Day in the life of an economics lecturer

The Big Issue asked me to write a few words about a typical day, it's below the fold.

Day in the Life of an Economics Lecturer
Stephen Kinsella, Lecturer in Economics, University of Limerick.

I hate mornings. Really. If mornings were my bed, I’d sleep on the floor. But we’ve all got to deal with the things. So up I get around 7, grumpily dig our three kids out of bed, and get the middle one off to Montessori school. The drive to school is all questions: what does the inside of a whale look like? Where do wrinkles come from? Can fish burp? I’m in the gym after that. I’m 34, and starting to feel it. Everyone’s life is lived in four quarters. First quarter: 0 to 25 years, you’re a kid, do what you like, with little to nothing of consequence to yourself or others. Second quarter: 25 to 50, these are the big impact years, when you can really make a difference to yourself, your family, your society. I’ve got 16 more years to go in this quarter, and I’m more and more aware of the time that’s passing as I run laps and lift stuff over my head to the beat of some awful Euro pop music. Third quarter: 50 to 75. You have to be careful in the second quarter if you want to get to the end of the third one in good shape. Very few of my family have seen the fourth quarter: 75-100, for one reason or another.

I walk out of the gym and into work, the amazing Kemmy Business School at the University of Limerick. It’s a world class business school, and by the time I’m into my office, I’m excited by the conversations I’ve had with students and colleagues on the stairs.

Around 9 the calls start from radio stations, I tend to let them go to voicemail until lunchtime. There’s always someone who wants a quote or an interview, and while it’s a part of my job to give interviews, and the bit most people around the country know me for, it’s actually a very small part of what I do. So it can wait. So can email, twitter, and all of that. It’s important to block time away from this stuff to get something solid done. I think my job is really important, and that what I do matters, but I don’t kid myself that I’m a brain surgeon or something. No-one will die if I don’t check my email or answer a voicemail. So I let that all be, and I try to get to it when I can.

Today I have office hours, meaning anyone who wants to can call by during a fixed slot, 9-12, a bit like a GP’s surgery. I supervise 1 post-doctoral fellow, 5 doctoral students, 10 masters students, and around 15 undergraduate theses, as well as advising many other students across the business school and the university. Today is busy because the final year projects are due. These are substantial pieces of research done by final year undergraduates, and worth a fairly large part of the student's mark for their degree. So it’s last minute reading of drafts, questions over structure, all of that. The goal is to take the student through the writing process in a way that empowers them to believe they can pull complicated stuff like this off, while not actually writing it for them in the process. It’s very rewarding when you see the final product, but the process of putting research theses together can sometimes be a slog. Teaching students that writing and research isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, happens slowly. The rapidly approaching deadlines concentrate minds. Students with life issues call by. One student’s parent has been diagnosed with MS, and we need to build a programme of study for them. I suspect another student is depressed, and I refer her to our counselling services. Another has had a baby recently, and needs some support on writing assignments. It’s all in a day. After 12 I’m wrecked, as I’ve seen over 17 people--some in groups--but I can’t stop.

I generally do a lunchtime interview for a radio station at this point, or work on my research. UL pay me to teach and conduct research. My research is on the Irish and European economies. I’m trying to build a better model of how it works, to give to policy makers in the hope it might warn of another crisis before the crisis gets too big. No model predicted Ireland’s property collapse, and I’d like to change that. But the big lofty ‘change the world’ goals aside, the day to day job of research is reading, checking data, writing computer code, writing journal articles, submitting those articles for publication, rejection, revision, and resubmission. I’ve been doing this for around 12 years now, so I’m used to the cycles involved in the work. Books are different to journal articles, which are different to newspaper pieces. Your writing changes accordingly.

Today’s interview is for an Austrian magazine that wants to know more about Ireland’s promissory note deal. I tell them what I know, and they seem happy. The amount of goodwill, and general interest, Ireland has in the international community can’t be underestimated.

Lunch is normally skipped, but today I’m starving so I head down for a quick bite with my colleagues. I’ve been at UL for 7 years and can’t really imagine working at another place. I have great colleagues, and today the talk is all six nations rugby.

I teach in the afternoon, a short course for PhD students on regression methods. Then I head home at around 4. My wife is doing her own PhD, and needs time to study, so I take the kids off to the playground. I’m fascinated by how children learn--for my first son, it is all about numbers. My second son tries to draw any problem out first. They are remarkably different people, despite how close they are in age-about 18 months. One is socially gregarious, the other a little diffident, depending on the company. My youngest, a girl, is all smiles because she wants me to carry her. She clearly thinks walking is for peasants or something. The rain forces us home from the playground, and after supper and a bath, it’s bedtime. Putting our 3 kids to bed is like herding drunken cats. If they haven’t slept during the day, they can be semi-feral by bedtime.

I sit down around 8, and get back to work. There are papers to referee, assignments to grade, a twitter feed to update, and most importantly, email to respond to. I get a lot of email from colleagues and the public and it’s really only at night that I’m able to answer a lot of it. I try to write down ideas for the next day, or things to write about in my weekly Irish Independent column. By midnight I’m completely wrecked, and I dive into bed, hoping morning doesn’t come too soon.