Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Fisher Files - podcast series on academic productivity

Last weekend I took a road trip to LA, and I needed something inspiring to make the 7-hour drive on the CA I-5 less tedious.

I came across The Fisher Files, a fabulous podcast series originally recorded by MIT physicist Peter Fisher (since collated and rescued from internet oblivion by the Foonyor Barzane blog). In addition to the typical career advice (PhD/postdoc/junior faculty), there are some great musings on how to promote personal productivity and efficiency in academic life.

I'm ├╝ber-organized, so a lot of the advice was reassuring - after listening, I think I seem to be doing things right (organizing my calendar, reviewing/assigning work tasks on a weekly basis, etc.). But it was still great to hear how a senior academic manages his career and work life - I always like to try out new things and pick up tips I might not have thought about. For example:

Fisher argues that meeting should ideally adhere to three rules: 1) Always stick to a one hour timeslot, 2) Always prepare and distribute and agenda, and 3) An effective way for meeting chairs to move on from a discussion is to first summarize peoples' thoughts and ask if there are any final, additional points. If people start to repeat ideas say "we already discussed this" and move on. This can be necessary to cover all agenda items within the allotted time.

For my to-do lists, I've now added a couple subheadings that Fisher suggested - an "agenda" list where I keep track of things I need to discuss with different people (so when they drop by your office, you remember what you need to ask them), and a "waiting on" list where I keep track of outstanding items that require action by others.

So far I've only made it halfway through the podcast series (each topic is about 30 minutes long), but I would definitely recommend it to other researchers!

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