Dr. Kyle Nichols
Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY
Kyle Nichols is an assistant professor in his fourth year in the Department of Geosciences at Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, NY. He teaches (18 contact hours per year), has an active research program, supervises 4-6 senior research projects each year, and serves on the Environmental Studies Steering Committee. He also has a family (a wife and two teenaged step-children), and he makes time for at least one hour of exercise every day, for medical reasons.
Making time for health and family
Advice for new faculty members
Making time for health and familyKyle's personal health and his relationship with his family are his top priorities right now. When he first started teaching, that wasn't the case; he was absorbed in his work, at the expense of his health and his happiness. After a couple of years, he realized he needed to make some adjustments. To manage his diabetes effectively, he made exercise a part of his daily regimen—before going to work each day. He also started finding ways to spend more time with his family. His stepdaughter, Erin, is a senior in high school; this past year, they've been visiting colleges together. His 14-year-old stepson, Jake, is an athlete. Kyle makes a point of being home in the late afternoon, in time to play baseball, football, or whatever is in season, with Jake. Weekends, too, are time for the family to be together, at the kids' school events, or doing something outdoors together. In addition, Kyle and his wife, Mary Kay, make it a priority to go on at least one "date" per month.
Inflexible schedulingOf course, finding time for exercise and for family is easier said than done, with a tenure-track job. Kyle has managed it, he says, by becoming more inflexible in how he schedules his days. Between his morning exercise routine and his evening family time, he works a fairly intense 7:30 or 8 AM to 5 PM day, Monday through Friday. Rather than allowing his work to spill over into his evenings and weekends, he works very hard to get it done during normal business hours. To accomplish this, Kyle says, he prioritizes his work, deciding what needs to be done each day, and schedules it in. In addition to scheduling time each day to work in his lab, he schedules at least 45 minutes each day just to write. That includes writing up the results of his research, revising reviewed manuscripts, or jotting down ideas for grant proposals. Although it doesn't sound like much, he says, 45 minutes per day really adds up over the course of a semester or a year. Also, doing it every day keeps it fresh, so that his research is never far from his thoughts.
Kyle has had to make some adjustments in order to accommodate this new approach to his work. The hardest change he's making, he says, is learning to say "no" to students. "When I plan to be home at 5:00, and a student shows up at 4:45 wanting to talk, I now say, as politely as I can, that I can't talk with them until the next day." Similarly, when he wants to work without interruption (when he's doing his writing, for example), Kyle closes his door and turns off the lights. Even if students can still see that he's in his office, they know that he doesn't want to be disturbed, and they respect that. Conversely, when his door is open, they know he's available to them. In fact, he says, when they know your schedule, they'll work around it. Since his schedule is posted on his door (including his research, writing, and other commitments), Kyle's students always know when he'll be available. Finally, Kyle tries to leave his work at work. There are, of course, times during the semester when that turns out to be impossible. When he needs to, he returns to campus to work on evenings or weekends, preferring not to work at home.
Advice for new faculty members
- Prioritize. Find out what's expected of you, but also know what makes you happy, and make time for that. Protect yourself and your time; learn to say "no" politely.
- Get enough sleep to stay healthy and productive. Most of us become less productive when we don't get enough sleep; that leads to working longer hours, losing more sleep, and becoming even less productive. It's a negative feedback loop.
- Communicate with your loved ones. Kyle feels very fortunate to have such an understanding family, but he acknowledges that they are most supportive when he is clear about what he needs to do and why. At the same time, he listens to them when they express their needs.
- Plan ahead. Kyle and Mary Kay both have jobs that vary in "busy-ness level" over time. Mary Kay schedules her busiest times at work (being "on call") so that one of them can be with the kids, when needed. (When the kids are with their father, she schedules her busiest times to coincide with Kyle's.)