“How Do You Work?”: An Interview with Dr. Carolyn Podruchny

As part of our efforts to connect the graduate student experience to the professorial experience here at York, we are interviewing several professors about how they manage the work/life balance and how they do their work.

Carolyn PodruchnyToday’s interview is with Dr. Carolyn Podruchny, an historian of Aboriginal and French relations and Metis history in early North American history, specializing in fur trade encounters, systems of communication, and identity formation. Her current projects explore the blending of French Canadian, Ojibwe and Cree narratives in the guise of fur trade stories and the French-Saulteaux dictionary compiled by Roman Catholic missionary Georges-Antione Belcourt in the mid-19th century. 

1. Between research, teaching, conferences, and administration, what techniques do you use to manage your time ‘on the job’? (Do you use a set schedule; do you allot a number of hours for each task; do you work during your commute; etc?

I don’t think that my ways of working are healthy or balanced, so take these with grains of salt and flakes of pepper:

1. I work to tasks, rather than to a schedule so that don’t feel trapped by the “soulless minions of orthodoxy” proclaiming that one must work a certain numbers of hours a day at certain times of the day, certain days of the week, and so on. It is really easy to schedule dentist appts and roam around Ikea without jostling around the desk jockey crowd. But it also means I usually work far more than eight hours a day and five days a week.

2. I don’t keep To Do lists because I find them depressing. Instead I either do tasks as soon as they pop up or I leave them to the last minute. Some tasks fall through the cracks, but this is a good thing because you don’t want people to think you are too efficient, otherwise you will find yourself organizing conferences.

3. Many tasks will take as much time as I give them, so I leave them to the last minute to limit the amount of time I can work on them.

4. Eat healthy food, exercise regularly, and sleep enough. Your brain is part of your body and functions best when you take good care of it.

2. When and where do you work best?

Because I don’t keep a regular schedule, I work whenever the mood strikes. I don’t like feeling trapped or chained to a schedule and a desk, so I work anywhere, anytime. This means I have work stations scattered around the house, and I never leave the house without a book or device so that I can work on the bus, in the waiting room, and so on.

3. Do you use any tools or software for your research that you find particularly helpful?

I schedule important things (like spa appts) in my calendar (iCal) and I keep email for easy searching. I sometimes colour-code emails. I am leery of using using software because they go in and out of vogue so often. But the biggest help for my day-to-day working life is having a computer geek as a spouse.

4. How do you juggle between your family life and your career? Do you face or have you faced particular challenges in this regard? How do you overcome them?

This can be difficult. I would suggest introducing your close family members to time-consuming hobbies so that they don’t notice how busy you are. I also combine conference and research travel with family visits and vacations. I find that I actually have a great deal of time when travelling, so I often use that time for shopping, pedicures, and mystery novels. I also collaborate with friends as a way to spending time with them.

5. Are there any aspects of your work that you were surprised to encounter when you embarked upon your career?

When I was a graduate student, I kept detailed To Do lists, and careful schedules of when I would be working on specific tasks. When I started working as a faculty member I dropped these practices because they were too time-consuming.

6. Is there any piece of advice that you wish your professors had told you when you were a grad student?

1. Ensure that you back up your data off site.

2. Find service and volunteer work that is nourishing rather than stressful.

3. Plan your fun so that you don’t feel like a prisoner of your work.

Thank you again to Dr. Podruchny for finding the time to answer our questions! If you have a professor you would like to recommend for an interview, or if you are a professor and would like to be interviewed, please let us know!

This entry was posted in "How Do You Work" Series, 2013-2014 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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