To be in academia is to multitask.
As a principal investigator in a big university, it is becoming increasingly apparent that investigation is not my principal role. Yes, I run a lab (which is in turn defined by multitasks: supervising researchers; writing papers and grants; taking part in departmental activities). But I also have a heavy teaching load, sit on several committees, act as a formal mentor, and have recently taken on the mantle of Athena Swan lead for our division’s charter renewal application next year.
None of this is new or surprising – it’s been ever thus and, with dwindling resources, is not likely to change any time soon. But sometimes it distresses me to be so divided in focus. And my feeling of perpetual dishevelment is enhanced by the current craze for group offices. I think back to my various solitary cubbyholes with real nostalgia: spaces where you could think in perfect silence, or brainstorm freely with colleagues in person or on Skype without fear of collegial disapproval. But such spaces are a thing of history, as surface area is carved up and repurposed for the greater good (breakout areas and soft seating for students, for example).
Of course I understand the arguments about interactivity, but am pretty sure that packing many scholars into small spaces is ultimately more counterproductive for their work. Indeed, I thought it was telling that, in a recent pro/contra piece about shared space in academia, even the pro voice had to admit: “Staff are much more visible now and that is a positive – it makes the place buzz. They do still say that if they are trying to do quiet work, they use the library more or work from home.” So research staff have effectively been given offices whose specifications mean that the only way to do all their work is to not come to work at all.
One of the reasons I can no longer blog here as often as I’d like is because the fractured role I play in academia has started to encroach severely into my private time (as each role can expand to full-time if you let it). Being a working mother has also taken its toll. I know that these things come in cycles, and this term happens to be a particularly stressful one, coinciding with my son’s sudden relapse into broken sleep patterns. So I’m hanging on to the thought that the Christmas break isn’t far away, and I should be able to recuperate from the accumulated burden of sleep deprivation and 24/7 stress.
Once day I’d love to recover the time I need to write properly. I’d like to blog more here, and I’ve got a completed novel to edit and a new novel to continue beyond chapter one. But it might not be possible, and I need to accept that if it’s true. Even as I write these words, I know the chances are slim.
But no time to be sad: my lunch is eaten, and I’ve got a tutorial to plan, a broken autoclave to deal with and a presentation to polish.