Ain’t nobody got time for that

It is my penultimate day at UWE Graduate School and tomorrow I shall be welcoming a new cohort of PhDers as they join a community of over 500 others, all of whom are inching toward a goal of a successful doctorate. This blog post is from one of our PhDers and a founding member of the UWE DocSoc, Ola Michalec, who makes this plea to become involved in the postgraduate researcher community.

As one of the members and organisers of DocSoc – a society for PhD students at UWE, my aim is to build a community of postgraduate researchers. We have been working towards it for over a year now, organising academic, social and team-building events, campaigning for inclusion of Postgrad students in the university policy and creating a platform for online discussion and information exchange via social media channels.

We have 137 members on facebook group, 122 twitter followers and 35 paid members.   With 500+ people registered for a Doctorate at UWE, we should expect a better turn out – or should we? Ultimately, there will always be barriers to participation in extracurricular activities – many of us have extra job commitments, caring responsibilities or long commutes. Yet, the most commonly mentioned reason for missed events is “being busy with work”… It is high time we reconsidered the notion of “busy-ness”. This applies to every career path, not just academia. Engaging with extra-work activities will ultimately enrich both your private and professional life and with careful time management, it will not come as a distraction to your priorities.

So what is the problem with “being busy”?  I often hear “being busy” as an excuse for non-participation. Interestingly, this is usually followed by “I can’t focus/ I’ve procrastinated on facebook/ I’ve got too many emails and admin” as a response to “how was your day?” Can you see a paradox here? We are avoiding engagement with societies, charities, volunteering, campaigning because our work supposedly takes too much time. Once we given 8 hours in our offices to get on with our priorities, we resort to anything-but-work. I am not here to criticise or judge our procrastination-prone minds (but you can read more about the mechanism here: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html) as it seems to be a part of human (also my own) nature. However, I am here to give you a few practical tips for re-thinking your schedule and priorities, so you will give yourself fewer opportunities to procrastinate while freeing up time for professional and personal development.

First, we need to bust the myth of getting involved (in DocSoc, local community garden, homeless charity etc.) as a distraction from your career. As our colleague, Jackie (@opsologist on Twitter) elegantly put it, “by attending extra events, you expose yourself to the possibility of cross-pollinating ideas with others”. I find this particularly meaningful for the academics, still locked up in their ivory towers of theory-heavy papers and sitting on the shoulders of long dead giants, who might have 1000s citations on Google Scholar, but have never spoken to your immediate community.  By engaging with the real people and real issues on the ground, you’re inviting randomness and surprise – you will hear about ideas, references, projects, opinions, inspirations you would never had a chance to discover from the comfort of own office and personalised news feed.

Second, we ought to be radically honest about the time we have available in theory vs how much time we spend in the state of full attention. Ideally, these two figures should look the same.  Taking a critical look at our calendar will help with achieving a healthy separation from work and life (especially if you are so serious about your job that you regard is as your hobby or vocation). So, for example, have you been working today for 8 hours, or have you *just* been sitting in your office? Did you go out with friends to listen about their day or to check your facebook feed? The technology we are now embedded in is designed to allow multitasking and dividing attention between numerous things at the same time. I recognise the scale of the challenge and admit that I am not in a position to judge. I struggle with attention myself as well! However, I can say with full confidence that these days, the greatest gift you can offer to another person or the cause you care about is your full presence in the shared moment.

Ultimately, many of us would like to “live to the full”, while making our careers somehow meaningful and impactful. I personally find societies and volunteering a perfect bridge between creating the meaning and allowing “the fullness”. Thanks to DocSoc, I encountered with the most inspiring research, negotiated with unexpected worldviews, had the opportunity to help the others, received first-hand career advice and – last but not least – took advantage of heavily discounted food, drinks and trips 😉 Next time you see a call for involvement – think twice before “marking it as spam”. Give it a go – most organisations do not require commitment upfront, heaps of your time or specialist knowledge. The benefits to your community and yourself will be invaluable…are you on board?

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