Being a responsive academic: On the radio and in “the zone”?

Monday and Tuesday this week involved very long hours with end to end meetings and a lot of travel, and so by the time Wednesday came around I was well up for a day that involved just 6 hours of meetings and stuff. A whole two hours spare in my working day for….a power nap? Catching up on emails? Filing an expenses claim? Eating food sat at my desk rather than chewing and walking to or from it?

In my usual 5.30am wake-up quick morning news check (before I peel myself out of bed for training) I could see there was a lot of traffic on the Government’s launched inquiry into vaping and e-cigarettes late on Tuesday night. No time for in-depth reading, interesting, but one for later – and to send to my wonderful research assistant for safe keeping.

Anyway, Wednesday ‘hump day’ didn’t quite live up to its alluded expectations of a gentler pursuit in the journey to the weekend. Mid-morning during a meeting I did a quick cursory glance of my emails and saw the BBC in the subject. “XXX from BBC Radio 5 live here, can you give us a call as soon as you get this, we would like you to talk about the Government vaping inquiry this afternoon”.

For someone who is relatively new to this academia game, I surprisingly have a lot of nostalgia for an ancient scholarly way of living that I have never actually lived. The kind who reads and writes in a dark room without an internet connection and engages with civilization and people about once a week when they go to buy groceries from a shop 15 miles away up a mountain.

Should an academic drop everything at short notice to response to news related to their funded project? Or is it perhaps not a little churlish of me to say no when we are supposedly the experts on this topic? Or do I ought to remember that Impact, Dissemination and Outreach are the boxes that a modern academic is required to tick?

I had two days notice when I last went on BBC Radio Leicester and 3 weeks when I went on BBC Radio 4. Ample time to prepare. Can I really do this in circa three hours?

Can I speak about a project that has no data yet? How will I wake the cat in time to deliver him the obligatory ten practices of key points?

I’m an academic, who is supposed to talk for part of her living but who in other guises is a perfectionist and does not suffer a lack of control at all well. Can I be “on form” in three hours and avoid making an entire plonker of myself?

I suppose the answer is yes. Game time.

ISDN line and room booked: CHECK

Key aims of project rehearsed: CHECK

Notes prepared to key questions anticipated by BBC: CHECK

Early afternoon meetings re-arranged: CHECK

Lunch eaten: CHECK

With those bits seen to it was then very soon time to get in “the zone”. “Good afternoon, this is your captain speaking….” (it does actually feel like that!).

At that point the adrenaline was flowing, a gentle raise in heartbeat, safe in the knowledge that there is little I can do in this moment but live it in full force and be myself. I am no expert in the psychology of speaking but just like when I race, I cherish those rare moments and opportunities to be the best that I can be in any moment whilst being me and also being me who carried earlier reservations.

Unsurprisingly it all went very fast from there on in. Done and dusted in a flash 7 minutes and the world didn’t end. All good. Job done. One up to Pocket Rocket.

Out of “the zone”, leaving the dungeons on campus (where the recording studio resides), feeling a little relieved I reflected on the past few hours. How had I got myself through a minor state of terror being the academic and person that I am towards doing something that was actually rather fun, enjoyable and filled me with pride to do what I do? And with the added bonus of being able to talk about something affecting people’s lives right now?

It’s all rather easy, really. Just like being a triathlete at a race.

The months and months of training and learning are etched on my liver and can be delivered in an instant. I wasn’t going to forget the key aims and debates of our project. I live and breathe those virtually every day. Instead I prepared and organized the more local situation and made sure I could press the “on” switch at short notice. In those moments that embrace the more immediate and short-lived performative elements of academic work, I often draw on the embodiment of being very fit and healthy and that in itself brings a load of energy and confidence too. I had the fundamentals already and just added the magic ingredients of food/fuel, a few tracks of my favorite tunes (always headies before something big) and armed myself to deliver.

Over and out.

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