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I am Steven Shaw, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Dr. Steven R. Shaw in the “How I Work” series. Steven is associate professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at McGill University in Montreal. Before entering academia, he had 17 years of experience as a practicing school psychologist. From 1997 to 2004, he served as lead psychologist and associate professor of pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina and Medical University of South Carolina. In 2000, the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists recognized him for “Outstanding Contributions to Education” for his work on addressing overrepresentation of minority groups in special education and development of teaching techniques for children with borderline intelligence. In 2010, he received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the Faculty of Education at McGill University. In 2012, he received the President’s Award from NASP for his innovative research-to-practice efforts. He has published a few papers, chapters, and such; talked to many groups of folks; and has also published four books. His fifth book, Applying recent advances in the science of intellectual disabilities to classroom and clinical practice will be published by Springer in early 2019. He is on the editorial board of six international scholarly journals, former editor of School Psychology Forum, and current editor of the Canadian Journal of School Psychology.

Current Job: Associate professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology
Current Location: McGill University, Montreal, QC Canada
Current mobile device: iPhone 6 (in the market for an upgrade because a friend just made fun of me for my old phone)
Current computer: SurfacePro III

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I tend to work on a specific area of research for a while, feel a pull to move on to something else, and then make a change. In some cases, I write a book to create closure on the topic. My new research concepts involve exploring the intersection among implementation science, open science, and evidence-based practices for the profession of school psychology. I am in the process of converting all my student-conducted research to entirely open science techniques that include registered reports, data sharing, and transparent analyses.
I have also completed 6 years of significant administrative responsibilities and am very excited to return to some decent levels of research productivity.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I use Slack for communication with students and project organization, a Pomodoro timer, and Dragon naturally speaking because I dictate all manuscripts and emails to improve speed and flow of thought.
I use RescueTime to troubleshoot my work habits if I find that I am falling behind. I use sheets on Google Docs to keep track of my major tasks in the day, writing productivity, and status of projects.

What does your workspace setup look like?

I prefer working from home whenever possible because it is about a 90-minute commute to the office. So working from home saves me about three hours in the day. I do all my creative work standing and have a standing desk situation in my office and at home. I find that the standing desk increases energy and mental alertness. I do sit to read. I have a yoga mat in both workplaces to do a quick stretch during the five-minute Pomodoro breaks.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Always have a big picture and purpose in mind. What am I trying to accomplish? Where do I want these ideas to be in five years? When I have these questions answered, then the only work I do supports those big picture ideas. At that point, the work is satisfying, fun, and has a purpose.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I have several files and tabs on Google sheets. My students have access to all these so that they can see what project I am giving attention to at any given moment.
I also have a notebook in which I write meeting notes and tasks for the day. I do this during my train commute to and from work. When I get to the office or return home, then I transcribe action items into a calendar or to do list.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I have a nice pen (it is old technology). I have had the same Waterman rollerball pen for 11 years. Usually it is used only to sign my name. Yet, I still use it to make notes at meetings.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Consistency. I am a bit of a grinder. I do some work every single day.
Also, I try my best to ensure that no matter how many tasks have deadlines or how far behind I am on my work that I always have time for people who are important to me or otherwise need my time and energy. I am always busy, but I always have time for you.
Finally, I have a mantra that I try to meet every day: read 100 pages, write 1000 words, laugh often, and support others.

What do you listen to when you work?
Classic jazz, hard rock/metal, or silence.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I read three or four journal articles every morning before I get started. Some are part of my duties as a journal editor, some are from links supplied by Twitter people, and some are papers discovered by my students.
I usually read nonacademic books in the late afternoon or evening. I tend to read about one book per week. Currently, I am rereading: Kodokan Judo: Throwing Techniques by Sensei Daigo. My favourite book that I read this summer is I Fight for a Living by Louis Moore.
Time is not something that you find it is something you prioritize. So I never really understand that question. It is like asking if I can find the time to breathe or eat.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?

Extremely introverted. Although I am social and have friends and family, I enjoy being alone. I have no difficulty working for days or weeks on end without seeing anyone but family.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I go to bed between 10 and 11 PM and wake up at 5:50 AM. Morning routine consists of five-minute meditation, 15-minute brief stretching, walking the dog, shower, coffee, and on my way.

What’s your work routine like?
I tend to read the news and be silly on Twitter for an hour every morning. Then I read journal articles and answer emails. After that, it is time to take on the first scheduled task of the day. I just do as much as I can as fast as I can and try not to suck (a paraphrase from @chuckwendig).

What’s the best advice you ever received?

Just do what you do. If that is not appreciated in your current work environment, then go find a place that is a better fit. I know that will not work for everyone, but I have already had a career before I became an academic. So I do not take the world of academia too seriously. I prefer to think that I am still school psychologist who works in knowledge generation and translation, and is preparing the next group of professionals. That works better in my head than thinking of myself as a professor or academic.

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