Four partially successful ways of supervising your academic troupe

Is that a student/postdoc waiting for his/hers supervisor?

Is that a student/postdoc waiting for his/hers supervisor?

By Jonas Waldenström

Science is the business that never goes to sleep. Even at our little university in the backwaters of SE Sweden there are some office windows that shine through the darkest November hours. Those rooms most often house a PhD student or a postdoc. Actually, in the case of our department, most often one of my PhD students or postdocs.

Of course, working during nights and weekends can be good. At least in the short run. You get things done, you can drink as much free coffee as you like, and you are not interrupted by colleagues expecting you to do stuff for them. Perhaps most importantly: you are not interrupted by your supervisor. In the long run, though, we need our free time to recuperate.

This autumn has been very busy for me. However, in my case it has been less due to science, and more to the domestic realm of life. You see, I have been on parental leave from August to December. It has been a wonderful time, even though the word leave has very little resemblance to vacation and relaxing. Parental leave is a full time job – a very rewarding job, but demanding.

My domestic life. Not.

My domestic life. Not.

But it is hard to completely step away from science when you have a research group to run. A PhD student cannot be put on pause, just because you are away. Manuscripts are still produced, revisions are accepted or rejected, deadlines for grant proposals approaches mercilessly, and people in admin want your opinion on this, that and everything. This is the academic’s dilemma, much harsher for women than for men, as women on average take longer leaves than men. In my case I have actually worked one day, and lately two days a week during the fall. This means I have been able to do some of the things I was supposed to do, but far from all the stuff I had intended to.

This is the third time I have been home with kids. When the time now is approaching for my return to the office I can look back at four ways things have been handled this fall:

That is a valid question!

That is a valid question!

Absence breeds creativity. Even though I haven’t been around the team has pulled off some incredible research stunts both in the lab and in the field. One infection experiment was carried out at the National Veterinary Institute, and two intensive studies were conducted at the bird observatory. All ran smoothly without me showing neither my hide, nor my hair. In my absence, people collaborated, found solutions and carried on. And if the shit had hit the fan – they could always have blamed me! (Which luckily it didn’t).

 

You cannot clone yourself, but you can get someone as a stand-in.

You cannot clone yourself, but you can get someone as a stand-in.

Find your doppelganger. Just as in the movies, it is nice with a stand-in (or several, actually). Someone who can take necessary charges of things. You know who you are – you have done great! Many thanks!

 

From Frederick William Fariholt's book Tobacco, its history and associations. From WikiMedia.

From Frederick William Fariholt’s book Tobacco, its history and associations. From WikiMedia.

Keep supervision short and worthwhile. One especially important tactic has been ultra-fast supervision. Or as long as it takes to smoke a cigarette outdoors on a Swedish November day. Without a jacket. Supervision on speed!

 

This is actually a thing you could buy http://www.thecheapplace.com/Ignorance-is-Bliss-Patch

Ignorance is bliss. Finally, accepting that you can’t do all is the best thing. For everyone’s sake. Be home. Enjoy. And, of course, blog about it 🙂

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One thought on “Four partially successful ways of supervising your academic troupe

  1. how true – it feels odd to be out of the office and taking care of the family, but then when you are there, things need to be ultra fast and time is spend on meetings rather than on anything else.
    Any yes – one just needs to find a personal work – life balance somehow – scientific work is always running, if you are employed 100%, 50% or are staying at home – it just needs some clever time management.

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