Thursday, September 3, 2015

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to start blogging as a researcher

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!

Maybe you heard from a fellow scientist that to be a researcher of the 21st century, you should have an online presence. Maybe you enjoy reading blogs of other academics and would like to share your two cents with the world too. Maybe you have other reasons for being interested in starting a blog, such as wanting to document your research and reflect upon it.

Whatever reason attracts you to blogging, you might feel intimidated by the task at hand. If you want to start writing on the internet, here are some of the steps you could consider taking.

1. Write a guest post

If you are not sure if blogging is for you, or that you would have enough time and material to keep a blog of your own, you can always test the waters by writing a guest post for another blog (feel free to pitch me if you'd like to share your story and experiences on PhD Talk). When you want to write a guest post for another blog, reach out to the editor of the blog, explain what you would like to write about (consider this your short abstract), and how your post could benefit the readers of the blog you are reaching out to. A clear, concise e-mail could secure your little spot on the internet. Typically, the editor will get back to you with some guidelines for posting on the blog, which you can consider similar to the paper formatting guidelines for a publication, and possible thoughts on how you can develop your topic further into a blog post.

2. Start or join a shared blog

If you feel ready to write on a more regular basis, but don't want to commit too much, you can join a shared blog, such as GradHacker, or start a collective blog for your research group or project. Sharing responsibilities can be an excellent way to grow a blog as a project without having to carry all the responsibilities yourself.

3. Select a blogging platform

If you are ready to start a shared blog, or perhaps a blog of your very own, you will need to think about the following:

- Where do I want my blog to go on the internet?
Do you want your blog to be part of a website or do you want it to stand on its own? Do you want your own domain, or are you fine with a blogger or Wordpress account.

- What will the name of my blog be?
Once you know where you want your blog to appear on the internet, you will need to select a name for your blog. Do you want to use your name, or do you want to give the blog a name of its own?

Once you have these questions sorted out, you can sign up and register for your place on the world wide web. From then on, you're all set to start writing or to start tinkering with your layout.

4. Write about your weekly experiences

Now that you have your space on the world wide web, let's discuss some topics you can write about. One way you could be sharing your research experiences is by writing a weekly update about what you are working on, what you have been doing for the past week and what caught your attention on the internet about your research topic or academia in general. While I do not keep logs like this on PhD Talk, I do really enjoy reading these kind of longer status updates from researchers whose blogs I follow.

5. Share your publications and presentations

Your blog is an excellent place to share your publications and presentations. While a blog solely consisting of entries with abstracts of papers of yours when they are published might be too niche for your (future) readers, you can write short posts in which you bring together some information about the conference you attended, the abstract of the paper you presented, and a SlideShare presentation of your slides. You can see an example of how I share my presentations after conferences here, and how I write about recently published journal papers.

6. Explain your research

Your blog could as well be a great place to write about your science in a more popular way. You can find some of my tips on how to share your research with friends and family in a previous post of mine. You could share videos of your experiments online - something you cannot do in your journal papers. You can make a series of photographs with explanation about steps you go through in the laboratory - again, something we do not have a set medium for in our scientific community.

7. Share what you learned

Once you publish research in a paper, you mostly published the results of the technique that actually worked. I've suggested blogging in the past as a possible means to tackle publication bias - and eradicate the skewed version of reality we sometimes find from research because of publication bias.

If you do not feel like sharing online what did not work for you in the laboratory (although I think you should; we can only disrupt higher education and academia once we truly embrace open science), you can also share stories about little hacks and things that work for you in the laboratory or in your research. Over the years, I've mostly focused on this type of posts, since I like writing these and enjoy reaching out to a broader academic audience. An example of this type of posts is this article in which I share how I write my abstracts.

8. Critique another article

You might read a blog post by another academic, and realize that in your field, reality is different. You can react to the author by writing in the comments section of the original post, but you could take it one step further, and write a full reply on your own blog. Note that with "critique" here I mean a civilized critique and not a complete bashing of someone else's opinions. An example of this type of posts is my (very old) reflection on a list of things to let go of in 2011.

9. Describe how you implemented another article

Did you read about someone's experiences (the type of post from number 7, for example) and decided to try it out? Why not write a post about your experiences after trying a certain technique for some time? Especially when it comes to hacks and productivity tricks, you can try out what other bloggers recommend, and see how it fits your field of work and activities. You might run into problems that are typical for your field - write about how you solved these. You could find that some methods feel too rigid for you, and discuss how you blend these methods into the messy reality of daily life.

10. Link to videos or Storify

Did you film some of your research and experiments? Upload it to Youtube, and write a post about what you were testing and what you found.
Did you have an interesting discussion on Twitter with fellow academics? Make a Storify out of it and share it on your blog.
An example is my post on Gender in Academia.

With these ideas you can get started - blogging as a guest author, blogging on a collective project or blogging on your own blog. Let me know where you will start writing, and what type of post from this list you will try out!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I am Stephanie, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Stephanie for the "How I Work" series. Stephanie is the Academic Campus Director – South East Asia for the University of Wollongong, and is currently . She currently lectures regionally at Degree and Masters levels, specialising in the area of Logistics Technology, Supply Chain Management, Corporate Social Responsibility, Business Strategy, Project Management, International Business and Systems Thinking & Dynamics. Stephanie is currently completing her PhD in the area of the influence of national culture on logistics decision making in the Asia-Pacific region.
Stephanie has almost twenty years’ experience in the areas of manufacturing and distribution, the most recent of which has been concentrated in the areas of business process reengineering and technology. She has extensive experience in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong in the training of personnel, implementation of systems and solutions and management of Logistics facilities. Her experience originated in the area of Purchasing and Inventory Management and later evolved to Quality Management, Technology, Warehousing and Business Process Reegineering.

Current Job: Academic Campus Director – South East Asia, University of Wollongong
Current Location: Singapore
Current mobile device: iPhone 6 Plus
Current computer: iMac, 21.5 inch, late 2013

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I work as a regional adjunct for my university, lecturing an average load of 3 undergraduate classes per year in our Singapore partnership. I also conduct student and adjunct faculty orientations in Singapore and Malaysia, and assist with university marketing efforts in Asia (usually Indonesia, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Thailand).

This ties in nicely with my PhD, where I am investigating the impact of national culture on logistics outsourcing decision making and implementation in multinational corporations in the region. It is a qualitative study and involves interviewing regional and local branch managers.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
My laptop and my tablet (iPad) are essential in addition to my home computer. I knew when taking this on that I would be doing a great deal of work on the road. As a result I was lucky enough to get well kitted out with my Macbook Air, and iPad Air. I deliberately bought in to the Mac/Apple architecture, as I wanted to be able to sync things and ensure there was backup for everything in case anything happened (and it did – I lost a proposal document, but fortunately it was backed up on another device). So with this in mind the apps I selected had to work across multiple platforms as well.

As with most candidates, we usually start with the literature, and after evaluating a few alternatives, I went with Sente for paper/reference management. Its tagging, ability to read, comment and highlight articles on my iPad and syncing were key in this decision. A lot of the others just didn’t have the sophistication. I occasionally will use Mendeley desktop as it has some good capability when in comes to searching for literature, but I keep coming back to Sente as my main library manager.

I did struggle with workflow, however, until I discovered the Sente Assistant, and the OPML/RTF exporter for Sente. The Assistant allows tagging on individial comments, which allows for good visualisation of tags and notes. From here I can get a 10000 ft view of my literature. Something akin (I’ve heard) to results people can get in nvivo, however I felt in my limited exposure to nvivo that using the Sente/Sente Assistant combination was more verbose. (aside – a bit like this response – sorry).

I’ve also found that it is really necessary for me to take “Thesis-ready notes” (see the Thesis Whisperer for more information on this). Then I export those notes to Scrivener (using the OPML/RTF converter), where I try and tag and massage them in to sentences and paragraphs. So basically I spend a log of time going around these three:

I’m only just getting back to some writing after doing data collection. So I’m doing a lot of coding (in Dedoose, I gave up on nvivo due to the virtual environment/Windows software being too slow, and the Mac version being too cut down to be useful), and revisiting of the literature at the moment.

What does your workspace setup look like?

I have a fixed workspace and a travel “kit” so I can take everything on the road.

My Home Space

My home space is pictured below. I added some Ikea shelves to make it more or less a standing desk. I can adjust it to sit for a while if necessary (which is apparently advisable). I have my two assistants (which occasionally get mentions on Twitter at #academicswithcats).

My travel “kit” is basically my Macbook Air, iPad Air, stylus (I love the Pencil by 53 stylus), my sketch pad and post-its (which I use for mapping out ideas). A notebook (which I usually photograph and file), which may seem strange but somehow the paper notebook to track to dos and schedule keeps me focused. Plus all the associated adapters and dongles, as I often have to teach or present when I travel.

I alos invested in a Zoom iQ5 External Microphone For iPhone. It seriously improves the sound quality of interviews. And I record using both my iPhone and iPad so that I have a backup in case one or the other doesn’t pick up or record fully.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Touch your thesis / research every day. I was a key part of the organisation team for a conference we held in March. In the run up to that, I was so focused on that event that I lost some serious time. I got some help and have been scheduling and logging my time so I can see where it’s going. I basically need to touch my thesis every day – even 30 mins using the pomodoro technique to tidy up things I’d flagged as #lookup or #todo, or reading one more article – just to keep it in mind and removing the fear that I had built up after not looking at it for way too long.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

Tagging is key for me, as almost everything is electronic, and I schedule time daily using a simple spreadsheet.

Weekly schedule in a spreadsheet

I usually tag #lookup or #todo in Sente or Scrivener. That way I can do a search to see what is outstanding. I do a sweep of these tags and then put together daily tasks (which I keep track of in my paper-based notebook), and a weekly schedule (spreadsheet). I have a #todo file in Scrivener which I use to capture things that might not be a part of the document itself. Sente also has #todo and #lookup tags, so at the moment I find myself circulating between Sente, Sente Assistant and Scrivener. As I get closer to closure this might concentrate in one place.
I used to think that this all had to be in one place, however I spent more time looking for the perfect system than actually doing any research. I finally just accepted the messiness.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I could not live without my iPad. It’s a content creation tool for me – I lecture from it (Keynote and Explain Everything), I draw in it (Paper by 53), I take notes in it (Notability) and read and annotate PDFs (Sente and Goodreader).

I have a cheap dual-SIM Android which I use when I travel as internet access is paramount for me and I need a local SIM wherever I go so that I can immediately back up interviews. This was one of the agreed backup processes my supervisors and I came up with in order to (a) get data off my devices to protect privacy and (b) minimise data loss.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I think my strong links with industry, ability to network and use of technology. I’m not sure that my research skills are developed enough to say more than that – I am in a research “apprenticeship” (PhD) after all. But I think my connections and ability to use technology to get things done quickly are standing me in good stead so far.

What do you listen to when you work?
At the moment, Spotify “Beats to Think To” channel. I tend to like music that doesn’t have lyrics. Although if I’m really stuck on something I might turn that off.

\What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
For pleasure? Rich Man’s War. I love science fiction. Reading is what I use to go to bed – it’s part of my ‘go to bed’ process. If I don’t read, then I’d probably have trouble falling asleep. It’s only 5-10 minutes a night at the moment, but that’s enough.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I was once told I’m an introvert that works very hard at being an extrovert. I’m not sure I really identify with either camp, however I find that doing large amounts of writing involves seclusion, and that usually means that I end up under-socialised.

If I need contact, I seek it. Sometimes this results in a long lunch which can blow my schedule sometimes. Other times I need to get work done, so I blow off lunch with friends. It ebbs and flows with my work needs at the moment.

What's your sleep routine like?
I guard it – around 11pm to bed. Wake up about 7:30am. Sometimes I may not sleep until closer to noon, but I have the advantage of working from home … and my supervisors gave me permission (kidding – they just suggested) to have a 20 minute afternoon nap if I need. Thinking is hard work!

What's your work routine like?
At the moment it’s about 50-70% of my working day on my thesis. The rest of the time on university or personal work. That changes next week when trimester commences and my lecturing will take up most of my day (and nights for part timers). With that I will spend 30-60 mins per day on my thesis. Such is adjunct life.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Actually it was a quote my coach sent me:

"The common model of writing I grew up with preaches control. It tells me to think first, make up my mind what I really mean, figure out ahead of time where I am going, have a plan, an outline, don't dither, don't be ambiguous, be stern with myself, don't let things get out of hand. As I begin to try to follow this advice, I experience a sense of satisfaction and control: 'I'm going to be in charge of this thing and keep out of any swamps!' Yet almost always my main experience ends up one of *not* being in control, feeling stuck, feeling lost, trying to write something and never succeeding. Helplessness and passivity. The developmental model, on the other hand, preaches, in a sense, *lack* of control: don't worry about knowing what you mean or what you intend ahead of time; you don't need a plan or an outline, let things get out of hand, let things wander and digress. Though this approach makes for initial panic, my overall experience with it is increased control." (Elbow 1973, 32-33) cited in Belcher 2009, p172.

Elbow, Peter. 1973. *Writing Without Teachers.* Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Belcher, Wendy Laura. 2009. *Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success.* SAGE: Thousand Oaks, CA.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why you should study civil engineering

Every semester, I teach a seminar in the general course on sciences and engineering, to show first-year students why civil engineering is the coolest thing ever. The presentation explores the range of problems civil engineering deals with, and shows the students how civil engineers improve our daily lives day after day.

Here you can find the slides of my presentation:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I am Sarah Morton, and This is How I Work

Today I am interviewing Sarah Morton in the "How I Work" series. Sarah is completing her Ph.D at the University of Abertay, Dundee, Scotland. Her current research takes a cross-discipline approach in establishing how design might be used within the adventure sport industry in rural Scotland. The philosophy that underpins all her research is using design to encourage perception change for positive impact.

Current Job: Ph.D researcher, freelance adventure sport writer, yoga teacher.
Current Location: Chamonix and St. Andrews - I live between the two.
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am in the process of writing the second draft of my thesis and hope to sit my Viva in the next couple of months. My research focuses on how design could be used within the adventure sport industry in rural Scotland to influence positive changes - including perceptions. I utilised qualitative methods to explore experiences, motivations, opinions etc.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
Skype, a recording device, camera, the Internet, Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Word.

What does your workspace setup look like?
Most of my research took place in the field - the Highlands of Scotland and the Alps, this has been a wonderful office, however, it has been difficult at times to manage recording conversations and information - this influenced my decision to take an auto-ethnographic approach.

I have an office at the university - this is shared with other Ph.D researchers who are at a similar point in their study.

I also work from home quite a lot - in France I have a wonderful balcony with views toward Mont Blanc, in Scotland I have a nice space with wonderful views also, however, this is my parents home and it can be busy and disruptive at times. I love being able to work at home, as it fits my personality and active lifestyle, however, I do wish my home was in one place and closer to the university - it would be much less disruptive, although having to be so meticulously organised has definitely been a point of personal development!

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Don't force yourself to work when you really need a break - the most productive thing I did was taking a month off to go trail running in the Alps - toward the end of the holiday, I felt refreshed and ready to get back into work, desperate to get back to it in fact - this was the complete opposite to how I felt prior to the holiday - I was so focused on my research that I hadn't realised my progress had slowed. It was thanks to my supervisor for identifying that I needed a break, and encouraging me to take one.

Always make time to read - it fuels your thoughts - right now, while writing my thesis, I have little time to read and although this is often advised so as not to distract or go off in a new direction, I find reading really helps keep my mind active and my thoughts fresh.

Find a great place to work - lots of space, loads of light - your own little sanctuary.

Be selfish - don't let anyone or anything take you away from your work when you really need to focus on it, people will try - I've experienced lots of people who think research is my hobby, purely because I do it in the evenings and the weekends, or whenever really.

Find a good pastime - I took up ultrarunning. Most people think I'm mad, and I probably am, but it provides a daily escape that makes me feel great. Yoga is also really good!

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Initially I tried to do everything and this was overambitious - I learned to filter out what I didn't really need to do, and also learned that sometimes I would just have to accept that there were things I wouldn't have time for. I think research takes over, and it can make you look like a flaky person - I find it hard to keep social commitments or regularly meet with a running or sports club - my research is so fluid, that I just can't keep a regular schedule.

I keep a paper diary (Filofax) and it is my bible almost, pretty much every task is assigned a date and time, I have lots of notebooks for different things, and I date all my notes, I try to respond to emails every day when I have access to the Internet - I do most things in writing, so I can always refer to them at a later date.

The worst thing to do, is store everything in your head - that's when it starts to go wrong! Being organised is the key!

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I'm not sure I personally stand out as an academic - but I think the ability to juggle tasks and remain calm under pressure has helped me greatly, especially since my research and my life is so dispersed. I think being critical while being fair is very important - an understanding of difference, and different areas of interest is very important.

Be super organised and creative, don't let anyone pull you in a direction you're not comfortable with, and love your research - there's no point spending years exploring something you really don't feel passionate about. I don't know what impact my research will have, but I know my reasons for pursuing it, are because I wholly believe in it and want it to make a positive change.

What do you listen to when you work?
Nothing specific - I love environmental sounds (I'm partially deaf and can't concentrate or focus when there is many different sounds for me to identify) - right now, I'm listening to the birds, last night I was listening to my husband chat with his pals and listen to music, in the office - it will be the chatter of the other researchers. I zone out quite a bit as well.

What are you currently reading?
I am reading two books - Phenomenological Research Methods by Clark Moustakas and Sport Ethnography by Robert R Sands.

The hardest thing is to start reading - but then it is great, and helps to clear a lot of thoughts up, to introduce new thoughts and to cement decisions. Finding time can be difficult and it is hard to sustain the momentum, especially with books. Reading journal articles is usually a joy - some are hard work though! I highlight and make notes on the printed pages - this is the easiest way for me to incorporate those elements of literature into my own works. Picture books are definitely my preference - but they don't always fit well with research!

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Both - it depends how I feel, how much I have to do, the company I am in. Some days I don't want to speak to anyone - others I can't shut up. I react accordingly and it's great that I can work at home when I don't feel the office is the best place for me to be.

What's your sleep routine like?
Good - although I do like a lie in.

What's your work routine like?
Varies - because my research has been so dispersed I have to be organised, but I can't always get access to the resources I need to do a particular task. So, I often have to change my plans and work out what I can cover instead of what I wanted to cover. It can be hard to manage and it can be very frustrating - I just try to do something everyday, even a little bit is better than nothing.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Just keep going.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Research seminar: Testing to Failure of the Ruytenschildt Bridge

Last April, I gave a presentation in the research seminar of the Politecnico of Universidad San Francisco de Quito about testing the Ruytenschildt Bridge in Friesland, and some of the first results of the analysis.

You can find the slides of the presentation here:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I am Ondrej Cernotik, and This is How I Work

Today I am interviewing Ondrej Cernotik. Ondrej is a PhD student in theoretical physics at the Leibniz University Hannover, Germany. He focuses on quantum optics with applications to quantum information processing. More specifically, he is investigating ways to convert weak microwave signals to light (or the other way around) and the applications this can have for quantum information processing and quantum communication. He got his master’s degree in optics at Palacky University Olomouc, Czech Republic (his home country); during this time he also spent a year as an exchange student at Umea University in Sweden. He also blogs about quantum physics and my work at and tweets as @cernotik.

Current Job: Research assistant, Leibniz University Hannover
Current Location: Hannover, Germany
Current mobile device: iPad Air
Current computer: MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I'm doing a PhD in theoretical physics in Germany. The German system means that I do not have to attend any courses or pass any exams. I don't even have to teach (because I am employed on an EU project which requires me to spend all my time on research) so all I have to care about is my dissertation. That comes with many advantages — I can really focus on the science and don't have to stress about exams or teaching loads — but on the other hand, no teaching experience will probably be a bit of a disadvantage when looking for a postdoc (I want to stay in academia after graduation).
Working in theoretical physics means that I never get in a lab and all my work is done in my office. My work thus basically consists of developing new ideas that can then be tested in an experiment by someone else. For this, I do either calculations with pen and paper or some numerical simulations on my computer, so there is a lot of maths and programming involved. Specifically, I am looking at how mechanical oscillators (tiny vibrating membranes, mostly) can be used to convert microwave signals to light and vice versa. This is something that is easy to do with strong signals but not so much when the waves involved are very weak.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
First, there are the analog tools. I do many calculations with just pen and paper. I am also a bit old-fashioned and like keeping all sorts of notes on paper so there are always notebooks and loose sheets lying around. Sometimes, I switch to a whiteboard — either when discussing something with my colleagues or even when doing maths by myself so I do not sit at my desk all day.
Then, there is a lot of software that I couldn't live without. For my physics, Mathematica and IPython (with the QuTiP — Quantum toolbox in Python — module) are crucial. Like many STEM people, I use LaTeX for scientific writing. Then there is Inkscape for creating posters and figures for my papers and Mendeley to help me to stay on top of research literature. Finally, I use Evernote for various notes and to keep track of where my research projects are going.
For social networks, there is Wordpress for my blog (and following other blogs) and Hootsuite for Twitter. I used the standard Twitter app but switched recently since with Hootsuite I can schedule tweets and follow hashtags easily (the most important hashtags for me are #phdchat, #acwri, and #scicomm). When I stumble upon something I want to read later, I save it to Pocket. And because I don't get to see my family and friends in the Czech Republic so often, Skype is a must.
I'm currently trying to find the best tools for making presentations; I used LaTeX beamer for a long time since it makes it easy to include mathematical expressions but the output is usually not that aesthetically pleasing. I did my last talk in LibreOffice but did not enjoy that experience much either. Next, I want to try Keynote, maybe Prezi...there are simply too many options!

What does your workspace setup look like?
I keep all my work at the university and do not bring it home unless I really have to. That means I have no home office and get all my work done in my university office which is pretty standard — a desk with a computer, a bookcase, and a whiteboard on the wall. And since I am a theoretical physicist, I do not have a lab.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
I do not like giving general advice because everyone will prefer a different workflow. But there is one thing — create a routine and stick to it. Try to work regular hours, include regular slots for all sorts of activities (reading, writing, teaching, meetings, and so on). And find what schedule works best for you.
But do not stick to the schedule at all cost. If you have a week when nothing goes according to plan, do not force it and leave work earlier to recharge in whatever way you like. When you are on the right track, you can stay longer and catch up on what you did not manage to do when things did not go so well.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I am not really organised when it comes to keeping track of projects and tasks. Some things, I simply keep in my mind — that’s the case for things that will get done on the same or the next day (like the next step in a long calculation). For more complex issues (such as remembering all possibilities to explore when studying a problem), I use Evernote to record ideas for what to do next. To keep track of the stuff I did, I usually write a report in LaTeX. This has several advantages — I can easily keep my supervisor updated on all the technical details that are too insignificant to be discussed in detail during meetings and writing things down helps me to build a solid picture of the problem I am working on. And it is a great writing exercise which is useful when one needs to transform the notes into a research paper or, later on, a dissertation. And for lots of other things, there are random hand-written notes

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
The only mobile device I really use is my tablet. (My phone is a rather old one that cannot do much apart from voice calls and texts.) It is not that crucial for my everyday activities but it comes in handy when travelling to conferences. It is much easier to carry around and operate a tablet than a laptop.

What do you listen to when you work?
That depends a lot on my mood and the type of work. Generally, I listen only to instrumental music when working because any singing easily distracts me. For the main scientific work (any mathematical derivations or numerical simulations) I usually stick to film music (nothing motivates scientific work better than a good science fiction soundtrack — one then feels like saving the world!). For reading or writing I usually have to be absolutely focused and use music only to drown any noise coming from my colleagues (they are usually not so loud, though). And for editing, classical music works best for me.

What's your sleep routine like?
I try to keep my sleep regular, going to bed before 11 in the evening and getting up around 7:15. Some people might find it strange that I try to stick to this regime also at weekends but it really helps. With a regular routine, I find it much easier to fall asleep in the evening and wake up in the morning.

What's your work routine like?
I come to work around 8:30 and start by checking emails, mostly to find out what papers have come out. (That might affect my plans for the day — if someone publishes something highly relevant to my work, I try to read it as soon as possible.) There are two large breaks in my work — lunch from 12:00 to 12:45 PM and a coffee break from 3 PM for about 20 minutes. Other fixed points in my schedule are my reading time (every day straight after lunch for about half an hour) and regular weekly meetings with my supervisor (currently Friday afternoon). I usually leave around 5 PM. The rest is filled as needed. This includes my actual scientific work, writing, preparing posters or talks, or attending seminars. If need be, I can also add more reading or discussions with my supervisor. I also try to have a few short breaks (about 5 minutes) scattered throughout the day but I am not too strict about those. If my work is running smoothly, there is not much point in stopping to take a breath, but working for several hours straight is usually too much to do without a small break somewhere in between.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Q&A: Further exploring self-care in academia

After hosting Jenna's guest post on self-care in academia, I was contacted by John Elmes from the Times Higher Education who got interested in this topic. He asked me and Jenna a few additional questions, and used this material for a piece he published recently on THE.

As part of the Q&A series, I'm reproducing the short questions that John sent me, and their answers:

1.) Are Jenna’s experiences and recommendations (so far) similar to your own or friends’?

Yes. Even though I haven’t had any serious health problems during my PhD, I used to push myself a little extra before going on a holiday, and very often I’d be sick from exhaustion the first 2 – 3 days of my holiday, having to stay in bed with fever.
During the years of my PhD, I’ve experimented a lot trying to find out what works best for me, and what makes me productive for a long stretch of time. Jenna’s recommendations are similar to what turns out to work very well for me. While I have no fixed hours (I could for example work 6am – 8am from home, hit the gym, and then be in my office around 10:45am to prepare class and have office hours for my students), I do limit the total number of hours I work on a given week. Essentially, I plan and move blocks of time around so that I can fit work, exercise, sufficient sleep, running my blog, playing music, household chores, family time … all into my schedule.

2.) You have several in this series on self-care in academia, do you hope that these pieces of advice will help current PhD students from all over the global HE world, but also can be taken on into one’s further academic career?

I do really hope these pieces will help current PhD students and ECR who might be struggling with their workload, the pressure of academia, and juggling a number of tasks. I myself am also learning from these pieces and others’ perspectives on self-care, and adopting some of the advice and lessons of the guest writers into my weeks and months. Certainly, I think developing good practices for workflow and self-care during the PhD are beneficial for one’s further academic career, but every new step in an academic career brings new challenges. As organized as I was towards the end of my PhD, my first semester as an assistant professor was really really tough (teaching 3 new courses + research + service + admin + whatnot) and it took me time to adjust and make changes to my schedule and set new limits for myself to find a way to keep everything moving forward without depleting myself.