A Day in the Life of Tim De Chant

Tim De Chant is the senior digital editor for NOVA and editor of NOVA Next. He produces the blog Per Square Mile and has written for Wired, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications. Tim is also a lecturer at MIT in the Graduate Program in Science Writing. Follow him on Twitter @tdechant.

Tim De ChantCourtesy of Tim De Chant

Tim De Chant

What I’m working on:

I just finished a big feature on automation and the economy, which I’ve been working on for the last few months. With that done, I’m starting to think about my next writing project. I always have a few ideas on deck, so it’s just a matter of doing some initial reporting to see which of them look most promising.

I’m also working with my colleagues on some new initiatives at NOVA, including some very cool projects that I’d like to say more about but probably can’t at this point.

Where I work:

I’m based out of NOVA’s offices at WGBH in Boston. I work with a great team that produces both the NOVA website (and related apps) along with the long-running TV show. My workspace is a typical office with a desk, iMac, and second monitor (I find those indispensable). Like others at WGBH, I’ve fine-tuned my lighting situation with a trio of desk and floor lamps so I don’t have to endure interrogation-room brightness of the overhead fluorescents.

Our team is split between quieter offices and “the cubes,” where the action is more lively. We also have a great break/lunch space that looks west over the leafy Boston suburbs. It’s a great place to take a first pass at editing a story. (Plus, the view of the sunsets can be pretty amazing.)

Daily routine:

Most days I’m in the office between 9:00 and 9:30, though my day actually starts over my breakfast cereal, where I check the news, Twitter, and miscellaneous sites. Once in the office, I continue poring over the news, looking for the science stories that we’re going to cover on the site or on social media. Once I’ve chosen some stories, I’ll write up one myself in as a linked post (a responsible, fully-acknowledge-the-source form of curation I’ve picked up over the years) or hand off coverage to the very capable Allison Eck or one of our interns. Before a post goes live, Allison and I frequently workshop the titles and social-media copy.

I often have late-morning or mid-afternoon meetings to review editorial direction for the week or discuss new initiatives at NOVA. What time remains of the day I spend reading pitches, editing features, and looking for artwork to accompany our stories. Oh, and I squeeze in reporting and writing time whenever I can, since I write about a feature a month myself.

After work, I’ll go for a run or head to the gym depending on the weather. In the winter when the roads are messy, I also go to a local outdoor ice rink three to four times a week.

Recently, I’ve been teaching [a class] at MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing, which meets from 10:00 to noon. On those days, my schedule is bumped earlier or later by and hour or two. I tackle grading and lesson plans at night after dinner.

Most productive part of my day:

My most productive time by far is late afternoon, generally 4:00–6:00 p.m. I usually don’t have meetings that late in the day, and things start quieting down after some people start to trickle out of the building. At that point, writing and editing goes much more smoothly.

Most essential ritual or habit:

Believe it or not, my most essential ritual is a 4:00 p.m. serving of fruit. For the last five-plus years, I’ve been bringing fruit to work for a little late-afternoon sugar boost that lasts. (I have my wife to thank for that—I never used to be such a frugivore.) I do enjoy my morning tea, though I’m an on-again, off-again tea drinker, so caffeine clearly isn’t essential.

Mobile device:

My iPhone 6 has to be my most used mobile device, though my iPad Air gets a workout at home and my 11” MacBook Air keeps me productive on the road.

Computer:

My work computer is a 27” iMac paired with a 20” display. At home, I have a Mac Pro hooked up to two displays (23” and 20”).

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

While I do most of my editing in Word, since it’s the lingua franca of text documents, I absolutely love Apple’s Pages (version 4.3). In fact, I’m writing this in it right now. I find it to be quick and stable—it doesn’t crash or stutter like Word does. For interviews, I record calls with Audio Hijack Pro, and for checking news, I use a combination of Tweetbot, an excellent third-party Twitter app, and NetNewsWire for RSS. Everything I’m currently working on gets synced with Dropbox.

I’m also addicted to analytics, so I always have browser tabs open with Chartbeat and Google Analytics to see what’s doing well on NOVA Next.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

I’m lucky that I work in an office, so I can just drop by a coworker’s desk if I’m feeling restless. (Though they’re a great bunch of people, so sometimes I stop by even if I’m not trying to procrastinate.)

My reading habits:

Being an editor, I feel like I’m reading all the time. Starting in the morning and continuing throughout the day, I check in on Twitter and The New York Times, Wired, Ars Technica, the Nieman Lab, and various other websites. At work, I also spend at least a few hours a day editing drafts by NOVA Next contributors, which I count as reading.

At home, I’ll peruse the paper versions of National Geographic, Wired, and Car and Driver (I’ve always loved reading car magazines). For fiction, I’ve been on a David Mitchell kick lately. He’s got an incredible way with words, characters, and plot lines.

Sleep schedule:

Ideally 11:00 to 7:00, though sometimes things conspire against me.

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