A Day in the Life of Kendall Powell


Kendall Powell Courtesy of Kendall Powell

What I’m working on:

For the last year or so, I’ve been filling in as a senior editor at the Nature Careers section of Nature, mostly editing features about the scientific workforce and Q&As with scientists. It’s been a real eye-opening experience to be on the “other side of the desk” as an editor after 20 years of freelance reporting and writing. I’ve really come to appreciate my editors for all of the work they are constantly, relentlessly juggling. It’s like an iceberg—the part of the job that freelancers see their editors doing is just the tip that is above water. I’m really enjoying being part of an editorial team, commissioning story ideas, and cultivating relationships with writers, both those who are my veteran peers and those who are new to the business. It’s a more natural fit for my extroverted personality than the isolation of freelance writing. I do not enjoy the umpteen weekly video-call meetings that I could (should?) be going to. I also do not enjoy trying to keep on top of two different email inboxes—I fail miserably at my personal one now, so if you are in there waiting for a response, I’m sorry!

I’m also working on a passion-project type of assignment for Nature Careers about a research team in Ghana that is using geophysics techniques and archaeology to explore the fraught history of the slave trade in West Africa, where many enslaved Africans were shipped through Ghana’s ports. It’s one of those multifaceted stories, rich with angles—training the next generation of geophysicists in Ghana, outreach to high school students, discovering a non-Western, decolonized history of slavery, asking permission from community elders and ancestors before the science begins, etc. It’s going to be a collaboration with a Ghanaian journalist, who will do the on-the-ground reporting and videography during the team’s field camp. It’s going to be one of those follow-this-group-and-their-science-for-months-or-years-and-see-how-the-story-evolves projects. It is a bit nerve-wracking, but also very nice to have the luxury to do that kind of deep-dive project.

Where I work:

A desk, which holds two computers, a planner, notepads, and framed portraits, sits in front of a sunny window.
Kendall’s office. Courtesy of Kendall Powell

I live just outside of Boulder, Colorado, which is a really nice place to be if you like the outdoor, active lifestyle and both sun and snow. It also has a pretty vibrant science-writing community, largely thanks to the newly revived Science Writers Association of the Rocky Mountains (SWARM) regional group.

I work from my home office, recently given its once-a-year clean-out, so you can see some desk space, and I look very organized. I have loved having an office that is just a few feet from my bedroom for most of my career. I’m a huge proponent of working in my yoga pants and fuzzy socks. It’s also been great to be just 10 minutes away from where my kids go to school—for volunteering and chauffeuring purposes. I rarely leave the five-mile radius around my house; I call this lifestyle “entrenched suburban.”

When I need a break from my house, which I often do, I head to one of my local coffee shops to drink tea and treat myself to lunch out. I live in a small town, so there’s always someone to say hi to and feel like I’ve had some human interaction outside of my family for the day.

Daily routine:

Alarm at 5:05 a.m. to go swim. On the days I don’t swim, I brew a cup of strong black tea from my extensive collection, with half-and-half and agave. It’s a bit of an obsession. I love flavored black teas—chocolate and coconut varieties are my favorite. Then, I settle in to read the headlines from my beat (in The New York Times, Science, The Chronicle of Higher Education, etc.) on my phone. Still usually sipping when I check my email.

Kendall’s tea collection. Courtesy of Kendall Powell

8:00ish: Break to help get kids out the door to middle school and high school. (On Wednesdays I drive four high schoolers for the carpool—it is usually either the quietest or weirdest 10-minute car conversation of the week. Also a weekly chance to practice defensive driving in that parking lot!).

8:00–11:00ish: I find most of the rest of my morning is taken up with email responses, meetings with colleagues, and dealing with any copyediting or proofing of pages that need to get back to colleagues in London before the end of their day.

11:30–12:00: I’m usually hungry for lunch by then (see: swimming). Lunch is either scrounged dinner leftovers or a meat, cheese, and cracker plate with a side of banana peppers, carrots, or cucumbers.

The afternoon is reserved for when I panic about all the things I haven’t done yet that day and then I force myself to sit down—often at the kitchen table or on the living room sofa for a change of scene—and do some heavy editing work.

I try to be done by 4:00, when both of my kids come home from school, so that I can help them with homework and/or shuttling to after school activities, and then get started on making dinner. I like to cook, and I try to make a healthyish dinner about three times per week. It is made more enjoyable whenever I can deploy my friend Jill Adams’s method of pouring a drink, turning on NPR, and telling everyone else they have to vacate the kitchen.

The rest of the evening is family time. I try not to work after dinner—my brain doesn’t like it at all anymore, and if I do have to work late to meet a deadline, it’s a real, inefficient struggle.

9:30–10:00: I usually fall asleep while reading with the kids. It used to be that I read to them and they fell asleep. Now, they read to me and I fall asleep. (They are currently reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio and It by Stephen King.)

Most productive part of my day:

Eight women stand, partially submerged, posing for the photo in a swimming pool with lanes.
The lady swimmers in the Masters swimming group (Kendall is in the multicolored cap in the back). Courtesy of Kendall Powell

Those afternoons when I realize I’ve only got two or three hours left before my kids walk in the back door!

Most essential ritual or habit:

I swim with a Masters group three mornings per week where we do a workout between 2000 and 3000 yards. I know! But it keeps me sane in so many different ways. I need a certain amount of weekly exercise, and this gets it out of the way early. If nothing else gets done, at least I swam that day.

It is also one of my most important social groups. I’ve swum with the same group for about 10 years now at my local rec center, and we always decompress in the outdoor hot tub after our workouts. We do holiday get-togethers and happy hours. Recently, we did a 5K swim for Thanksgiving, 7K for New Year’s, and then went out to a big breakfast after each. I’ve gone on snowshoeing hut trips, hiked in the moonlight, competed at Masters swim meets and outdoor swims, and joined a book club with my swimming friends.

Favorite note-taking techniques/tools:

Free reporter’s notepads from NASW and AHCJ meetings paired with a Pentel EnerGel pen with purple ink. In my recent desk clean-off, I had no less than seven partially filled reporter’s notebooks or legal pads hiding on my desk. Most of them had just a few pages left at the back, so they went in the file cabinet (never to be consulted again, but somehow it makes me feel more secure to keep them). The rest were put back in a stack to the right of my laptop. I do just scribble like someone from the pre-computer era. It sticks in my brain better that way. I mostly do these scribbly notes for phone calls with my boss or colleagues about projects and while at conferences. For phone interviews, I type into a fresh Word doc as fast as they talk.

How I keep track of my to-do list:

Kendall's open planner. Tasks are color-coded, red and purple.
Kendall’s planner. Courtesy of Kendall Powell

Planner Pad for life! If it’s not in there, it didn’t or won’t happen. I do have it color-coded in red ink for Nature Careers editing work and purple ink for my own freelance work and all other life stuff (kids’ orthodontist appointments, marching band practice pick-up, birthday party RSVP’s, etc.).

I also like to keep everything essential in my email inbox so that it is searchable by names. My personal inbox currently has more than 44,000 messages in it. I know that makes a lot of you cringe. (My husband is a zero-inbox guy. Whaaaat!?)

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

I’m not big on fancy software or apps. I don’t think there’s anything that I can’t live without. For time-tracking I do like OfficeTime just for its ease of use.

Productivity tools sometimes seem counterproductive to me! I’m the biggest Slack and Facebook denier and I have no TikTok or Instagram accounts. I try to only go on Twitter when I need to for work purposes. I do not understand how anyone gets anything done with even one of these devilish apps open on their laptop!

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

I’ll just start reading someone’s good story they posted, and that will lead me to another good story. Or I’ll go on Twitter for that one work thing I needed, and two hours later I’ve read a bunch of fascinating, silly things that had nothing to do with whatever I was supposed to be working on. I can also get pulled into Spelling Bee and Wordle easily (and sometimes even Worldle, which is fun to get close and then cheat at—I feel like I’m improving my nonexistent high school geography). I have never been, nor will I ever be, a freelancer who starts doing laundry or cleaning out the refrigerator to procrastinate.

My reading habits:

Three friends wearing backpacks and snowshoes stand on a deck surrounded by a winter wonderland.
Kendall (center) with swim friends Wendy Durst (left) and Sara Castellano (right) on a winter snowshoeing hut trip near Aspen, Colorado. Courtesy of Kendall Powell

Oof, well when not procrastination-reading during work hours, I almost exclusively read fiction for leisure—in the hammock on our front porch in the summer is best. Nonfiction, for the most part, feels too much like work and so I don’t seek it out—obviously with the exception of all of my science-writer friends’ books! I’m always impressed and amazed by their process—something I do not think I will ever personally do. But even these beautiful, lovely words written by my friends, I have to read in small chunks at a time. Currently, I’ve started Flush by Bryn Nelson, about the “treasure” of human waste. Pages and pages of poop puns! And before that, I was reading They Are Already Here by Sarah Scoles, on UFOlogy culture.

But mostly, I need reading to be an escape. So I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction where, as a swimmer friend recently put it, “The author has already done all the research and then synthesized it into this enjoyable, easy-to-read story where I actually learn something about a different time or place.” Some recent favorites in that category were The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys, about Spain after WWII under Franco’s rule, and Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah, about the siege of Leningrad.

Sleep schedule:

Sleep is everything. Getting up at 5:00 a.m. for many years, for swimming and for little kids, means that I wake up around then every day. But it also guarantees I fall asleep as soon as I’m horizontal watching TV or reading with the kids, around 9:00 or 10:00 at the latest. I pretty consistently get seven to eight hours each night. If I stay out too late and miss my window, I will pay for it the next day, as happened recently when I went to see the Whitney Houston biopic I Wanna Dance with Somebody (spoiler alert: Bobby Brown is not portrayed as a loving husband). No amount of black tea can save me then!

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