Why Should We Be Collegial?

loom_weaving3I was interested in this post from the Research Whisperer yesterday, written by Tseen Khoo and inspired by a researcher who chooses to do nothing unless it will benefit their career. I recently wrote a post about why it’s important to learn to say ‘no’. Yet I believe, very strongly, that it’s also important to be collegial, to look out for others, to offer support and help where it’s needed and where you can give it freely. Tseen’s post got me thinking about why I believe that. What is so important about being collegial? Would it be so awful if we all just looked out for ourselves – and, if so, why?

For me, the key point about learning to say ‘no’ is that it enables us to conserve enough resources to look after ourselves and other people. Yes, ourselves first, though I see that as at the level of health and happiness, rather than at the level of career management like the researcher mentioned in Tseen’s post. Each of us is best placed to know what we can and can’t cope with and how much energy we have; once we reach adulthood we cannot, and should not, expect others to manage this for us (though of course they sometimes help along the way). So when we’re asked to do something that will take us beyond our coping ability or use up too much of our energy, we need to be able to say ‘no’ – unless it’s an emergency, of course. Then it’s time to pull out all the stops and recoup later on.

Sometimes it’s worth saying ‘no’ to things we do have the ability and energy for, but which don’t bring us joy. I say ‘no’ to a lot of things by choosing to be an indie researcher. For example, I say a resounding ‘no’ to organisational bureaucracy, meetings about meetings, and ironing. I could manage all those things, and more of their ilk, and have done so at times. But I am much, much happier without them in my life.

Once we’ve done all the saying ‘no’ we want and need to do, we should have created the capacity to say some ‘yes’. We have choices there, too. We can act like the researcher in Tseen’s blog post and choose only to say ‘yes’ to things that will benefit our own career. Or we can use a different strategy for decision-making.

Tseen helps because she can. My own strategy is similar, along the lines of ‘if someone needs help, and I can help, I’ll help’. The ‘help’ in that sentence could be passing the butter or giving a troubled friend space to live in my house for a year while they sort themselves out. In professional terms, it could be downloading a pdf for someone who asks on Twitter, or providing years of support for a colleague doing a doctorate. But for me, that’s what I do, not why – and I think there’s more self-interest in why I help, though not the kind of self-interest shown by the researcher who so enraged Tseen. Helping others benefits me, not in the sense of stacking up brownie points to redeem in an afterlife, but because every time I help someone I learn something new. And desire to learn is the main reason why I do scholarly work in the first place.

That doesn’t mean I do some kind of cost-benefit analysis. I doubt it would be possible, even if I wanted to, because I couldn’t figure out in advance what I would learn from helping someone. Sometimes I learn a small thing from a big help, or vice versa. I don’t try to calculate return on investment, either. Offering help and support is part of the fabric of my life and it’s not about expecting some kind of payback. In fact, often I’m paying it forward, such as by helping people with postgraduate research. When I was doing my own MSc and PhD, I received an enormous amount of help from people who were further along in the process, and I never could pay that back – but I certainly can pay it forward, and encourage others to do the same.

The lovely thing, though, is that sometimes helping others has an unexpected payback, if someone you helped finds they are able to help you. A friend and colleague who I helped with her PhD, years ago, recently did me a big favour by hooking me up with the Head of her institution’s Graduate School who wants to commission the kind of courses I offer. My friend claims her main motivation was self-interest, because having identified someone who can help where it’s needed will reflect well on her. Perhaps it will, though I’d dispute the self-interest being her main motivation, because I know her to be a generous person with an eye to the ways she can help others. In fact, she’s thoroughly collegial.

I think I’ve worked out at least two of the reasons why it would be worse if we all just looked out for ourselves. We would deny ourselves regular opportunities to learn from helping others, and occasional opportunities for unexpected benefits further down the road. Those opportunities seem to me to be two good reasons for being collegial, and they constitute two shining threads in the fabric of our lives and work.

I’m sure there are other reasons too. If you have any in mind, please leave a comment; I’d be interested.

Why And How To Say No

noPeople in our line of work, whether academic or altac, are often at serious risk of over-commitment. This can happen for a number of reasons, including disorganisation, pressure from other people, and the inability to say ‘no’.

Disorganisation is often made up of the best intentions, lack of foresight or planning, unrealistic expectations, and inability to understand how long different jobs actually take. It can be truly difficult to figure out how long it will take to do a given piece of work, but a useful strategy is to make your best guess then add fifty per cent. So if you think you could definitely get an article written in six weeks, tell anyone who needs to know that it will take you nine weeks. One way to keep your expectations realistic is to take care to factor in all your existing commitments – which, don’t forget, include your social life and holidays as well as work. Also, remember that the empty spaces in your calendar in the months to come will fill up as the dates come closer. People often say to me things like, ‘I’m really busy this month and next, but I’ll have lots more time after that.’ I think, ‘No you won’t, you poor deluded fool, because by the time you get there “the month after next” will be “this month” and you’ll be just as busy as ever.’

People often over-commit from the best intentions. They want to help, or they are being offered interesting projects, and they think they’ll find a way to get it done. Often they do find a way, but that can be at the expense of their happiness, their relationships, and their health. I know, personally, two senior academics who have been reduced to taking sizeable portions of sick leave due to over-commitment in the last year alone. Part of this is because of the structure of academia and the ever-increasing demands placed on its staff. The only real solution to that is collective action. Yet, without wanting to sound all neoliberal, there is also scope – and, I would argue, responsibility – for individual action in the interests of protecting our own well-being.

Some people seem completely unable to see what is around the corner. One fairly senior academic I know moved from a research job to a teaching job, and was then astonished to discover that time-consuming preparation and marking were required. Another, a parent of two young children, seems continually surprised by the need to provide care for them. Perhaps over-commitment breeds over-commitment because, when you’re currently over-committed, it’s hard to find the time to give proper thought to potential future commitments and their likely implications. But finding that time is the only way to escape the over-commitment trap. And the only way to find that time is to learn to say ‘no’.

Saying ‘no’ can be really difficult, particularly if the person asking is, for example, senior to you, or someone to whom you owe a favour. So, to begin with, try learning not to say ‘yes’ immediately. Say something like, ‘That’s a really interesting proposition. Can I think about it and get back to you? I need to check my other commitments before I can give you a firm answer.’ Then if you decide you don’t want to say ‘yes’, you can say, for example, ‘I’d love to help but right now I don’t have the time to do the work well, and I don’t want to do a bad job for you.’

When you owe a favour, even this can feel very difficult. It can help simply to acknowledge the fact that you owe a favour. ‘I know you did X for me, and I am still very grateful. I do want to return the favour but I’m afraid it’s a really difficult time for me right now, as I am already fully committed for the next few months. Is there some other way I can pay you back?’ Being up front like this can feel scary for some people, but it is a great way to diffuse the anxiety that unspoken worries can create, and therefore it is worth the effort.

The wider pressure to ‘be collegial’ is another difficulty faced by those working in academia, whether from inside or outside institutions. For example, I recognise that I can’t expect people to peer-review my articles without offering to peer-review the articles of others. However, I can decide how many articles I am able and willing to review, per month or semester or year. Given that there is a need to review articles which are not and never will be fit for publication, as well as those that are or could be publishable, I might decide to review two articles for every article I submit. Or I might decide I can manage one per month, or two per semester, regardless of how many I write myself. The number you can manage will, of course, depend on your other commitments, but the basic principle is the same. You need to think the whole thing through, make a decision, then stick to that decision – and explain it to people where necessary. The same could apply with other regular one-off tasks such as examining theses, reviewing book proposals or typescripts, writing forewords, and so on. You have the right to set a limit on any such task you’re being asked to do more often than you can comfortably manage – and to enforce that limit.

There is an ethical point to this, too. We forget to notice that if we don’t look after ourselves properly, we can’t do our jobs or look after other people. I love Deborah Netolicky’s memorable description of ethics as the ‘unsexy undergarments’ of academia. I think we should pay attention to ethics all the time, just as we remember, every day, to wear our undergarments. People who over-commit are a danger to themselves, risking their health and happiness, and that can damage their families and friends as well. They are also a danger to their colleagues: I know from experience, as someone who is quite good at managing time and workload, that a collaborator who misses deadlines can cause great stress in my life. So for our own benefit, and for the benefit of our colleagues, families, and friends, we have an obligation not to over-commit, and that means learning to say ‘no’.

Things Are Really Happening!

juggling.pngDuring this academic year I’ve been involved in various enterprises on top of my commissioned research work, teaching, and writing commitments: solo self-publishing, collaborative self-publishing, and course development. And they’re all starting to come to fruition!

The course I’ve been involved in developing with Dr Janet Salmons is Path To Publishing, aimed at people who have a completed doctoral thesis or dissertation and want to publish from it to support their career goals, whether academic or otherwise. We opened for registration a few days ago and, even though the course doesn’t begin until October, people are already signing up! Universities are recognising that the course we are offering is excellent value for money and will benefit their early career researchers, and individuals are welcoming the opportunity to receive expert help with a complex process. The course is limited to just 20 participants, to ensure that we can give everyone good quality personalised feedback.

The collaborative self-publishing is a short e-book, co-written with Dr Nathan Ryder, called Self-Publishing For Academics. And it’s available for pre-order! The link is for Kindle books but it is also available via iBooks, Kobo and Nook, with Oyster and Scribd to come. Nathan and I have combined our experience of self-publishing various texts in a range of formats, and written the e-book we wish we’d had when we started out. The formal launch is next Wednesday 18 May, so prepare for whooping and hollering.

The solo self-publishing is my series of short e-books for doctoral students. The first, Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know, is now permanently free to download. The fifth, Research Ethics for your PhD: An Introduction, is with my editor and should be out next month. I just have the sixth and last one to write, on Finishing Your PhD: What You Need To Know, and I’ll be done!

It’s an exciting time towards the end of a really busy year. I’m still kidding myself next year will be easier, but actually I think it’ll just be different. I’ll be working on my next full-length book, on research ethics (I’m in the middle of preparing for that right now), running Path To Publishing with Janet, and managing my commissioned research work and teaching too. It’s just as well I like my work!



A New Venture: Path To Publishing

pathlogo-purplegreen.jpgTaran-taran-taraaaaa! Drum roll! I have an announcement to make!

I have been plotting with my co-conspirator Dr Janet Salmons of Boulder, Colorado (who I met, like many of my collaborators, on Twitter). We have designed a new online course, Path To Publishing, for people who have been awarded their PhD or equivalent (EdD, DBA etc) and who want to publish from their thesis or dissertation. And not just publish whatever they can, but publish effectively, in a way that will support their career aspirations. (NB: edit as a result of a query from Oxford Dphile in the comments below: if you’ve completed your thesis or dissertation, but haven’t yet had it examined, that’s fine too.)

Path to Publishing will run for six weeks in the first semester of the next academic year, from October 10 to November 18. It is limited to 20 participants to ensure that we can give everyone good quality individual feedback. We are offering a discounted rate for the first course in recognition of the possibility of teething troubles (though we are working hard to try to ensure there won’t be any). The fees will be US$400/£280 payable through PayPal – after this first course, the fees will rise to approx US$500/£375 (exact amounts may change slightly due to currency fluctuations). We will be asking for detailed feedback in exchange for the discount, to help us perfect the course for future participants. Another reason we’re offering a discount to the first cohort is that, along with the course, we will be setting up an online support group for course members and alumni – but the first time around there won’t be any alumni to give advice and support to new members. Nevertheless, there is value in peer support, and we expect the online support group to be well used.

The course will include two live webinars at times as convenient as possible for the class, bearing in mind everyone’s different time zones (and these webinars will be recorded for those who, for whatever reason, can’t attend). Janet and I will provide good quality course materials, weekly lessons, and exercises in planning and writing for publication, plus individual feedback on each exercise. We plan to show you how to assess the publication potential of your thesis or dissertation in the light of your career goals. We will cover all kinds of publishing, including traditional academic publishing (journal articles, book chapters, books), self-publishing, social and mainstream media. By the end of the course, you will have a personal publication strategy for the next 1-2 years which aligns with your own career goals. All you need is a completed thesis or dissertation and a good standard of written English.

Janet and I have extensive experience of academic writing, publishing, and teaching. We have both written full-length books, book chapters, and academic journal articles, and have taught on several continents. Janet has co-edited books, and I have self-published books. Both of us are experienced users of social media and also have some experience of mainstream media. We have enjoyed the process of combining our expertise to create Path To Publishing.

We’ll be starting to publicise the course in earnest soon, but I wanted my blog readers to hear about it at an early stage. As the number of students is limited, if you are interested, put your name on the preliminary class list here for first access to registration. Janet and I are excited about this course and we very much look forward to working with our students.

When A Contract Ends

finish lineI’m putting the finishing touches to the report of a research project that’s been running for the last 18 months. And then it’ll be over. Which is a bit sad, for a number of reasons.

First, the work is for a national organisation, but unusually that organisation is based close to where I live in the Midlands of England. So, unlike most, this job hasn’t involved a lot of travelling: much of the work has been done within half an hour’s drive of my office.

Second, I’ve been working with another researcher, a colleague I met for the first time on the day we went to be interviewed for this job. I liked him then and my respect and appreciation for him has grown throughout the project. He’s responsive, thoughtful, caring, creative, and generally a terrific collaborator. I will miss working with him.

Third, it’s been an interesting, complex project, evaluating a community-based advocacy service for older people with cancer. The work is multi-faceted and that makes it a real challenge to investigate it fully and come up with suitable recommendations for taking the work forward.

Fourth, it’s paid some of the bills. These kinds of longer-term contracts, that provide a basic level of income for a period of time, don’t come along so often but are invaluable for indie researchers.

Letting go of a project can be hard for anyone, but there are some specific areas of difficulty for indie researchers. Commissioners don’t think to get back in touch to tell us how our work is being used, and seem surprised if we email or phone to ask. We have very little say in how our work is disseminated, and sometimes it’s not disseminated at all, which can be really frustrating. And unlike our academic colleagues, we don’t have the requirement to publish that can keep the relationships formed during a project alive for months and years after completion.

So in many ways I’m sorry to see this contract end, but the pill is very thoroughly sugared by the new contract I landed earlier this month. Without that I think I’d be in deep mourning. But this time it really does feel as though, as one door is closing, another opens.

Collaborative Writing

collaborative writingYesterday I came to the end of my first ever writing partnership with a proper academic. We began collaborating in May 2012, and decided we would work together for a year with the aim of producing two journal articles in that time. We ended up writing together for almost four years and produced one working paper, one journal article, and a book chapter (finally finished yesterday, and due to be published by Policy Press in an edited collection later this year).

I learned a lot from this collaboration, not least that co-writing can take longer than you think, especially when you’re working on conceptually difficult topics. My co-writer and I worked really well together, and the publications we produced were definitely richer and meatier than either of us could have produced alone. I also received some very useful mentoring in the process, with invaluable tips on how to optimise journal articles for acceptance, and useful insights into the workings of academia. My collaborator was even generous enough to start by presenting me with several areas she was interested in exploring, and letting me choose the one I preferred for us to work on.

For the first year of our collaboration, we were both based in the UK; after that, my collaborator moved to Sweden. But that didn’t matter; we’d had a few face-to-face meetings and got to know each other in that first year, and email and Skype supported our collaboration thereafter.

We were fairly compatible as co-writers, with one major exception: we had very different attitudes to deadlines. I don’t work at all well under deadline pressure, so I tend to meet my commitments ahead of time. My collaborator worked best under deadline pressure – and, at times, did particularly good work some time after the deadline had gone whooshing past. I found this quite nerve-racking and frustrating, and I suspect she found my timeliness annoying. But we navigated through this difficulty quite effectively, as our outputs show.

I also learned, from this experience, that I really like writing collaboratively. So now I’m working on one journal article with one co-writer, another with another; co-editing a special issue of one journal, and writing an article for another special issue in which the article is sole-authored but there is also a collaborative, dialogic component. And I’m doing another book chapter for an edited collection, despite having sworn I never would.

This is too much! I can do it, and I will, but after these are done I’ll be scaling down the academic journal articles and book chapters. I’m going to aim for two a year from 2017 onwards. No more. I do love writing journal articles and book chapters, and I love collaborating. But I do all this in my own time, and I need to focus more on work that pays.

Positive Disruptive Practice

This blog post is part of a messy, asynchronous, stimulating conversation that I’m lucky enough to be part of, along with @debsnet and @nomynjb and @jennacondie and @cj13. The conversation was influenced by the man with the best Twitter name in the multiverse, @timbuckteeth, who started the #blimage process. The idea of that is to write a blog post inspired by an image, then challenge someone else to write a blog post inspired by a different image. I was challenged by @debsnet and I then challenged @nomynjb – but @debsnet was inspired by the spiderwebs image I’d picked for @nomynjb, so she wrote another blog post inspired by spiderwebs and incorporating that image. Then @nomynjb wrote her post, referencing @debsnet’s post, also incorporating that image, and asking, ‘Anyone want to blog about a spider’s web?’

best spiderwebsYes. I do.

The post by @debsnet is about ‘technology which connects’, and it’s also about disruption: breaking or bending rules. From making good use of accidents, to ‘colouring outside the lines’, @debsnet praises and celebrates the positive power of disruption. So does @nomynjb, though from a different angle. She traces the development of mass asynchronous communication from Gutenberg to today’s boundary-crossing multimedia, and suggests that people who are breaking the Gutenberg rules are the ones who help us all move forward.

This so resonated with me. I grew up in a wordy household: my father was an English teacher, we didn’t have a TV, and I lived in a world of conversation and storytelling. Disruptive use of language – puns, neologisms, etc – was encouraged. My mother taught me to read when I was three, mainly I think to equip me to amuse myself while she dealt with my newly arrived sister. Since then I have never been without a book on the go and often have half a dozen half-read: a literary novel, an escapist novel, short pieces of non-fiction, long non-fiction, poetry, and a research methods book, so I can pick up and read whichever suits my mood. I also started writing very young and have never stopped. I’m in love with text, and am a compulsive communicator. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I was an early adopter of blogging, starting in 2005, and I’ve been on Twitter since 2009; like @debsnet I find it helps me learn to be more concise. I was a bit more reluctant about Facebook and LinkedIn, but eventually got involved in 2010. I am on Pinterest but have never really got the hang of it, though I’m doing better with Instagram; I’m not a very visual person, but Instagram is helping me learn to see more beyond the oh-so-compelling text.

Many of my offline non-social-media friends and colleagues think I’m amazingly digitally skilled. I know this is not the case. I’ve never Tumblred or Flickred, I didn’t LiveJournal or MySpace, I don’t SnapChat or WhatsApp, and I know there are a hundred others I can’t even remember – if I ever heard of them in the first place.

In @debsnet’s post, she wrote about how she’s using and valuing Voxer. I’d never heard of Voxer, which evoked a familiar feeling of near-despair. Another one! I can’t keep up! Other people I know online are upping Periscope with enthusiasm. I want to join in with all this and I have loads of ideas for content but I struggle with the process. For example, I’ve been trying really hard with YouTube for over a year now, and I’m rubbish at making videos. I can see that if I spent several hours a week working on it, I would slowly improve, but I’m struggling to find the time or, perhaps more accurately, the motivation. As with writing, I enjoy the editing process, but find the first draft a chore. With writing, you only have to do one first draft, but with video, you (or, at least, I) have to do loads of them till you get one that’s good enough to edit. And it’s so complicated: you have to juggle light, and sound, and visuals, and appearance, and performance. Every time I play back something I’ve recorded, I can see what’s wrong with it, but I don’t have the skills to fix it quickly and effectively like I can fix clunky text, so I get frustrated. And no, I’m not being a perfectionist; if I show my videos to my friends, they say things like, ‘Why are you so wooden? You’re not like that on the mainstream media or when you speak at conferences,’ and I want to go and hide in a hole and cry.

I agree with @nomynjb that we need to break the Gutenberg rules of privileging unchangeable print and linear modes of communication. I have loads of ideas about how to do this. For example, I want to make and embed short videos and comic strips in my blogs, and I want to know how to do all this on my phone, on the move, as well as from my laptop at a desk. I long to embrace the new technologies, not still be struggling with the old ones, and – as @nomynjb put it – ‘access this new technology for its potential, not for its usefulness’. But I don’t have the skills and I can’t afford to pay other people to help me. I can’t even afford the software I want to use for comic strips.

For every iota of skill I acquire, a whole new online platform develops. I find this hugely frustrating! I want to be in the middle of the interwebs, connected to everything, because I can see, and hear, and almost feel and smell and taste, the opportunities and the fun and the creativity available to those who can use technology for its potential. I long to plunge in and disrupt and play. But, without the skills I need to move toward the centre, I’m stuck on the edge.

Then again, there’s still scope for positive disruptive practice on the edge of the web, and in text-based communication. Much of my last book showcased the work of people who bent the rules of research methods, and I’ve just co-written a paper on disruptive methodologies. So maybe it makes sense for me to let go of my longing for the technological playground and, instead, use technology for its usefulness and play to my textual strengths. Also, I suspect nobody, or very few people, can actually keep up with all the technological developments. So perhaps the answer for most of us is to practice positive disruption wherever we usefully can.

Ten Top Tips for Successful Collaboration

collaborationWorking in collaboration with others can be a wonderful experience. Writing a journal article with a colleague, or working in a research team with people from other organisations, can be life-enhancing. Ideas build on ideas; tasks are allocated according to people’s strengths and abilities; the results are loads better than anything you could achieve alone.

Collaborative working can also be a monumental pain in the neck. Misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and poor communication can sabotage a project, morphing it from a promising outset into a morass of time-consuming frustration and annoyance, sometimes with nothing to show for all the grief you’ve gone through. That can be particularly galling when you end up apologising for something that was not at all your fault and entirely outside your control.

And you know the really weird thing about working collaboratively? Nobody ever tells you how to do it; you’re supposed to know. But my experience is that many people don’t know how to collaborate well. So here are ten top tips for successful collaboration.

  1. Set sensible deadlines. If you’re happy to write a book chapter that you think will take you a week, but you don’t have that much spare time till six months from now, say so. And if you think it will take you a week, allow a fortnight. Over-committing doesn’t help you or anyone else.
  1. Manage your time well, from day to day and week to week, and at monthly and yearly levels too. Plan, schedule, re-schedule as necessary. Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it – or explain why you can’t at the earliest opportunity.
  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Problems arise in everyone’s life. If you encounter a problem that will affect your ability to meet your commitments, tell everyone who needs to know as soon as you can, and give them a realistic revised date when you’ll be able to get the work done.
  1. If someone else is causing a delay, you may need to take control, particularly if you have contractual or other inflexible deadlines and the delaying person isn’t communicating well – or at all. In that case, the best approach is to send a polite email with appropriate cc’s so everyone knows where the delay originates. But do word your message carefully: the aim is to protect your own reputation without damaging anyone else’s, so stick to the facts.
  1. Don’t throw good time after bad. If you’re collaborating with people who are missing deadlines and not answering your emails, chase them once or twice then stop. Don’t stress about it, just focus on other work.
  1. Accept feedback gracefully, even if it seems unpalatable at first. Don’t take it personally because it isn’t personal, even if it feels personal, even if it looks personal. It’s an opportunity to learn things you’d be very unlikely to learn any other way, even if they’re not the things you wanted to learn. So thank whoever gave you the feedback and make the best use of it you can.
  1. Reflect on your collaborations – with your collaborators if possible, on your own if not. What went well? Why? What didn’t go so well? Why? What would you do differently another time?
  1. celebrationMake time to celebrate a collaboration that goes well, or even well enough. If you can meet up with your collaborators, so much the better: go for a drink or a meal together and congratulate each other in person. If not, celebrate online, in a private meeting or via email or social media. Or simply send a card to say ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’.
  1. Whether your collaborators are your colleagues, your students, your staff or your friends, be as professional with each of them as you would be with the most senior person in your field or in your organisation.
  1. When you’re planning a new collaboration, share these tips with your potential collaborators at the earliest possible stage and ask whether they’re willing to sign up to them. If they’re not, don’t go ahead with the proposed collaboration.

Of course sometimes life gets in the way and things go wrong. But when you have a strongly functional collaboration, it is much easier to deal with unexpected difficulties. When unforeseen problems occur and your collaboration is floundering, life can be very miserable indeed. If you and your collaborators follow these ten top tips, none of your collaborations will be the ‘pain in the neck’ variety. They should all work smoothly, at the very least, and may well be wonderful and life-enhancing.

Who Might Your Next Co-Writer Be?

Have you ever done any collaborative writing? If so, you might recognise one or more of these co-writers. writing groupAnd if not, this will help to prepare you for the collaborators you may meet.

The One Who Works From Home: ‘I know I said I’d do it today, but Annie is off school sick so she needs my attention quite a bit. Our electrician’s here doing something important, apparently, but he keeps asking me to make decisions about plug sockets and things. I must make a dent in the laundry mountain, Annie got through two sets of bedding last night, then I’ll try to get to our draft if she and the electrician will leave me alone for a minute.’

The Global Networker: ‘The problem is, I’m doing a keynote in Helsinki next week, then after that I’m chairing in Jo’burg, then there’s the convocation in Boston. Straight from there to Rio, where I’m chairing again, then another keynote in Sydney. Not sure after that, can’t think that far ahead, but I suspect it’s more of the same. So it may be a while before I’m able to look at our paper, but I’ll do what I can.’

The Amazingly Unrealistic: ‘I know I took on more teaching this year but I didn’t realise that would mean lots of preparation and marking, I can’t believe how long it takes, and all the meetings! I simply don’t have time for anything else. So I won’t have time for our paper till the holidays, but I’m sure I’ll be able to get it done while I’m with the family at Center Parcs or else while we’re in Austria ski-ing.’

The Poorly Poppet: ‘It’s this back spasm, it’s agony, I can’t get up off the floor so it’s really hard to use the computer. I’m writing this on my phone, though I shouldn’t really be using that with my eyes the way they are, they hurt like hell, I’m sure I’ve got a migraine starting, or maybe it’s a brain tumour. I simply can’t work at the moment but I’ll be back to our paper as soon as I’m on the mend, I promise.’

The International Fieldworker: ‘I’ve come into the city and I’m in this hotel where I can buy wi-fi for an hour, honestly the price is exorbitant, must get through all my emails if I can. Then I’m off back to the village, won’t be on line again for a fortnight, sorry, I really am committed to this paper but there’s no electricity in the village let alone an internet connection so I’m going to be late with my draft.’

The Very Important Person: ‘I got a bit tied up in Brussels with Kofi, then Angela wanted a hand with her new strategy, and now I’ve had a summons from the White House which is such a drag but I’ll try to get something done on the plane.’

So what about you, Helen, you might well ask? Are you Dr Perfect, then?

But of course! And I doubt that endears me to my collaborators, either. Here’s how I think they would describe me:

The Insufferably Irritating: ‘Well of course I met my deadline.’ *folds arms, taps foot, looks smug*