Thursday, May 31, 2012

Friday Fun: A Postdoc's Running Diary

Not to be confused with this oatmeal (source)
Last Friday, Amie gave us an all-access pass to her weekly graduate school routine (see it here). It was very interesting to read about how Amie breaks up her daily activities and manages her time. In fact, I was so captivated by Amie's post that I thought I'd add one of my own. Today, I give you a running diary of my work day--A Postdoc's Running Diary. I took some notes about a single day of work this week and for this blog post I will give you access to some of the daily activities that a "postdoctoral researcher" takes part in during a typical day.

The following events took place on Wednesday May 30th, 2012

7:20am - alarm rings, hit snooze

7:42am - I check my Email for the first time today (FYI: this happens a lot)

7:44am - Nothing starts my day off better than a bowl of instant oatmeal!

7:50am - I sit down on the couch in my apartment and turn on the television to watch the news. And by news I mean sports news, and by sports news I mean basketball sports news.

8:15am - Dressed and ready to go to work, full of oatmeal.

8:21am - Coffee stop at Peet's coffee. Peet's is exactly 37 steps from the office where I work. A recent study found that coffee drinkers actually tend to have slightly lower mortality rates than non-coffee drinkers, controlling for other risk factors (Lopez-Garcia et al., 2008)! I may live forever!

8:21am - Check my Email in line at Peet's

8:33am - Coffee in hand, I sit down at my desk at UC San Francisco

Coffee!!! source
8:34am - Check my Email on my office computer.

8:36am - I surf the internet for interesting content. For me, this involves reading up on my favorite basketball-relevant news (, social networking ( now only $28 a share!), and I look for science writing on the web. Today, a colleague pointed me to a paper written by Stanford Professor Jamil Zaki on why the terms for "hard" and "soft" sciences are ridiculous (here). Also, Dan Ariely wrote a piece about dishonesty which was fascinating (here)! Oh, and I also like to read texts from dog and the oatmeal!

9:00am - Email

9:11am - Data preparation begins. I do a lot of coding work in my research. It involves a team of coders who watch video recorded interactions to determine how much of a certain behavior participants engage in. Today I am conducting reliability analyses examining how much pairs of participants were talking to each other during an interaction.

9:27am - Email

9:44am - Coders are reliable!!! Data analysis concludes that coders agreed with each other on the amount of talking. Time to celebrate!

9:45am - Email

10:01am - Data analysis. I am currently working on a project examining status differences in social interactions, and the effect of these status disparities on social interaction behavior and physiological responses. It's a ton of data that I finished collecting in February. I have been slowly making my way through it since that time.

10:38am - Haven't found anything today yet, after adding the new codes. Disappointment begins to set in...

10:41am - Might have found something cool...

10:43am - Confirmed, something cool!

10:44am - Crafting a carefully worded Email to the project's principal investigator (PI) to tell her how cool the finding is. Hoping she will feel the same way...

10:45am - More data analysis

11:55am - I realize I haven't stood up since I arrived at work. Break time stretching!

12:06pm - Email

12:50pm - Web surfing break. I came across Power Rankings for AMC's Mad Men on (in retrospect, might be NSFW). Mad Men is one of my favorite shows (as you may know already). I may work the show into my course materials when I teach Power, Status, and Influence at the University of Illinois this Fall. 

1:10pm - Email

1:20pm - Meeting with PI about the results of our project. She's enthusiastic, but we're still not sure yet how we're going to write the paper. We reminisce briefly about how our collaboration has been fun and gossip a bit.

1:51pm - Back to the data! With a better understanding of the data, I am continuing to write the paper. I have been writing it (in my head primarily) for the last month or so. It is finally starting to take shape now!

2:35pm - Media Request! During the NBA playoffs over the last two years I tend to get journalists asking questions about how touch is associated with performance in teams. It's based on this research! Anyway, the synopsis of our conversation: coding team touch takes a long time, the results are correlational, touch is crucial for team cooperation, and it's complicated when companies think about encouraging touch at the office.

3:00pm - Time for a change of scenery! I pack up my things for a trip to the library.

3:06pm - Parking Ticket!!! AHHHHHHH!!!! My spouse and I park a car on the street outside of our apartment in San Francisco. There is weekly street sweeping and we forgot to move the car.

3:07pm - Momentum now crushed, I decide to go home instead of the library.

3:15pm - To cheer myself up I watch a little sports news on the television.

3:20pm - Email

3:30pm - Writing begins again.

3:37pm - Writer's block!!!

3:38pm - Email

3:59pm - Epiphany!!!

4:42pm - Return of writer's block!!

4:43pm - Email

The signal to end the work day (source)
5:25pm - With a basketball game starting on television, I call off the writing for the day. How far did I get? Two solid paragraphs that might stay in the paper, three questionable paragraphs that probably won't make the cut, and four or five ideas for the structure of the paper going forward. Good day for writing overall!!!

9:07pm - Basketball game over and full of frozen yogurt, I begin working on my lecture notes for the class I teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tomorrow's topic is "the unconscious mind."

9:45pm - Finished for the day!

So there you have it, a day in the life of a postdoctoral researcher. Tying this back to Amie's piece, I've always thought that having the freedom to surf the internet can help to recharge one's battery during the day. For me, I think checking Email helps break up my work into smaller, more manageable chunks. The other useful piece of data from today's post is that I didn't make much progress on the writing. That's okay, because as I've written before, science writing does come with its difficulties.

This question is for people in both academic and non-academic jobs: How similar is your typical work day to mine?

Kraus MW, Huang C, & Keltner D (2010). Tactile communication, cooperation, and performance: an ethological study of the NBA. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10 (5), 745-9 PMID: 21038960

Lopez-Garcia E, van Dam RM, Li TY, Rodriguez-Artalejo F, & Hu FB (2008). The relationship of coffee consumption with mortality. Annals of internal medicine, 148 (12), 904-14 PMID: 18559841


  1. wendy berry mendesJune 22, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    We never gossip! just talk about science and its related topics.

    Nice post, Michael, but if I knew you were blogging about that day I would have done something more noteworthy, like add an interpretive dance reflecting my feelings towards your data.

    1. Hi Wendy!

      We can save the interpretative dance for the next running diary! Thanks for reading, and I hope you have an excellent summer.