Research Radar – J. Marie Perkins

J. Marie Perkins is a PhD Student in Information Science at the Univeristy of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Who is your favourite academic?

There are a number of individuals I could point to as specific examples, but as a general category I would say my peers and professors in the English Department at McGill. I have so much respect for the ways in which they conceptualize and enact scholarship.

What are you reading for work and/or for leisure these days?

For work: Hannah Fry’s Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms

For leisure: Emily Segal’s Mercury Retrograde

What podcast do you recommend?

I get a lot of mileage out of the Poetry Unbound podcast with Pádraig Ó Tuama. There’s something about the way he grounds each episode in the poems themselves — in their individual words, in the makeup of their lines, in the way they sound when spoken aloud — that I’ve rarely found elsewhere.

What is your fondest research memory?

I spent many happy years deep in the stacks of precisely the kind of space you’d imagine when thinking about the quintessentially cozy, quiet, far-from-the-rest-of-the-world university library. The section that held all of the older works of literature was separated from the sections that held everything else by several flights of stairs and an entire wing of the building, so it was this secluded little treasure trove where all of the furniture was decades old and there was almost no foot traffic. I’d bike down there to spend the day working among the books even during the summers when I wasn’t taking any classes.

What book or movie changed your life?

For me, it was the collected works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. There was a span of several years during which I became intensely immersed not only in his writing, but also in his life and letters as well as those of his coterie, and that period of my life contributed a lot to who I am today.

Do you play music while you work?  If so, what?

In situations where silence isn’t an option, I’ve really been enjoying listening to a bit of lo-fi while I work.

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career/degree?

The myriad ways in which it can ultimately be productive to invest time and energy into the seemingly unproductive aspects of everyday life. When I was working towards my first Master’s degree, I’d be on campus all day, every day, and then coming home around 7 or 8pm just to make a quick dinner before going to bed. The busyness was a badge of honour, and I certainly benefited from it professionally, but there was a balance that was lacking from having so many of my eggs in one basket. Post-pandemic, and after reading some excellent books on the subject like Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s Rest, I’m now more interested in how I can build a life that’s varied and full.

What is your favourite way to de-stress?

There’s something that feels really luxurious to me about enjoying a coffee after dinner. I’ve stopped drinking coffee both in the mornings and while I work, so to have a coffee after dinner is almost like something I associate with being on vacation — an out-of-the-ordinary, not-being-used-to-fuel-productivity indulgence that’s purely for my benefit.

What advice do you have for other ECAs?

Create and maintain boundaries for your work. It takes a little bit of planning and communication (e.g., so that you’re not leaving your teammates in the lurch when you’re unavailable for the weekend), but I’ve found it immensely rewarding.

Is there a research initiative that you would like to use this platform to highlight?

I gained so much from the Poetry Matters initiative during my time at McGill. I really can’t recommend the work they’re doing highly enough. They continued hosting poetry events all throughout the pandemic, and they have some really exciting projects coming up in the year ahead. You can find them at https://www.mcgill.ca/poetrymatters or https://www.facebook.com/PoetryMattersMcGill.

What are your essential research tools/supplies and why?

These days, a combination of noise-cancelling headphones and a few wonderfully helpful apps. I would always joke that my favourite work setup was to be sitting on the quietest floor of the library with earplugs on, but for me there really is something about near or absolute silence that heightens my workflow. Software-wise, I rely on Scrivener, Mendeley, Notes, and Obsidian for my research, as well as a couple of basic time-keeping apps (I’m big on the Pomodoro method). And, on a more meta level, the Zettelkasten note-taking method — I read Sönke Ahrens’ How to Take Smart Notes right before I started writing my Master’s thesis and it transformed the way I approach the research process.

How has the pandemic affected your research practice?

Having all of that free time led to some really important breakthroughs for me, and along the way I ended up changing so much about the way I work. Among other things, this set in motion a major career change: pre-pandemic, I was working in the humanities, and now I’m pursuing a career in STEM.

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