Thursday, July 27, 2017

The day I wrote 14046 words

On March 10th, I wrote 14046 words, which is my absolute maximum in a day since I started tracking my writing in November. Not bad for being pregnant, with a foggy brain and rather tired.

How did this word count break down?

I didn't write all 14046 words on a single writing project. Instead, I worked on several projects, as I do virtually every working day:
- 969 words on emails and admin
- 2536 words on my blog
- 1301 words on a journal paper writing project
- 8627 words on my book
- 613 words on a research report
The main chunk of my writing was done that day in the afternoon, as I was working on the first draft of my book, the A-Z of the PhD Trajectory. The book won't be published anytime soon, but it needs to go for review by March 31st 2018. I like being ahead of deadlines, and especially with the baby coming, I'm trying to finish up as much work as possible before I enter a stage in my life of which I have no idea what it will be like (and have no idea how to plan my days for).

So, what did I do that day that made it such a success?
- I slept 9 hours and 37 minutes, according to my fitbit stats, and woke up at 7:46 am. Unfortunately, that rather late wake-up did not give me enough time to squeeze in my yoga practice.
- I must have started with work some time between 8:30 am and 9 am. I worked first on my paper, and then on my research. The idea was to do about 2 hours of each, but since I got off to a late start, it must have been more like 1,5 hours of each. For the research, I was doing calculations, and writing the report about these calculations at the same time, so it was a bit of a combination of writing and the actual number-crunching in matlab.
- I had lunch. Since I was working from home that day, I think I didn't spend more than 30 minutes on lunch: warming up my plate of food, and then quickly eating it.
- I wrote 25 entries for the extended glossary list of my book. When I was working on writing these entries, I made a list with the numbers (1-25), and write down the title for every 5th entry. After each entry was finished, I checked off the number. After 5 to 10 entries, I took a break. This writing kept me busy from 1 pm until about 5pm.
- I replied email for about an hour, and made my planning for the next week.
- I went for a walk while talking to my mom via Skype, and had my dinner.
- I took my laptop to the sofa to type a blog post.
- According to my myfitnesspal account, I had three servings of chocolate peanut butter avocado pudding.

I'm not sure what is the main reason for my major productivity that day: the long sleep the night before? The fact that I was working from home rather undisturbed (except for the lady coming to clean the apartment)? All the chocolate pudding I ate that day?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Proof load testing of reinforced concrete slab bridges in the Netherlands

We recently published our second paper in Structural Concrete, the journal of fib (the international concrete federation). You can find the paper online here.

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

The bridges built during the development of the Dutch road network after the Second World War are reaching their originally devised service life. A large subset of the Dutch bridge stock consists of reinforced concrete slab bridges. This bridge type often rates insufficient according to the recently introduced Eurocodes. Therefore, more suitable methods are developed to assess reinforced concrete slab bridges to help transportation officials make informed decisions about the safety and remaining life of the existing bridges. Field testing can be used for example when the effect of deterioration on the structural capacity is unknown. A proof load test demonstrates that a given bridge can carry a certain load level. In the Netherlands, a number of existing reinforced concrete slab bridges have been proof loaded, and one bridge has been tested to collapse. Bridges with and without material damage were tested. These bridges were heavily instrumented, in order to closely monitor the behavior of the bridge. Critical positions for bending moment and shear were studied. Based on the proof load tests that were carried out over the past years, a set of recommendations for the systematic preparation, execution, and analysis of proof load test results is compiled. These recommendations will ultimately form the basis of the guideline for proof load testing for the Netherlands, which is currently under development.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

I am Coleen Clemens, and This is How I Work

Today, I am hosting Dr. Colleen Clemens in the "How I Work" series. Colleen, an associate professor of Non-Western Literatures and Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, earned her Ph.D. in Post-Colonial Literature at Lehigh University. Previously, she earned her M.Ed. in English Education at DeSales University (where she still teaches courses on South Africa and English Composition) while teaching twelfth grade English in the public system. She earned her undergraduate degrees in English and French Education from Penn State University. She's the co-creator of the Inside 254 podcast. Colleen lives in Bucks County with her partner, two dogs, and daughter. She can be reached via her blog Her professional editing, writing, and tutoring site is

Current Job: Associate Professor of Non-Western Literatures, Director Women’s and Gender Studies
Current Location: Kutztown University
Current mobile device: iphone
Current computer: a slowly dying macbook air

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
At this point, my research brings together my twenty years of teaching and researching. I am working and writing primarily about how we can all move our students forward in regards to social justice and equality. I write mostly about teaching, pedagogy, and social justice in and out of the classroom.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I would die without word. I am still pretty old school in that regard, but to be fair, I grew up typing on wordperfect on a blue screen.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I have a five-year-old, so I work wherever and whenever I can find a pocket of time. I have a desk at home—a gorgeous office—but I don’t often get to work in there. I have a chair that I work in often at home—downstairs in the morning, away from my sleeping kiddo.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Know thyself. My brain doesn’t function for academic writing past noon. I need to save non-production types of work for that time of day. I know that I need to do my heavy lifting in the morning. Honor your brain.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Lists and more lists. It helps to have a color-coded calendar on my computer. I immediately put dates on there. I have daily, short-term, and long-term lists (those are usually determined by projects that I have committed to).

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I have a digital recorder for podcasting. That’s about it!

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
My view of the long-game. I was advised early in my teaching career that this run is a marathon, not a sprint.

What do you listen to when you work?
Absolute silence. I get distracted easily. Plus, with having a kid, silence—when I can have it—is golden.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I decided in grad school that I would have a pleasure book always going, that I didn’t want higher ed to ruin my love of reading. These day I find that my pleasure books still have an element of work. I am digging Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?

I am an introverted extrovert. I love being alone because I don’t get to be alone very often. When I am with students, I am give it my all and am extroverted.

What's your sleep routine like?
Sleep is non-negotiable. I don’t watch much tv because I choose sleep. I get at least eight hours a night. Full time working and parenting leaves me wiped.

What's your work routine like?
Get up early and write, read, grade—whatever is most pressing. I basically work every second—check email in between crafts with my daughter, write in the morning, sometimes read. When I have two full time jobs, I have to use every second.

What's the best advice you ever received?

The mantra I always use is “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I remember reading something that encouraged you to just write for five minutes and then stop if you have to. The idea is you won’t stop once you have started. Good advice!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Distribution of peak shear stress in finite element models of reinforced concrete slabs

We recently pulished a paper in Engineering Structures about the distribution of shear stresses that you can use in finite element models of reinforced concrete slabs for assessment. The title of the paper is "Distribution of peak shear stress in finite element models of reinforced concrete slabs". Until August 30th 2017, you can download the article for free at this link; afterwards a library subscription to Engineering Structures will be necessary.

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

Existing reinforced concrete solid slab bridges in the Netherlands are re-assessed for shear based on a Unity Check: the ratio of the shear stress caused by the applied loads to the shear capacity of the concrete cross-section. The governing shear stress resulting from the self-weight, weight of the wearing surface, distributed and concentrated live loads, can be determined with a simplified spreadsheet-based method, the Quick Scan (Level of Assessment I) as well as with a linear finite element model (Level of Assessment II). When a finite element model is used, a distribution of shear stresses over the width of the slab bridge is automatically found. To compare the governing shear stress caused by the loads to the shear capacity, it is necessary to determine over which width the peak shear stress from the finite element model can be distributed. To answer this question, a finite element model is compared to an experiment. The experiment consists of a continuous, reinforced concrete slab subjected to a single concentrated load close to the support. Seven bearings equipped with load cells that measure the reaction force profile along the width of the slab are used to compare to the stress profile obtained from the finite element model. From this analysis, it is found that the peak shear stress in a linear finite element model can be distributed over 4dl with dl the effective depth to the longitudinal reinforcement of the slab. The comparison of measured reaction force profiles over the support to the stress profile from a finite element model results in a research-based distribution width that replaces the rules of thumb that were used until now.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I am Rebecca Gelding and This is How I work

Today, I am interviewing Rebecca Gelding for the "How I Work" series. Rebecca is a PhD student investigating music cognition, specifically what is going on in the brain as people imagine music. She began part time in Feb 2013, as she was also looking after her 2 small children. Said children are both now at school this year (hooray) and so she's changed to full time. Prior to starting a family, she worked in the finance industry, but realised when she had kids that life is short: spend it doing something you are passionate about. She told me: "I've has always loved maths, music and the brain and now I get paid to discover and write about it every day, whilst still enjoying being a mother. Best of both worlds."

Current Job: PhD Student in Cognitive Science. Aiming to submit mid-2018.
Current Location: Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.
Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy S7
Current computer: Acer Aspire V5-431

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I’m just over half way through my PhD which investigates what is going on in the brain as people image music; specifically imagining pitch and rhythm. To do this I use a technology called magnetoencephalography (MEG) which measures changes in magnetic flux from the outside of people’s heads. From this we can get an understanding of what brain regions are doing while imagining music compared to listening to music. It’s compelling research because while the experience of imagining music is universal, there is still a lot we don’t yet understand in the dynamics of our brains as we imagine.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I use Word and Endnote for writing, and a variety of software packages for analysing and presenting data (BESA Research, MATLAB, R)

What does your workspace setup look like?

This year I’ve begun some new routines to try to develop writing as a habit, and I have three workspaces. Each morning when I arrive on campus around 9:20am after school drop-off, I will order a coffee from the brilliant coffee shop at the bottom of my building, and get out my laptop. While I savour that coffee, I’ll use my phone timer to do one pomodoro (25mins) session of nothing but writing.
Then I’ll head upstairs to my university desk and try to either do a few more pomodoros while I’m on a roll, or attend to whatever other work I need to do. I have a computer on campus which I will sometimes use, but for portability, most of my writing is done on my laptop.
I leave campus at 2:25pm to pick up the kids, and spend the next few hours with them, doing normal afternoon / dinner routines. Once they are off to sleep around 8pm, I’ll head to my home office (AKA desk in the corner of the lounge room) for a couple more hours of work. As it’s the end of the day I normally don’t do anything that is mentally taxing, but try to allocate tasks that are necessary but easy to these evening timeslots.
When need be I’ll use the analysis computers at university as well, but most of my work is on my laptop (and backed up on portable hard drives).

Rebecca's desk at home

Rebecca's desk at university

Rebecca's work setup at her favorite cafe

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Work out how you work best. One of the biggest benefits of academia is flexibility. Use that to your advantage, to discover exactly when you are at your most alert, then organise your day around those times. Over Christmas last year I read “Rest” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and he discusses of a whole bunch of ways in which to increase productivity without working longer hours. Unsurprisingly prioritising rest was one of them.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I love the idea of a bullet journal but I’m not disciplined enough to keep at it. I generally have an everything notebook that I keep in my compendium and take everywhere. For every major project on at a given time I’ll list the tasks that need to be done on each one. At the start of the year I did a term by term break down of the goals I wanted to achieve, and a weekly plan for this term. Each Sunday night I try to have a look at that to see how I’m tracking (eek…. I’m already behind due to unforeseen set-backs….) and to map out a rough guide for what I want to achieve in the coming week. I try to spend the bus ride on the way to university reviewing and planning for that day as well.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
Not really.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

I’ve inherited an optimistic outlook on life, which will usually see me putting my hand up for opportunities thinking, “what have I got to lose?” While an attitude might not technically qualify as a skill, in academia where rejection and setbacks are part of the landscape, it takes skill to maintain a positive attitude! During the PhD candidature, there are plenty of chances to do things outside of the direct “thesis” work. I’ve tried to make the most of these chances (eg three minute thesis competition, science communication outreach, writing for various outlets, teaching, blogging, etc). Some of these things have a snowball effect and bring more opportunities, but I think it has all stemmed from my optimism.

What do you listen to when you work?
I love the environmental noises of the coffee shop, or a noisy storm outside, but I can’t stand any music on when I’m trying to work – I just get too distracted, probably because I’ll want to sing along. Can’t have the TV on either when I’m working at home. I prefer to work in silence.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I’ve just started Steven Pinker’s “A Sense of Style” and I love it. I’m making a conscious effort to improve my writing. After all, if I’m going to be an academic, then I need to get a handle how to write. An obvious way to get better at writing is to read good writing! Funnily enough, now that I am full time I find I have more time for reading, as I’ll allow myself time on the weekend or some nights before bed to read for pleasure.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?

I find being around other people energising, so I’d say extrovert. I love making it to the department morning tea each Wednesday, and would sit and socialise through a whole hour of lunch if I could. But with such short hours on campus each day, I have to restrict myself and get back to work. It also means that the days I spend working from home are super lonely for me – even if it’s just 6 hours.

What's your sleep routine like?

I’d love to be in bed by 10pm, but usually its more like 11pm. As part of my new year routine I set the alarm for 6am and get out first thing for a half hour run each week day morning. (Having said that I don’t think I’ve managed any week with 5/5 runs, but the intention is there!) I generally try to get at least 7 hours sleep. On the weekends I’ll get a bit more as my husband and I take it in turns for a sleep in (which is ~8am), while the other one gets up to make breakfast for the kids.

What's your work routine like?

In addition to the routine I mentioned with the workspaces, once a week I’ll work from home for the day. That usually involves planning a series of chores that need to be done and allocating them 15 min slots during a break time. (ie writing for 45 mins, mop kitchen for 15 mins, writing for 45 mins, hang out washing & put another load on). It's efficient, but quite tiring.
The main difference I’ve found from going part time to full time, is that now I have more time to work, I need to make sure I keep working smart so I don’t burn myself out. I allocate my hardest tasks (normally writing) for the first thing in the morning, and then between morning tea and lunch I’ll do something that requires attention to detail but not as hard. After lunch I’ll generally do administration tasks and other stuff that has to be done. Sometimes I find when I come to sit down in the evenings I’ve come up with a solution to a problem earlier in the day purely because I’ve had time to think (usually unconsciously) as I’ve been doing other things in the afternoon with my family. I am more tired as a full timer than a part timer though, so I’m making sure I spend quality time resting on the weekends, to be fresh for a new week.

What's the best advice you ever received?
The best academic advice I have ever read came from twitter: “We are all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind”. Anne Galloway was quoting Prof Charles Gordon, then Head of Department, Sociology & Anthropology, Carleton University.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Proof load testing in the Netherlands - overview of current research

At the ACI Spring Convention in Detroit, MI, I gave a presentation in the committee meeting of ACI 437. In this presentation, I gave a quick overview of the research we've been doing in the Netherlands related to load testing.

You can find the slides of this presentation below:

Thursday, July 6, 2017

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to deal with the two-body problem

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!

It's a story all too common in academia: two partners wanting to build up a life together, but each of them aspiring academic careers. Finding an academic position in itself can be very difficult, but finding two academic positions at the same university or in the same city is even more challenging. It's called the "two-body problem", and most universities decide to plainly ignore the situation and just hire somebody on a position that is available. Some universities acknowledge this situation, and are much more willing to hire couples or to provide support to your partner and help him/her find a position as part of your hiring package.

Being married to a high-profile (former) academic myself, while being very focused on my own academic career has sometimes been challenging. There have been a number of missed opportunities because of my family situation. But every time I feel that pang of guilt because I chose my life and family over my career, I try to imagine how my life would be without my family - and that's a rather lonely and miserable* image. I'm not even sure if my career would be where it is if I wouldn't have the support and understanding that my husband provides, as he knows the academic world, and the struggles that I face. For my mom, who is also very supportive, it is much harder to know what my career really involves.

So if you find yourself in a two-body problem situation, don't forget to be grateful for having that second body around. At the end of the day, it's all worth the headache of finding converging career paths. If you are in this situation, I can give you the following pieces of advice:

1. Ask support from your university

First and foremost, don't "hide" your situation. If you are about to graduate, and you and your partner will be looking for converging career paths, use the resources of your university. Most universities offer some sort of career development support. Take advantage of these services, and ask for an appointment with a career counselor, either for yourself, or for you as a couple. Have a meeting with a career counselor to brainstorm your options.

If you are being interviewed for an academic position, and if this position is in a new city for you, ask if the university offers help and services for your partner. This support could mean help at finding a position in the same university, or in the same city. If there are no such services available, maybe the university and interviewers will consider offering these services for the future. If nobody asks for this type of support, universities will never offer it.

2. Find common ground in an unexpected place

If you are willing to move far away as a couple, you may find common ground in an unexpected place. Academia in developing countries is developing at a higher rate, and universities in these parts of the world offer more faculty positions for recent PhD graduates. You may be lucky and find academic jobs for the two of you in a far place. If you are an international couple, you can try out options in both of your home countries to see where you can land together. I myself moved to my husband's home country Ecuador, where we were originally both hired by the same university.

3. Talk it through

If you are a couple of driven, career-oriented academics, you will need to be very open about your future together and talk it through. Which "sacrifices" are you willing to make? What is off limits for you? What are your expectations? How are you going to make things work? Don't just say that you'll do long-distance until your career takes flight, and then you'll see. If you are serious about making your relationship work, then talk about your options, and make decisions for your future. If you want to commit to your relationship with your partner, you need to have your compasses point together to the same North.

While the above description may sound harsh and discouraging, it's important to know where you stand if you're faced with the two-body problem. In every relationship, good and open communication is important. When it comes to a two-body problem couple, you need to be open and talk everything through, so that you can develop the foundations for your future together.

4. Be flexible and make conscious choices

Once you've talked everything through, you may decide that you will do long-distance for a certain period of time, provided that this option feels right for you at this point in your life. When I returned to Europe for my PhD studies, my then-boyfriend and now-husband and I had agreed on the fact that we'd be a long-distance couple for the duration of my PhD studies, and that we then would move forward and go look for a place where we could build our lives together. We knew the challenges ahead of us, but we also knew they were temporary. And at that point in our lives, it was the right decision. At the current point in our lives, however, we would not be up for another four-year-long stint of long-distance relationship. At that time, it was a conscious choice to go the long-distance route so I could go do my PhD in my dream program.

If, after talking everything through, you have decided that long-distance is not an option for you (and for most couples, it is not an option, for good reasons), be flexible in your career path. Apply to different types of positions, and don't stare yourself blind on academia only. You may be happier if only your partner finds an academic position, and you take on a government job or a job in the industry, but you can come home to the person you love at the end of the day, than when you'd have an academic position, but come home to an empty apartment at the end of the day. Define your core values and priorities in life, and adhere to these.

5. Find creative solutions

If you decide to take on a job in the industry, that does not mean that you will not be involved in research anymore. Your company may be interested in applying for funding for research projects in collaboration with universities. You may be able to travel to conferences, and/or hold service appointments. Moving to the industry does not necessarily mean that your tasks will be completely different from what an academic does. Many companies give a monetary bonus to their employees when they publish a research paper.

If you take on an academic position at an institution that may not be equipped for the type of research you carry out, as may be the case for a university in a developing country, then look for creative solutions for your research. Can you be a guest researcher at another university? Can you collaborate with international partners? Be creative, be bold enough to ask for collaborations, and build your career by laying a path where nobody has gone before.

* Note: I don't mean here that being single is lonely and miserable. I have some fond memories of my time in Brussels as a single twenty-something, spending lots of quality time with my cat. But, for me, at this point in my career and my life, imagining life without my husband is not pleasant.