To say “I don’t have time” is to say “I don’t want to.” Lao Tzu

Since a landmark birthday two weeks ago, I’ve been considering time and how strange an entity/ dimension it is. We all say it seems to speed up as we get older. When you’re 4 years old, one year is one quarter of your life. Multiply that up by 10 and one year becomes a much smaller proportion of your existence. Then, before you can say tempus fugit, you’ve reached another landmark birthday and you’re looking back on the past 10 years wondering where that time has gone. Time is a precious commodity – like money it can be spent but, unlike money, it cannot be saved. You can spend less of it and you can definitely waste it, but you can’t save it. I say this as someone who has probably wasted more time than I have spent wisely (although that does include lots of time spent having fun), so I know how easy it is to take it for granted. Sorry if this sounds like a mid-life crisis by the way – if you read on you’ll see there is a point to this blog 🙂

One of the biggest frustrations in my work is when researchers/ students sign up for a workshop I’m running and then don’t turn up citing the excuse that they are too busy and don’t have time to attend. Equally, I hear many researchers saying they don’t have time and are too stretched to do any extra-research activities such as attending conferences, getting involved in outreach events, going along to internal seminars or clubs, etc. Is this really the case I ask myself? Or is it simply bad time management. I’m guessing it’s a combination of the two: too much to do so lab work is prioritised over everything else.  Publishable results and papers are important for a future career in research, but they are “not the only fruit”. If early-career researchers don’t make the effort to develop their careers through networking, communicating more widely and generally paying attention to their personal career development they may not be spending their time as wisely as they could be. Extra-curricular out-of-hours projects can be as important, sometimes even more so, than the core of the PhD or postdoc job requirements.

Today is the release date of my book “Career planning for research bioscientists” which, being an ancillary project to my paid job, took me three years to write. During that time, I substituted beach holidays for writing retreats, disappeared at weekends, and even gave up two Christmases. My motivation was tested to the limit as I struggled to take my leisure time a lot more seriously, rationing it between writing the book and time spent with friends and family, keeping fit and even basic needs such as eating and sleeping.  I’m sure anyone who’s written up a PhD thesis can relate to some of this! Now that my book is being published and I can see the fruits of my labour, I’m glad I dedicated so much time to writing it. The sense of achievement is immense, as well as the feeling that it’s going to be a useful resource for bioscientists. In fact, I had an early book launch two weeks ago on my landmark birthday as I thought, having put in so much hard work, a fun celebration with my much-neglected friends and family would act as the perfect antidote (and, of course, the launch cake was a convenient diversion to the birthday cake with its furnace of candles – thanks to baking queen, Catherine Kitching, pictured far left below). 

My closing point to this ‘timely’ blog is that once time has passed there’s no getting it back – I realised this a bit late when I had to ask my publisher to extend my deadline by a year, having not taken time seriously during 2009 and wasting much of it doing ‘other things’.  Luckily they agreed. No such luxuries exist for the 3-year PhD or fixed-term research contract, so think about time and use it carefully. Consider what you want to achieve by the end of your contract in order to secure your position for the next career transition – and if you’ve signed up for a workshop make sure you attend – most universities offer training sessions on time management and self-motivation so this might be a good starting point!

Anyway, better dash, can’t spend any more time on my blog …. Got to get on with some real work!


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