By Dr Giselle Roberts
Head of the Department of Chemistry and Physics, Dr Narelle Brack is as down-to-earth as she is hardworking. She collaborates with the Defence Science and Technology Group (part of Australia’s Department of Defence) on the development of light-weight materials for aircraft. She also sits at the interface of departmental life and senior leadership, a voice at the coalface for staff and students.
What’s a typical day look like for Dr Brack? She told us…
6 A.M. EARLY RISER I have two daughters, aged 11 and eight, and we all hit the ground running in the morning. I make breakfast and lunches, and we are out the door by 7am. I worry about spreading my day too thin, but I think it is important that my daughters have a role model. At the very least, they get to see that having a career is a normal part of life, and a juggling act at that!
8 A.M. COFFEE STOP I buy a coffee from Writer’s Block as soon as I arrive at La Trobe, then all is good with the world. It’s quiet on campus before 9am, and I use that time to get a head start on my day. I answer email and get any immediate concerns sorted out, including things like staff changes, casual budgets and access to buildings.
9 A.M. DEPARTMENT ESSENTIALS As Head of Chemistry and Physics, I spend a lot of my time in meetings that address teaching practicalities and processes. Today it was a workshop about timetabling. It covered everything from the editing period and draft timetables through to the approval process. I spend about three days a week in the Head of Department role. I serve on a range of committees including the LIMS Executive, SHE College Sessional Staff Working Group and the Graduate Research Committee. In all things, my primary responsibility is to act as a representative for my colleagues. I have an open door policy. I want to know what the issues are, and I go to bat for them at every available opportunity.
10 A.M. FOCUS ON WORKLOAD I am responsible for reporting on the department’s Academic Workload Performance Scheme (AWPS). Academics have to meet performance indicators set by the university. We spend months meeting with colleagues to get the data right.
11 A.M. PROBLEM SOLVING More teaching issues pop up, this time around demonstrators. Lunch is usually on the run, or at my desk while I answer emails.
1 P.M. COALFACE FEEDBACK I regularly provide feedback to senior management about what’s working at the departmental level, and what’s not. Today Professor Kerri-Lee Kraus (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic) chaired a meeting on the AWPS process where each HOD was given two minutes to provide feedback. Face-to-face meetings like this one are important, because we all need to be included in the conversation. Our discussion was productive and avoided duplication. It was a step up from the standard email feedback. Direct communication is always very welcome.
3 P.M. MASTER’S PLANNING I have a new master’s student who will be developing methods to functionalise nanomaterials for energy storage applications. I love getting into the lab and doing hands-on research. I co-supervise two higher degree students, but with no postdoc in my group, I have to be quite inventive with my schedule to make things work.
6 P.M. NEXT SHIFT A typical night involves a certain amount of chaos: getting home, cooking dinner, answering emails, burning dinner, and someone saying “Mum, can you answer this question?” The kids normally go to bed around 9pm. I answer more emails, clean up, and do a load or two of washing. I am not a night owl, so by 10pm I am off to bed.