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I am Robert Lepenies, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Dr. Robert Lepenies in the “How I Work” series. Dr. Robert Lepenies is a research scientist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and a member of the Global Young Academy. He holds a Ph.D from the Hertie School of Governance, a MSc in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics, and a BA in PPE from the University of Oxford (The Queen’s College). He works on the politics of nudging & on themes in the philosophy of the social sciences (economics), international political economy, and public policy. Currently, he is developing new projects related to the application of behavioral insights to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and on themes in water governance in the interdisciplinary environmental politics team of the UFZ.
He has held post-doctoral positions at the European University Institute (Max Weber Fellowship) and at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB; Center for Global Constitutionalism). He held visiting fellowships at Yale University (Fulbright-Schuman Grant) and the FU Berlin. He taught politics at the ESCP Europe Business School Berlin and history of economic thought at the Hertie School of Governance Berlin in the MPP program, as well as a seminar in moral philosophy at the FU Berlin (Centre for Advanced Studies Justitia Amplificata and KFG The Transformative Power of Europe). Robert received the inaugural WIWA Young Scholars Award for Pluralism in Economics (2015), as well as the Mulert German Fulbright Association Award for Mutual Understanding (2016) and the A.SK Social Sciences Post-Doctoral Award (2016). He was the project manager of Global Colleagues (now concluded). He has three young kids.

Current Job: Research Scientist (Post-Doctoral Level)
Current Location: Leipzig & Berlin, Germany
Current mobile device: Whatever is not broken
Current computer: MacBookProo

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

Employed as a fixed-term research scientist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig where I work on the politics of evidence-based environmental policy & themes in the philosophy of the social sciences.

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

Mac, Mendeley, Word

What does your workspace setup look like?

All I need is my trusted MacBook Pro. And PDFs, lots and lots of pdfs.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Have kids. Seriously: after bringing them to school and before picking them up, I need to make my hours count. And for the long term I guess the standard response: write about something that you enjoy & that is meaningful (to you and others). Or write with someone you really like.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

Shared Google Calendars, Moleskin for more thorough notes. I use the snooze function of Gmail a lot.

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

No, most are gimmicks that I try once and that do not last. Long term planning is key (I’m not great at it).

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Interdisciplinarity and the attempt to have both: family life (which means exactly shared responsibility for chores and kids) and academic work/service

What do you listen to when you work?
Depending on how much sleep I’ve had: instrumental indie to Death Metal

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I read mostly stories for my kids these days. Recently I’ve been reading some authors from the former GDR to try and understand East Germany better. I was bad in finding time for reading but now have reading plans (complete 1 non-work book bi-weekly or monthly)

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Situational, as for most people. It’s fine to be both: to be excited by seeing people, and to be getting tired from it.

What’s your sleep routine like?
Too little (because of three kids under 6). But generally: Wake around 6.20, sleep around 12 pm if all goes well. I wish we had a work culture that was more permissive of naps during the day.

What’s your work routine like?
Extremely hectic (because my wife and I both have careers). But fulfilling. I am grateful that my institution allows me to be flexible with when and how I work, but that also means that I feel the duty to put in extra hours…

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Only take on projects with people you like.

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