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I am Kerry McCullough, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Kerry McCullough in the “How I Work” series. Kerry is a finance lecturer in the School of Accounting, Economics and Finance at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Her research interests fall into two broad areas: finance and education. Her doctoral thesis considered the manner in which information is assimilated into stock prices, and proposed a latent variable approach to determining which specific types of information are relatively more important to certain assets. The educational aspects of teaching finance, including an ongoing project aimed at helping first-time researchers manage their first full research project, are key interest of hers.

Current Job
: Lecturer (Finance)
Current Location: KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Current mobile device: Samsung A5
Current computer: Acer Aspire V3 i7, 17.3”, 16GB Memory, 1750GB HDD. I used real time financial trade data in my PhD and so needed the more powerful computer to manage the large data sets. I add a second screen (a 50cm Packard-Bell) to this set-up, which I would recommend to anyone using multiple programs at once.

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?

I have been a Finance lecturer at UKZN for 9 years. I have recently submitted my PhD (by Publications). I am hoping to complete my Post Graduate Diploma in Higher Education in 2018, and am currently taking an edX course with the Linux Foundation (Blockchain for Business – An Introduction to Hyperledger Technologies). My finance research interests are focused on capital markets, considering market efficiency, information transmission, volatility, and performance. In education, my research interests include active learning and encouraging meaningful research and engagement in group/team-based projects.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
A statistical analysis software is essential. I have used R, EViews, Stata, JMulti, Excel and Nvivo over the course of the last few years. I do all my writing in Microsoft Word, and I reference manually as I go.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I move between my home office (L picture) and my work office (R picture). I find working at home more productive for writing, and so I try to reserve my non-teaching days for the home-office where possible.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Being part of a writing group and/or taking part in writing retreats is something I would highly recommend.

For every day advice – just get started. I find that if you can get those first 5 minutes done, hours of work usually follow.

Keep a ‘progress’ journal. I log each research day with a summary and note where I need to start next.

It is helpful to have a personal ‘reference library’ within reach. I draw on the following frequently: Prof. Carol Alexander’s series on Market Risk Analysis; Prof. Ruey S. Tsay’s Multivariate Time Series Analysis (applications in R); Prof. Chris Brooks’ Introductory Econometrics for Finance (applications in EViews) and Sean Becketti’s Introduction to Time Series Using Stata (applications in Stata).

Follow several academic blogs. I am often very grateful for a particular post arriving at just the right moment for motivation or advice. David Giles’ blog “Econometrics Beat” is great for anyone in Finance/Econometrics/Statistics, and of course there are many excellent writing and research ones, including: PhD Talk, Patter, The Professor is In, The Thesis Whisperer, Research Degree Voodoo, Explorations of Style, and Doctoral Writing.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

I keep a running to-do list in a journal style notebook, along with a small year-long calendar to track day-to-day details and deadlines in an easy to see summary of the most important things.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I often use a tablet (iPad) for convenience rather than carrying a laptop around.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

I genuinely care about my students and their achievements. I count myself lucky to be working in a job I enjoy so much, that can be so rewarding, and which offers so many opportunities for learning.

What do you listen to when you work?

At my very quiet home office, I rarely listen to anything; however, at my work office and on writing retreats I often have something playing in the background with a tempo to match my typing speed.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I have a long drive to and from campus (an hour each way to my primary campus, more to my secondary campus) and so I get a lot of ‘reading’ done using the Audible App. At the moment, I am listening to Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?

More of an introvert, which is why I find home office days more productive for writing.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I try to ensure that I’ve had a solid 8 hours by the time my alarm goes off at 6am. I’m often up before that however, and so very rarely start my work day later than 7am.

What’s your work routine like?
The first thing I do each day is make a cup of tea, which I take to my home office computer and deal with emails and the quick and easy items on the to-do list. I then turn to the longer tasks of the day – writing, grading, lecturing, supervision, reviewing etc.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
I was due to attend a week-long writing retreat, and on the morning it started a family member fell ill. I called the retreat coordinator (our College Dean of Research at the time) from outside the Emergency Room to explain that I would be running a little late. Her support and advice was that, “Some of the balls we juggle are glass – and family are one of the glass balls that cannot be dropped. Go and look after your family. If you can join us later, do; but not to worry if you can’t.” I have since found the ‘glass ball’ advice to be a great way of getting perspective when necessary.

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