Chana K. Akins, PhD

Associate Professor
University of Kentucky

What is your current research? Please briefly describe your area of research and/or practice:

Chana K. Akins, PhD The main focus of our research is currently on studying the effects of drugs of abuse on sexual behavior. Clinical studies have shown a strong correlation between drug abuse and risky sexual practices such as increased frequency, an increased number of partners, and unprotected sex. These sexual practices have been linked to adverse health consequences including high prevalence rates for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV and hepatitis C.

There are practical, ethical, and methodological issues with conducting empirical research in humans to examine the mechanisms that underlie the relationship between drug abuse and sexual behavior. Although there have been a small number of controlled preclinical studies that have demonstrated that drugs of abuse may facilitate sexual motivation, no parametric or systematic studies further investigating this relationship have been conducted. Therefore, we have developed an animal model with which to investigate this further. Japanese quail have a well-studied sexual behavior system and they appear to find drugs of abuse similarly rewarding as humans.

About how many hours per week do you spend in alternative involvement in professional organizations, administrative duties, teaching, clinical requirements or similar?

The number of hours per week I spend on various duties depends on the week but, in general, 1- 2 hours in professional organizations, 1-2 hours on Departmental and University committees, 2-4 hours mentoring students, and 3-6 hours teaching. Recently, the most time consuming duties are my Associate Editor position for the Psychology of Women Quarterly and grant review panel for NIDA. I probably work 3-6 hours per week on the editorship and grant review panel comes around twice a year so I can prepare to carve out time for it. While these are fairly time-consuming activities, they are also the most rewarding and of benefit to my research and career.

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?

Yes, absolutely. I am usually involved in some sort of sports activity at any one point and time. The last couple of years I have tried to get out and hike more and play more golf. I have also been cross country skiing multiple times. I plan to start training for some half marathons soon. Outside of sporting activities, I try and find other creative outlets. For example, I am enrolled in a correspondence course for writing children’s literature. I also like to travel and bird watch. I recently adopted two cats from the Humane Society and they are quite entertaining and pretty demanding of my time. I think it is important to make time for activities outside of academe. I cannot imagine being successful in my career without having a life outside of academe.

How do you choose to prioritize work and non-work activities?

Family comes first but my priorities for work and non-work activities can shift depending on what is going on. I think it is important to exercise flexibility and to learn to be an efficient juggler.

How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?

I try and find a balance but at any moment, depending on what is going on, the priority can shift. I take it in stride that there will be some “crunch” times when I might have to go behind closed doors to finish writing a grant, reviewing grants, etc. Those times get balanced out by making sure that I take some time out for personal activities.

What percentage of your time is allocated to work vs. home life?

I don’t know the answer to that. There have been times when I’m sure the percentage of time working was above that of my home life. These times are related to getting tenure, or applying for grants, prior to going up for promotion to Full. Similarly, there were times when the opposite was true and I leaned more toward home activities such as post-tenure.

How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?

The key for me has to been to weigh out what is most important at that time. If there is a personal event I need to attend to, then that becomes a priority and work will have to wait. If I have to finish reviewing for grants and I can afford to postpone a personal priority, I’ll do that. I guess I try and stay flexible to achieve both a satisfying work and personal life.

Are there any special organizational strategies you use to be efficient at work?

Sure, sometimes I work from home at various hours so that I can work around personal priorities. Other times, I may push really hard to get a project finished so that I can be clear of work once I get home.

Have you found it helpful to assign specific workdays to specific work-related tasks, like manuscript-writing, grading papers, etc.?

No. I have found it nearly impossible to dedicate one task for specific workdays. I typically juggle so it may mean having 2-3 major tasks to work on at once.

How many hours per week do you spend writing papers for publication?

I don’t know. Working on papers is one of those activities that comes in bursts for me.

How do you protect time for writing papers?

I may have to cut back on doing some other things until I finish writing. Sometimes, if I am writing with a student author, it helps to set some deadlines for returning things to him or her.

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?

Yes, post-tenure I decided I would not work on Saturdays unless it required me to go into the laboratory. More recently, I have tried not to work on the weekends and that is going well.

How do you find time to exercise, or sleep?? How many hours of each do you average?

Sometimes it has been difficult, especially to find time to exercise. I have found that signing up for formal classes or working out with someone else keeps me obligated to work out regularly. I do not function well for any extended amount of time if I get less than about 6-7 hours of sleep so it is a must for me. I exercise about 4-5 hours a week when I am consistent.

What advice do you have for other researchers who are learning to balance both career and personal life goals?

I would say that balancing an academic career with personal life goals requires “learning”. For most people, it does not come naturally. The learning part starts in graduate school. It is important to learn to multitask and juggle activities at that level. Time management seems to be one of the most difficult tasks for graduate students but they may not even be aware that it is a problem. Take time out for personal activities but be realistic about how this will affect career activities. Sometimes, it may be important to work hard in short bursts to get something done; this can be very effective in academe and allows for some nice breaks in between accomplishments. Be flexible because life is not stagnant and requires making adjustments.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from one of your mentors?

To learn to multitask and stay organized.

Are there any additional comments you would like to make?

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the Scientist Spotlight. Thank you Division 28!