There are fewer formal structures in academia than in many other careers and professional life is often interwoven with personal life. In addition, to follow a successful academic career, there is high external pressure to publish and acquire funding. In face of this reality, the following working policy sketches key points for a work environment to foster creative work while allowing for work-life balance.
1. The meaning of our work life
The overarching goal of all work in our group is to contribute to a better world by solving applied research questions around energy, the environment and society. It is easy to lose sight of this when battling with the daily demands of being an academic - writing papers, chasing grants, and dealing with the administrative minutae and politics of academic institutions. It helps to occasionally remind ourselves of the reason for it all, especially during difficult times.
2. Quality not quantity
What matters are the results, not the time and location of work, or the number of hours worked. Work by the schedule that allows you to produce quality intellectual work. This could be a typical office-hour workday, but it does not have to be, as long as your availability does not compromise the need for communication on collaborative projects. Also, when possible, we attend our regular group meetings and the section colloquia. No permission is needed to take vacations or take time off for personal or family reasons (keeping in mind any external project deadlines).
3. No evening or weekend work
Weekend or evening work is neither expected nor desirable. An important component of delivering quality over quantity is to have rest periods to recharge and downtime in which the processes for creative thinking can run their course. Exceptions - like project deadlines - will exist, but they should remain rare. You may decide to take a sunny day off and finish that paper on the weekend, and that is also perfectly fine, as long as your choices do not hinder others in their ability to leave work behind during evenings and weekends.
4. Work environment to minimise distraction
Having a comfortable and distraction-free environment is critical for deep intellectual work. It is your right to signal when you need concentration. You are encouraged to do emails once or twice a day rather than continuously. We use a group chat to coordinate even when not everybody is at the same place at the same time, but again, you are not expected to be online while doing concentrated work. It is acceptable to say no to a new project idea or opportunity if it conflicts with your existing commitments or goes beyond your acceptable workload. Finally, we only want to hold meetings when there is a clear need for them. We want to clarify their purpose beforehand and ensure that all participants know about and agree upon expectations for preparation, such as having read through a document or prepared something to say.
5. Clarity on responsibilities and deadlines
Where external funding is involved, there will be deliverables and timelines, and work plans that require more than one person to collaborate and coordinate. We want to clarify from the outset who is responsible in these cases such that everybody can accommodate their share of such work in their schedules. This means having clear agreement on responsibilities and clarity on deadlines associated with them. If you find that these responsibilities are not clear, or that you will likely not be able to complete agreed-upon work by the agreed-upon deadline, raise this for discussion as early as possible so we can agree on how to proceed and adjust the workload. Our goals is that these external pressures do not prevent us from also pursuing self-driven and individual research interests.
6. Career progression with an intact soul
We are in science because it is a fun and fulfilling career. We want to have an open, curiosity-driven culture of research that ultimately helps make the world a better place. By operating as a respectful and supportive team, we want to help each other in pursuing our passion for research while keeping our values and integrity intact in spite of external pressure. Part of the job of more senior team members is to help junior team members navigate the trickier (and somtimes uglier) sides of academia.
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