Professor McEvil is an academic based at a university in England. He is a leader in the field of bioscience, and would like to share with you a typical day at the office. He hopes this will inspire and motivate you in your pursuit of a research career.05:30 I get up (a little later today than usual). I check my e-mail to see if my PhD students have sent me those paper re-drafts I asked for late last night. They haven’t. Slackers.
05:45 A few minutes spent retweeting everything I missed in my Twitter feed last night. Doesn’t take long, and shows people just how impressively early I’m up. It’s important to intellectually dominate whenever possible.
05:50 Breakfast. A cereal bar and an espresso. Anything else would take too much time away from science; spending too long on meals is a sign of weakness.
06:00 Off to the university. It’s a twenty-minute bus ride, which gives me plenty of time to put out a few tweets on how to squeeze the most work out of every minute of the day. I also reply to the first question in a few e-mails from lower-level staff and students to get them out of my inbox. (The first question is usually the only important one. This is a useful timesaver.)06:20 In the office before sunrise. I leave my door open for a few hours, so people can tell how hard-working I am by how early I arrive. Time for my second espresso while I read through the journals.
06:30 Still haven’t heard from my PhD students. I send a reminder to the useless layabouts; I really need those full re-drafts by 10, otherwise I don’t know when I’ll find time to meet for the next month or two. Don’t they know I’m a busy man?
06:40 I invest some quality time in building my Twitter profile. I put out a series of nine insightful tweets on how to tell if you love science enough to be a scientist. (Hint: If you’re not awake to read my tweets, you don’t love science enough.)
07:20 Another espresso. Why is nobody else in the department yet? Slackers.
07:30 Since the department is still quiet, I settle down to do some proper writing: a new post for my blog, ‘How to get out of awkward personal conversations with your PhD students’.
08:45 I hear one of my postdocs arrive—Jen? Julie? The girl, anyway—so I go to make a cup of tea and chat with her over the kettle. We haven’t got anyone for today’s lunchtime seminar; hopefully she can fill in.09:10 More people are arriving now, so I shut my door to minimise disturbances from visitors. I complain on Twitter about yet another all-paid keynote lecture invitation that’s just rolled in. Hawaii, again. How dull.
09:30 I’m reminded that the internal deadline for my grant applications was two weeks ago, so I get started on the first one after an espresso.
10:40 A stupid little undergraduate knocks on my door and ruins my concentration. Something about a reference for a job. As if I have time for that. Imbecile. I say ‘yes’ to get rid of him ASAP, but he’ll figure it out eventually.
11:10 No, I do not want to contribute to the whip-round for the outgoing departmental secretary. She was forever asking me to do things. Wasn’t it her job to do things for me?11:50 A rough grant application draft done, I fire it off to a random postdoc for polishing this afternoon. He won’t be named on it—he has too little experience and would drag it down—but it’ll be good practice for when he writes his own some day. Provided he doesn’t end up a failure by leaving academia, that is. Shudder.
12:10 Time to head to the midday lunchtime seminar, once I’ve bought a sandwich at the cafeteria. Hopefully what’s-her-name has something interesting to share with us, especially as she hasn’t published in a high-impact journal since she started last month.
13:15 One of the PhD students catches me after the seminar to ask if I got her e-mail this morning with a paper re-draft. She claims I wanted it by ten o’clock so we could meet. No clue what she’s on about. I tell her we’ll meet about it tomorrow.
13:25 I call the secretary to ask about my travel arrangements for tomorrow’s symposium in Brussels. She’s put me on a plane, but I wanted the Eurostar. She claims she asked but I never replied. Her fault for using e-mail. Useless.13:30 I remember that I’m lecturing at two, so I gather together some material to disperse to tomorrow’s keen young failures. Though the title of the course is ‘Introduction to Quantum Mechanics’, the basic stuff is boring me to tears so I’m giving them a few lectures on string theory. If they are at all possessed of brains, they will do a little extra-curricular reading to keep up.
14:05 Time to go and deliver my lecture, after fetching an espresso. I arrive a little late after chatting with a colleague. Not a problem, I just talk faster to fit everything in.
14:55 Lecture over, I put on my best ‘don’t even think about it’ face and make haste back to my office down the No Man’s Land of the theatre aisle. I’m there to deliver material, not to answer the inane questions they hurl at me as I leave. ‘When will we get the next assignment?’ How the hell should I know? Try a crystal ball. Dunces.
15:00 I meet with the department head over an espresso. He wants me to serve on the graduate admissions panel this year. I politely but firmly decline, explaining that I have many outreach activities scheduled and these all conflict terribly at that time of year.15:20 Time for an outreach activity. I fire up Twitter and dispense some free advice on how to keep afloat in the difficult academic job market. (In a nutshell: If you don’t work all the time then you’ll be rubbish and won’t get a job, so don’t bother trying.)
15:45 Afternoon tea. I grab a cuppa and the last chocolate biscuit and find a seat in the common room. Nearly had a postdoc sit next to me, but thankfully they veered off at the last minute. Close call. Instead, another prof and I discuss our spiralling workloads, and agree it’s all the PhD students’ faults.
16:30 I settle down to a bit more work before going home. I write a blog post entitled ‘Why you should publish at least ten papers per month’. It’s pretty self-evident, but sometimes these things need spelling out.
17:30 Home time. Though I arrive early, I never stay late; the former is scholarly, but the latter is desperate. On the bus, I send an e-mail to my newest PhD student asking if he’s planned out his first few papers yet. His organisation is key to my success.
18:00 I return home at dinner time. My wife—whom I greet for the first time today—has prepared my favourite, meat with veg. I simply wouldn’t be the success I am without her to tend to the tedious bits of my life, like cooking and childminding.18:40 Dinner complete, I head into my home office to deal with the day’s e-mails. First, though, I tweet a picture of my desk to let people know that I am still working and that they should be too.
18:55 After scanning through for important e-mails from old colleagues, I delete the rest. If someone had a truly burning issue, they would have come to see me in person. When you’re a busy high-level professor, every spare minute counts.
19:00 As a member of the organising committee for a summit conference on ‘New Directions and Fresh Perspectives in Bioscience’, it falls to me to invite speakers. I e-mail the usual gang of tenured professors asking if they could give their standard talks in return for room and board at the venue’s ski lodge. Should be a good meeting.
19:25 I tweet my travel schedule for the next few months. It’s important to give the younger academics something impressive to aspire to.
19:40 An e-mail comes in asking me to review a paper. Since I’m feeling benevolent after a glass of wine, I agree to do it right away. I settle down with another glass to begin my appraisal.20:30 Appraisal complete and report written. They only cited me two or three times, so they clearly don’t know the field well enough to be serious players. Major revisions required.
20:40 After dealing with a couple more e-mails from the students—one deleted because it had attachments, the other deleted because it was just thesis submission admin—it’s time to wind down for the day. I schedule five work–life balance tweets to go out in a few hours’ time before heading upstairs.
21:10 In bed with the latest issue of New Scientist, ready to refresh myself for tomorrow’s coming academic challenges. It was as good a Christmas Day as I could hope for; here’s hoping Boxing Day is even more productive.