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I am Devin Berg and This is How I Work

Today I am interviewing Devin Berg for the “How I Work” series. Devin is an assistant professor in the engineering and technology department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He earned his BS Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008, MS and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Minnesota in 2011 and 2013, respectively. He acts as the program director for both the BS Mechanical Engineering and BS Manufacturing Engineering programs.

Current Job: Assistant Professor and Program Director
Current Location: Engineering and Technology Department, University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie, Wisconsin
Current mobile device: Nexus 5
Current computer: HP EliteBook 8760w and Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I work at a primarily undergraduate, teaching focused institution. My department houses four undergraduate engineering programs, two undergraduate technology programs, and one engineering masters program.

Because of the diversity of programs housed in the one department, we have a group of faculty from diverse backgrounds. I think this provides lots of opportunities to learn from my colleagues who are educated in disciplines quite different from my own.

My background is in mechanical engineering. I started doing research as an undergraduate studying particulate matter and performing chemical speciation of diesel engine emissions. In graduate school I switched to working on surgical robotics using fluid power. I am still working on a few things related surgical robotics and more broadly medical devices, but I’ve also started working on researching the pedagogy of engineering education, specifically with the topics of social justice, globalization, and international development in mind.

Generically, I want to better understand what engineering education should look like and how we are shaping the future, not only of technology but of society, as engineering educators.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?

I don’t know if I’d say there are any particular apps or software that are essential for me. I tend to migrate to whatever tool is needed at the moment. If it will make my job easier by providing a better workflow or better collaboration, I’m likely to give it a try. I do use a lot of Microsoft products since they are integrated with our campus infrastructure.

What does your workspace setup look like?

I do the majority of my work from my campus office. I work at a standing desk which is made out of a coffee table and book shelf from IKEA stacked on top of my normal desk. The light underneath is from a random LED array I had sitting around that I stuck to the underside of the coffee table. When I work from home it is usually with my Surface Pro on my lap.

Work setup

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
I don’t know if I’m the best person to offer advice on productivity, but for me it best when I complete tasks as early as I can. I certainly have fallen into the trap of chasing deadlines, but the longer I put something off, the more difficult it is for me to get started on it.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

For me this varies by the task. One of my grants is using Basecamp for project management. Mostly I just keep my notes organized in OneNote.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
My tablet is fairly integrated into my daily routine. So much of my job is wrangling email and writing documents that a computer is really my main concern.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

I’d hesitate to call it a skill but I try to be very reliable. I generally get something done that I say I will do and I tend to take on a lot of tasks that others shy away from. I need to learn how to say no better.

What do you listen to when you work?

I would say most of the time I don’t listen to anything. However, if I do it is usually a random mix on Google Play Music.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?

I have this problem where I start reading something and then decide to take a break and read something else for a while before coming back to it. Currently I have six books in progress.
1) “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People” by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald
2) “Ideas and Opinions” a collection of essays by Albert Einstein
3) “The 100 Best Worldwide Vacations to Enrich Your Life” by Pam Grout
4) “Engineering for Sustainable Human Development: A Guide to Successful Small-Scale Community Projects” by Bernard Amadei
5) “How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching” by Susan Ambrose
6) “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo
I don’t always have a ton of time to read so I usually just sneak in a few minutes here and there. Typically in the evenings after my daughter has fallen asleep.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
By far I am an introvert. I have found that this influences the way I teach fairly substantially and the way I interact with my students. I’m working on being able to come out of my shell a little more but it is a long process I think.

What’s your sleep routine like?
Depending on my daughter’s sleep schedule, I am usually to bed between 9p and 10:30p. I get up at 6:30a.

What’s your work routine like?
Most mornings I go to the gym at 7:30a and try to get to my office by 8:30a. I try to leave between 4p and 5p. About every other evening I will spend 1-2 hours catching up on things. I try to make a point not to work on the weekends unless something big is pressing.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

Not too long after I started my current position I was having a conversation with my chair. The topic of workload came up. He warned me that this place [academia] will let you kill yourself if you’re not careful. He urged me not to try to take on too many things. I’m still working on being better about this but I was glad to know that I am working within a culture of understanding the need for work-life balance.

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