A Day of Public Humanizing: Jim McGrath

I got super invested in to-do lists towards the end of graduate school. Given that I was doing so much unpaid labor (on top of the labor I was actually paid for), it became important for me to document the amount of time everything took. This way I could block out time to work and time to not work (I refuse to believe academics must sacrifice their social lives and be on the clock all the time, especially given how little students and early scholars are paid). I also like the digital to-do list because it’s easy to access and read when I’m trying to figure out what’s taking up too much of my time and what I need to get moving on. I use Trello to keep track of daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists. I generally sketch out a rough draft of monthly, big-picture tasks, then update weekly lists (usually on late Fridays before checking out for the weekend), and then update more detailed sets of daily tasks at the start of each day (I’m also all about my Google Calendar). I’m particularly fond of the checklist feature, because you get a fun little progress bar that makes you feel better when you check something off your list. Well, it makes me feel better, at least.

Jim's To Do List

The checklist above, from Thursday, March 9th, documents a particularly busy day. I’m juggling a few different projects this semester, so there’s a wide range of things on my various plates here. In addition to #DayofPH, I’ve got a few other collaborative projects: I’m helping the Modernist Journals Project and the Brown University Library with a revised ingest system for new MJP materials (which “live” in the library’s digital repository), I’m revising web content for Hacking Heritage, an “unconference” that the Center hosted later that week, and I’m co-authoring an article on Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive (a project I co-directed at Northeastern University as a grad student), so you see tasks related to that ongoing work. I also helped migrate some old Center-supported student digital projects from one digital space to another: that was a bit of a one-off project, but that work is tied to my general interest in improving the Center’s approach to archiving and preserving its digital materials in an accessible manner. I’m ALSO teaching a course on Digital Storytelling this semester: in addition to our class session that day (which thankfully featured a guest lecturer on data visualizations, so there wasn’t as much prep), I also helped one of the students in the class with a presentation she had drafted. The items with question marks next to them refer to public events I had planned to attend that week: unfortunately, I was too busy to attend either of them, but I like to dream about having time to do all of the things, I guess. The last item on my list is the name of my favorite bar in Boston, a place you can frequently find me on Thursdays. Unfortunately, I did not make it there either, but I did end up going somewhere else to get beautiful buffalo wings.   

Anyway, sometimes people want to know what it is a postdoc in Digital Public Humanities does all day, so this list is part of the answer. Unlike other postdocs, where the person is generally expected to just write and write and write some more for publication, my position offers up lots of collaborative possibilities. This means lots of meetings and juggling various things, but I prefer this kind of work to more traditional roles performed by postdocs. Things don’t always run smoothly, but this day was busy but not particularly terrible. The buffalo wings were pretty good too.


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