estimated reading time: 3 min 30 sec
Meghan Barrett works as a Teaching Assistant in the Biology Department and is a Graduate Candidate at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Specifically, she engages in the research of native bees – the 4,000 species of bees native to the United States, as compared to the introduced European honeybee most find familiar.
Meghan began using Timular because she was interested in finding out how much time she’s actually spending on each part of the research process, and how much time other things (teaching, service, outreach, mentorship, social) that aren’t part of her research goals take up in her day.
Making sure not being “over budget”
Meghan was facing a lot of stress making sure she is not “over budget” on teaching hours (she only has 20 hours a week) which are often perceived as cutting into her research time. Graduate students walk a delicate balance between these two tasks.
Moreover, Meghan is also interested in knowing how long she needs to spend on certain activities for them to feel productive. For example, can she be productive writing for only 25 minutes at a time or does she need to structure her day to set aside two hours to really make progress?
The day of a researcher
Meghan’s Mondays to Wednesdays are taken up by teaching, meetings and service-related tasks with tightly scheduled, back-to-back activities and meetings. She leaves Thursdays and Fridays free to be dedicated to research and odd jobs, as she found it difficult to work on research tasks in short bursts of time. Many lab experiments take several hours to run and it helps to have longer periods when focusing on data analysis and writing.
She structures her days the following way:
She starts by referencing a continually updating, prioritized list of tasks from class A to C (most urgent to least).
Then, taking class A in hand, she schedules out about how long she thinks each one will take (multiplied by 1.5) in a paper scheduler, blocking out time for each activity until the day is full.
To keep herself motivated, Meghan puts more rewarding activities after less rewarding ones to help her “mentally push through”.
She then starts tracking the following activities: Writing Grants, Writing Publications, Lab Work (broken down by project name), Mentorship, Outreach, Service, Seminars/Meeting Attendance, Background Literature Reading, Social Activities, Teaching/Grading.
(Read more about how you can create sub-activities here.)
The art of saying no
Seeing the analytics at the end of the week, Meghan is able to show both her teaching and research mentors exactly how much time she spent on things “so I can be fair when I say ‘no more grading this week, I’m at my time limit’.”
In addition to that, it helps her realize when her priorities are out of whack and she needs to start saying no to additional service or outreach (which she really enjoys), since she’s not spending enough time on research (which is the main output she wants to achieve). If she sees she’s spending too little time on her main task, she makes changes to her schedule and activity lists based on that real data.
“As a scientist, I love the analytical reports and I value having real-time feedback where I can analyze my time spent over lots of different timescales and see if changes I’m making in my schedule have actually changed my output to better match my priorities. I LOVE data!”
Timeular for universities
Meghan thinks that Timeular is a great investment for universities who want to help undergraduate, graduate students, and faculty track their actual time spent on each task.
“Graduate students and faculty are notoriously overworked, but a lot of those commitments end up being things we don’t get ‘credit for’ by our bosses (especially service, like committees that help the university function and can take a lot of time, but are often barely a line in a Tenure/Promotion package).”
Getting accurate data on how little time is actually spent on the work the university claims to value most (research) might help restructure departments to reduce some of that unnecessary load or at least cause individuals to rethink their own work structures.
“I really struggle saying no to service/outreach activities and Timeular has helped me value my limited time by showing me, when I prioritize those things too much, I really do hurt my research progress and my career goals. This has pushed me to develop more ‘say no’ skills.”
We also want to thank Meghan for being part of our last retreat. She held a really interesting talk about the fascinating world of insects! (She also shared this interesting video with us).
Meghan Barrett works as a Teaching Assistant and Graduate Candidate at Drexel University. Drexel University is an R01, research-intensive university in Philadelphia, PA. She works in the Biology Department, where she teaches undergraduate students process skills like critical thinking and data interpretation and engages in research on the thermoregulation and neuroanatomy of native bees.
Did Timeular have a positive impact on your life? We would love to hear your story!