A Day in the Life of Sara Shipley Hiles


Talking to a student at Vox Magazine about our Facebook Live plans for the week. Claire Hassler

What I’m working on:

As a journalism professor, I wear a lot of hats. I teach writing, reporting, digital editing, and science journalism. I’m the digital director of Vox Magazine (a monthly city magazine that’s part of our journalism program, not to be confused with Vox Media), which involves overseeing our website, social media, analytics, and multimedia. I mentor students interested in science, health, and environmental journalism and organize a science journalism speaker series and fellowship. Right now, I’m pursuing grants to support our proposed Science Communication Center. And I pursue my own projects, like editing an academic book about endangered species with two other professors. This week, I’ll be taking four journalism students to Seattle for the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference, where I look forward to good coffee and the TON book launch!

Where I work:

My office at Mizzou can seem oddly quiet after years of working in noisy newspaper newsrooms, but I’m often in the Vox newsroom or classrooms with students. And let’s be honest—I do a lot of work from home and other random locations, especially nights and weekends. Right now, it’s 10:30 p.m. and I’m wearing my fuzzy socks on the couch while our cat is nestled alongside me.

A very professorial office at Mizzou. Claire Hassler

Daily routine:

I get up at 6:00 a.m. to get my middle-school son ready for school. Once he’s out the door, I work out (exercise bike, weights), shower, and drink a few cups of half-caf coffee. I usually start checking email by 7:00 a.m., then I prepare for classes or meetings and teach, edit, or write. After work, I carve out a few hours for my family (soccer, playing UNO, testing new vegetarian recipes) and personal activities (Ukulele Fight Club, anyone?) and often return to work after 9:00 p.m.

Most productive part of my day:

Early mornings or late at night, when it’s quiet.

Most essential ritual or habit:

Taking five minutes in the morning and evening to do guided meditations, which helps me relax and focus. I use the Simple Habit app.

Favorite note-taking techniques/tools:

These days, I prefer to take notes on my laptop because I can type almost verbatim, but having an old-fashioned reporter’s notebook will never go out of style. I adore Frixion erasable pens. When I was a full-time environmental reporter, I habitually carried a Rite in the Rain waterproof notebook and pencil.

As part of a speaker series she oversees at Mizzou, Sara interviewed writer Nathaniel Rich of The New York Times Magazine about his 2018 full-issue story on climate change, “Losing Earth.” Courtesy of Nate Brown / Missouri School of Journalism

How I keep track of my to-do list:

Don’t look at the number of emails in my inbox! I don’t bother to delete them; I just star the important ones and search for what I need. I use Google Calendar on my phone and laptop to stay (mostly) on time. For planning, I love creating paper to-do lists and crossing items off with satisfaction.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

I’ve been called the Queen of Google Docs. We use it for everything. I swear by Dropbox to store and share files. My students love Otter AI for transcription; it hasn’t worked that well for me yet. I consider Slack a monster but have made peace with it.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Procrastibaking is a thing! If I’m making banana chocolate chip muffins, chances are there’s a deadline soon. Long bike rides on the KATY Trail aren’t a true time waster, since I find some of my best ideas while riding.

My reading habits:

My nightstand overflows. Sometimes I utterly inhale a book and find myself needing to re-read it more deliberately (Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill). Sometimes I’m catching up on a book I should’ve read years ago (Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction). I support an extravagant newspaper and magazine subscription habit, and my writer friends know that if they publish a book, they can count on me to buy and read it. I’m storing up good karma for the book I know I will write someday.

Sleep schedule:

Not enough, but I’m working to get seven hours minimum. On that note, I’m off to bed!

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