6.8 Keeping enough time for research

It is of course very important to many readers that your technical engineering research does not wither simply because you are enthusiastic about improving the quality of your teaching and your students’ learning. And there is no reason why it should. Your attitude towards both aspects of your work is likely to be the same – you want to be the best in the world. Your approach to this ideal is limited in both cases by the same two factors – the quality of your ideas and the time you are prepared to give to them. The tools you have available are also the same – time management and networking. My recipe for success in both fields would be the same – talk and listen to lots of other people, and partition your time equitably between teaching and research. If you have a ‘research’ day you no doubt expect to spend time in the laboratory, time with your research students and time writing (notes, papers or grant proposals). If you have a ‘teaching’ day you expect to spend time in a class room, time with students and time writing (notes, papers or grant proposals). My advice is: Do not stint on either activity. Value your time with undergraduates as highly as you value time with postgraduate students or postdoctoral researchers. Keep your appointments in both cases! If you have advertised ‘office hours’ then keep them and be there. Additionally, use technology to help you. I kept all the papers I consulted during the preparation of this book separate from my electron microscopy collection in a useful piece of software called Mendeley. Using this I could consult my most-needed resources from anywhere in the world, and it has a great search facility.

In both activities the best is the enemy of the good (I know it’s a cliché; Voltaire in the 18th Century, if you are wondering). If you strive for perfection in either field you will consume all the time you have available and risk not producing some very good work. It is almost a certainty that you will not win a Nobel Prize, whether you spend two days per week on research or seven, nor become Minister of Education whether you spend two days a week on teaching or seven. So relax, enjoy both and do the best job you can in two days per week each. That leaves you with one day per week to cope with your administrative load and the weekends to play with your family (or race your motorbike). You will increase your chance of living to 90 and enjoying it.

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