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Gillian MacDonald

Masters of Applied Cultural Analysis at University of Copenhagen

What do you do?

I unfortunately don’t have a proper title (unless you consider ‘student’ to be one…), but at the moment I am currently completing a Masters of Applied Cultural Analysisat the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. It’s a two year program that trains students in how to use ethnographic fieldwork to frame and solve problems for various corporations, public institutions, and NGOs – essentially, I do cultural consultation. I usually explain it as applied anthropology with a fancier title. I enjoy the program as it gives me the creative freedom to pick my own focus, while giving me the tools to work with public and private organizations, as I wasn’t so interested in going down the academic route. I’m personally interested in food studies, specifically food policy, and I’ll be able to focus on that subject during an internship I’m doing this fall at NOFIMA, a food research institute in Norway.

In my spare time, I also currently work as a freelance tour guide doing walking tours in Copenhagen for Sandemans New Europe. It’s a great way to learn more about the city I’m living in, share some history, get out for a few hours and have great conversations with curious people from around the world.

How do you stay up to date on trends in your industry/field?

I mainly do so by following blogs on the subjects I’m interested in (such as Food Anthropology), reading up on articles when I can (which is easy to do so when stuck in classes), and keeping up-to-date with people and organizations that I find interesting on Facebook or Twitter.

What mobile device do you use?

iPhone 4S 16GB.

What are your top five applications or programs?

I really don’t try to use many applications, as I find when I do I tend to get less organized and more distracted. Here’s a list of a few I do use on a regular basis:

Dropbox. As many of my classes require a lot of intense group work with students who are not working on the same systems, Dropbox is a lifesaver. We share all of our schedules, interviews, transcripts, notes from group work, presentations, reports (and the list could go on for days…) on here. It’s such an easy way to stay in contact and on top of everything that needs to get done.

Facebook. Not only for the regular “stay-in-touch/procrastinate-half-my-day-away” reasons, but also for the Facebook group options, which is also extremely helpful for student group work. I think practically all of the groups I have worked in during the past year have a private group page to make sure we can update each other if we’re not working in close contact, and most of my courses or programs even have group pages so that we can share interesting articles we find with each other, or important updates that aren’t properly passed around through legitimate school channels (it happens more than we would like it to, unfortunately). I also don’t want to discount staying in touch with friends and family as just a procrastination tool actually, because this is extremely important for me living so far from home at the moment. If I didn’t have regular access to these people, I think I would probably go insane (or just write letters all of the time. I really don’t know how people used to cope with long distance pre-Facebook era). It’s also a great way to stay in touch with international friends, so I always know I have a place to stay when I find myself in their city.

Goodreader. I hate spending money and wasting paper on printing articles out, but I also hate sitting at a computer reading 100 pages of articles every day, so Goodreader makes my life a lot easier by giving me a platform where I can read, edit, highlight, and take notes on PDF articles on my iPad. It’s seriously what I probably use my iPad for 90% of the time (other than as my mini-computer when I’m travelling).

Rdio. Mainly because it allows me to keep a large database of music on my phone without taking up my space. Also because music keeps me productive and active. I almost always have my headphones in when I’m working on a project to tune things out around me if I’m working in a loud space, or to put me in the right mood if I’m working at home.

Instagram. Because I love looking at pictures. Ha. But really, I nice to take a break and either get inspired or get a laugh out of whatever people are posting. Plus, it inspires me to get out of my shell and constantly look for beautiful things around me, to make sure I’m enjoying my surroundings and enjoying my life. Sometimes I’ll stop on my bike ride home and take a picture over the bridge, just because it’s looking particularly nice that day and you want to share that moment with others, and that moment alone can make it a good day.

Best way to stay on top of email?

I tend to sit down and answer my e-mails once or twice a day, when I know I have the time to go through them properly. I try not to open my e-mails immediately when they pop up on my phone, because I know if I read them and then don’t answer them straight away, I’ll most likely forget about them. I love Gmail for their separation of important and ‘unimportant’ e-mails, and being able to bookmark things or mark them as unread (I’m sure pretty much every e-mail interface probably also does this, but I would be so unorganized without it.)

What is your best time-saving trick?

Making sure I get out of the house at least once a day, and stepping away from a project to clear my mind when I need to. Either going for a walk or a bike ride, or sitting down for a little while and knitting and watching something for a little while really helps me de-stress and also organize my thoughts if I’m having a particularly hard time structuring a paper or a presentation, which saves me time and usually ends up giving me a better result in the end, as well.

Favourite productivity tool?

Making lists, and my calendar. Working with a schedule that does not have too much structure to it can be somewhat difficult, so whenever I have a new class, work schedule, or a meeting, I put it in my phone calendar right away with a 1 hour alert, or I know I’ll probably forget about it. I also use lists whenever my life is getting particularly stressful, or hectic. Just sitting down at the end of the day and writing out what you need to do tomorrow, or for the next week, or the next month, can be really beneficial for keeping your life or activities organized.

One non-tech thing you can't live without?

My bike. Especially living in Copenhagen, where everyone bikes, biking is an everyday activity for it. I use it to get around, but also to stay active and to clear my head whenever I need to. I would seriously be a much, much less happy person without my bike.

Structure of your typical day, how do you divide your time?

This is somewhat difficult, since I don’t really have a typical day as a student. Some days I have classes, some days I have work, some days I study independently, and some days I have nothing to do. Usually, I wake up in the morning, make sure I have some breakfast and coffee, and then leave for work or school. If I have school in the afternoons, then I’ll try to sit down and get some reading done and answer my e-mails. If I don’t have class but I have work to do, I’ll try to get out of the house and go to a café to get my work done, so that I get out of the house and also find myself in an atmosphere that’s a little more lively and inspiring than my room. The one thing I enjoy about not having a strict schedule is that it gives me lee-way to work whenever I want or feel inspired, which in times of stress seems to come quite late. During crunch-time, I end up being most productive quite late at night, which I don’t usually have to stress out about if I don’t have class early in the morning. Sometimes I’ll stay up writing until 3 in the morning, because that’s just when inspiration hits. As long as I get enough sleep and can step away from my work every once and a while, I am able to get everything done and produce results that I’m happy with.

What does you workspace look like?

This is pretty much my work-and-everyday-life-space. I only have one room in my apartment, so this table is where I spend a lot of time. I do almost all of my work on my trusty HP laptop (which is turning out not to be so trusty, actually, as it has a practically dead battery and needs to be plugged in all the time, which is quite annoying as I’m constantly on the move). If I get tired of reading at my computer or don’t want to drag it around if I’m going to be out all day or if I’m travelling, I bring my iPad with me to read and take notes on. I’m also regularly surrounded by books and notepads, and whatever knitting project I have on the go is not far from me at all times.

Who would you like to see featured on Ways We Work?

I’m personally not so connected with the KW scene at the moment unfortunately, but I would love to see Amandah Wood’s own ways you work! It would also be great to see other people who work in the food community on here, either chefs or people involved in food organizations, or people from the Waterloo Region municipal office who are involved with community development.