How Jessica Speer Worked


Location: 990 Fullerton building

Current Gig: Research Specialist Worker Bee

One word that best describes how you work: collaborative
Current mobile device:  Samsung something or other…Galaxy? S2?
Current computer: Dell at work MacBook Pro at home

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? I’m pretty much completely dependent on Google Calendar, my notebook (when I manage to keep it up to date), and Wunderlist (an online to-do list). Mostly the calendar though. I’m dead in the water if I can’t access my calendar. Flickr Commons is a lifesaver all the time and I secretly love Powerpoint. And Photoshop!

What’s your workspace setup like? It’s a little messy but cozy and colorful. People always notice the insane plant that’s taken over my office first thing. Having a living thing in my office makes me happy. I like for my office to be personal and feel a little like home, especially since I spend the majority of my waking hours here. I like my standing desk when I remember to stand up. I just got a great big calendar that I keep on my desk (thank you, Zack Ostrowski) and that’s handy for just glancing at or doodling on.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack? Do you automate something that used to be a time sink? Do you relegate email to an hour a day? Do just one thing at a time whenever you can. It’s so much more efficient.  I automate my commute by taking public transit as often as I can. It gives me time to read, daydream, plan out my day, people watch, and safely send texts or emails on my phone. I’ve had a long public transit commute for almost ten years now and I love having that time to myself. This works a lot better if you live towards the end of the train or bus line so you can be assured a seat at least in the mornings. It also helps if you scowl, avoid eye contact, wear headphones and/or vary your commute schedule/route so that other commuters don’t get too friendly/chatty with you.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? Wunderlist paired with my notebook. Wunderlist is free, and you can get real nesty with sub-lists, and it makes a very happy chiming sound when you check something off your list! You can set deadlines for when to get tasks done, and when I’m on top of that, I can just pull up my list for the day/week and start getting to work on whatever’s next. I sometimes plan or add to my list on my notebook on my commute (see above), so that is also a crucial to-do tool.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why? In terms of getting work done, I guess a pencil and paper (seriously). I have a terrible memory and no patience for typing things into my phone, so jotting things down is a lifesaver for me.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?  Looking on the bright side and making things fun. I accidentally adopted the motto “If it’s not fun, I’m not interested” in college, and for better or worse, it stuck. Which means I have to trick myself into doing boring things by making them (seem) fun. This usually means adding stickers or images, dressing the task up as something less boring, or layering on an actually fun element to the boring thing. It usually works. I’m still trying to figure out how to make my taxes fun.

What do you listen to while you work? Depends on my mood and what I need to do. If I need to concentrate, I’ll often put on an 8-hour YouTube video of ocean sounds or some droney experimental music or Chopin.

If I’m frustrated, I put on the most aggressive and harsh noise music I can find and it calms me right down. If I need to get through a lot of work, I go to my “Disco Driving” mix, but then sometimes I get distracted by dancing. Wordless things are best, but every now and then I need to just listen to Beach House for like a week straight. This week I’ve been really enjoying ragas and local dude Jimmy Whispers.

What do you do to stay inspired? This is going to sound corny, but aside from making things fun, remembering that the work I do helps people keeps me inspired. When I help a faculty member out with a tricky problem, I am so gratified. When someone tells me how much they appreciate my help or that a resource I pointed them to or work I did helped them get their job done or made their life easier/better, it makes the work worthwhile.

What sort of work are you up to now? Right now I’m planning the Dark Sky Retreat, doing Guided Meditation for Researchers sessions, planning a couple new Mess Hall sessions, doing some survey design consulting and the occasional NVivo training.

What are you currently reading? An academic book on children’s picture books, a new translation of the grisly first edition of Grimm’s fairy tales, and The Responsive Chord by Tony Schwartz.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Maybe both.  I just did a quiz and found out that my Meyers-Briggs type is ENFP, which surprised me, but I’d say I’m both leaning towards introvert. If I’m alone too much I get weird, but if I’m around people too much I get exhausted.

What’s your sleep routine like? I’m a new mom. You do the math. I’m too tired to do math.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions? Zach Freeman! Peter Steeves! Barrie Jean Borich! Ben Epstein!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?  It’s a tie: My dad always used to say to me (and still does, actually) “Pay attention to what’s going on around you.” I am always astounded when I meet people who just don’t do that. And after I poured out my anxiety over what path I should take, one of my favorite professors in grad school advised me: “Life is long.” There is time for more things later. This one doesn’t always feel true (and it isn’t, really–you could get hit by a bus this afternoon!) but it helps me slow down and pay attention to the here & now and take life one adventure at a time.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans? I do weird sound art on the weekends using my extensive collection of spoken word and sound effect LPs.

Oh, and I have to give major props to the Accountability Group that Brad Hoot set up with us for helping me get many, many, many things done, including this blog post.

JBR Note: Jessica Speer is leaving DePaul’s SSRC- she has accepted a dream librarian job at the Highland Park Public Library.

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? Email your suggestion to Jessi Bishop-Royse at


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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