Today, I am interviewing Catherine Pope for the “How I Work” series. Catherine holds a PhD in Victorian literature and culture from the University of Sussex. She is a digital and research skills trainer and has also published ebooks on Zotero, Evernote, and Scrivener. For more information, please visit www.theDigitalResearcher.com.
Current Job: Research skills trainer, publisher, and academic
Current Location: Brighton, UK
Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy smartphone and Arnova tablet
Current computer: Windows 8.1 and Mac Mini
Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I finished my PhD last year and now work with doctoral researchers at the University of Sussex, delivering workshops on everything from developing their social media presence, to writing a literature review and preparing for a viva. Recently I was a visiting lecturer at the University of Brighton, teaching Victorian literature. In my spare time, such as it is, I’ve been writing a monograph based on my thesis. My topic is the nineteenth-century author Florence Marryat, who wrote rather colourful novels about transgressive women and enjoyed an equally colourful personal life.
What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
Well, my three favourite tools are Zotero, Evernote, and Scrivener. I do tend to go on about them rather a lot and have written ebook guides on them all. Zotero is just brilliant for managing thousands of citations, Evernote is like having a second brain, and Scrivener makes writing a joyful experience. I encourage all researchers to try these tools, as they really do help enormously. I can’t imagine being without them.
What does your workspace setup look like?
I mainly work from home when I’m not teaching, as it’s a very comfortable and quiet space. I like having an enormous monitor, and one of those weird keyboards with the scrolling bar to prevent RSI. When writing, I prefer to start in longhand and it’s easier if I’m nowhere near the computer. Proximity to the internet tempts me to look things up every 5 minutes, rather than actually getting on with it. You could say that my favourite mobile app is a writing pad and pen. For me the pace of writing with a pen allows the ideas to flow. I then transcribe it into Scrivener, editing as I go along.
What is your best advice for productive academic work?
I’m going to sound like a self-improvement book now, but here goes … set your goals and measure your progress. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I like to set myself daily targets. I use a mobile app called Coach.me to cultivate good habits, e.g. writing at least 500 words a day. Apart from providing a useful tracking device, Coach.me also offers a community of users who support each other to reach their goals.
How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I’m evangelical about Todoist.com for task management. I was studying for my PhD alongside a full-time job, so every minute counted. Breaking everything down into tiny steps and keeping track of it all helped me get through.
I also have a paper-based weekly planner. For some reason, I find it much easier to get a sense of what I’m doing when it’s laid out on a page. Here I scribble down the projects I’m going to work on each day, then I break them down into specific tasks in Todoist.
Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
For the last few years I’ve been developing elearning materials, so use various bits and bobs for producing screencasts and podcasts. I use Audacity and Camtasia for producing the sound and video files.
I’m also never more than a few feet away from my Kindle. While I still love printed books (there are around 3,000 in my house), I can now carry hundreds of novels with me wherever I go. The highlighting and annotation features are also incredibly helpful. I use an app called Clippings.io to manage all my Kindle highlights and export them to Evernote.
Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
In my discipline of Victorian literature and culture, I stand out as someone who can actually work a computer. Some of my colleagues think there’s nothing wrong with telegrams, and can’t really see the point of email or Twitter. On bad days, I tend to agree with them. I actually worked as an IT manager and a web developer for 12 years before beginning an academic career, so I’m keen to use technology to improve the student learning experience and also to give doctoral researchers the skills they need in the workplace.
What do you listen to when you work?
Annoyingly, I just can’t listen to music while I work, unless I’m doing something very repetitive. If I could manage it, I’d mainly listen to Kate Bush.
What are you currently reading?
I’m a voracious reader and always have been. It takes priority over many activities, including housework. I’m currently reading The Making of Home by Judith Flanders and A. N. Wilson’s biography of C S Lewis. The joy of the Kindle is that it’s easy to read wherever I am.
Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Hmm, I’m probably an extroverted introvert. It took me a long time to overcome my terror of public speaking, but I knew it was essential to the career I wanted to pursue. The first time I gave a talk, one of the attendees commented on how confident I appeared. She was astonished when I explained that I’d spent the first five minutes wondering if I could sneak out through the fire escape.
I’m very happy working alone, which I do much of the time, but always look forward to teaching and interacting.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I can’t really cope with fewer than 8 hours’ sleep these days. Most nights I’m in bed by 10pm, read for half an hour, then I’m up at 6.30ish.
What’s your work routine like?
As my partner would tell you, I’m never happier than when I’m working. I probably work 60 hours a week. It doesn’t feel like a lot, though, as I enjoy most of what I do.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
That you won’t get something done by just talking about it. Deeds not words, as the suffragettes would say.