The Profcast is back with this fantastic interview from Dr. Marilyn McGee Lennon, Senior Research Fellow in Human Computing Interaction at Strathclyde University:
Why did you become an academic?
I always loved researching stuff at school – before I really knew what research was. I never really minded what the topic was – as long as I was investigating, reading, gathering evidence, producing reports and disseminating results. It was only when I was then at University studying myself (starting at 16) that I thought that I could be a really good academic. I also love teaching (shh don’t tell anyone) which is unfortunately a little rare these days. I truly believe that if work hard enough at it I can get almost anyone to understand something. That can be quite an annoying trait to my friends and family but comes in really handy when assigned a challenging new course to teach. In my early career I always apologised for being an academic and told many people “don’t worry I am not a real academic” because I never wanted anyone to think I was aspiring to be a stuffy old professor in an ivory tower. It was only when I began to meet and work with other forward thinking, dynamic and diverse academics that I thought – maybe it is okay to have an academic identity after all and to not be afraid to say yes – I am an academic and I love it!
If you were not an academic what would you be?
I often wonder what I would be if I was not an academic. I would love to think I would still have become a scientist of some sort at least but I could actually imagine being someone who tries to transform businesses and/or organisations. I could see myself at one point being an organisational psychologist and I often see myself moving into a business analyst or project management role – but I am not sure I would get the diversity I get now. My role now is as teacher, scientist, project manager, researcher, innovator….all of these things – and perhaps that is what I like best about being an academic.
When was the first time you felt accomplished as an academic?
I always remember getting my first (decent) paper in a (decent) conference. It was an international conference and was brimming full with all the big names. Giving my talk, I felt like I had a badge on saying PhD student – but in fact – the response was amazing and people judged me on the research and the presentation and I truly felt accomplished for the first time during my PhD. Being a post doc can be frustrating sometimes since you seem to be writing all the grants, doing all the work but not really rising to the top or taking any of the glory. Being trusted by PIs to lead projects and be the main representative at meetings and conferences on huge grants was probably the next time I felt accomplished again and this ‘kept’ me in academia again at a time where I might have been tempted to leave. Like most academics, I always strive to be reaching higher, doing better and having more impact so I am constantly having moments where I think “oh that feels good, I feel quite accomplished now”.
What are the best and worst reviewer’s comments you’ve ever received?
The best reviewer comment I think I ever had was “this is great research I wish I was doing this.”
The worst reviewer comment I ever got was “I cannot understand why you are doing this – please read a paper by X” – by reviewer X.
If you could do one thing to improve population health in the UK what would it be?
Through technology, promote staying well and healthy behaviours at a younger age.
How do you achieve a work life balance?
I find it hard nowadays to achieve a work life balance – but I do have one rule. I try to keep my weekends free for fun. It doesn’t always work out because there are always deadlines – but I try to live by the philosophy that the task will still be there Monday and I can do it then, but the days out with family and friends etc. will never be re-captured. I definitely love my job – but I love my life more so I work to live, not live to work.
How has academia changed since you started?
The biggest change I have seen is in the shift in emphasis being placed on impact. It used to be a couple of lines on a proposal or report that someone wrote because they had to. Now we are asked to really think about whose lives we might affect, what time or money we might save, what difference we are making and how – and for me this is a GREAT change. Some people think it might stifle innovation and blue sky thinking – but I pay taxes and so do all my friends and family so I say why not at least consider what the value of my research might be now or in the future.
What makes you happiest?
What is your favourite book?
The Mayor of Casterbridge
Where is your favourite place in the world?
If you could go back in time and do one thing differently what would it be?
I am not sure I would do anything differently at all – maybe take a year out before my PhD to travel – but that is just hindsight – at the time I was raring to go with more research and probably would not have enjoyed traveling at all.
Who has helped you most in your career?
I would say that my first PhD supervisor significantly helped me as he supervised me, encouraged me, mentored, inspired and reminded me constantly that many academics are just lovely normal people like me!
What part of your job do you find most challenging?
I find it challenging to juggle so many jobs at the one time. Yet this is also what I love most about my job.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Remember – Your PhD just needs to be “good enough”.