As Design academics, our teaching and research work is driven by Human-Centred Design. This approach understands people’s perspectives, needs and experiences as the centre of design innovations. To understand the academic marathon, we therefore adopted a Human-Centred Design perspective with a focus on how Design academics plan and execute their work tasks. We drew from our own academic experiences as mid-career academics and captured insights from colleagues at the early career academic and professorial stages. With QUT Ethics Approval, we firstly conducted a survey to gather insights from early career colleagues. The survey consisted of 16 questions about the composition and yearly distribution of their workload, the way they organise it, and compared their emotional perception of their academic workload and the significance of the tasks that comprise it. We then used the same survey to interrogate our own experiences as current mid-career academics to reflect upon our past experiences as early career academics. From the understanding gained of how Design academics navigate their work, we generated academic journey maps for one of our early career academic colleagues, from one author’s past experience of being an early career academic, and for both authors in their current experience of being mid-career academics.
These maps visualise patterns of the early career and mid-career academic workloads, and help to identify pain points in the academic year. We laid out the maps based on the academic calendar. In Australia, the academic calendar starts with a pre-semester time from December to late February; in some courses, this period constitutes summer semester. Semester One typically begins in the last week of February, with 13 weeks of teaching and 2 weeks of assessment. A mid-year break occurs for approximately 4-6 weeks from mid-June to mid-July. Semester Two begins in late July and ends in late October, with final exams completed by mid-November. We also laid out the maps with reference to the type of tasks that the workload comprises; in Australia, the workload typically includes teaching, research, Higher-Degree Research student supervision, leadership and committee participation, writing and conference travel.
With reference to both the academic calendar and the typical academic workload, we traced each individual academic experience by identifying the moments where meaningful activities were achievable (high points), and the moments where the clashing of many activities impeded progress towards personal goals (low points). We converted these responses into lines that we traced with different colours per task and mapped across key segments of the academic calendar. We then distinguished the meaningful tasks from the routine ones.
To gather insights from Design academics in the professorial stage, we interviewed (through audio recording) three professors and asked: “In your role, how do you Plan and Execute as Planned?” We present several of the answers in a table and discuss the recurring themes. Both the maps and the discussion of the interviews show that the academic marathon academics at all three stages are running. Our examination of experiences of each stage is essential for gaining a broad understanding of how Design academics work in order to contextualise the strategies we present for Planning and Execute as Planned. We purposefully scoped this study to only focus on how academics work and not on how academics navigate their careers, which is an important issue in career planning and the subject of other chapters in this book (see, for example, Evans et al., 2021; Miller, 2021; Scharoun and Muratovski, 2021).
Experiences of Running the Academic Marathon
The following sections present academic journey maps from three Design academics at early and mid-career stages.
Early Career Academic Journey Maps
Figure 11.1 reveals the journey map of an early career academic who, after completing their PhD and doing a post-doctorate and sessional teaching for three years, transitioned into an ongoing lecturing position. The map indicates that during the last year teaching tasks and workload take up most of their time. Pain points are identified during the teaching semester where meaningful teaching and research tasks
FIGURE 11.1 Early career academic journey map - Academic A
were impeded by the teaching load. Writing papers and grants are also pain points as they were challenging to complete during teaching semesters. Break periods or off-teaching times also become pain points as this is when Academic A is faced with conflicting activities at once. Overall, the journey map shows that Academic A is dissatisfied with their current academic workload.
When asked what tools Academic A uses to manage tasks, they referred to notetaking applications such as Apple Notes and Google Keep, the team management software Miro and the time-tracking application Jiffy. This academic also referred to their ability to adapt to emerging opportunities as a way to overcome the pressure of not having time, and to their capacity to execute without planning as a way of engaging in new opportunities despite the workload.
Figure 11.2 presents the early career journey map of one of the authors based on a retrospective account of entering academia a decade prior to Academic A. Similar to Academic A, the map indicates that, for Academic B, teaching tasks were a major portion of her workload. She managed to maintain her research activities throughout the academic year even though the workload allocation for research was minimal. Meaningful teaching and research tasks were impeded at various pain points, which resulted from conflicting tasks. For Academic B, writing papers and applying for grants were also considered pain points as these were difficult to achieve during the teaching semester. In contrast to Academic A, this academic used deadlines and to-do lists rather than digital applications to manage different tasks.
Reflecting on the academic journey maps of both Academic A and B, it is clear that this stage may be one of the most difficult in an academic career. It is particularly challenging as it is also the “making sense of everything” period. These early years are riddled with confusion over expectations, time pressures and competing interests and all create tension between high teaching loads and a desire to conduct more research.
FIGURE 11.2 Early career academic journey map-Academic В
FIGURE 11.3 Mid-career academic journey map - Academic C
Mid-Career Academic Journey Maps
Figure 11.3 shows the mid-career experience of one of the authors, with a workload that includes leadership roles at School, Faculty and University levels. Her workload includes less teaching than the maps of the early career academics. For Academic C, meaningful tasks are leadership opportunities. The map shows that pain points are when her meaningful tasks conflict with others. This usually happens during the teaching semester. Academic C manages her workload, tasks and goals with various online tools (such as Trello and Slack). To Plan and Execute as Planned, she also employs strategies such as deadlines, Shut Up and Write and Pomodoro sessions, blocking time, collaborating with others and learning to delegate. Her strategies to maintain focus are a combination of personal time for exercising, being with family and friends and travelling for networking and collaboration opportunities.
Contrastingly, Figure 11.4 illustrates the mid-career experience of Academic B. The workload for this academic involves teaching and Higher-Degree Research student supervision alongside leadership roles at School level. For Academic B, meaningful tasks are in the nexus of research and teaching. The map shows that pain points are the moments where her meaningful tasks are impeded by all tasks - both meaningful and not - converging during the teaching semesters.
Academic В does not manage her workload tasks via online tools, but rather uses tools such as a calendar, blocking out set days or set tasks, collaboration and deadlines to Plan and Execute as Planned. Similarly to Academic C, her strategies to maintain focus are based on “me” time to actualise and self-reflect, being with family and connecting with others for future collaborations.
Both mid-career academic journey maps show that we continue to endure pain points during the academic year; however, these pain points are more acute than the early career academic ones. The pain points are not as widely spread during the teaching semester, and we agree that this is because both the load and pressure of undergraduate teaching is largely under control at the mid-career stage. Many of the conflicting pressures and management of expectations have been dealt with to a degree, and we feel more in control of the activities we undertake. In addition, we have produced a publication track record, acquired competitive grant funding and have therefore increased our allocated research workloads (and reduced teaching workload as a result), which allows us to negotiate what we can and want to do. This stage is also characterised by pressure to manage tasks alongside the increasing expectations to demonstrate leadership capabilities and mentor early career academics and Higher-Degree Research students, which is a natural progression and necessary step in the career path towards the professorial stage.
FIGURE 11.4 Mid-career academic journey map - Academic В