Posts By / Matthew Bennett

Writing & Time

One of the recurrent issues for researchers is time, as for most things in life.  I am in the process of visiting all the BU Research Centres and at various points in all of these conversations time for research and the balanced workload emerges as an issue.  There are no easy solutions to balancing ones work load; and there is a mix of both personal and corporate responsibility.  As a busy academic, with lots of external commitments, a big job and two young boys, time is for me the one thing that I don’t have and is something most of us have in common to varying degrees.  Research is often the first thing to be sacrificed as the time pressure builds or it is pushed into stolen moments between other things.

Twenty years ago as a young lecturer I used to prioritise my research over everything else and my teaching was done in the time that was left, but in those days there were few external commitments and time had that elastic property which it seems to have lost with age.  These days such flexibility does not exist, but my research is still to the fore dominating the spaces between other commitments.  Like today for example on the walk into work I was puzzling how to portray some data; I spent a few minutes while making a cup of tea between meetings outlining the structure of my next paper in my head; a structure which I finally sketched out before introducing tonight’s Professorial Inaugural lecture.  With luck I may find the time next week to start work on fleshing out this paper which I am quite excited about on the quiet.  Snatched moments are not ideal but are better than nothing; the key for me is to make the most of them.

The hardest part of getting a new paper started is setting out the first scrappy draft on paper, or just the first few pages.  Once I have this I am able to continue to work on it in stolen moments but that first bit with the cursor constantly blinking at you is hard and I need to find some proper time to marshal my thoughts and launch myself at it.  Writing is one of those hard things which you quickly get out of the habit of and getting back to paper writing after a break can be challenging.  Yes we write e-mails and texts all the time, but real prose is a struggle for most of us, certainly for me.

Last year a very eminent academic gave me a piece of advice which I now try to follow.  It is a simple task around a writing discipline which has helped me a lot.  Their advice was to write something ‘proper’ every morning as the first thing you do each day; just for twenty minutes or so rather than reach instantly for your inbox or that pile of marking.  According to their advice it leads to a more productive day in which you are more likely to write good stuff in those stolen moments.  Well I am a bit sceptical about advice like this I started the practice last year in desperation and found that it really does help.  In fact I try to spend twenty minutes writing something both morning and night now; the evening is more about trying to get ideas and issues out of my head but I do feel more productive when I start the day with some proper prose.  It can be anything and in my case is often written long hand in my ‘ideas book’; this blog post for example, a few paragraphs of a strategy paper, or better still some of my research notes.  It works really well when I am in the field or analysing data and makes a big difference to translating that fieldwork or analysis into published output.  Sitting in my tent or a seedy hotel somewhere in the world I try to write down my reflection on the day’s fieldwork and sketch out and articulate my emerging ideas.  A bit like the Victorian scientist or explorer writing out their notes or diary in laborious copper plate!  My notes are far from copper plate but the idea works.  I suppose the key point is that writing regularly really helps me keep productive and makes the most of those stolen moments for research helping me to stay positive about my research progress even when there is in reality very little due to other work commitments.  There are many such techniques and I would be interested in hearing from you on this subject, but the key thing is to find the time for research.  The appraisal round commences next term and it is your chance to be pro-active in challenging your mangers for the time to push forward your research agenda not just in stolen moments but in meaningful blocks of time; I wish you luck in this challenge and you have my support!  There are no magic solutions to the issue of time, but if you know of any I would love to hear about them!

Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise & Internationalisation)

Associate Professors @ BU

Back in 2008 BU introduced the designation of Associate Professor and there are currently fifteen Associate Professors across the organisation.  During the last couple of months I have met with them all to discuss ways in which the institution can better support their Professorial journey.  I thought it might be worth sharing a few of the highlights of these conversations.  Probably the most positive element was the fact that most Associate Professors were very appreciative of the designation and the door and opportunities it had opened.  For most there was clear added value in the scheme and it was generally believed to be a good thing and a key part of their own development journey.  In this respect I also draw attention to at least three successful promotions from Associate Professor to Professor in the last two years.  In terms of future development support we have agreed to put in place a package of measures to help Associate Professors navigate their own Professorial journeys.  These measures include a programme of personal mentoring and coaching, irregular cohort meetings, action learning and support in balancing their work loads more effectively.  We are also committed to developing BU’s Professoriate more generally and strengthening its voice within the organisation.  I met recently to discuss this with the Professoriate as a whole and hope to continue these conversations in the coming months.

 

Matthew Bennett

Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research, Enterprise & Internationalisation)