Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
University of Florida
Q: What is your current research? Please briefly describe your area of research and/or practice:
A: In the animal laboratory, we are studying effects of nicotine administration and other environmental manipulations on inter-temporal decision making, and on responding maintained by drug and non-drug reinforcers and stimuli associated with these reinforcers. In the human laboratory, we are using a model of contingency management to study the determinants of choice for non-drug activities. In both labs, we apply quantitative models of choice to understand the determinants of problem behavior. In the clinical realm, we are evaluating a technology-based contingency management model to promote smoking cessation (and other pro-health behavior). The model circumvents several obstacles that have prohibited the application of contingency management to smoking. Currently, we are investigating the intervention at the national level, and developing ways to offset the costs associated with the treatment.
Q: About how many hours per week do you spend in alternative involvement in professional organizations, administrative duties, teaching, clinical requirements or similar?
A: I teach in the Department of Psychology, both undergraduate—and graduate-level courses. If I’m teaching an undergraduate course, I’ll spend about ten hours a week prepping, communicating with students, and teaching. Graduate courses take more time, about fifteen to twenty hours per week. A full teaching load is two courses per semester, but I have been able to get release time from one or two courses a year to conduct research. I try to keep administrative duties to a minimum. One of the best parts of my job is working with undergraduate and graduate students. I have had the privilege to mentor and learn from a bright, diverse, and energetic group of students. Currently, I am supervising six graduate students. We have weekly lab meetings, and I usually meet with most of the students individually on a weekly basis. I average about five hours per week in meetings. I review manuscripts as an Associate Editor for one journal, a board member for two others, and as an ad hoc reviewer for a handful of other journals. I also occasionally review grants for the National Institutes of Health. Reviewing occurs in bouts, so it's hard to give a solid number in hours per week.
Q: 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?
A: Yes, I golf, play guitar, bike, garden, and read books. The only thing I do well is read books. I suppose I’m also good at walking my Black Lab, Sasha. I also do Renshinkan Karate. I train 3-4 days per week, and intermix other forms of exercise—like yoga, biking—in between. Finding time for exercise and hobbies is important to me. I’m not quite sure how I find the time. I just get up and do it, and I find I’m more productive as a result.
Q: How do you choose to prioritize work and non-work activities?
A: My philosophy is to work hard and play hard. I usually don’t deliberate how I will allocate my activities to match my priorities. If anything, it’s the other way around. I assess my “priorities” by observing my behavior, and then I decide if something is missing or out of whack. I’m sure when I have kids I’ll make my choices much more deliberately—with a family-first priority.
Q: How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?
A: I have not achieved balance, in the sense of reaching a static state. Rather, there are times I have balance, and times I do not. When I’m writing a grant, my life is out of balance. That’s the norm for grant-writing. Having the flexibility in my life to allow for moments of imbalance is actually fairly important. It allows me to tackle these major projects. When I’m done, I usually return to some balance, which means that I do a variety of activities that provide a variety of reinforcers (exercise, music, reading, socializing).
Q: What percentage of your time is allocated to work vs. home life?
A: When I’m writing a grant, I’d say 85% of my waking hours are devoted to work for about a month. Usually, I average about 60% devoted to work during the week, and 10-20% during the weekend. The percentages vary by the seasons, and by seasons I mean the actual season and by the grant-writing cycle.
Q: How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?
A: A large part of the category “personal priorities” is achieved through work. There were many reasons I went into science: learning, sharing knowledge, and being exposed to diverse people and ideas are some of the reasons. Thus, I don’t see work and personal priorities as separate categories.
Q: Are there any special organizational strategies you use to be efficient at work?
A: I like to think that I’m “functionally organized.” I keep my work areas clean. If something is on my desk, it represents something I have to do. If there is nothing on my desk, there is nothing I have to do. And I don’t have to worry about something getting buried and forgotten. The same principle applies to emails, so I reply to my emails quickly. I rarely procrastinate—even if an email is a request to review a manuscript, I try to get it done and deleted as soon as possible. If my real and electronic desktops are relatively clean, I am more focused and relaxed. Another strategy that has been very helpful is to break big projects down into little pieces. I focus on writing two paragraphs (which usually turns into more paragraphs) rather than “starting on a manuscript.” It can be easy to procrastinate on completing the big tasks, and breaking them down has helped.
Q: Have you found it helpful to assign specific workdays to specific work-related tasks, like manuscript-writing, grading papers, etc.?
A: I tried to protect Fridays as a writing day, but that effort failed. By the time Friday rolls around I’m too restless. I was able to maintain writing in the morning, but that was it. Now I keep writing activities (not necessarily writing manuscripts) to the mornings about five days per week. For a few years, I would go to the beach for a weekend with writing materials and no Internet or phone. It was very effective; not sure why I stopped this practice. Other than writing, I just do what needs to be done. I like being flexible with my time. For me, if I get too rigid in my schedule I get bored, and it sets up expectations (e.g., “I must do X now”) that may go un-met. I have a lot to do on any given day; like Nemo, as long as I keep swimming throughout the day then everything gets done.
Q: How many hours per week do you spend writing papers for publication?
A: Not enough. During the year, I’d say an average of two hours. This is not a good number. During the summer, this number goes to about ten hours per week. I hold a writing workshop with my graduate students every summer. On the academic calendar, summer is writing season. I just read Mike Nader’s Spotlight piece, and I liked his suggestion to have at least one manuscript under review at any given time. Outcome-oriented goals like this are good to have.
Q: How do you protect time for writing papers?
A: I’m still striving to do a better job in terms of protecting time for my own writing. But, as I described above, I use mornings and summers as the time to write. I also write from home where I have sunlight in my office and few distractions. There’s a good book about writing called, How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, by Paul Silvia. I’ve benefited from a few tips in the book. I recommend the book for those who struggle with protecting writing time.
Q: 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?
A: I try to go with the flow. One nice thing about academic work is the ebb and flow. Semesters end, breaks begin, grants are submitted, funding (sometimes) occurs. I’m not a surfer, but I think of these cycles in terms of waves. I try not to restrict my activities too much because the next wave might require a different strategy. With a big wave like a grant, all bets are off and I’ll work anytime. Or maybe the waves are too small and it makes more sense to eat a sandwich. Some of my colleagues benefit from different approaches, like working in the office and not at home. One day that might be the right approach for me. I’ll wait until that wave hits.
Q: How do you find time to exercise or sleep? How many hours of each do you average?
A: I exercise after writing-related work in the morning. I usually do a workout or go to karate around noon, and sometimes I’ll go to karate in the evening. I sleep around 8 hours per night. That counts as another activity I’m good at: sleeping.
Q: What advice do you have for other researchers who are learning to balance both career and personal life goals?
A: I still think of myself as a seeker of advice rather than a giver. But, I’ll mention a few things that have worked for me. As I mentioned above, I try to go with the flow. I remember Robert Frost’s quote, “You have freedom when you're easy in your harness.” Also, I remember that I love my work: developing and discussing new ideas, teaching and learning, and doing science. If you don’t have a passion for the activity of doing science and its outcomes, it will be a challenge to find balance. I say this because balance is, to some extent, a matter of reinforcers and an absence of aversive consequences if you need to postpone or decline some work. (It’s a good idea to politely decline some tasks—this is an excellent skill to maintain balance.) Imbalance is more likely if you don’t get pleasure from what you do, or if you’re work is predominantly driven by avoiding bad consequences.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you ever received from one of your mentors?
A: The advice I took from my mentors is mainly non- verbal and not in the form of aphorisms. That is, they served as role-models for what I wanted to be (Billy Baum, Jack McDowell, Maxine Stitzer, Ken Silverman). All of them had a contagious passion for science and ideas, they were excellent teachers and listeners, and their interests were diverse. They were also kind, very smart, and creative. The “advice” they gave me was to aspire to achieve these qualities. (Well, I can’t achieve greater smartness, so just the other stuff.)
Q: Are there any additional comments you would like to make?
A: I think one key to achieving balance is to control the contingencies. Choose your obligations wisely, and politely decline some requests. Engage in a diverse range of activities that yield reinforcement, especially the social kind, and be a source of reinforcement for others.