The academics biggest untruth - I DON’T HAVE TIME!

The academics biggest untruth - I DON’T HAVE TIME!

How often do you hear scientists say “I’m a bit stressed, I’m afraid I don’t have time just now”. A common excuse for supervisors and students not spending time discussing science, for refusing participation in a half-time review or passing on the opportunity to review a journal manuscript. My mother always encouraged me not to tell untruths, and in recent years I’ve pondered why we allow and even tolerate this common practice? Isn’t it time for honesty? Next time you feel you’re becoming the Disney White Rabbit, try saying “I’m sorry, but I don’t prioritise you”, as that’s really the truth.

Wall Street Journal writer Laura Vanderkam explains: “Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.” So an overly cluttered desk, a diary full-packed with appointments, a last-minute grant application, not reading research papers anymore, and an inability to keep check of 10 different research projects at the same time all have the same problem – your choice to allow this. YOU own your time, and how you choose to use it (or abuse it) is YOUR privilege.

There is one PhD supervisor at KI who has 10 PhD students as main supervisor. I cannot imagine how it can be possible to do what’s expected of you as a professional for that particular supervisor. If you spend your time running between various meetings, workgroups and steering boards, consider learning to say ‘no thankyou’ next time you are offered the chance to participate in a new venture.

A creative tip I learned during a KI leadership course was to add on 30 minutes to every appointment I write into my work diary. This gives me time to relocate from KI to KS without sprinting like Usain Bolt, for example, and also gives me time to stop thinking about the last meeting so that I can adequately prepare for the next one.

A recent survey reports that the majority of KI researchers have problems with sleep or insufficient levels of sleep. If you’re like me then if you work late at night then it takes time to relax before I can drift off in slumber. An anti-oxidative ‘wash cycle’ is operational in your brain during sleep, so working up until midnight and reducing your night’s sleep is obviously not a good choice – not prioritizing one’s health and well-being.

Taking charge of your time through structured planning, goal-setting and encompassing both short-term and long-term perspectives is liberating.


Robert Harris, professor. CMM group leader for Applied immunology, central director for doctoral education, director for the doctoral education at the department of clinical neuroscience (CNS) and member of the Board of Doctoral Education.