How Robyn Brown Works

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Location: Right now, I’m in my office on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus.
Current Gig: Assistant professor of sociology and director of our graduate program.
One word that best describes how you work: Intentionally.
Current mobile device: iPhone 5
Current computer: I have two –  a Dell Inspiron desktop computer and a Dell Inspiron laptop. Not very sexy, I know, but they’re the best for data crunchers like me.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Technology has kind of surpassed me and I’m not a big app person. I do love the Dark Sky weather app. I don’t know that I need weather forecasts down to the minute, which is what it provides, but I like that it’s more specific to your current location. I also think it’s more accurate than most weather sites and it’s so much nicer to look at. The weather maps they provide are beautiful. In terms of software, I use the statistical programs MPlus and Stata 13 all the time and can’t imagine life without them.

What’s your work space setup like? Here at the office, I have a classic u-shaped desk with loads of bookshelves and as many plants as I can keep alive, which is an ever-reducing number. I’ve really personalized the space, too, with family photos and paintings by my grandma and great-aunt. It’s very comfy. My computer screen is decorated with notes I make to myself which are kind of like “to-don’t” lists. Rather than reminding myself of all the things I think I should be doing, I like to remind myself to breathe, to slow down and think, or that new projects are just works in progress and don’t have to be perfect. It may sound kind of new agey, and it probably is. But, I think a lot of newer faculty like me get to thinking they have to be busy, busy, busy all the time, and that is very anxiety-producing. I try to stay away from that mindset and I think it makes me more efficient, actually.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack? I’ll offer one work-related hack and one work-life balance hack that work for me. The work hack is to do an unsubscribe purge every few months. It only takes a minute or two and I think it saves me so much time from sorting through junk e-mail every morning. It’s also just aesthetically nice to not be inundated with spam every morning. To do this, search for ‘unsubscribe’ in your e-mail inbox. This pulls up all of the e-mail that you probably want to unsubscribe from, and you can quickly go down the list and click to unsubscribe in each e-mail. The work-life-balance hack I suggest is to prioritize personal relationships the same way you prioritize work relationships, even if this means you sometimes have to schedule time with close family members. Time is a feminist issue because the work/life balance is a feminist issue, and I think we have to move away from feeling guilty that we’re unavailable for a work function when we’ve already prioritized that time to spend with a partner, child or friend.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? I still find that nothing beats a hardcover date book. I get a new Moleskine date book every year and think I will forever.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?  My Kindle! I’ve only had it a month but I already know this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I commute by train from Evanston and it makes it so easy to read, work, whatever. Truthfully, I’ve only entirely used it to read, but I read all the time and love its versatility. I’ve also installed Evernote and have big plans to use it to take notes on journal articles and student work. We shall see about that.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? Secretly judging people. This is probably true, but perhaps a better answer is that I am the queen bee of sniffing out grammatical mistakes and typos in others’ work. Earlier in my career, I worked in magazine publishing and an appreciation of precision in the written word is something I’ve carried with me. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sure those two answers are mutually exclusive.

What do you listen to while you work? The sweet sound of silence. We hosted the sociologist Eric Klinenberg in the fall and one of the things he talked about is how, for members of the Gen X age cohort, the norm was to have your own bedroom and personal space as a child; he suggests this has had numerous consequences for us in adulthood, such as having trouble sharing living space, savoring quiet and, more generally, expecting quiet or noise as you prefer it. I really related to this, because I like to have conditions just as I prefer them (quiet) when I work, when I sleep, etc.

What do you do to stay inspired? Coffee talk. Whenever I’m feeling rudderless, I load up my calendar with coffee dates with friends, colleagues and students.

What sort of work are you up to now? I’m fascinated by how stigmas associated with various social statuses shape our psychological experience, and how the stigmas associated with certain statuses are similar to or different from those associated with other statuses. This has been a major focus of my work for the past 7-8 years and I don’t see that changing soon. For the past five years, I’ve also been working closely with two incredible senior scholars at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Judy Richman and Kathy Rospenda, to explore the psychological and behavioral consequences of the recent recession. What I’d like to do next is bring these two threads together and consider how macro-level economic conditions affect us in ways that are fundamentally different because of the psychological advantages and disadvantages associated with the various statuses we occupy.

What are you currently reading? I’m nearly finished with Americanah by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s so wonderful and worth all of the accolades it’s received. I love reading fiction and try to theoretically group the fiction I read. So, this month I first read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which follows an American family who decide to move to Africa, and partnered that with Americanah, which details the experiences of a Nigerian woman who moves to the U.S.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? I think of myself as an introvert who can play the part of an extrovert pretty well. I savor time to myself, though, which I imagine you’ll find to be pretty typical among academic types like me.

What’s your sleep routine like? Right now, I like to sleep as much as I can, when I can. I have a toddler, so sleep is never a guarantee.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see Doug Bruno or Oliver Purnell answer these same questions.  Why? There’s such a silo effect in academia as it is and even more of a divide between the academic and non-academic sides of university life. I realize I have actually no idea how those on the entirely non-academic side spend their days.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Avoid cliches entirely. This is a writing tip I received from an old editor years ago and it’s solid advice for a young writer. You can also take the meaning on a deeper level if you feel like being deep.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans? You can immediately file this under unsolicited advice: Allow yourself at least one vice. Maybe this is a piece of advice I wish I had received. My vices have changed over the years, but I always have at least one and I think I’m happier (if not healthier) for it.


The How I Work series featured on the re/search blog is shamelessly stolen from Life Hacker’s How I Work series.   The SSRC’s version asks DePaul’s heroes, experts, and individuals of note to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? 

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Author: Jessica Bishop-Royse

Jessica Bishop-Royse is the SSRC’s Senior Research Methodologist. Her areas of interest include: health disparities, demography, crime, methods, and statistics. She often finds herself navigating the fields of sociology, demography, epidemiology, medicine, public health, and policy. She was broadly trained in data collection, Stata, quantitative research methodology, as well as statistics. She has experience with multi-level analyses, survival analyses, and multivariate regression. Outside of the work context, Jessi is interested in writing, reading, travel, photography, and sport.

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