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I am Zaira Arvelo, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Zaira R. Arvelo Alicea. Zaira told me the following about herself: “Life was also thrilling before becoming a small business owner. I had served as teaching assistant, online curriculum developer, and research assistant at Purdue University and the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez for around 8 years. In addition, I had worked as assistant professor at the English Department’s Teacher Preparation program at the University of Puerto Rico in Aguadilla for 4 years. All in all, I had accumulated more than a decade of academic publishing, presenting, and grant writing/managing. You could say I had mastered the academic genres coveted by scientific journals and major organizations related to Literacy and Language, my specialty area. But I had SO much more to learn about how the real world communicates, how to reach wider audiences, communicate in lay terms, and connect with non academics. That’s what I’m here to do: help others with their oral and written communication bringing insight from academia and the business world. The mission of Professional Writing and Development is to use language and training to connect people to their goals. I provide writing, style and grammar editing, as well as English-Spanish translation services for academics, professionals, and small to medium sized businesses. Plus, I facilitate online and face-to-face English and professional communication training for busy people. Simply put, I can be your alley and personal editor in dissertation work, manuscripts, professional site, among others.”

Current Job: Proprietor
Current Location: Puerto Rico
Current mobile device: Android
Current computer: Chromebook and Windows Desktop

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am a former full time adjunct assistant professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico’s Teacher Preparation Program who now owns a small business specializing in language services and training. My research has centered on the intersection of literacy and social skills. My research background is in mixed methods research in education.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
As an academic and researcher the Microsoft Office Suite, Zotero Plugin, and research software like Nvivo in a powerful computer were a must. As a business owner, my mobile and Chromebook are my weapons of choice. I need access to my business data 24/7 and the long lasting battery provided by this light laptop. Because I can work from anywhere, I prefer using the Google Suite as it syncs across devices. Since I host a YouTube channel where I teach English pronunciation, I still need a powerful desktop from which to run open access software like OpenShot and Audacity. I also rely on a GoPro, and a desk microphone with amplifier. I have an automated electronic store operated with WooCommerce, a blog in WordPress, and a newsletter with MailChimp.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I used to have a neat setup at my former home office until the wall of 6 feet of water brought by hurricane María drowned it all. Now, I alternate between different spaces in a 1 bedroom apartment. I have a tall bar area where I work from my laptop standing up, a yoga ball and folding table in front of a large glass window where I sit, and a dorm like wooden desk where I keep my PC and recording equipment.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Scheduling and setting boundaries. Take time to separate spots (or blocks) to work towards writing goals, teaching prep, grading, etc. Establish healthy boundaries like no more committee work, no more than x amount of credits, no work or emails during the weekends. Reward yourself for each small victory. No one is going to do it for you.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I used color coded Google Calendar entries, spreadsheets with road maps and red, yellow, green for task status, digital protocols and marketing plans where again I color code the progress of campaigns or products. I also love having interactive checklists like those provided by Google Keep.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
Yes, GoPro, desk microphone, and lapel mic for on the road recording.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Versatility to think like an academic but speak and write like a real-world person.

What do you listen to when you work?
Ha! Anything from new age to cumbia and rock del patio in English and Spanish.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
Mostly online mainstream news outlets being that I am in Puerto Rico witnessing an unprecedented social and political movement.

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

Extrovert. I can work from anywhere and accept these new challenges of owning a business. Unexpected yet crucial tasks pop up every other day and must be solved nearly immediately. Sometimes they include reaching out to lawyers and accountants, other times they entail doing a pitch with a very tight notice.

What’s your sleep routine like?
I NEVER pulled all nighters as an academic. My six to eight hours of sleep are sacred. If broken, is certainly not for academic work but for my business or nonprofit contributions.

What’s your work routine like?
Depends on the month and the week. I cater to varied audiences and each one has high and low seasons. For example, March is dissertation season with graduate students and there’s lots of editing to be done. November is admission season and undergrads need mentoring in their documentation package. December is seasonal job palooza and mainstream clients need help with their professional documentation.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Always ask “Why me?” when prompted to do voluntary work. And follow up with “Who else have you approached?”. As a Latina scholar, you need to make sure it is your expertise and not your ethnic background they want.

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