Today, I am interviewing Munirah Al Ajlan for the “How I Work” series. Munirah is an English Language Instructor in the College of Engineering and Petroleum in Kuwait University. She holds an MA in Applied Linguistics from University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and recently finished her PhD in Sociolinguistics from King’s College London. Her research interest falls into linguistics, sociolinguistic, and STEM, specifically engineering. Munirah has presented and published in both local and international conferences/ and proceedings.
General: I am an English Language Instructor at Kuwait University. I have just finished my PhD in Sociolinguistics from King’s College London. I am currently working on few research projects and studies concerning engineering, education, linguistics, and culture.
Current Job: English Language Instructor, College of Engineering and Petroleum, Kuwait University
Current Location: Kuwait
Current mobile device: IPhone
Current computer: Mac
Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I have just moved back to Kuwait after spending five years working on my PhD in London. I am currently teaching English for Specific Purposes to Engineering students in Kuwait. My PhD research investigates women studying engineering, their stories, their gender, and how they navigate their identities in a taken for granted male dominated field.
What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I enjoy working on researches, specially the ones that are directly related to my workplace and interests. For researching purposes for example, I have used SPSS in my Master research. However, this tool deals with quantitative analysis. I tried, for my PhD research, to focus on qualitative data rather than quantitative as it yields fruitful results. I mainly used Nvivo as main software for my research.
For teaching purposes, I definitely use my laptop in classroom. I believe that technology in teaching language, and teaching in general is essential. I prepare my material on slides using pictures, videos, audios and sometimes links to programs that students will enjoy. I believe that teaching should not follow the traditional conventional way. Nowadays, and I see that teachers still depend mainly on the books, strict curriculum, and tests. Teaching can always be creative, and we as educators should be using these innovative tools for teaching. These tools will facilitate learning and integrate fun in classroom activities.
I also use an App called MyU. This App is invented to be used for educators and students. Teachers can use this application to communicate with their students, take attendance (either manually or automatically using a barcode for attendance). I have used my own social media account; Twitter to communicate with my students before. However, MyU is a medium, which is completely dedicated for student- teacher communication. I would totally recommend this App to be used.
What does your workspace setup look like?
As an educator and a researcher, I try to look for the best workspace. As this is not always available, and since I got back to Kuwait, I managed to get my own personal space which I call reading/study station located in my house. I also spend quite long time in my own office in the university. I have a spacious office with large windows, good internet connection, desktop, and all my papers around. The only drawback of researching in my office is students going coming in and out. In general, I like to change spaces because this gives me positivity. Coffee shops and libraries are vibrant places for working.
What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Focus. Focus. And Focus. Point out what your academic targets are. Plan well and study the need of your students. I refuse being tethered to traditional books. I try my best to let my students think outside the box. Academics should learn what students really need.
How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I mainly use a diary to record my appointments and meetings (sometimes, my phone calendar). I work better under pressure. Submission deadlines will always keep me working better. The less time I have, the better I work.
Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
For teaching purposes: Projectors. I integrate the use of the data show in the classroom. However, this is not always available in the university (or could be there but does not work at all), so I manage to use IPads or Tablets.
As my daily life, I only use my personal mobile device and my laptop.
Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Creativity. I always ask my students to ‘think’ ‘don’t only answer’ ‘think outside the box’. I have managed to get my students to watch a movie in class and visit the science museum. These activities are not counted in their marking scheme. These activities help them in the scientific and engineering knowledge in general. I have also asked them to write a narrative essay about their experiences: watching movie and museum visits). Although they were aware that there is no mark for these activities, they were enthusiastic about it and they wrote their essays beautifully. I believe if we as academic motivated our students in such fun activities, their love in learning new knowledge will increase.
What do you listen to when you work?
Music. Music has a powerful influence on the work I do. I cannot work without playing music: Jazz, classics, pop, and country. All genres are welcomed to make me productive.
What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
End of March I have managed to get into a challenge, which I found through social media suggesting reading four books in April. I remember last April, I finished reading six books, and that was the biggest number I have ever read in a month. This April, I managed to read three books in the first nine days of April (Pistachio Seller, Tourist Guide, and Professor Hana all by Dr. Reem Basiouney). Currently, I am reading Angel by Elizabeth Tylor. Time is very difficult to find, specially, when I am a full time teaching and researching. I squeeze in few pages here and there, even sometimes, when I workout at the gym. The book is always carried in my purse.
Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I always believed I was an extrovert. I love socialising with people, networking in conferences, I have even made friends through social media. However, I consider the workplace to be a very sensitive context. I try to be very careful with my colleagues. People think of me as an introvert, arrogant, or weird, but for me, drawing lines and limits will help me in my academic career and profession.
Don’t get me wrong, I love teamwork and I think working in a community of practice is essential for effective results. However, we cannot always guarantee people’s work and we see memes on social media making fun about one person work turns to be labeled as teamwork, which I consider not fair.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I plan to sleep 7-8 hours per night. However, this is not always the case. Some days I pull an all night to work, mark exams, or prepare materials for the classroom.
What’s your work routine like?
I go to work at 8:30 in the morning. Teaching three classes a day is very overwhelming. My friends know me as I am always the last to leave the office even during my student life in London. In Kuwait University, sometimes, even the security comes and asks me if I need to stay more and whether I’ll be okay working till 23:00 sometimes.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
I remember when I was applying to start my PhD, my professor in Kuwait University, told me to not sink under the books during my study. I remember him very well saying, enjoy Britain, and always make time to have fun. My friend also told me to let go of the things that put you down. Life moves on whether we are sad or happy. Never take things seriously and personal.