Month: June 2016

Jedi Mind Tricks for Staying Physically Active as a Faculty Member in Science

I started this job in July 2010 and one thing that has surprised me is the amount of time that I spend sitting at my desk in front of my computer. This was a big change from my days as a graduate student and post-doc when my days were comprised of more time standing in the lab, attending courses and seminars, and walking around the campus and buildings for various reasons. Recent research has clearly demonstrated that living a sedentary lifestyle is bad for you , so I made the conscious decision to be more active on a daily basis. This has been challenging for me since I have never considered myself to be an active person and due to the fact that I’m an introvert, fitness classes and team sports are a special kind of Hell.

Jedi Mind Trick Number 1: Pair a reward with working out.

We have been members at our local YMCA for quite some time. Last fall we realized that we were not getting much value out of our membership since we weren’t regularly going to the gym. After brainstorming for a bit, my husband came up with the great idea to pair going to the gym with a financial incentive. We each have $75/month of fun money available based on our household budget. This is money that each person can spend on whatever they want without having to justify it or explain it to the other person. Starting in January, we linked the earning of that money to working out in 30 minute increments. We each have to work out at least 3 times per week (=~$15) or we leave that money on the table. The maximum per month that we can earn is $75, so this averages 4 x 30 minutes each week. So far this has been working great and has forced me to use the gym or go on mid-day walks on a consistent basis. The reward doesn’t has to be huge; just something that will motivate you enough to get to the gym or be active. I also like to listen to podcasts, watch the Jays game, or TV shows on Netflix, and can sometimes use those as bonus rewards while I’m working out.

Jedi Mind Trick Number 2: Collect data and gamify your workout.

I’m a scientist and I like data. Recently my husband upgraded his Fitbit Flex to a Charge HR. This meant that I got the older Flex. After using it consistently for several months I upgraded to a Charge HR this weekend. Being able to track my steps has been very motivating for me. I’m in a group with several friends and we compete each week (on a rolling time scale) to see who has the most steps which is extra incentive to be active. I used to wear a watch all of the time anyways (never got used to using my phone to look at the time), so this device serves as a watch with added benefits.

Jedi Mind Trick Number 3: Gamify your workout.

There are lots of apps out there that help to make workouts more interesting. I’ve always liked games where you start from nothing and build an empire (e.g. Age of Empires , Civilization and I’ve used a few apps that track your workout progress. The first one that I tried was Zombies, Run! This game is structured around missions and as you run you collect items that help you fortify your settlement in order to survive the Zombie apocalypse. Sometimes the zombies find you while you are out on a mission and if you don’t run fast enough they eat your brains! The second app that I’ve really enjoyed is Couch to 5K. This one builds up your running endurance over the course of several weeks. By March I was able to run for 20 minutes straight without getting runner’s cramp or a stitch in my side, so I consider that a success!

Feel free to share any tips or tricks in the comments below that have worked for you to keep active as a faculty member.


On Being a Mid-Career Scientist

Last summer I was awarded tenure and it felt amazing. It was one of the proudest and most significant moments in my life thus far. After the warm and fuzzy feeling wears off though, I was left wondering “what’s next”? I’m still struggling a bit with it, and from what I’ve read on the internet, I’m not alone. It’s a bit weird to have such a major milestone out of the way and it causes you to look ahead in order to figure out the next big goal. I suppose the obvious one for this year was to get my NSERC grant renewal (which thankfully did happen). The next major milestone on the horizon would be applying for Full Professor in about 6 years.

I also think that it’s incredibly funny that I can consider myself to be in the middle of my career. Most days I still feel like I’m learning the job and just doing my best. There is a certain level of competency, but I don’t feel a strong sense of mastery in many of the skills that I use in my day to day work. I still struggle with teaching, mentoring my students, doing my research, and contributing to service at my institution. I had always assumed that this feeling would go away with time, or that things would get easier, but so far it hasn’t. I also find it vastly amusing that my friends who aren’t in science are considered experienced and mature in their respective fields since they’ve been in the workforce since their early twenties. So have I, but most of that time for me was spent as a trainee and perhaps that’s why it feels different.

I think the key from this point on will be to celebrate the smaller goals and milestones such as manuscripts submitted, students graduated, conferences attended, courses taught, etc. I’ve also found it helpful to keep a running list of my daily successes in a journal so that I can see what I’ve accomplished and take pride in it. I think as academics we don’t do this enough; we finish a goal and then immediately move on to the next thing. Spending some time reflecting and planning is important I think. I’m aiming to use some of my sabbatical time to figure some of this out.