Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Annelies Van de Ven in the “How I Work” series. Annelies started out her academic career studying classical archaeology at the University of St Andrews, but soon found her way into reception and museum studies. Though her MA is in Ancient History and Archaeology, and she is currently doing a degree within the archaeology department at the University of Melbourne, she considers herself a proud interdisciplinary researcher and is currently doing a video project that focuses on possible interdisciplinary futures within the Faculty of Arts at her institution.
Current Job: I am doing PhD full time as well as working as a university tutor, trench supervisor, research and curatorial assistant on a casual basis.
Current Location: Istanbul, trying to get permissions to go excavate our site.
Current mobile device: An iPhone 6 that was given to me as a combined birthday and graduation present.
Current computer: A slightly dented HP Laptop, the sticker on the keyboard tells me it is an intel CORE i5.
Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am currently a full time international PhD student on a university funded scholarship at the University of Melbourne. I just passed the 3rd year review hurdle, so I am nearing the end. I am currently set to submit in mid-September, and at this moment in March, have about 90% of my thesis written. The main issue at the moment is cutting words, editing my spelling/grammar, and finessing my appendixes and bibliography, which is going rather slowly.
My research focuses on how museums can better present archaeological objects, for a more engaging visitor experience. I am looking specifically at the Cyrus Cylinder, analysing how people perceive it, and whether these perceptions have been addressed in its past and present display strategies.
I live with my partner who completed his PhD in bio-chemical engineering last year and is currently working as a researcher at the university while I finish my thesis.
What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
Well, Dropbox, Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel and Powerpoint are pretty essential. I also have a fantastic app called Camera Scan, that means I can scan books in my office rather than having to spend hours hogging the printer.
When I am teaching LMS, and Turnitin are the main tools I use, I don’t print out student essays unless I have to, I think I use up enough paper already.
When I am in the field I use filemaker for databases, GIS or CartoDB for mapping, as well as Illustrator, Photoshop or Coreldraw for illustrations. There are a number of other individualised software packages for archaeologists that we use for our surveying, artefact processing and data analysis, but they are not in my field of expertise.
For communicating I mainly use g-mail, but lately as more and more academics create social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, I find more of my communication is going through those channels.
What does your workspace setup look like?
I am lucky in that my department guarantees us international research students a space throughout our candidature. However, I have changed office five times over the past 3 and a half years. I started on a part-time desk in an open plan area called the ‘research corner’. This was a communal space where early degree history, philosophy, classics and archaeology postgraduates were placed. There were no computers provided, but most of us had laptops and the library was not far off. The next year I was moved to a corridor in the attic. There were only 8 of us in the office, all classicists or archaeologists, and we were all given computers. However, the space was possum infested, and though they couldn’t get into our office space, others on our corridor were not so lucky, and we all suffered from the smell. The year after that I was moved to a different office on the floor below, which seemed far too large and grand for 2 grad students, we even had our own bookshelves. I was only able to stay there for 1 semester before the entire department was moved to a new building, Arts West. Here I was given a desk in an open plan space on the top floor right across from the printer, as shown in the photograph below. The views were fantastic, and the height of the desk could be re-adjusted but the number of people coming in and out was not particularly conducive to work.
The latest move brought me to an office 2 floors below the open plan area, as shown in the photograph below. I now share this office with 2 other archaeologists, who are both wonderful to work with.
After moving so many times I have learned to keep less stuff in my office, however this means that my desk at home has become increasingly cluttered and I have started working at the dining table rather than sitting at my desk when at home, see below. I also regularly try to switch it up and go work at a colleague’s house, in a café, or in one of the communal reading rooms on campus.
What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Erm… don’t listen to other people’s advice? Find what works for you.
I have found over the years that the advice given by university staff and supervisors, doesn’t always match up with my personal experience. I don’t necessarily work better in silence, I do not write out full references while writing, I like working in a group setting, and I don’t work to a fixed schedule. These things work for me, but not for everyone. So try things out and see what works for you.
How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I used to literally just have a piece of paper with a list of things I needed to do organised into rough themes. I loved crossing things off the list. However, I soon realised this was not the most efficient way of doing things, as I ended up having to re-write the list every few days, and ended up with about 5 different versions of it, so I now have a digital to do list that is organised based on deadline, priority and effort needed to complete them.
Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I have a kindle, that I love. I moved around a lot as a kid, and the worst thing about moving was always that I had to throw out books. The kindle means I can take my books with me and it doesn’t take up all my luggage space. I still prefer physical copies, but the kindle gets a close second, especially as mine lets me annotate my books, making it useful for academic reading as well.
Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I tend to say yes, and I am good with deadlines. I have been told these are not necessarily common traits amongst academics. I have a lot on my plate, but I actually like it that way, it makes me feel like I am accomplishing things and contributing to a wider community of research, teaching and outreach. Sometimes this can be stressful, and I often get advised to only do projects that are directly related to my research or to some kind of monetary/position gain. However, I think that all these project enrich my research, they give me skills and contacts I would not have otherwise, and they give me more tangible outcomes than my long term thesis research, which helps motivate me to continue. They have also taught me the value of doing things to a strict deadline. If you are juggling a lot of projects, it is important to get the high priority ones out of the way fast, so you don’t end up eating into the time you are meant to spend on other things.
What do you listen to when you work?
It really depends on my mood and on what I am working on. While I am reading I tend to not listen to anything. While writing it can be anything from instrumental movie soundtracks, to rap or even country music. Lately I have been listening to a lot of Broadway musical soundtracks. Often I just need something to get me going and then to keep me motivated. I tend to get bored easily, so music actually makes me more likely to keep at it when I am not feeling particularly inspired.
What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I just finished an amazing book by Joseph Assaf called ‘In Someone Else’s Shoes’. It tells the story of a Lebanese Australian man who built a successful career around the advocating for the significance of cross-cultural empathy in the business world. It is a fantastic read.
The next book on my list is Ken Robinson’s ‘Creative Schools’. It has been described to me as a manifesto for engaged educational programs.
I find it very difficult to find time to read during a regular work week. It is not that I don’t have any spare time, but I tend to want to fill it with other things, after a full day of sitting in my office reading and typing. When I do make time for reading I often end up feeling guilty about reading non-thesis related things.
Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I am definitely more of an extrovert. I get very frustrated when alone with my own thoughts. I have less of an issue with having leisure time on my own, I can watch a movie, read, go for a run, but when I am doing work, I find being alone to be difficult. Research is already such an isolating experience, particularly at PhD level. In order to avoid daily meltdowns, I try to work with others, and allocate time to discussing my work in a group. The danger with this is that these discussion sessions can sometimes go on far longer than expected, but I’d prefer to lose a day of work to exchanging ideas with colleagues, than to lose one to a burn out.
What’s your sleep routine like?
When I am alone at home, which happens for about 1 to 2 months a year nowadays, I tend to wake up around 10am and work until about 2 or 3am. I am definitely not a morning person and I find night times to be oddly productive, particularly for writing. Unfortunately, this schedule doesn’t really line up with normal university working hours, and my partner has a 9-5 university job, so when he is around I try to adapt to his schedule and sleep from about 11pm to 7am. It still feels slightly wrong to me, though I seem to be in the minority on this one.
What’s your work routine like?
This varies so much depending on what projects I am working on and whether or not I am teaching. I tend to do administrative work in the morning, as I don’t feel I am at my full research capacity, and I always seem to have more than enough forms and emails to keep me busy for a few hours every day. Then around lunch (11 to about 3) is when most of my meetings, social or work related, happen, so there is a lot of flitting around across campus and the city. Once I get back to the office I then get into reading and writing, until around 5:30 when I take a short break to go for a run or walk followed by dinner. Then if I have nothing else planned for the evening I continue to do writing, reading, or if I am feeling really out of it referencing or editing until around 10. If I am working on an exhibition, or a class, I am much more focused, as there tends to be a tighter deadline involved, particularly when there is marking to do.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
If you have something that you want to or need to do, don’t just leave it until tomorrow, tomorrow there will be new things to do, new opportunities and new hindrances.