Tuesday, August 26, 2014

5 Ways to Use Social Media as a Professor or Graduate student

Today I have the pleasure of inviting Stephanie Echeveste to share her views on social media in academia. Stephanie is the community manager for USC Rossier Online, which offers a
Doctor of Education (EdD) in Change and Leadership program delivered online at the USC Rossier School of Education. Stephanie has taught English abroad, dance in South Central Los Angeles and art in the mission district of San Francisco. She is passionate about providing quality education for all and is a lifelong learner herself.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter aren’t just platforms for over sharing personal information. Academics are also using these mediums to share informative content to students and colleagues, connect with other experts in their fields and strengthen their network and teaching techniques. Professors and graduate students can use these popular methods of communication to their advantage, and while the initial jump into the world of social media may be a bit daunting, here are five ways to make the transition much easier.

1. Create a brand base.

What’s a brand base, you say? It’s a central place to base the rest of your online presence. It should have a bio and link to your blog or share links to your writing. If you already have a personal Twitter account or blog, you might want to use that as a brand base. If you don’t already have a Twitter account or blog that is solely for your brand, then make one.

Create a bio that specifies what you do and your area of research. Post content that is tailored to your area of expertise (i.e. English professors re-tweeting character studies or research papers or Doctor of Education students sharing the best study habits). Follow experts in the education field and other faculty members. Post content that properly depicts who you are as a professor, your methods, your interests, things that relate to what’s in your syllabus, etc. Creating or boosting your brand generates more visibility, credibility and accessibility for yourself online and can open the door to academic opportunities.

2. Find research content or relevant teaching material.
One of the more beneficial aspects of an increase in educator traffic on social media is the vast pool of information your colleagues are sharing. A simple hashtag search on Twitter for relevant content to your studies and teachings can help you find research material and other experts in the field. Once you find a fellow thought leaders in your field, follow them on social media and reach out however you feel most comfortable.

3. Assess your Internet footprint.
Google yourself. It’s important to assess where you stand in the world of social media and know what other people see when they type your name in the search bar, because that is the first thing someone will do you if you are speaking at a conference or authoring a paper.

Perhaps a student created a hashtag referencing a topic they felt you taught well. Use your newly crafted professional Twitter account to re-tweet that post, or to contribute to the existing hashtag and conversation. If some of your published works are on the Internet, include links from your brand base. You’ll be able to see what kind of personal and professional networks you are a part of and forge connections with your peers who belong to the same groups.

4. Contribute to areas of expertise.

Mathematics professors may find Instagram accounts virtually useless—an overly edited photo of a list of equations may not garner much interest. Therefore, it’s important to figure out which social media platforms are better for your areas of expertise and commit yourself to them. Keep in mind that having a growing, successful social media presence requires time and effort, so don’t spread yourself too thin. Learn the ins and outs and pros and cons of whatever platform you choose, and use it to your advantage by sharing robust, dynamic content that other experts and students in your field would care about.

5. Encourage your students and colleagues to get involved.
Engaging students and colleagues via social media will enhance communication and could inspire new ideas and self-driven learning. Create hashtags referencing your daily lessons and invite students to add to the conversation or share something they’ve written for the class. Invite them to join relevant or self-generated Facebook groups or to follow industry thought leaders. Connecting your classroom on social media also allows students to easily share information with one another, which may result in a more collaborative, engaging learning environment.

For more information regarding the educational world’s take on social media, see this Pearson study regarding social media and teaching.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

USC Rossier's "The Essential #Edchat Resource Guide"

Today, I'd like to present you all a little goldmine of information I recently stumbled upon: "The Essential #Edchat Resource Guide" via USC Rossier's EdD.

This guide is a 3-page document that contains tons of information from the #EdChat community. For those who follow me on Twitter, you know that I'm not active on #EdChat - but browsing through this document, and seeing all the links to articles that are an excellent resource for all of us digital scholars, I'm more than happy to have found this document, and share it with all of you guys.

If you like reading the article online, you can find it on USC Rossier's blog.

Bookmark it today, thank me later.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How you should prepare for a career outside of academia: 7 lucky tips for a smoother transition

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Seán Mac Fhearraigh, who will discuss his thoughts on life after the PhD - a topic on which I've seen a lot of discussion here on the blog as well as on Twitter over the last year, and I'm glad to add Sean's voice and thoughts to this discussion. Sean is the founder of PostPostDoc.com, a website for PhDs and Post-Docs looking for a advice on what next after the lab. You can find Seán on twitter with @postpostdoc1.

Being prepared is what a PhD and PostDoc is about, managing reagents and consumables, booking conferences, applying for grants and so on. But preparing for careers outside of academia sometimes does not get the attention it deserves. After all the likelihood that you will leave academia and transition into industry is around 30% following a PhD according to the ASCB.

To help with your job hunt during your PhD or post-graduate research I put together these ten tips to help you succeed:

1. Talk to newly graduated PhDs
Newly graduated PhDs will have a good idea of what the current job market is like, they will have potentially been looking for jobs for the past few months and will have a list of agencies and contacts from the job search.

2. Start a LinkedIn profile
Stats are you probably have a LinkedIn profile already, if not, sign up straight away. A LinkedIn profile is a great resource to make connections outside of academia in start-ups and firms. If you can, try and stay away from Facebook habits and treat LinkedIn as your professional network. It is not just about being connected to your friends, but reach out to potential employers that might be looking for candidates like yourself.

3. Volunteer
If possible, that’s if you have time, try and volunteer for a start-up that aligns with your skills, I know this might sound impossible, but lending a few hours a week to a company as an intern always looks good on your CV. If not, volunteering for scientific outreach events would also be a good idea. There are many festivals that now involve scientific outreach worldwide. Volunteering for events or conferences like this allows you to build your skillset beyond academic skills and makes you look like a team player.

4. Start reading job boards
I know it’s obvious that you will need to read job boards to look for positions, however, what you need to get use to is what type of jobs you need to be looking for, how employers might phrase job descriptions. This might be of benefit if you are non-native speaker. I think looking at job advertisements will also let you set your expectations on salary and positions within companies.

5. Meet a recruiter
Meeting recruiters can be hugely beneficial, especially if you look as equally good on CV but may be a stand out candidate because of your personality. Furthermore recruiters are always looking to fill positions, they have direct contact with HR departments and will more than likely be able to tell you if you application for a job has succeeded or failed. In many cases you might not be able to get this information or it may take a long time off a company’s HR department. Furthermore, recruiters may also help in bargaining for salary and benefits, a skill you may not have from working in academia.

6. Update you CV to be more business/industry focussed
A scientific CV will differ from an industry CV. Although they will both have a similar format, a business CV will focus more on success, management, deliverance, office skills & team work. Although most of these elements are within an academic CV, a potential business employer may not have an interest in what technical skills you have, unless they have been advertised in the job application or maybe related to your job. If possible try and highlight how you succeed in your PhD, what impact it made and what your potential would be.

7. Tell your Professor

Your Professor not only holds the keys to your PhD, but potentially holds the key to your future career. If your Professor knows that you are not interested in pursuing an academic career they may help you with finding university courses that may support your move out of academia or provide you with roles within the lab that would provide some industry experience. Also they may have contacts within companies or start-ups that might be of interest for jobs.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Some changes to PhD Talk

Dear readers,

For quite some time now, I've been faithfully posting each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 6pm Central European Time, with a short break in the flow of posts during the Winter holidays.

Regardless of how busy work got, I somehow always managed to keep the posts coming. During wrapping up of my dissertation, while I was out traveling to conferences and in those times when just many things seem to come together - writing posts never had to take the backseat.

However, I've been toying with some ideas to improve this website and bring some new things for you guys - which will take me some time to develop. The last few months, I noticed that I almost, but not quite, started to fall behind my posting schedule. If you look closely, you'll see that I have missed 2 posts in the recent months.

To give myself a little more leeway in my busy schedule (some more traveling and fieldwork is coming up shortly), I've decided to reduce my posts to 2 posts per week, on Tuesday and Thursday. And as the dust of the semester settles, I hope to find some extra time to bring some new features to this blog.

By all means - keep your questions coming. I enjoy doing my Q&A posts - feels like I'm actually doing something totally relevant for someone. And as always, guest posts are very welcome - I love featuring different opinions, views and voices over here.

Wishing you all a wonderful fall semester,


Thursday, August 7, 2014

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Navigating Responsibilities as an young Faculty Member

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!

Once you finish your PhD, you might think that the busiest period of your life and the biggest project you'll ever do, are over. In a sense, that is absolutely true - especially because of the learning curve involved with a PhD. But, unless you join a large laboratory to work on a post-doc, chances are that you will be getting quite a different number of responsibilities once you get your first academic job after your PhD.

And there you are, fresh from the lab-bench, getting ready for a new challenge and trying not to get sucked in by academia's sometimes bitter surroundings. While the previous years you might have had your number 1 priority very clear (solve your research question), the priority of your responsibilities might become more blurred once you get your first faculty position.

All of a sudden, there is research, teaching, outreach, service, tons of admin work and what not in your job description. Not only do some of these new additions to your task list require a new set of skills, they also require a different way of looking at your time: you'll be needing to move a whole number of projects forward, simultaneously.

It's been more than a year since I got my PhD, and it's been quite an interesting year. Combining my faculty position in Ecuador with a research position in the Netherlands is not a 1+1 = 2 kind of experience. There was to moving to, and getting adjusted to Ecuador, the figuring out where to find a place to live in the Netherlands for my research stay, trying to learn Spanish, and getting thrown off by food poisoning too many times. My learning curve has been quite steep, and I'm glad to be able to present you with the lessons I learned this year in terms of navigating different responsibilities:

1. Use the urgent-important matrix to set your priorities

When you are confronted with a large number of tasks, it helps to first make a list of all you have on your plate, and then see which of these are urgent, and which are important. You'll end up with four categories:
- Urgent and important: obviously, you need to be working on these tasks
- Not urgent but important: the group of tasks that too easily slip to the background
- Urgent but not important: visits, emails, phone calls, administration deadlines and more of the stuff you wish you didn't need to do but have to do to avoid trouble
- Not urgent and not important: stop doing these things - or just them sparingly.
If you start as a young faculty member, it is easy to let that "not urgent but important" category slip to the background. And this category has one red hot flashing name - Writing Papers. Don't postpone writing your articles. Don't think you can write an article in a few days or weeks, because you'll never find 8 hours in a day to work on it. Instead, have a planning to move your articles forward slowly but surely.

2. Get a streamlined time management system

My current time management tools are Google Calendar and ToDoist, and I use a notebook and Evernote to capture ideas and takes notes. I've started scheduling my time, pretty much to the minute, on a weekly basis, to know exactly what I need to be working on in a given week. I also make an overview of my tasks on a monthly basis, combined with a review of the past month. No loose ends and no tasks that remain behind. Figure out what works for you, and consistently use your system. Bonus tip: integrate your time and task management systems with the way you process email.

3. Do a braindump when you need it

Even though you might have all your tasks and appointments in your calendar and on your to-do list, sometimes you might feel a mild to severe sense of panic coming over you as thoughts of everything you still need to do rush through your head. That's when it's time for a braindump. You can either take a pause and journal longhand about all the demands that are placed on you, or you can sit down and make a list of all you need to do, and then review what you are going to do and when you are going to do it.

4. Use chunks of time to move projects forward

Very closely related to number 2 from this list, but I can't stress it enough: the times of being able to sit down for a couple of days in a row and cranking out a paper are over (unless you want to work through the night on a weekend or something crazy like that). You can't pull that off a couple of days before a deadline anymore. It's time to gear up in terms of efficiency and being organized, and plan 2-hour chunks of time daily (or a few times a week) for a few weeks to move your writing forward. The same advice holds true for any (new) research project that you will be working on. And of course, you'll have to schedule in blocks for preparing your classes, grading, office hours and all that - so you'll end up with a rather scattered time schedule. Leave enough buffer time between tasks, otherwise you'll feel "behind" the entire day. Experiment with your optimum chunks of time. I haven't found out yet which chunk of time feel not too short to reach a state of flow and not too long to start slacking a bit.

5. Make smart choices

As you advance in your career, you'll be met with more and more opportunities. But at a certain point, you'll have to start saying no to some opportunities and learn to make smart choices. If your schedule is more than full, accepting to review a paper might not be the right choice to make. Sometimes, however, the exact opposite could be true: reviewing that paper might be just the right move. I'm not too much into 80s style career-mooching and salary-mongering, so let's not forget one very important aspect: the joy of science. Don't reach the point where you start to feel suffocated by all the "Have-Tos" and don't have any time left to fiddle around with ideas or play around in the lab. Stay true to yourself and what brings you joy in your work in the first place - and invest in those areas. These areas are your natural strengths, so ultimately it has a positive effect on your career as well.

6. Set an ending time to your day

With an endless task list, you might feel as if the day is never over and you are never done, and you can keep working every single day until it's bedtime, or even beyond. Don't - it's a bad idea. I learned this the hard way, and now I set a closing time at 6pm every day when I'm working in Ecuador. For my short research-intensive month in The Netherlands I've been going a bit later, but that's exceptional. When I'm in my regular routine, it's 6pm and schluss, tomorrow is another day. I also try to set a digital curfew at 9pm (in reality, somewhere between 9pm and 10pm) to have a relaxed end to my day. Try it out, I'm pretty sure you'll get better sleep.

7. Take good care of yourself

Here's Auntie Eva again saying the same things over and over again: eat well, exercise, get enough sleep and go outside for fresh air and sunshine (hello vitamine D!). It's so obvious, everybody always tells you, but you really need to start taking these things seriously if want to see your productivity soar. It's all about feeling better, and having more focus. If you currently are living on TV dinners, find yourself surfing the internet late at night and then go to bed too late, and are out of breath after a flight of stairs - do not despair. Just take it slowly, change one habit at a time and try to stick with it for 30 days before adding on something new. Slowly but surely you'll see the change - and then you'll never want to go back.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

An example outline diagram for structuring your dissertation

Some time ago, I wrote a post about how to construct the outline of your dissertation.

If you haven't read it: here's the summary of the idea. If you simply sit down one day and expect that you can start typing up your thesis from the first sentence of your introduction to the last sentence of your conclusions, you might need to reconsider your plan. Probably you could type up the whole thing from A to Z, but unless you have magnificent writing skills and an exceptional memory, you'll have a very hard time keeping the red thread through your text clear for the reader.

Therefore, my advice is to sit down with your research questions first, and sketch how you've gone about answering your research question. Then, you need to identify the logic that ties together the different subquestions of your research question that you answered. To have this relation visualized, I recommend that you make a simple scheme/diagram in whihc you show how the different chapters of your thesis are related.

One reader asked me the following question:

Great advice. An example of a diagram would have helped!

I didn't reply immediately, but I promised a post in which I could actually upload a drawing.

I'll write a follow-up post!

And here you can see the sketch that I used for my dissertation:

It's really quite simple - showing that I used both theory and experiments to tackle my research question, and from there developed a proposal to extend the existing design code and applied the insights of my research into case studies of existing bridges. In the very end, all previous chapters tie back together in the conclusions.

And while this diagram might look overly simple, it helped me tremendously to know what needs to go where in my dissertation, and which elements from every chapter are related to the next chapter(s).

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Practical Application of Transverse Load Redistribution in Reinforced Concrete Solid Slab Bridges

I recently presented a paper titled "Practical Application of Transverse Load Redistribution in Reinforced Concrete Solid Slab Bridges" at the 9th conference on Short and Medium Span Bridges in Calgary.

The abstract of the paper is the following:

For an initial design or assessment of a reinforced concrete solid slab bridge, spreadsheet-based or hand calculations are typically used. The shear stress is compared to the shear capacity as prescribed by the code. The distributed loads result in a uniform shear stress at the support. Concentrated loads are less straightforward to take into account. It is known that transverse load redistribution occurs in slabs. To explore the topic of transverse load redistribution, experiments on elements subjected to a concentrated load close to the support were carried out. These elements had an increasing width, starting at 0.5 m and increasing with steps of 0.5 m up to 2.5 m, so that the effect of transverse load redistribution could be studied. The threshold effective width resulting from the experiments was then compared to load spreading methods, in order to give recommendations for the practical use with concentrated loads. It was found that the load spreading method as used in French practice is to be preferred. As compared to load spreading methods that were used previously, the French load spreading method results in smaller shear stresses at the support. This result allows for more economic designs and provides a better assessment tool.

The slides of the presentation are given below: