Thursday, July 30, 2015

How I Created My Fictional PhD Candidate

Today I have invited Sheila M. Cronin to talk about her most recent novel, in which the main character is a PhD candidate. Sheila obtained her master's degree in mental health sciences from Hahnemann Medical Graduate School (now Drexel) of Philadelphia. Upon graduation, she was hired by Hahnemann as full-time art therapist on the child and adolescent psychiatric unit, and later on the adult inpatient unit. She also practiced family art therapy and taught a course in the graduate school called "Art Therapy with Children." Her research was published in the American Journal of Art Therapy and she was the first art therapist at Hahnemann to co-present a case with a resident at psychiatric grand rounds. When she relocated to the west coast, she practiced art therapy with artists in treatment in Los Angeles. Most recently, she has applied art therapy techniques doing volunteer work with the unemployed. She now lives in Chicago and is working on the sequel, Best of All Gifts.

Do all gifts come with strings attached? Jonquil Bloom, the PhD candidate in my novel, believes the answer is “yes” and sets out to prove her hypothesis.

Her initial literature review revealed a shocking lack of psychological research on the dynamics of gift-giving. Aside from commentary on Freud’s views regarding altruism, the few articles she found concerned appropriate gifts for therapists! (Can I Give my Therapist a Gift?) This was happy news since she could now claim the territory for her own.

At thirty-four years of age, she’s more mature if less scholarly than her UCLA classmates. She’s ABD (all but dissertation) and has been gathering data for over a year. She lives in Venice Beach, California, and is raising her ten-year-old son alone since her husband died tragically in a fire before Billy’s birth.

The story begins with another sudden loss for Jonquil. As December begins, her psychologist position at Children’s Home is terminated because the short-sighted administrators need her stipend to paint some offices for a state inspection. Jonquil is dismayed. All that work and effort down the drain. All that time lost. Now what? The university can’t place her again until after the holidays. She needs rent money, so she takes a seasonal job at a local department store, where incidentally, people of all ages are buying gifts. And there she finds her life’s work. A new romance soon begins.

One of the amazing truths anyone undertaking a significant challenge such as the writing of a dissertation or novel discovers is that life marches on. One is not immune to life lessons just because he or she is already immersed in a stressful situation. Life keeps on coming.

To make my fictional character believable and worth caring about, I had to give her new stresses. I had to yank her out of the austerity of her training site and place her in the totally upbeat setting of a local department store. As she walks down the familiar aisles on her first day she asks herself, what am I doing here? I was helping needy children! How can I sell perfume to well-off matrons? But within hours, she creates a way to continue her research in the store. She sees comparing her old work to her new work faulty, for both have merit. Moreover, the store proves to be the better of the two settings because there she realizes that she’s not cut out to be a psychotherapist. Her true calling is to become a gift counselor … once she figures out what that is!

Yet, her son wants a dog which she won’t let him have. The new man in her life, Claude Chappel, recognizes the paradox of a gift counselor who withholds the very gift her own son wants most and he determines to find a resolution.

When I entered graduate school to study art therapy, I didn’t know what I was getting into. Literally! The first week of classes, we students also began our sessions with patients. I assumed I’d be working with the medically ill—I’d volunteered at a children’s hospital in high school—but instead found myself walking onto a women’s locked unit in a private psychiatric hospital in a Philadelphia suburb with just a pad of paper and some crayons. It had never been my intention to work with the mentally ill, but it turned out to be a most rewarding experience. I gave the profession ten years and then I decided to pursue my talents rather than burn out. My novel appears to have blended my creative and analytical sides in a positive and insightful way.

The building of a fictional, compelling character takes imagination, insight, humor, love, and willingness to adjust where necessary to make the character likable or at least intriguing enough to engage diverse readers. It also takes having lived many experiences. So, to be convincing, an author draws upon her own life experiences using her imagination as a filter to expunge the personal, autobiographical facts, and leave the fresh new impressions as seen through the eyes of her make believe character. The real process of earning a PhD adds tension to the story and adds credibility to the character. Stress is a relatable condition that almost any reader can identify with and stress leads to conflict, the bedrock of any good story.

Does my character prove her theory that all gifts come with strings attached? No. Instead, she learns what true gifts are. But to find out what that means, you’ll have to read the book. Does Billy get a dog? Find out in The Gift Counselor. Recommended for PhD students needing a break, faculty advisors, classmates, spouses, moms and dads, grandmothers, pastors, siblings, friends, veterinarians, x-game partners, coaches, librarians and book clubs. Available on amazon.com, amazon.com/co.uk, and in kindle format.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I am Katherine Firth and This is How I Work

Today I am interviewing Katherine Firth for the "How I Work" series. Catherine is Head of Academic Programs at Trinity College, where she manages the Residential College’s tutorial and visiting scholar’s programs. She is an award-winning educator at the University of Melbourne where her teaching focuses on research and communication skills. She is passionate about helping students and researchers transition into the highest levels of achievement through one-to-one and group teaching, and online engagement. She has a wider interest in university policy and governance. Her research focuses on the relationship between poetry and music; on 20th-century poetries; and, increasingly, on student learning and attainment.

Current Job: Head of Academic Programs at Trinity College, the University of Melbourne
Current Location: Melbourne, Australia
Current mobile device: iPhone 5
Current computer: an iMac and a Mac Air

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am an academic administrator, a head of department in a residential college in Australia. I am expected to be research active, but am not set research output targets by my institution. Previously my research focused on twentieth-century poetry, and the relationship between poetry and music. I am currently shifting my research focus to be on higher education. I teach, administer, and research.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I couldn’t live without email and digital calendars, all synched to multiple devices. I love email filters, so that emails pre-sort themselves into various inboxes/folders, so that I can compartmentalise my work. I also love that phones can be on silent, so I don’t even hear if you ring or text. I’ll check it regularly, but when it suits me and isn’t interrupting.
I am just getting into using Google Sheets to collaboratively gather and organise information: recently negotiating support for 260 subjects across 70 tutors and 300 students was done via a Google Sheet. I was surprised and impressed by how responsible and helpful everyone was, and on what an impact it made on my workflow. Last semester I got about a hundred emails on a typical day; this semester I got about 40.
I’m starting to use Calendly to organise my meetings—rather than emailing back and forth with students and staff, people are able to easily book in at a time that suits them, and it synchs to my calendar. Students have said it’s much more convenient for them, and I appreciate halving the number of emails about meetings. (Like so many of my tools, I first read about it on academic Twitter).
However, when I actually sit down with a student or go to a meeting, I take notes in one of my Moleskine (or Fabio Ricci) notebooks. This enables me to keep my notes confidential, and not to lose my notes in the welter of urgent things on my computer.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I work mostly at the office. I have a beautiful high ceilinged office with diamond-paned windows looking out across our grass quad. I have three comfortable chairs around a large coffee table for meetings with students and other staff. I am lucky to have wonderful art hung on my walls, I am currently looking at a Gloria Petyarre, a well known Indigenous artist, one of her Utopia Bush Medicine series. I work at a standing desk, which has made a huge difference to my back and my health. I blogged about this in The Place where we Work.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
TIME BOX! (And turn off all the noisy flashy notifications). These two go together.
Time boxing is just breaking down your day into smaller sections. My favourite time boxing technique is the Pomodoro. You set a timer for 25 minutes of focused work and then again for a 5 minute break, repeated for up to 2 hours. I find 25 minutes is enough time for me to read an article, or to write 400 words. Sometimes all I have time for is one ‘pomodoro’ (25 minute working sprint), but that means I can get something done, and keep the momentum going. It also stops me from working for hours, not stopping for a drink or food, and then crashing, which can happen if I hit ‘flow’ without something to jolt me back into my body from time to time.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
In my head. It drives me crazy, but I haven’t yet found anything else that works.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I love my e-reader, but only for fiction that I read for fun. I still buy paper books for anything I need to focus on, anything I might want to annotate, lend to someone else, consult, or read again in 20 years time.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Other people say that I’m really good at reading the hidden codes in things—calls for grants, academic job applications, course guides, rubrics. I can work out what they are really asking, and translate it for colleagues and students.

What do you listen to when you work?
Terrible bubble gum pop—I need something bright, cheerful, with a beat slightly faster than my heartbeat. I want to dance while I work. Also, as a musicologist, I too often analyse classical or complex music to be able to have it on in the background.

What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading up about nostalgia for something I’m trying to write about the internet as a nostalgia machine. I set aside my research leave (10 days a year) for research. I also take the odd 30 minutes when I need to sit down, and drink tea and read an article that someone has shared.
I keep a stack of books on my work coffee table too, and from time to time I read another few pages of Bourdieu’s Language and Symbolic Power, or take something like Stephen King’s On Writing to accompany me on my lunch break. Reading is a thing I do to ground myself, to re-centre myself, so I always try to find time for it. I also treat myself by buying new books, so Giroux’s On Critical Pedagogy, and Borges Labyrinths have just landed at the top of my reading pile.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I’m super-introverted, but very outgoing. At work, my door is always open, and I often see 10 students individually in a day—either dropping in or by appointment. I work in a residential community (though I don’t actually live on site), so I often go to social events and dinners as part of my work too.
This means that I often need to use my off time to hide out at home and replenish my wells of emotional energy. I read trashy novels, drink wine with my partner, and hang out on Twitter. If I have energy, I cook and garden.

What's your sleep routine like?
I love to sleep, and my ideal life would include 9-10 hours of sleep every day, between midnight and 10am. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. I also suffer from what I thought was a peculiar kind of insomnia, but later discovered was just a pre-Industrial sleep pattern, where I often wake up for 3 hours in the middle of the night. I meditate, get up and read, hang out on Twitter, think, and plan in that time. It’s usually a sign that I’m stressed, so I also try to fix whatever is wrong with my life to get back into good sleep habits!

What's your work routine like?
A lot of my work is scheduled on evenings and weekends, so I try not to be in too early in the morning. I think best from 5pm-10pm, so I try to find quiet time after many other staff have gone home to plan, write and get things done. During the day, I try to be available for meetings, for students to drop in, to pop in to my colleagues' offices etc. I am a fan of ‘corridor meetings’, where you quickly get things sorted by bumping into people in the corridor or while propped up against their door frame. However, I probably spend at least two full days a week dealing with email. Even if I’m working late, I try to have a late night supper with my partner. He also works lots of evenings and weekends, so sitting down together is the signal to us both to stop working.

What's the best advice you ever received?
I think the best advice wasn’t verbal, it was modelled for me by a series of strong women who found ways to negotiate being successful and happy. I saw that for them it was a negotiation (none of them pretended to have it all), but that it was okay to make an effort to be both. I’m trying too!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Presentation at the 2015 ACI Spring Convention



I recently gave a presentation at the ACI Spring Convention about the research I carried out during my stay in Delft in Summer 2014, and deep into 2015 at distance.

The abstract for the presentation is as follows:

In August 2014, the Ruytenschildt Bridge in the Friesland province in the Netherlands was tested until failure. This bridge is a reinforced concrete solid slab bridge. One of the goals of testing the Ruytenschildt bridge to failure, is to study the failure mode of the bridge (shear failure or failure in bending?) and to compare the capacity of the full bridge structure to the predicted results, to have an idea of the residual strength of existing bridges.

The methods used for this study are on one hand experimental (testing of the bridge to failure in two of its five spans) and on the other hand analytical. The analytical work involved predicting the bending moment capacity of the bridge as well as the beam shear and punching shear capacity. Additional effort is geared towards studying the effect of the skew of the bridge, as well as estimating the probability that the bridge will fail in bending before shear. In both spans, the bridge failed in flexure. According to the analytical predictions, the first span would fail in flexure and the second could fail in either shear or flexure. The total capacity during the experiment was significantly higher than predicted – during the first test on the first span, not enough load was available to reach full failure. The analysis of the results is still in progress.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I am Adrian Letchford and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Adrian Letchford in the "How I Work" series. Adrian didn’t go to school - his parents taught their children at home. They taught them how to teach themselves, a skill everyone should have according to Adrian. He went on to study computer science eventually finishing his Ph.D thesis when he was 23. He spent the next year dreaming, experimenting and lived in Nepal teaching computer science and mathematics to a school full of excited children in the middle of nowhere. When he returned he worked at the National Security College at the Australian National University doing some preliminary research into building a simulation of the internet. Governments want to use it to figure out how to keep the internet open while maintaining security. He is now at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom as a data scientist figuring out how to use online data from places such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to learn about human behavior.

Current Job: Research Fellow in Data Science
Current Location: University of Warwick, United Kingdom
Current mobile device: Nexus 5
Current computer: A desktop and laptop both core i7s with 8 cores running Ubuntu.

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I work on about 6 projects at a time, my favorite one explores people’s behaviour on Google. For example, in America, states with higher birth rates search more for information about pregnancy than other states. Quite obvious, really. But what happens when we ask a sensitive question? Say, what information are states with more dying babies searching for? The results are grim. People living in states with higher numbers of dying babies are searching for information about loans designed for people with a bad credit history. They’re also searching for information on sexually transmitted diseases. These people want to know about bad credit and STDs. This is not a causality analysis, simply Googling for sexually transmitted diseases surely doesn’t make your baby more likely to die. This research demonstrates that online search data can give us insight into people’s lives.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I love using Todoist to keep track of the tasks I need to do. Todoist is a simple “to do” app that just works on every platform imaginable. It can organise tasks by projects, priority, time, anything I want! My only problem is when I get into the “zone,” I forget to use it!

A tool I would recommend to anyone is Dropbox. This software makes sure that my files on all my devices are automatically synced. I can switch between my work and personal computer without skipping a beat.

The rest of my tools lean more on the technical side of my work. I write in latex which is a sophisticated typesetting program used extensively in Computer Science and Mathematics for writing papers. I write the bulk of my software in Python using Spyder which is a graphical interface to Python specifically aimed at scientists.

Last of all, I need a tool to help me deal with those moments when I’m just fed up and I don’t want to work anymore. I ride a unicycle! It’s great to clear my head because I still have to think, but it is entirely physical work. My brain gets time to relax, my body gets a bit of a workout and I’m refreshed to continue working.

What does your workspace setup look like?
My workspace is just a desk with a computer and on the wall I’ve stuck up a Big Bang Theory poster and the logo of a software product my team and I are designing.

I’ve always been the guy who is always in the office. I’m trying to change this. I want to be able to work from anywhere be it at home, in the office, or on the road. My aim is to cheaply travel around Europe while still working.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Right now, I feel very privileged to work with the directors of the Data Science Lab here at the University of Warwick, Tobias Preis and Suzy Moat. These are two of the best data scientists in the world. They are some of the most productive people I know. They’re amazing to work with and I learn so much from them. My advice is to find colleagues that you clique with, that you admire, and most importantly whom you want to be like. I believe this is the best thing to ever happen in my development as a scientists.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Todoist manages this.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
No.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I work very hard to communicate. Science communication is a tricky field. A lot of research is technical and complicated, taking years to piece together. Yet, without simple (and perhaps even entertaining) communication the research might not be used by anyone. Or worse, be credited to someone else! This does happen.

I quickly joined Toastmasters International, an organisation that teaches how to publicly speak. I promise you this, Toastmasters is a better education than a Ph.D. I know, I have both. This is not a skill I have mastered. I am still learning and still growing. But if I were to attribute any of my success so far to anything, without a shadow of doubt it is communication.

What do you listen to when you work?
For grunt work or when I’m having trouble focusing, I use classical music. When I need to be creative I’ll usually play anything that makes me feel good and helps my mind wander.

What are you currently reading?
I rarely have time for recreational reading. However, I am slowly reading Alex’s adventures in numberland written by Alex Bellos. A brilliant book about the history of numbers and all the little quirky things about them.

What's your sleep routine like?
Through trial and error I have found that a strict sleeping routine is the best way to beat fatigue and keep my mind at its peak. I do my best to start settling down at 8pm and go to bed at 9pm and I am currently getting up at 5:30am.

What's your work routine like?
I get up in the morning at 5:30am, start work ASAP, work all day until I feel happy with my accomplishment or I get fed up. Simple as that.

What's the best advice you ever received?
The best teachers I ever had were my parents. They challenged the status quo in everything they did and raised a remarkable family. They told me, no matter what, I should do what I want to do. Life is too short to waste on other people’s dreams and other people’s idea of success.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How To Choose Your Research Question

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Helen Kara who wrote a guest post in which she highlights some elements of her recently published book on creative research methods. Helen has been an independent researcher and writer for the last 14 years. She is a Visiting Fellow at the UK National Centre for Research Methods, and an Associate Research Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham. She is also on the Board of the UK's Social Research Association with lead responsibility for research ethics. She studied for her own PhD part-time while running a busy research business, and was so successful at managing the process that she needed special permission to submit her thesis just 2 years and 10 months after registration. Her PhD was awarded in 2006. She writes about and teaches research methods, and is always happy to answer any questions on Twitter: @DrHelenKara

If you're a doctoral student struggling to choose your research question, you can take some comfort from the fact that this is a difficult process at any level. You will be able to read widely before you choose a question, which will help up to a point. But there comes a time when you have to decide on a question.

First of all, the question should be something you are fascinated by or passionate about. Doing a PhD is really, really hard, and you need that fascination or passion to carry you through the tough times. Trying to research a question you don't feel strongly about is pure slog.

Then your question needs to be clearly defined, specific, and phrased in neutral terms. However strongly you feel about the subject, you must not formulate it as a leading question. You may have a hypothesis, e.g. that X causes Y, but your research question should not be about why X causes Y. It should be, for example, about the relationship between X and Y, or about the role of X in the development of Y (i.e. alongside other possible influencing factors). This is because you need to look at your research question from various angles, rather than approaching it from just one angle which would be likely to bias or skew your research.

And of course your question needs to be original. This requirement often causes considerable angst, but honestly it's not as bad as you might think. Your question doesn't need to lead to ground-breaking, breathtaking, world-changing research, it just needs to be different from anything that has been done before. In practice, this means it could be exactly the same as something that has been done before, but in a different context. Another thing doctoral students often worry about is: what if someone else is studying the same subject, and publishes before I finish? Again, that doesn't matter; just be prepared to read and cite anything that comes out while you're working on your research.

Some doctoral researchers choose a question, collect and analyse data, write up their findings – and then discover they have answered an entirely different question from the one they set out to address. But that doesn't matter either; if it happens to you, simply explain it in your thesis. Part of the point of doing doctoral research is to become a better researcher, so demonstrate what you have learned and say what you would do differently another time.

Once you have made an initial choice, it is time to test your question. Start with an ethical test. Is it a good idea to study this question? Could there be any undesirable consequences? Who might the research benefit? What risks are there to potential participants, the researcher, others? Could the research findings be misused in any way? These are the kinds of questions you need to use to interrogate the quality of your initial research question. If it fails the ethical test, you need to start again.

If your question passes the ethical test, it's time for a practical test. How can you investigate this question? What data will you need, and how much? (Clue: probably less than you think.) How can you collect that data? Are there any insurmountable barriers to collecting that data? What are the implications of your intended collection process for analysing your data? These kinds of questions will help you to assess the practicality of your proposed question.


To complete the practical test, you will need to turn to the literature on research methods. Start with a general text or two – my recent book on creative research methods covers a wider range of options than most – then use their bibliographies to find more specific books or journal articles on methods that might help you. Think about methods for analysis as well as collection, as this will save you trouble later on. And always, always, select your question and then decide on your methods, not the other way around.

If your question passes the ethical and the practical tests, congratulations, you're on your way!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I am George Musgrave and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing George Musgrave for the "How I Work" series. George's BA was in Social and Political Sciences at the University of Cambridge where he was elected into a Titular Scholarship. He then did an MA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics before doing an ESRC funded PhD at the Centre for Competition Policy (UEA). Throughout this time he was making music too. He was playlisted on BBC Radio 1, was the first ever unsigned act to be placed on the MTV Brand New List, and eventually signed a global publishing deal with EMI/Sony/ATV in 2013.

Current Job: Visiting Lecturer, University of Westminster & Songwriter signed to EMI/Sony/ATV
Current Location: London
Current mobile device: iPhone 5C
Current computer: MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I have just passed my PhD Viva and graduate in July. I was undertaking research at the Centre for Competition Policy at UEA on the behavioural and psychological ramifications of competitiveness in creative markets, looking in particular at unsigned musicians in the UK. I am currently a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Westminster where I deliver lectures on cultural intermediation, entrepreneurship and qualitative research methodologies.

What does your workspace setup look like?
This is no exaggeration when I say that my workspace is on my laptop, on my lap, sat in bed. Tranquil.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Don't let your PhD be your life, deadlines are everything, have faith in your ability! During my PhD, there would be weeks and weeks where I would procrastinate away days, or write elongated passages only to delete them as I convinced myself they were worthless. But there's nothing quite like the pressure of a deadline to make you productive. About six months before the end of my PhD I probably only had about 10,000 usable words. I wrote the remaining 80,000 in six months and passed with no corrections. I was utterly convinced that everyone else doing a PhD was better than me; imposter syndrome and all that. But it's nonsense. You were accepted on the program for a reason, you passed the upgrade for a reason. I had exactly the same problem when I was an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge. I drove myself into the ground towards the end of the first year trying to outdo everyone, and then I realised it was a stupid exercise. In the final year I just relaxed. I went out with my mates a lot and for huge chunks of time forgot I was really at Cambridge. I did work when I needed to and chilled out the rest of the time. I got a first. You have to balance your life.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I think two things. One is my writing style which is hugely informed by my background as a poetic songwriter. It's expressive and literary. I suppose the other is my dual life that I lead as an artist which, methodologically, gives me a unique vantage point to explore creativity and contemporary cultural markets.

What do you listen to when you work?
Drum and bass, or sometimes house. Anything without lyrics. During the final few months of writing up I actually one track on loop for months: Melo by Pryda. When you're lagging and need to get moving, music like that really propels you and keeps you reading through the 50th journal article that day!

What are you currently reading?
I'm reading Howard Becker's 'What About Murder?'. Honestly, I'm not a big reader

What's your work routine like?

During my PhD, my partner was working as a school teacher. For a long time - maybe two years - I would stay up all night working and see her when she went off to work at 7am. Then I would sleep until she got home at 5pm. Sounds surreal but doing a PhD is lonely, and I hated being awake in the day when she wasn't there. At least at night I could work on the laptop and she would be in the same place as me, even if she was asleep. It felt less lonely. Plus the world is so much more peaceful and night. It made me more productive. I could never work in the day.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Don't work hard, work smart.

I suppose I want people to hear 'the other side' of doing a PhD. Many stories I read online speak of the tiresome drudgery of doctoral work. Of institutional politics, of abandoned social lives, of perpetual anxiety. I just didn't find that. Sure, there were moments where I felt low - but these were mainly due to a lack of money and a lack of direction. But honestly I loved doing a PhD. It was 3/4 years when I ran my own schedule. You have the rest of your life to work all the hours god sends and to moan about things. Use the PhD to enjoy being young and free. I'm only a few months out of it and I miss it already!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Q & A: The PhD and The Job Market

I was recently interviewed on the job market after obtaining a PhD. You can find the interview here:

1. When you began your PhD, what were your initial career plans?

I didn’t really have plans – my original plan was to pursue a PhD at the university where I was enrolled for my Master’s, but then the economic crisis of 2008 hit and funding was impossible to find. At the beginning of my PhD I was open for both working in the industry after my PhD (seeing bridges being built) as well as staying in academia. More than anything, I went into my PhD out of curiosity and out of my love for learning – two factors that have been driving the course of my life.

2. Were you always interested in going into academia?

Not really – I just always wanted to do something that I find interesting and challenging. The regular school system had me bored out of my mind, and once I got out of there, I just wanted to go and study something difficult, something that would actually be fun and intriguing – and, as I mentioned before, this curiosity and need for getting my brain to work, has been a constant drive for me.

3. If you weren’t in academia, what career path would you have taken?

I have a broad range of interests. I could have gone full-time into bridge engineering in the industry (I am working on some projects in the industry besides my academic work at the moment). Other career paths that draw my attention (in no particular order) are: teaching yoga, writing (poetry mostly) and music.

4. How did your PhD research get picked up by the Dutch Ministry of Transport?

I actually joined a project as one of 5 PhD students that was funded based on a need of the Dutch Ministry of Transportation to further analyse the shear capacity of the existing bridges. Since I applied to the open position for a PhD student, their need for this research came before any of my results.

5. How did you secure your research position at TU Delft after receiving your PhD?

It followed naturally from the experiences that I had during my PhD – more than anything, I think the excellent work relationship I built up with my direct colleagues made it a logical step to keep working together. It was decided before my graduation that at least I would be able to stay as a guest, without a salary, but keeping the research tie, keeping my library access and similar benefits. When funding was found to hire me as a part-time researcher, I was very happy. Practically it means that during the summer semester of Universidad San Francisco de Quito, where I am a professor, I return to The Netherlands to focus on research, work on short research projects, or chip in where my colleagues need an extra bit of help.

6. What do you think of the jobs market for PhD graduates outside of academia?

At least in the field of engineering, I think there will always be a need for people with a deep understanding of the problems that the industry faces. Sometimes it might be a little more difficult to explain the value of the PhD degree to some companies, but none of my fellow PhD students from the same research group seemed to have any difficulties securing a job position – in academia or in industry.

7. Do you feel your PhD gave you an ample skillset to pursue roles outside of academia?

Absolutely. I work on some smaller projects in the field of design of structures outside of my academic work, and the speed with which I can develop a design is very high, because I have a deep understanding of the structural behaviour of concrete. Moreover, when I’m faced with the need to design a structural element I haven’t designed before, or I need to familiarize myself with a code that I haven’t used before, I only need a few hours to soak up the new material before I can put it into practice – again, thanks to a thorough understanding of the behaviour of structural concrete.

8. You mention the need to learn ‘non-scientific skills’ during a PhD, what are these?

Communication more than anything: giving presentations and writing reports and papers. Planning and time management skills are another important set of skills: you can’t manage 4 years’ worth of research without a basic time management system.

9. What advice would you give someone undertaking a PhD who is worried about finding a job after graduation?

If your graduation date is more than a year into the future: relax – you never know what curveball the economy is going to throw you (good or bad). If you graduation date is coming up: go to events and network with companies and other universities, talk to your senior colleagues about your job search and ask about their recommendations and experiences, visit the career center of your university for some guidance on finding a position upon graduating. If you want to stay in academia, familiarize yourself with the institutions that award research grants, and their requirements.
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