I’ve had the unfortunate experience of working on a team that’s understaffed.  The company was taking on more work than we had people to perform it, and we were all stretched way beyond the limits of time and sanity.  I was already allowing my studies to suffer because of the pressure to work longer hours than is reasonable, encroaching on the time that I should have been spending at university.  But I felt a strange sense of satisfaction at being just that little bit too busy.  My brain needs stimulation, and in that role, the work just wasn’t very intellectually demanding.  The juggling of many repetitive tasks provided a breadth of work that sort of replaced the depth of a more engaging research project.  Sort of.  It was a poor substitute, but it was what I had to work with at the time.  Churning, not learning.

That sort of thing’s not good for me, and it’s not good for my projects. I didn’t expect to still be working at that level 15 years after university, with less responsibility than I had in my mid-20s. Sure, someone had to do it, but I felt that my ambitions were being overlooked. I was rushing to complete a thousand trivial deadlines, with none of them getting my fullest attention. My drive and enthusiasm for my work dwindled to the point where I was really just paying the bills and looking for an exit strategy. Academia has a terrible reputation for being harsh and non-meritocratic, but it’s my best hope of actually finding work suited to my abilities and being taken seriously.  And, in the long run, it’s where my heart lies.  It  doesn’t matter whether it’s me or anyone else who’s having a boring time.  I believe people work best when they’re achieving things for themselves.  Being emotionally invested in the work gives more reason to succeed, both individually and as a team.  This report from Kingston University Business School covers a lot of the things I’ve identified in my own life, and I hadn’t even read it until after I’d started writing this post (amazing coincidence, huh?).  I’d recommend you read the whole thing, especially if you’re an employer.  It’s based on evidence collected by the Kingston Business School Engagement Consortium, and an analysis of previous work in this area.  Although direct interviews with employees on the topic of engagement at work are rare, this document references around 40 other studies.

I want a challenge, and I want to take calculated risks.  If I  find that  my work feels really ‘safe’, I’m not innovating and I’m not doing myself any justice.  I grew up in a family with very low aspirations, and as a result I loved attending school – where I knew I would find that challenge my brain craved.  If I find things too easy, I get lazy, and I’m really worried that might happen to me.  It’s one of the reasons I write here – I’m looking to write more and maybe do this to earn a crust if I get the opportunity.  I’d love to stay in academia, but be a science communicator / journalist.  Independence, baby.

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