected paper to next, as I travelled up the East coast. Fortunately, the journey was smooth, and I got to see the panto’, and my brother, and it was fab, and well worth the trip.

Eleventh Day of Christmas


Meal in George and Dragon, Long Hanborough

Pretty tired today, having gotten in at midnight. Remember at 3pm that I haven’t got a secret Santa gift four our District Guiders’ Christmas meal tonight (good to have something to look forward to after Christmas), so off to  the shops for that, and then get ready for meal. Given taxi will get us there and back, I wear shoes I can *just about* walk (read: stand up) in, and pray that I won’t turn my ankle in so doing…. I didn’t, despite (modest) alcohol consumption, and meal was great.

Twelfth Day of Christmas

Quiet day today,sorting through ethics forms, and thinking about what needs to be done in the coming weeks before the students return.

Happy New Year !


A Never-Ending Story

When teaching about essay-writing, to try and get my students to think about the importance of context and clarity of expression, I often read this passage to them:

The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups. Of course, one pile may be sufficient, depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities, that is the next step. Otherwise you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo things – that is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many. In the short run, this might not seem important, but complications can easily arise. A mistake can be expensive. Eventually the whole procedure will have to be repeated. However, that is a part of life, and at present, it seems there will be no end to the necessity of this task.

write-to-do-listAs I write, I find myself in the middle of another never-ending story. A to-do list story. As I described over the summer, I start each week with  a to-do list, having tried to complete the one from the week before. Over the summer, I found that I could get through tasks, and even do extra things. Since the semester has begun, I haven’t managed this. Rather, as fast as I tick things off the list, during the week, other things are added on.

I prioritize work according to dimensions of urgent-important (where things that are urgent and important get done first and so on). As some things that I do don’t even make it to my to-do list, while some things that are on it have been there a while (writing exam questions is ludicrously difficult – try it – and something I tend to put off as long as possible), I’m wondering if there is a better way to plan my time. Should I ditch the to-do list altogether? Or do I have to resolve myself to the fact that I will never get to the end of the list at this time of year? How do you plan your time? Any tips from those within and outside academia would be welcome.

The other never-ending story, outlined above, is ‘doing  the laundry’, by the way.

New Notifications Pending

I returned from holiday, to work, on Tuesday this week. As I was on retreat at Taizé in Central France, for eight days, I voluntarily did not check, receive, or send email messages. In fact, I didn’t make any use of the internet or ‘phone while I was away – and I didn’t miss it, or feel a need to check messages, as I do, now that I’ve returned to work.

This experience has led me to reflect on email, and this is the topic for the rest of this post.  This will probably show my age….before I was a sixth former, I had never sent an email. During sixth form, it was barely used. When my first lecturer at university said that all communication about the course would be sent via email, I was terrified: I wasn’t sure what I was doing with email, and the thought of inadvertently (or otherwise) messaging a lecturer was petrifying.

Now, I’ve overcome that fear, and can’t imagine how a university or academic community could function efficiently without email. Taizé gave me glimpses, with notices given at the beginning of group studies, and poster information, and photocopied sheets, but….it would dramatically increase my workload if I had to communicate via those methods. To borrow the words of Lola [email] is more friendly and straightaway. 

Because – as I understand it – the common courtesy reply time on an email message is 48 hours, I didn’t feel I could leave my desk, without setting up an auto-reply (without this, I would have panicked about appearing rude, or missing something vital). It turns out I wouldn’t have done, and was swiftly able to deal with the 100 or so messages that appeared in my absence, and to re-enter academia smoothly.


With kind permission:”Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham

I am so bound by electronic communication, that I have to inform the world  when I’m not using it. In previous times, surely, I would simply have pinned a note on my office door, and messages in a pigeon hole would have had to wait, without response…. I’m not even sure it’s a good idea to let everyone know you’re not at work, is it?

Of course, during  writing this post, I have received new notifications – better check out what they are……

A Week in the Life of a Post-Doc

Since I haven’t had much time to post earlier this week, I thought it might be interesting for you to see what I have been up to….here’s a diary of my working week this week:

Monday. I always start the day with email and Twitter (having looked at Facebook on the journey in). It being Monday, there were some student messages (yes, student messages) to deal with from the weekend, and a few interesting links to follow up (for example the one below).

I then worked out what needed to be done this week, and what needs to be done, if there’s time, but could wait. I worked on preparation for a friendship workshop for a primary school that I would be giving on Thursday – updating the materials and making sure I had enough evaluation forms and blu-tac.

Tuesday. After email, I worked on with some student-related admin., and started work on reporting the findings of a recent communications survey I ran as an ordinary member of the BPS Developmental Section. I was very glad that I taught first year stats this year (not sure I would have remembered how to produce effective tables, or that I would know how to get data from Google to SPSS otherwise), and I wrote the findings up. They should be on the website soon – but to give you a sneak preview – email from the Section is a popular means of communication – and members like to receive our newsletter in hard copy 🙂

The afternoon was taken up with a staff meeting. I agreed to teach on a new module the Department will be running in the Autumn term. Having asked for advice at the meeting about the student admin., I spent the rest of the afternoon finishing off my work on that.

Wednesday.  On Wednesday, I met with an student from the School of Education, who would be helping me with the workshops on Thursday (since one workshop has over 50 children in it) and showed her the materials, and talked them through. I then had a ‘phone call with a co-author on a paper, about some stats that are doing my head in I’m finding tricky,  and he says he can re-code the data to make the analysis possible, and in line with previous work in the area. All good :-). There was another staff meeting on Wednesday afternoon where I presented a report.

After that, I needed to prepare a precis of the teaching I intend doing on the new module (see Tuesday), including a seminar plan. Worked out what that might be, and sent it off in the right direction.

Thursday. Met with the student from Education early today, and we made our way to the primary school. I was there all day, doing an assembly, and then four workshops.


Whole school assembly – question time 🙂

It was generally good – the children still like the assembly, and most year groups worked well together. I’ll need to structure the workshop more closely for Year 1 pupils next time I do it – they need more adult input and guidance than I realized.

Although school finished at 3.00pm, I came home after the workshop ended: I was too  tired to do any more.

Friday.   Paper is heavy!  I bus-ed / walked all the evaluation forms back to the office, and sorted them through. The vast majority are positive (yay!) and a couple really made me smile:

My workshops are awesome 🙂

This afternoon, I met with a student doing an Independent Study module dissertation, to discuss his area of interest, and then with a colleague in Psychology to discuss a grant proposal we’re working on. We think we can stream two ideas together quite nicely – I just need to review the pertinent literature now to check that this is the case, and we’ll meet in a few weeks’ time.

And now I want to plan out what needs to be done next week, when the work will start over again ….

The Secret Life of A Committee Member

The nature of committee membership has been discussed in our Department this week. As such a role is not usually factored into workload planning, the commitment is something extra, that one wouldn’t want to take on without reflection on exactly what is involved. And since committee meetings happen, to a large extent, behind closed doors,  the work involved might seem something of a mystery. Here then is an attempt to elucidate something of that mystery, from my recent experiences as a BPS Developmental Section Ordinary Committee Member.

I was elected to the role in September 2012, and now have joint responsibility for Section communications in the form of Developmental Forumthe section newsletter. I also have a meta-role in this, in the form of garnering opinions from the Section on the newsletter and communications.

The newsletter is produced three times a year, and features conference news, reviews, forthcoming books, info. on developmental labs, and prizes/grants information. Emily and I spend time asking for this information from Section members and putting it all together. My email account shows 123 messages about the last newsletter. A lot of them one liners with an attachment.  An initial lack of responsivity from the Section was disheartening, but once I had the material, I loved working on it – and look at the result *bounces*

Other than the newsletter, I spend time (one morning, or one afternoon) in meetings, four times a year (usually in London) with the Section, thinking about Section matters, like conference venues, membership costs, and who should get to be invited as keynotes. Things that affect me directly. And the experience is great, as you get to know the Committee well. The lines between colleagues and committee members and friends is easily blurred, and in a good way.

So for me, the benefits are many: I get to help put together a newsletter, and to see the results of my work, I get to ask Section members what they think, to feed this  back, to have a voice, and a heads-up on what’s coming next. Beyond this, I’ve also made useful researcher links with committee  at Royal Holloway and Greenwich Universities, that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. The time commitment is sporadic and focused: weeks with nothing to do, and days with dedicated work, but the overall time and effort input is small.

I don’t know why everyone wouldn’t want to serve on a committee as an ordinary member at some point 🙂

Don’t Knock It

IMG_0200[1]One thing I’ve noticed in the School here at Brookes, is the differing extent to which staff doors are open or shut during working hours.

And, over the past few weeks, I’ve met several approaches to having an open office door. One lecturer, at a recent event said that she and her colleagues persistently work at home wherever possible, to prevent students from being able to knock at their doors and interrupt them. Another lecturer says that he has his office door more often open than his colleagues – and seems to be viewed as more approachable than they are, as a result.

That, in itself, isn’t surprising. Research shows that students are less likely to approach a lecturer who has a closed, versus an open, office door (Nichols, Wobbrock, Gergle & Forlizzi, 2002).

Bearing this in mind, and notwithstanding certain periods of the day when the noise outside makes it unfeasible to have the door open, I have tried my best to make myself available to my students.  Nevertheless, my appointments diary for this week looks like this:

apptsweek5And, having been encouraged in reflective practice, I’m wondering, in a week with two first year undergraduate deadlines, why this was the case. They’ve all met me.  Do I come across as unapproachable? Studies (e.g., Grayson, Clarke, & Miller, 2006) suggest that students want help from lecturers while they’re at university – do I need to work on my openness to them?  If rapport is also important (see Heffernan, Morrison, Sweeney, &  Jarratt, 2010) am I just expecting too much, too soon?

Or am I out of step with the times? Did the students have no problems with their assignments that couldn’t be solved online? Or is this a problem that is more endemic among lecturers – do most students feel unable to approach a lecturer face-to-face for academic help, unless the contact is a course requirement? What motivates lecturers to leaving the door open or shut? Experiences and comments welcome.


I think I’m gonna like it here :-)

I’ve survived my first week here now, (that was quick…) and haven’t drowned in the paperwork that it’s generated, either. Not that the paper work of starting a new job in a new place has ended yet, but drowning seems increasingly less likely.

My week can be summarized as a series of forms, meetings, panic about upcoming teaching, followed by realization that teaching doesn’t start for a month or more, and getting to know some lovely people in the Department.

I have my own Oxford Brookes web profile and office key, and staff card, and I’ll soon be getting my own computer, too.

It’s all good. Am a *wee* bit on the tired side of exhausted, but feeling positive, and looking forward to the rest of the year.