Ryan Vandrey, PhD
Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit
Johns Hopkins University
What is your current research? Please briefly describe your area of research and/or practice:
The majority of my time is spent conducting laboratory research on the consequences and treatment of heavy cannabis/marijuana use. I also collaborate with Maxine Stitzer on laboratory and clinical studies of tobacco cessation and as well as projects investigating novel ways of applying principles of contingency management and reinforcement in treatment of drug use disorders.
About how many hours per week do you spend in alternative involvement in professional organizations, administrative duties, teaching, clinical requirements or similar?
I feel lucky to have no classroom teaching responsibilities at this point in my career because there is so much else going on. I loved teaching while in grad school, but it really does demand a lot of time. I currently have committee responsibilities for Division 28 and CPDD, and some committee and informal teaching responsibilities locally at Hopkins. These generally do not take much of my time, maybe 2-5 hours a week. I’m on a pretty regular rotation for reviewing manuscripts for journals and occasionally serve as a peer-reviewer in other capacities. Review requests seem to come in bunches and can be overwhelming at times, but I think it is important to accommodate them whenever possible.
Are you involved with any activities or hobbies unrelated to your work and if so, how do you find the time to participate in these activities?
My number 1 activity outside of work is spending time with my family. As a new dad (I have a 16-month old and a second baby due in April) that is my top priority on a day-to-day basis. I also play soccer twice per week in recreational leagues near where I live. I also try to get out to play tennis and go skate/snowboarding whenever possible, but, being seasonal activities I can’t say I get to do either nearly as much as I’d like. Sports have always been a passion of mine and I find that it is great to get out and play and not have to think about anything else but having fun for a few hours each week.
How do you choose to prioritize work and non-work activities?
That one is easy, my family is my top priority. I make sure I’m up for breakfast with everyone in the morning and home for dinner, playtime, and bedtime in the evening. When longer work hours than that are needed (to work on a grant or knock out a paper) I stay up to get things done after the family has gone to bed. I must say that as my son is getting older and more active it is getting harder to stay up late because he wears me out during playtime.
How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?
I’ve never felt that there is enough time in the day to get everything done that I want to accomplish, but can honestly say that I am happy with how I allocate my time. I definitely spend more time on personal compared with career-oriented activities. There are certainly days when I feel a little guilty about that, or feel overwhelmed by my imminent workload, but in the long run, those thoughts are typically fleeting.
What percentage of your time is allocated to work vs. home life?
I’m usually in the lab from 9:30- 4:30 Mon-Fri. I will work in the evenings as needed, but that really varies across time depending on what is going on. I tend to work very hard in short bursts to get things done.
How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?
Work-life balance is purely subjective in my opinion. Many people may view my time allocation as completely out of whack, however, it works for me and what my goals are. I think that the most important thing is to set priorities and goals for both personal and professional growth and work day-today, week-to-week, and year-to-year and work to allocate your energy and time to achieve all your goals in a balance that is personally satisfying. All work is no fun, but without a job you’re in trouble.
Are there any special organizational strategies you use to be efficient at work?
I am probably the most inefficient worker there is because I constantly get sidetracked. However, I recognize that about myself and set schedules and boundaries to minimize distractions. That is why I do most of my productive work late at night when everyone else is sleeping, and I have never had a Myspace, Facebook, or other social networking account. Checklists and self-imposed deadlines are the best tools I’ve found to help keep me focused on what needs to be done.
Have you found it helpful to assign specific workdays to specific work-related tasks, like manuscript-writing, grading papers, etc.?
I think that is impossible for me. The tasks that I need to accomplish are so variable and change so frequently that I would need to violate any rules I set within the first week of trying to set up such a system.
How many hours per week do you spend writing papers for publication?
This can vary from 0 to 60, but on average it is never enough. It is usually feast or famine for me. I tend to not write until I need to, and then I will buckle down and crank out a paper in one short burst.
How do you protect time for writing papers?
I don’t and that is probably something I should work on.
Have you found it helpful to restrict the number of days per week you work (e.g., do not work on weekends?), or the number of hours you work per day?
No. I try not to work on weekends, but when grant deadlines are involved sometimes it can’t be helped. It doesn’t happen often, but I think I do my best work and feel most satisfied with my job when I wrap up a 15 hour work day at 3am.
Are there any additional comments you would like to make?
Work hard, play hard, and do it all with a big smile on your face.
How do you find time to exercise, or sleep?? How many hours of each do you average?
I play soccer twice per week for a total of about 3 hours, and that is regimented and protected time. Outside of that, I try to get outside for a walk/hike on weekends when the weather is nice and I play with my son daily. Now that I’m a dad and on a schedule I tend to sleep about 7 hours per night. That will decrease the month or so before grant deadlines. I also try to sleep late one morning each weekend to get a solid 10 hours in to catch up for lost time during the week.
What advice do you have for other researchers who are learning to balance both career and personal life goals?
Never lose sight of one while focusing too much on the other because they are both very much interrelated. The most important thing is to find a schedule and method for managing work and life that fits your situation and adjust as needed.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from one of your mentors?
The most practical advice I have received and applied to my work is to keep research ideas as simple and straightforward as possible. This is advice that has been conveyed by multiple mentors with very successful track records and has been the one thing that I have observed to be very important my own experience. As a young and ambitious researcher it is very difficult to refrain from trying to do too much in a single study/grant, but the simpler your proposals/studies are the more successful/easier things tend to be. Also, even though I am becoming more independent I still regularly seek the advice of several mentors for everything from grant/study ideas, to IRB or other regulatory issues, and career development plans. So I guess my piece of advice to other ECPs is to continually seek guidance from and try to emulate the successful scientists around you.