Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I am William Behun and This is How I Work

Today, I am inviting William Behun in the "This is How I Work" series. William Behun earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from De Paul University in Chicago in 2006, and also holds degrees in Theatre and Drama. Dr. Behun has taught at, among other institutions, De Paul and Penn State, and has focused since 2010 primarily on philosophy of history and ethics. He currently teaches undergraduate courses in normative and applied ethics. His first book, The Historical Pivot: Philosophy of History in Hegel, Schelling, and Hölderlin focuses on the development of philosophy of history in German Idealism. Since then he has published papers on figures as diverse as Plato, Deleuze, Heidegger, and Giaoacchino da Fiore.
His most recent work, entitled "Derrida in the Confessional" examines the relationship between the sacrament of confession and the structure of The Secret in Derrida's later work. It was presented at the 4th Derrida Today Conference in New York City.
He met his wife, Dr. Juliana Eimer, while teaching at Penn State, and outside of the classroom coaches his daughter's elementary school chess team and is an award-winning home brewer.

Current Job: Instructor at McHenry County College, St. Xavier University, and Salem State University
Current Location: Kenosha, WI
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: Dell Latitude 10 tablet and various desktop Windows boxes

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
Currently, I teach between 8 and 10 courses per semester at various locations and online. My research is focused primarily on the western esoteric tradition and its intersection with contemporary and post-modern philosophical approaches. I don’t have as much time to devote to research as I once did because the teaching schedule I keep up leaves very little time for anything else. I often teach 2-3 night classes, and so the time that I would normally have spent reading, researching, etc. is occupied with teaching and travel. I live about 80-100km from the locations where I teach, and as a result, spend about 15 hours a week just in travel. When I have the opportunity to teach online classes, this is very helpful, but I find these less fulfilling and less productive than face to face classes. In many ways, I haven’t fully adapted to online teaching, and this is an ongoing project for me.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I use Dragon Naturally Speaking for almost all of my writing, research, course preparation, and grading. I speak much better than I write; as a result, Dragon is a great help for me because I can make comments on papers or write simply by speaking. I find the programme to be extremely accurate once it has been properly trained and that doesn’t take up a whole lot of time. It is well adapted to my digital voice recorder, which I can use to take notes for myself and then transcribe them later.

I also keep a number of Excel spreadsheets with various information listed in order to keep myself on track. These require fairly frequent updating, but save a lot of time in the long run. Conditional formatting tools allow me to see how things are proceeding at a glance without too much effort of sorting through lots and lots of date. These spreadsheets are vital to juggling all of the information I have about my students since generally I have between 150-200 in any particular semester.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I move between two offices primarily but extensively use my tablet to work in other kinds of spaces, (e.g. coffee shops and bars). At one campus, I have what is effectively a small private office with a locking door and room for files and books. It has a solid desktop computer although I often use my tablet even when I’m in the office. At the other, I have to work in a shared cubicle space which is less than ideal. The computers are not the best, and so I generally rely on the tablet almost entirely.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Make lists. Of everything. Keep them and organise them and update them. If you’re carrying a heavy teaching load, the only way that you’ll have any time for anything else at all is to keep yourself organised within an inch of your life. Check the list frequently and make the small updates that are necessary on a regular basis; that way you don’t find yourself trying to play catch up on a regular basis.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
The conditional formatting tools that are part of Excel allow me to see a lot of information at a glance. Excel is great for keeping meta-lists (lists of lists) that can link to other sheets, etc. This allows me to see what’s going on in my week in a single view.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
The tablet is my standby. I also use my digital voice recorder for all sorts of note taking tasks, whether that’s reading notes, or reminders for myself, or task lists.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I am primarily a lecturer and my ability to make difficult ideas understandable and relevant in the classroom and keeping students interested is consistently identified as a particular strength.
I have training in the theatre and that theatricality has been a great boon as well. I think I am able in the classroom to walk the very fine line between being authoritative and being approachable. It has taken me a long time to find that balance; I neither want to lose students’ respect nor terrify them.

What do you listen to when you work?
Nothing generally, as it would interfere with the voice dictation system. When reading I do use binaural beat concentration software, and occasionally instrumental/orchestral music. Travel time is a chance to listen to podcasts (mostly history and podcasts about brewing).

What are you currently reading?
I make time for both pleasure reading (primarily on beer brewing) and work reading by alternating. I also use my very long commutes (averaging over an hour each way every day) to listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I am an extrovert in that I find being in the classroom with students energising rather than draining. I look forward to being in the classroom and dread the minutiae of grading and prep. When I taught strictly online for one year, I thought I’d go mad, because I craved the contact with the students and the energy of the classroom. Because I am an extrovert, I have to watch myself when I’m around colleagues because I’d always rather talk and chat than grade or update lists or prepare lecture notes.

What's your sleep routine like?
I have narcolepsy, which requires that I take short naps during the day, and take medication to sleep at night. Without medication I can rarely sleep for more than a few hours at a time, although I will fall asleep very easily. I am able to sleep just about anywhere. (e.g. car, faculty lounge couch, desk, etc.) but also run the risk of falling asleep very suddenly if I keep the same position for a long period of time. This means that I have to be very careful when I am driving but fortunately my condition is fairly mild, so I am able to manage it without too much difficulty.

What's your work routine like?
Constant and chaotic. I don’t really have a routine per se. I work when I can and try to divide tasks into fairly small chunks so that I can get things done when opportunities present themselves.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Get out of academia. (I just haven't taken it.)

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