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I am Meira Kensky, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Dr. Meira Kensky for the “How I Work” series. Meira Z. Kensky is currently the Joseph E. McCabe Associate Professor of Religion at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, IA. Kensky received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Biblical Studies (New Testament) from the University of Chicago. Her first book, Trying Man, Trying God: The Divine Courtroom in Early Jewish and Christian Literature, was published by Mohr Siebeck in 2010, and was the inspiration for a conference on “The Divine Courtroom in Comparative Perspective” at Cordozo School of Law in New York. Currently, she is working on her second book for Mohr Siebeck, an examination of the figure of Timothy in Early Christian literature. Recent publications include articles on Romans 9-11, Tertullian of Carthage’s Apologeticum, and the figure of Timothy in the Pauline and post-Pauline epistles. Kensky has lectured widely around the Chicago and Cedar Rapids areas, and gave the 29th Annual Stone Lectureship in Judaism at Augustana College, IL and the Winter 2016 Dean’s Craft of Teaching Seminar at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She was the recipient of Coe College’s C. J. Lynch Outstanding Teacher Award in 2013. She currently serves as Coe College’s Director of First-Year Experience. In Fall 2018 she is in residence as a teaching fellow at the Newberry Library in Chicago as the co-director of the Associated College of the Midwest’s Newberry Seminar in the Humanities.

Current Job: Joseph E. McCabe Associate Professor of Religion, Coe College
Current Location: Iowa City, IA
Current mobile device: iphone 6
Current computer: some sort of HP laptop

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
This fall I’m on leave from my regular job at my SLAC to teach the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s Seminar in the Humanities at the Newberry Library in Chicago. I’m coming off of a one-semester sabbatical, where I have been working on my current project, a monograph on the figure of Timothy in Early Christian Literature. I’ve been working on this monograph for a while. During my sabbatical, I worked on two chapters, finishing the bulk of writing for a chapter on the figure of Timothy in John Chrysostom’s Homilies on 1 and 2 Timothy, which I’ll present at a conference in November, and a chapter on Timothy and the Death of Paul in the New Testament.

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

My laptop, obviously, and internet connection. I don’t like to have a ton of books around me when I write, so I check references online as often as possible, and I always have an online Greek lexicon open. Other than that I don’t use a lot of apps or programs other than Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat.

I tried Zotero and hated it; I’d honestly rather type in my citations by hand one at a time. I find writing footnotes soothing.

In terms of internet sites, I don’t know what I would do without the Perseus project and the ATLA database.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I don’t have an office at home. I could have, but I really don’t like writing in an office setting so I didn’t set one up. I like to work at the dining room table or at a coffee shop. I do my best work when other things are going on around me; I think I like the noise and activity. I also really like the dining room table to be clear of all other things, but this is not usually the case since it is also, you know, our table.
I have not found myself able to work on my research in my office at work, unless it is just reading and taking notes on something. However, I just recently switched offices, so maybe that will make a difference when I get back to campus in the spring.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Set limited, daily goals and stop working when you reach them. Also figure out the rhythms of the academic year and be realistic about what those goals can be. I know, for example, that there’s no way I’m getting anything done on my own syllabus in October, when things really heat up in terms of classes and my administrative responsibilities (I direct Coe’s First-Year Seminar Program). Once thanksgiving is over, it’s recommendation writing and grading time. So it’s important not to do something with an unrealistic deadline, unless you’re okay missing the deadline and then feeling bad about it.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Probably just in my head, with a wall calendar. The wall calendar is really crucial. I tried using other methods but they are just not as simple as turning your head to see what is coming up. Small projects (like grant reports or recommendations) can really disappear from your radar if you don’t put them on the calendar.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?

My printer! I like to print everything and annotate it by hand. It helps me to see, also, how much I have really accomplished and feel good about it, and I also can highlight things that thematically belong together that are currently in different sections of a document.

Also my USB drive, which lives in the inside zipper pocket of my purse and goes with me everywhere. I have a note to back it up this week.

I also have a six-dollar folding travel metal bookstand that is critical apparatus. This year I did a mentorship workshop with a group of undergraduate researchers and I bought one for each of them.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
My sense of humor, my reputation for competency and efficiency, and my bullshit detector. I’m known around campus as someone who can get shit done and is not interested in wasting anyone’s time. This really helps me be trusted by my colleagues and turned to by administrators. My students tell me that I have a scary stare in class which I use to prompt them to elaborate or to locate information in the readings.
Also I have an exceptionally good lipstick and accessories collection.

What do you listen to when you work?
Nothing. Sometimes I’ll put on pandora at home but more often it’s whatever is playing in the Panera.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I read constantly! I’m currently reading How to Walk Away by Katherine Center, which I started yesterday and will probably finish today. It’s great. I read in the bathtub mostly. I have a hard time relaxing and focusing so coming back to a good novel every day in a set environment is really good for me. I love having a linear plotline to return to.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Though I’m loud and talkative, I’m actually much more of an introvert. I need quiet alone time every day. I watch tv and do cross stitch. I don’t know if this influences my working habits. I can’t immediately switch from an extrovert task like teaching or going out to working. I need to recover from the extrovert task before I can make that move.

What’s your sleep routine like?
Oh, good lord. I have a really hard time turning off my mind at night. I need to get into bed several hours before I actually fall asleep. I have an anxiety disorder so I use medication to help me!

What’s your work routine like?
My teaching work is pretty routine, but my research is not. I know I do my best writing in the morning, so in the summer I wake up, have coffee, write my 500 words or my three pages or whatever my goal is for the day, and then stop and do something else entirely.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
End on a downhill! If you know exactly what you are going to write next, stop. That way you can get up the next day and do that, and then you’re already going and it will lead to the next thing. Starting something totally new is much more difficult than just keeping going.

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