1. I am not always sure.
2. The answer to that question changes from day to day, week to week, term to term.
But, I can give you a pretty clear picture of what I have been doing for the last two months that might help to illuminate that question.
- I have been managing spreadsheets. Yes, I know this isn't the glamorous life that you were picturing, but it is true. Sometimes I think I am getting a second degree in Excel and GoogleDocs. I spend at least some time every day managing attendance lists for various events that I am helping to coordinate in Oxford, but a spreadsheet has become the central component of my academic work this year as well (more on that in my second bullet-point). I think the best way to summarize this--and good news--is that I am learning how to behave like an organized person without actually being more organized. I have a fundamental personal paradox which is a tension between organization and clutter. On one hand, I recognize that I need to function in a largely organized and systematic way, but I lack the discipline to be as coherent in applying that organization to my life. I am cluttered, my room is perpetually disordered (note that I did not say messy) and I used to lose a lot of things until I developed coping mechanisms (called bags, purses, and big pockets with zippers). Spreadsheets are like a coping mechanism for my brain.
- I have been developing the fine art of being a pest. I know that for those of you who know me well or who have been around me when I am pursuing something that I am really committed to, this doesn't seem like a new skill. But, I suppose the difference is the degree of systematic pestering. I am talking about a professional level.
Here's what I mean:
My main job this term is essentially to interview 24-30 people in the United States. Due to the restrictions on my research (aka, the 'I can't tell you or I would have to kill you code' that I signed), I am not going to say anything more than that. But these folks are in two different time zones in the United States and none of them really want to talk to me. Sure, some will, but no one is excited when they hear from me. So, I have discovered the science/art of how to get people to do something that they don't really want to do.
This is one of those lose/lose situations, unfortunately. You see, if I am bad at my job, then I don't get the interviews that I need, I can't finish my thesis, and I fail (ok, that's dramatic). If I am good at my job (and I am afraid I have to say, that sometimes I am good at this job), then that means that I am successfully bothering people into submission. I don't know if this is a life-skill or a resume builder that I really want to have.
But this process has taught me, that few people respond to your first e-mail. But lots of people respond to your second one if you send it five days later. And even more people respond if you e-mail them a third time and put some parts in bold font.
So that is what I do everyday. I look at my excel spreadsheet and color-code contacts based on how many e-mails they have received from me, how long it has been since I last heard from them, etc. And then I systematically 'persist' (that is the nicer term for bugging/nagging/relentlessly contacting).
So, yeah, there are times when I do normal and respectable things like read books and write papers. But lately, amidst the dreaming spires....my work hasn't been all that glamorous.