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I am Shefton Parker and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Shefton Parker to the “How I Work” series. Shefton is a final year PhD candidate at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. He received two bachelors in Applied Science one in Human Biology and the other in Chinese Medicine also at RMIT University. His research interests are in the area of complementary medicine and primary health care, in particular integrating therapies to enhance outcomes for patient with disease. He specialises in psoriasis but has also undertaken research into acupuncture for acute pain, during which time he was the first clinical acupuncturist to have positions in two Australian hospital emergency departments. As well as his research he is also a registered Chinese medicine practitioner, where he has a special focus on dermatological conditions. Whilst he enjoys research he also has a passion for teaching and is a sessional lecturer and clinician to RMIT University undergraduates and postgraduates, where he emphasises the importance of evidence based health care.

Current Job: Final year PhD candidate (submitting November ’15), clinical researcher and Chinese medicine practitioner
Current Location: Melbourne, Australia
Current mobile device: Sony Xperia Z Ultra
Current computer: Laptops – Apple macbook pro 13″, Apple macbook air 13″ Desktop: Dell OptiPlex9010 Intel Core i7-3770 3.40Ghz

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I’m in my final (feels good to say that) year of my PhD (3.5 years) having undertaken my completion seminar in May ’15. I am now editing my thesis and associated publications for submission this November (Woohoo). My research investigates the skin condition psoriasis, where I have been evaluating the efficacy and safety of botanicals in conjunction with conventional therapies for psoriasis treatment. My PhD has led to the development of an evidence based herbal formulation based on known traditional and biological pathway activity relevant for psoriasis. My research to date indicates adding herbal to conventional therapy increases anti-psoriatic effects and reduces the risk of side effects of conventional therapy.

I am now conducting a pilot double blind randomised placebo controlled study to evaluate feasibility for further investigation of the formulation. I am also looking at the phytochemical activity of various botanicals for further scientific investigation in psoriasis.

As well as my research I am a sessional teacher to undergraduate and post-graduate students of acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine. I work as supervising clinician in the RMIT Complementary Medicine Health Clinic and run my own business as a registered Chinese medicine practitioner alongside other health practitioners.

Improving health outcomes is priority for me and I would like to see a future where various health practitioners integrate their skills with others in different modalities to optimise outcomes for their patients.(oh and hopefully a cure for psoriasis)

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
For reading PubMed and PubChem are my go to databases for my research. Review Manager for meta-analyses, SPSS for data analyses and Google calendar is my PA (although I have to make my own coffee)

What does your workspace setup look like? Do you have a fixed workspace, or do you alternate between a home office, university office and lab?
I’m on the move a lot, sometimes I work from home on a laptop usually on the couch next to my dog (writing publications and editing my thesis), sometimes I’m in the office at a desktop (entering data and coordinating trial tasks) sometimes I’m in the clinic (supervising students and consulting with patients) and other times I’m in the lab (processing plasma samples and assessing trial participants).

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Set realistic deadlines for your work and stick to them, then prioritise your tasks around your deadlines.
Keep the momentum going on your tasks. This may not work for everyone but work on two things at once. I find when I’m working on one task for a while I become less productive so I move on to another task for a break and find when I go back to the original task I’m more alert and as a result more productive again.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Regular meetings with colleagues are important. It gives you a chance to report on your progress and set targets for tasks to complete before the next meeting. Monthly reports to supervisors are also beneficial, it helps summarise where you are, where you should be and where you need to get to.

Google calendar keeps me updated on my deadlines and a whiteboard in my office is a regular reminder (sometimes an unwelcome one) of my list of tasks and are listed by priority.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I use a number of different bits of technology like the SphygmoCor for measuring central blood pressure, centrifuge for separating plasma specimens, BioPlex multiplex system for analyte quantification and an SLR camera for visual psoriasis lesion evaluation.
I use the Torque app when I’m working on my car as it helps me datalog direct from the ECU via OBD bluetooth device.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

I wouldn’t say it’s a skill as it tends to come naturally for me, I’m a good communicator. My skills generally tend to be broad but none stand out. I’m fortunate to have a great bunch of colleagues who I communicate with and this helps to get my tasks done quicker and more effectively. I enjoy learning from others and sharing my own knowledge.It really needs to be a two way street.

What do you listen to when you work?
When I’m working from home its usually my dog snoring or sometimes JJ digital radio. In the office I don’t tend to listen to anything, mainly so I don’t distract others doing their work. Music doesn’t tend to distract me nor does it help me work either.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I’m reading manuscripts currently, no fiction for me unfortunately, I feel guilty reading fiction as I know how much research related reading is out there for me. I will save fiction till I retire (a long way away). I do tend to read fiction though when I’m on holiday, although my last holiday was quite some time ago, I hope next holiday I get to finish it (Kafka on the shore – Haruki Murakami). In my downtime I’m usually reading a car magazine learning about engine performance and repair.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?

Hmm during working hours I’m more of an introvert I tend to work head down bum up, breaking only for food. Outside of work I’m pretty extroverted I think and enjoy conversation and meeting new people.

What’s your sleep routine like?
I usually get 7-8 hours sleep a night. I’m a heavy sleeper and don’t wake easily thankfully. I typically wake around the same time everyday (5.30am) and go back to sleep for an hour or two on weekends. Usually I will check my calendar and my email on my phone when I first wake up. This ensures I am prepared for the day and can adjust any appointments as needed.

What’s your work routine like?

I usually start my work day responding to emails. This helps me get my brain in work mode and I feel more at ease knowing people aren’t waiting on a reply for something that might be preventing them form their own tasks. I appreciate quick email responders.
I tend to set up my work space with what I need so I can keep working. I will have a drink bottle, some nuts, some fruit and some lollies nearby. I keep some cups of noodles in a filing cabinet for a quick snack.
I can start in the office anywhere between 7 and 10 am; it really depends on my schedule for the day. Either way, I tend to work till about 6pm as the traffic is a little quieter then and I find I’m still quite productive from 5-6pm. When I work from home I usually start a little later and finish about 7pm in time for dinner.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Two pieces which are kind of related
1.Time is your most valuable asset!
2. If you have high expectations you must also have patience

If you can learn to manage your time well then tasks become far easier and quicker to complete. And if you want to achieve a lot in time then be prepared to take lots of little steps to get there over time.

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