John M. Roll, PhD
Professor and Associate Dean for Research, College of Nursing, Washington State University
Director of Program of Excellence in the Addictions and the Program of Excellence in Rural Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment
What is your current research? Please briefly describe your area of research and/or practice:
My work focuses on developing novel, and modifying/combining existing, behavioral and pharmacological treatments for addiction.
I also PI a Center devoted to rural mental health and substance abuse treatment and the WSU Program of Excellence in the Addictions. Finally, I am a CO-PI with Dr. Dennis Donovan for the Pacific Northwest Node of NIDA’s CTN.
About how many hours per week do you spend in alternative involvement in professional organizations, administrative duties, teaching, clinical requirements or similar?
Demands on my time seem to wax and wane as various projects and administrative responsibilities dictate. I do not have direct responsibility for any courses but do provide an occasional lecture in different courses, which I enjoy very much. I have two post-doctoral Fellows and 4 PhD students who are really my salvation as they keep me focused on our research and do the majority of the heavy lifting on our various protocols.
I’m also fortunate to be part of a team of brilliant researchers who do much of our actual research, freeing me up for a more administrative role. I don’t track how many hours I spend on different activities. I would guess that my work fills a solid 8-10 hours on weekdays and generally includes a couple of hours on weekend days.
I do think if you are watching the clock and timing how much effort you put into various activities that you may have a problem. To me work is fun, not something to be timed and gotten through. When people come to work with me I tell them that I am not going to watch the clock. We are all adults and know what needs to be done; if that means working 12 hours some days (hopefully rare) and three hours on others, that’s fine with me. Get the job done, don’t watch the clock.
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?
As a person who was born and raised in NW Montana I have always enjoyed fishing and hunting and I do make time to engage in these activities, although I will often have a stack of reviews or something like that with me.
How do you choose to prioritize work and non-work activities?
With modern technology (e.g., smart phones) this is difficult. I find that more and more I combine work and non-work activities, instead of prioritizing them. I have taken more than a few cell phone calls during dinner (much to my wife’s consternation) and frankly I am pretty constantly in touch with my e-mail form the time I get up in the morning until I go to bed. For me, being with my family is the main thing. Sure, it would be nice to be with them without the interruptions, but the interruptions are part of the job that enables me to live the life I want.
How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?
Work has almost always been fun for me. That said, I have never been able to develop the mind set of some of the most successful scientists I have met; namely that life is defined by one’s work. My work supports my life and the things that are most important to me, and define my life -- namely my wife and son. I try to remind myself of this when a particularly onerous work task arises. My wife also has a PhD in Experimental Psychology and owns her own business so she really understands the demands on me and is supportive. In reality I probably owe more than 90% of any success I’ve enjoyed to her support and understanding. Academics is not a 9-5 job. Having a partner who understands that is a tremendous benefit.
What percentage of your time is allocated to work vs. home life?
As I said above, the line is really blurred for me. Many times when I’m at home on my computer working on a manuscript or something my son will want to play soccer, or do something with me and I always stop the work and go play with him. Then I come back to the work later, often after he has gone to bed or before he gets up.
How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?
I’m not sure that I have. As one’s career evolves different strategies need to emerge.
Are there any special organizational strategies you use to be efficient at work?
I am very fortunate to have great administrative support. Without this support I did have difficulty organizing the details of my dailly schedule. I think that technology and various scheduling programs are making this easier to do in the absence of support personnel.
I also try to take advantage of unplanned opportunities to do work. For instance, I am responding to these questions as I fly home from DC.
Learning to delegate responsibility is also an important skill and one I certainly struggle with. We need to guard against the mindset that we have to do everything ourselves. Ask other faculty to help with grants, give students the opportunity to assume greater roles in preparing manuscripts, ask post-docs to develop a lecture for you.
Have you found it helpful to assign specific workdays to specific work-related tasks, like manuscript-writing, grading papers, etc.?
No. Definitely not. Things are generally too fluid to plan activities like that. I try to fit them in between meetings, etc.
How many hours per week do you spend writing papers for publication?
Not nearly enough. From this great mentoring I can think of many specific bits of wisdom that have been passed on to me by each of my mentors. However, the overarching guidance I’ve taken away has been to be persistent. Nobody succeeds all the time or maybe even the majority of the time. However, if you give up you will never succeed. Keep trying, revise the rejected article, rewrite the grant or find another source to fund it, don’t give up.
Are there any additional comments you would like to make?
I think the four most important things I can say are:
- Do not take yourself too seriously- in line with this I find it hard to believe that anyone would really care about what I have to say on this topic.
- Be persistent.
- Try to find and focus on aspects of your work you enjoy-- and then it is not work.
- Take care of each other.
How do you protect time for writing papers?
I struggle with this.
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 think that is unrealistic.
How do you find time to exercise, or sleep?? How many hours of each do you average?
I don’t exercise routinely....I have found that if I deprive myself of sleep I make poor decisions. I try my best get a good night’s sleep.
What advice do you have for other researchers who are learning to balance both career and personal life goals?
I would urge people not to take themselves too seriously. Sometimes we all get caught up in our work and attach an unrealistic importance to it. Sure, our science is important but I have a feeling that when I draw my last breath that my thoughts are not going to dwell long on grants I received or papers I wrote. Instead, I imagine that I will focus on my family and friends and the shared lives we’ve enjoyed.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from one of your mentors?
I’ve been blessed to have a remarkable set of mentors. I’ve had formal mentoring relationships with Fran McSweeney, Steve Higgins, Chris-Ellyn Johanson, Bob Schuster, Walter Ling and Rick Rawson and informal relationships with many other senior scientists. Division 28, more than any other organization I belong to, really is a big happy (relatively) family and most of us are happy to look out for each other and help.