My Academic Diary: Helen Kara

Helen Kara
Independent Researcher

7 am. Woken by my cat who wants his breakfast. Half an hour of yoga, a shower, and some breakfast of my own, then the micro-commute to my garden office and I’m at my desk by 8. Twitter is humming and I chat with friends, retweet interesting articles, and catch up on the news. I also deal with the emails that have come in overnight: most are spam, but there are a few from clients, and one from an academic I know in Australia asking whether I could give a couple of workshops in Sydney. I’m interested, but I’d need more than a couple of workshops to justify a trip of that distance, so I email back suggesting we chat about it on Skype. My mind starts buzzing with ideas about how I could generate more work down under, so I make some notes and resist the temptation to start checking out flights.

At 8.30 I look at my to-do list and decide to spend an hour investigating marketing methods for self-published books. Last year I published a series of short e-books for doctoral students and another that I co-wrote with Nathan RyderSelf-Publishing For Academics. I was so busy writing last year that I had little time for marketing, but this year I need to focus on drawing people’s attention to the e-books. I have no background in marketing, and feel quite squeamish about trying to sell my wares, but it’s got to be done as I can’t afford to hire a publicist. After some research it seems the best option will be to turn the e-books into audiobooks. Luckily I know a sound engineer who I can probably persuade to help me in return for a good dinner and a few beers.

At 9.30 I leave to drive to Keele University for a meeting with a couple of senior staff who have read Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences and want me to help them plan an event for postgraduate and early career researchers. I get there in good time so I check out the campus bookshop, but it doesn’t stock my books. I mention this in the meeting, and afterwards a friendly professor marches me over to the bookshop and demands that they order copies for her postgraduate students. ‘How many students will be using this book?’ asks the bookseller. ‘Around one hundred,’ says the friendly prof. I can’t imagine that means they’ll order 100 copies, but still, my publisher will be pleased.

On the way home I drop into Staffordshire University where I have recently been made a Visiting Fellow of the Graduate School. I want to catch up with the person who put me forward for the fellowship, to thank her, but she’s not in her office. In the corridor, I bump into a professor I’ve met before, who tells me that my contact is in Durham examining a viva. He is highly complimentary about a keynote speech I gave recently which makes me feel that my detour wasn’t wasted.

I’m home at midday and catch up with my emails. There’s a request from a postgraduate student for me to write an essay for him (no chance), another from a colleague asking me to write a chapter for a collection he’s editing (slim chance), and a third from a lecturer I don’t know, at a university where I haven’t worked before, asking me to run one of my academic writing workshops for his doctoral students (very good chance indeed).

Lunch is bread and hummus and mixed salad which I eat at my desk. I have a call scheduled with my editor at 3 pm, to talk through the reviews of my proposal for the second edition of Research and Evaluation for Busy Practitioners. I spend an hour reading through the five reviews and writing down my ideas in response to the reviewers’ comments. The reviews were a perfect combination of complimentary and constructive, and there is a lot to discuss with my editor. After an hour’s conversation I have a plan and we have agreed a timescale.

Then I’m straight into a Skype meeting with my colleague Janet Salmons from Boulder, Colorado. I’m feeling frazzled, as the end of my day is approaching and I still have a lot to do, while she’s feeling serene, because it’s early morning in Boulder and her first meeting of the day has been cancelled. We are planning an online course for post-docs, Create Your Publication Strategy, and need to discuss the course materials. She’d like to chat but I need to focus; being a kind woman, she takes that in her stride and we’re done in half an hour.

I still have emails to write from my meeting at Keele. I’ve had courteous emails from the friendly prof and the person who hosted the meeting, thanking me for coming and for my contributions, and I should have replied by now. Plus a whole bunch of other emails have pinged in while I’ve been on the phone and Skype. So I spend an hour replying to messages, then review my to-do list and decide to sort out some financial admin – a sensibly job to do when I’m tired as it’s not too taxing (pun entirely intended). Half an hour of matching receipts to bank statements is enough, then I’m off home to find out what’s for dinner. It’s been a good day.

I love my work, though I’m not and never have been an academic. I’m an independent researcher and an author. I think my working life demonstrates that you don’t have to be an academic to be a scholar.

Helen Kara is an independent researcher, who does research and evaluation in social care, health, and the third sector, via her business We Research It Ltd. She tweets @DrHelenKara.

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