Professor and Director, Substance Abuse
Research Division, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, Wayne State
University School of Medicine
What is your current research? Please briefly describe your area of research and/or practice:
Human laboratory-based research focused on:
(1) pharmacological (e.g. drug dose and availability), environmental (e.g. stressors and non-drug reinforcers) and individual difference (behavioral history and genetic) determinants of drug self-administration;
(2) testing medications and behavioral approaches for treating dependence on opioids, cocaine and marijuana;
(3) behavioral economic analysis of drug reinforcement; and
(4) in vivo imaging (PET, 1H-MRS) studies of neurochemical changes during addiction/treatment.
About how many hours per week do you spend in alternative involvement in professional organizations, administrative duties, teaching, clinical requirements or similar?
My primary scientific activities (data analysis, writing manuscripts and grant applications) rarely exceed 30hrs/week. Administrative activities consume the most alternate time, about 10-15 hrs/week; this includes overseeing operations and budgets in the laboratory, division and treatment clinic; departmental/university service (e.g. I chair Psychiatry’s P&T Committee); manuscript/grant reviews; and meetings (which I try to limit). Teaching is intermittent and varied (small groups with fellows/residents, occasional graduate neuroscience course lecture, student research supervision, invited talks), averaging <5 hrs/week. Professional organization activities also are intermittent, averaging about <1 hr/week). I do not have clinical responsibilities.
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?
In the evenings and on weekends, I spend time with my family, cooking, reading for pleasure, playing guitar, watching movies and sports, and walking our Golden Retrievers.
How do you choose to prioritize work and non-work activities?
During the week, I spend more time working (up to 10 hrs/day: I’m usually in the office from 9am–6pm then I might work about 1 hr at home). During the weekend, I devote nearly all (>85%) of my time to non-work activities except if there is a grant application or grant review deadline (in which case work and non-work might consume about 50% each).
How have you achieved a balance in the time you spend on career and personal life goals?
There are two components to this answer. First, I have eclectic interests, so part of the balance derives from doing varied things. Second, my wife (also an academic) and I manage to be flexible in balancing domestic issues (e.g. child care, finances, cleaning, outdoor work). Part of the balancing act is the interaction between our schedules: I often attend to my business while she’s doing her stuff, and vice versa. If one of us needs a break, then it seems that the other one naturally picks up the slack. This is a big positive factor that has helped me in balancing work/life.
What percentage of your time is allocated to work vs. home life?
I usually spend 50-55 hrs/week working, about 40- mins commuting each way, about 6.5 – 7 hrs/weeknight sleeping (a little more on the weekends), and the remainder is home life. So, taken as a whole, it’s about equally divided between work, sleep, and at-home awake time.
How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?
It’s evolved. When our daughter was pre-teen, and I was a post-doc and Assistant Professor, I spent more time in child and family activities (e.g. lots of sports events), and relatively less time working than I do now. During our daughter’s teenage years, which corresponded with being an Associate Professor, I had somewhat more time for work including bringing work home more often. Since becoming division director (past 4 years), I’ve spent more time working but also more time with my wife.
Are there any special organizational strategies you use to be efficient at work?
Except for private phone calls/meetings I have an open-door policy, because I oversee a division of >40 people, and directly supervise several faculty and staff in the laboratory. An open door creates a potential inefficiency, of course, but faculty and staff are respectful and direct in their oral communications (whereas email can be less time-efficient for certain issues). I’ve found that making myself accessible cultivates good will, and that staff understand and do not trample my time. I’m not mentally geared up for data analyses or writing tasks until about 10 a.m. So, I usually spend the first part of each weekday on “housekeeping” activities such as email, phone calls, administrative tasks, committee work, and touching base with staff/students. I think that also sends the right message to others that people-centered tasks come first in the day.
Have you found it helpful to assign specific workdays to specific work-related tasks, like manuscript-writing, grading papers, etc.?
No, I do not assign entire days to work on specific tasks. I prefer to make progress on multiple fronts each day. Also, it helps me to switch between activities so I don’t burn out quickly on any one task. For instance, it can be counterproductive to spend an entire day reviewing grants (both for me and for the grant applicants!)
How many hours per week do you spend writing papers for publication?
Actual writing time probably varies from about 5 – 15 hrs, whereas data analysis can easily match or exceed that time. Recently, I’ve been meeting with two junior faculty (whom I mentor) every other week for breakfast at a local diner. In addition to finding reasons to laugh a lot, and being supportive of one another, we plan our analysis and writing goals for the next meeting (independent of other activities such as teaching and reviewing). We focus on concrete tasks that are achievable within a two-week period (e.g. finishing analyses and writing a Results section, not the whole paper!) and we hold each other to our promises.
How do you protect time for writing papers?
I choose to complete data analysis and writing in the afternoon and evenings (when I’m more alert). For me, this also functions as a reinforcer for having accomplished other administrative tasks earlier that day.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from one of your mentors?
“If a man wants a blue suit, turn on a blue light” (from Joe Brady, but communicated to me by Bob Schuster and Chris-Ellyn Johanson). In other words, be sensitive to discriminative stimuli that signal reinforcer availability. This includes responding to NIH funding opportunities and invitations to write, speak, and serve on committees. Take chances often (careers and life move quickly!), even if it means failing every now and then. It’s a great way to learn, stretch yourself, and connect with others.
Are there any additional comments you would like to make?
Every crisis is an opportunity to do something different or to do it differently than before. Keep an open mind. Read and think about different scientific areas outside your immediate research track, and pay attention to real-world trends and politics that can help you connect your work to applications. Design your research program using a “hub-and-spokes” metaphor, i.e. think how your methods/expertise can be useful in nearby problem areas, which will enable you to cultivate collaborations and be innovative. You aren’t likely to be successful alone. Be thankful as often as possible for the opportunities you are given, and to the people who help you along. Besides, interacting with others – especially enthusiastic young scientists with gleaming eyes and fire in the belly – is one of the greatest things about science and going to work each day.
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?
I often do a little work on weekday evenings, but I turn off the computer by 10 pm otherwise I experience delayed sleep onset.
Sometimes I “hit the wall” after a flurry of deadlines. In those instances, I might work at home for a day to recharge my batteries.
Office-related work on weekends usually involves reviewing others’ manuscripts/grants, reading new literature, and letting ideas incubate. I do not typically work on my own manuscripts on weekends because, for me, that is more taxing.
How do you find time to exercise, or sleep?? How many hours of each do you average?
Exercise primarily comes with walking the dogs and doing yard work. The physical activity is a great counterpoint to the week’s intellectual challenges. Occasionally during warmer weather, I play tennis. Although we belong to a fitness club, I have not been using it often (which I view as an evolving personal challenge).
What advice do you have for other researchers who are learning to balance both career and personal life goals?
Achieving balance won’t happen overnight, and you will recalibrate as you move through different phases of your personal life. I tend to compartmentalize different tasks to reduce anxiety but realize that may be hard for some individuals. I also find that it is useful to be able to hold contradictory tendencies (e.g. ambition vs. patience) in your head at one time without getting anxious. I’ve never practiced meditation or yoga, but I suspect those might be helpful adjunctive practices.