Nibbled to Death by Ducks

duckOne of my colleagues said working in university administration is like being nibbled to death by ducks.

And this week a world leader said if you’re popular in your job, you’re probably not doing a good job.

Result: some poor wretch pecked to death and unpopular to boot is managing an office somewhere.

My email serves as a bellwether of my administrative pecks and boot-kicks, so I thought I would share with you one random morning’s email—from 5 a.m. through 1 p.m.

I get loads of unsolicited invitations and random advertisements, just like you. And I have installed “junk mail” intercepts to stave off unwanted mail.

It still finds me.

This random day was no different: here’s an email for a fake cigarette, “A safer way to smoke” (I don’t smoke) and an invitation to buy tickets for Cirque du Soleil.

There’s a reminder from the New Yorker that I can download this week’s issue and a newsletter from the Oregon State Capitol. I also get a calendar from the Aladdin Theatre in Portland, a request to join Who’s Who in Business, and tidbits from Netflix, Ikea and REI.

My dentist’s staff recently discovered new software and there’s a full page email complete with graphics about spring break. Apparently I need to send my dentist photos of my spring getaway.

Once I am through the detritus I wade through the email that looks business-related.

There’s an email from a colleague about a student’s dissertation and a request from a legitimate survey group to complete a questionnaire. There’s a grant announcement, three separate email updates from a national communication organization, a notice from the Newberry Library in Chicago, a reminder of an overdue book from my hometown library, notice of a workshop I’ve registered to attend, and a reminder from my google calendar of the workshop for which I just received a reminder.

There’s more.

My assistant sent four emails, all follows-up on important work matters that need my attention; a note from a former assistant to see how things are going; a note from a student asking me to send an email with her final grade because she is “anxious” (final grades aren’t yet due); a note from the registrar’s office reminding faculty that the student waitlist is available through the first day of classes; and a note from a junior colleague wanting to know if his promotion has gone through (third email from him this week).

One of my editors writes wanting to know when I will complete a blinded peer-review article; a colleague alerts me she is featured in a publication for attorneys this month—an interview I set-up; four shout-outs from other faculty who already saw the previous email and congratulated my colleague for the article; a reminder I need to approve two budget items; a note that paystubs are available; a reminder from my accountant to get her my tax information; and five emails alerting me that five bloggers saw today’s post.

That was a slow day taken during Spring break (I altered minor details to protect identities).

I get triple the number of emails during a regular work-week and look forward to days when I can unplug.

Problem is, it’s getting tough to unplug.

Feeling like you’re nibbled to death by ducks means you feel no agency—no control over your own decisions.

For me, unplugging—turning off the computer, ipad and telephone—gives me a sense of agency. And the benefit is I can return after an unplugged afternoon to a slug of emails with fresh eyes and a lighter heart.

I read about a study this week focusing on folks in Ikaria, a Greek Island, who live long lives.

Researchers discovered the Ikarians had “better functioning endotheliums.” (Endothelial cells—found throughout the body—help circulate blood, which might affect the suppleness of your heart and arteries.)

Scientists pointed to the boiled coffee the Ikarians drink—rich in antioxidants—and speculate that drinking the coffee could affect the denizens’ blood cells.

But the take-away for me wasn’t reading about the coffee or the fresh veggies or olive oil the Greeks consume.

Turns out the islanders nap every day and spend their time walking and gardening. In other words: they unplug.

Sure, it sounds like I’m cherry-picking evidence from a study that examined all sorts of factors that explain long life.

Seems we’d rather look for quick fixes to improve our health so we can sustain an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle.

It’s like taking a fistful of vitamins with your morning latte, where you hope some pills will neutralize the caffeine.

So it makes common sense that a day when you engage in long walks and tilling the soil would be more beneficial than checking emails.

Read the news brief about the scientific study at

Copyright free duck image from


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in health, journalism, Native Science, science, science communication and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Nibbled to Death by Ducks

  1. Amy Bruns says:

    I work with your sister, Jennifer. She showed me the nibbled to death by ducks blog! Love it! Exactly how I feel most days!


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