Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Alayna Cole to the “How I Work” series. Alayna is a doctoral candidate in Creative Arts (Creative Writing) and a lecturer in Serious Games at the University of the Sunshine Coast. She has broad research interests, but she is primarily focused on creating and analysing narratives that improve diverse representation, particularly of gender and sexuality. Her doctoral thesis—entitled Queerly Ever After—comprises a collection of reimagined fairy tales that seek to incorporate plurisexual perspectives.
Current Job: Games writer and academic (among others)
Current Location: Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Current mobile device: iPhone SE smart phone
Current computer: Toshiba Satellite laptop
Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am (technically) 18 months into my Doctorate of Creative Arts (Creative Writing), and I am researching representations of sexuality and gender in fairy tales. My research output comprises a creative artefact and an accompanying exegesis. While my doctoral work is in the field of creative writing, I lecture in serious game design, and my publications and conference presentations at this stage have been in both the creative writing and game studies disciplines.
What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
My system is fairly stripped back. I use Microsoft Word for writing and EndNote for keeping track of my citations, as well as a notebook and pen for jotting down ideas. I’m the sort of person who structures her thesis by moving post-it notes around on the floor. I occasionally use Pomodoro apps or websites to assist with focus on days that are all about my doctorate; one I have recently found helpful is called ‘Forest’.
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 generally work from home. My desk is organised chaos most of the time, but all of my books and research are in one place here. When I’m not working at home, I work at the Engage Lab at the University of the Sunshine Coast. It’s definitely not a ‘typical’ lab and I love its creative atmosphere. Depending on where I’m up to with my creative artefact or research, I might take my notebook or readings out to the park, on public transport, or to some other random location; a change of pace can shake things up.
Here you can see my home workspace and lab. The photo of my lab was taken during a Women in Games afternoon that I helped organise, so the place is bustling!
What is your best advice for productive academic work?
This is a tricky one! It’s about figuring out how you work best. I edit better in the morning and when it’s quiet, but I write better at night with some background noise. I also work best when I have small, realistic goals and I’ve written them down in a clear to-do list; it can be easy to get overwhelmed with a research project the size of a doctorate if you don’t break it up.
How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I used to have my doctoral thesis spread across a lot of different Word documents, but I’ve recently compiled them into one file and have it very clearly marked with comments and headings. I use a handwritten diary to keep track of other research, deadlines, conferences, meetings, and so on. I also use Trello sometimes, particularly for collaborative projects.
Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
That’s basically it, to be honest! I was also using a digital tablet earlier on in my process to read and highlight research papers and books, as I was starting to go cross-eyed staring at so many pdfs on my computer screen.
Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Probably my organisation. It helps me prioritise, and ensures I am working efficiently and strategically. It is helping immensely with my doctorate, as well as the other research and publications I am working on, and I think it will continue to aid me throughout my academic career.
What do you listen to when you work?
If anything, I tend to rely on instrumental music from videogame soundtracks. The OSTs of Bastion, Transistor, Journey, The Witcher 3, and Undertale are some personal favourites.
What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I’m currently reading novels that are contributing to my doctorate’s literature review or my other creative writing publications. It helps me find time to read when I know it’s actually work! I haven’t read anything that isn’t directly related to my research for a while, partially because I am trying to hold onto a particular creative voice that I don’t want muddied by the different styles of other authors. I’m looking forward to getting back into reading for pleasure.
Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I am fairly introverted. I guess it means that I’m rarely distracted by social influences, but also means I can have a pretty negative work/life balance. Still, I make sure I visit friends sometimes, and I limit my work while they’re around. I also have regular videogame nights on Thursdays to keep myself sane.
What’s your sleep routine like?
It varies depending on what I’m working on. Late nights while I’m writing, early mornings while I’m editing, and often my teaching schedule dictates when I have to sleep. I like working late into the night though, when I can, as I often seem to be more productive then.
What’s your work routine like?
It changes depending on what I have on my to-do list and the deadlines that are coming up. I don’t keep any sort of 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday working-hour system. I work nights and weekends a lot, but it means I can take time off to rest and think when I need it during the week. It also depends on my teaching schedule, which changes each semester.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
An academic career is all about strategy. There are a lot of different ways to approach all aspects of it—doctorate, publications, conferences, teaching, etc.—but some methods make your research work for you more effectively and efficiently than others. As for what those methods are? It takes talking to people and experimenting to figure that out.