Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Q&A: Can you do my research for me?

Dear readers,

Here's an overdue Q&A post. More and more, I'm receiving requests (in different forms and manners) asking if I could do your research for you. Let me explain my point of view by illustrating this topic with a question I received recently (edited for the anonymity of the reader):

"Hi, I'm in the first year of my PhD in University of XXXX and following your blog regularly since past 1 month. My research area is Something in Social Sciences (technically falls under XXXX research). I'm in the process of drafting my research proposal as provision year goal. I'm writing this to ask for your help to locate existing research done under the broad spectrum of 'Field XXX'. Its almost impossible to read every book and journal to have a list of the research topics done under my area. So, could you please help me find any dedicated weblink or source from where I can have a list of the existing research? It would be really helpful!
Looking forward to your response."

While I felt like grabbing this person from the shoulders and yelling at him/her that he/she needs to do her own work, I replied as follows:

A few things:
1. “Its almost impossible to read every book and journal to have a list of the research topics done under my area.” => Not true: get the information you need and start reading. Once you start finding that information occurs again and again, it means that you have grasped the basis of your field. You cannot outsource this task, it is crucial to building your understanding of your research problem.
2. If you have been visiting my blog, you should have noticed my field is structural engineering. I cannot give advice on social sciences research.

More than anything. I get annoyed when people state that there is too much information in their field to read.

What you need to do is the following:

- Learn to read fast and scan for the crucial information in a paper. If the paper turns out not to be that interesting, don't spend hours trying to derive the math in it yourself (unless you love doing this for a hobby, then go ahead and it on a night or weekend).
- Recognize the key authors/ schools of thought
- Read, read, read: it's got for you. It sparks creativity.

By the same token, I think essay writing services as unnecessary and for lazy students. If you need your essay for research, you need to go through the process which ends in writing the essay, to learn about your field.

I once went to one of these websites where you can have somebody write your PhD thesis. I selected from a drop-down menu a thesis of 100k words, to be written in 2 days, and I got a price offer. Anybody in his right mind should know you can't do a PhD in 2 days - but apparently this company thought that if somebody is willing to pay for it, they can get it done.

To summarize: do your own work. It's of your own benefit.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Online branding for scientists

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!

Today, we continue where we left of last month, when we talked about how to use Twitter as a scientist. Now we are going to look at the entire perspective of using the internet to show to world who you are.

When I mention online branding, often researchers shoo away. Branding is for marketeers, they tell me, and I have no need to brand myself at all. I myself don't like the term "branding" that much (I don't like the associations that branding call for, such as commercialism and consumerism). But let's be scientists and call it branding, because that's the definition somebody gave it some time ago. I could wonder why creep (the fact that concrete, and structures made with concrete, have deformations that increase over time when stresses remain the same) is called creep, and I find it a creepy word, but it is what it is.

So now that we -hopefully- have your fear and repulsion for this marketeer language out of the way, I can introduce you to what we are actually talking about: having an influence on what the internet shows the world about you. If you are not active online, or not conscious about your online activities, you depend on other people. If you do not manage your online profiles, perhaps only irrelevant information about you might be available online, and give people the wrong impression of you.

Let's do an exercise - right now. Go to Google and type your name in the search field. What do you find? What are the 10 first results that show up? Here's what I find - and it is indeed the information in a nutshell that I want to show up when somebody googles me:

If your search returns the fact that you won the lottery of your local baker, some emotional comment you once made on a news article or whatever random stuff you are trying to sell online, it is time to get some grip on your content. If future employers look you up online, you want Google to take them gently by the hand and bring them straight to your important information.

You might say that it is easier for me, since I have the curse and blessing of a unique name. There's only one other Eva Lantsoght active online, and she is a translator in Prague, so it is very clear for whoever looks me up online that we are two different people. If you have a very common name, you might need to repeat the exercise by googling your name together with your current institution, and see what shows up then. For consistency, just as with your journal publications, you might want to add the first letters of your other first names to your online content. Because my name is so uncommon, I use just Eva Lantsoght online, but I do use Eva O.L. Lantsoght for all my publications.

What should I do to get grip on the online content that is available about me, you might ask now. Well, let's break it down into several steps. Remember that once you start to take action here, the irrelevant stuff will start to sink down to the bottom of Google's search results and your important information will be right there at first glance. Here are several actions you can take to curate your online profile:

1. Using Twitter

Here's our favorite blue bird again. If you don't have a Twitter profile yet, check out my post from last month to help you in getting started. You can also find some inspiration on who to follow and who to look for on Twitter in this post that I wrote a while ago. In terms of showing up in your Google search results, Twitter will only provide one entry. However, if you think you are able to post something on Twitter every now and then, keeping in mind that is a very fast media source, then it is certainly worth the time and effort. And with "time and effort" I am expressing myself strongly: I feel that using Twitter is a gentle form of distraction that can lead to interesting professional results.

2. Using LinkedIn

LinkedIn is your online resume. If you don't have a profile, you need one (much more than you need a blog or a Twitter account).

If you don't have a LinkedIn account, carve out 2 to 4 hours some day to get this thing up and running. Take the summary from your resume, and add it to your summary. Use a recent photograph. Transport all the categories from your resume into LinkedIn, and make sure your information is up to date. Then, start connecting with people you know. Typically, LinkedIn will suggest people you know to get started.

If you have a profile, give it a serious look, pretending you are an outsider (say, somebody who would be interested in working with you). Do you like what you see? Is your information up to date? If not, it's time to clean ship and give your profile an overhaul.

3. Writing a professional blog

I've blogged extensively about, well, blogging. Blogging in academia and blogging as a scientist is what I particularly have been writing about. If you are not sure on how to start blogging, here is the introduction manual I wrote not so long ago. It is my opinion that blogging is for every academic, but I also understand that time is a valuable resource for all of us. You can learn a lot from it. Even if you don't have time to run your own blog, you can always contribute as a guest author to other blogs. Just make sure your byline gets your name and information correctly, so Google can find you.

4. Finding your brand

If you start to use several social media platforms and other online sources, you might want to start thinking about what is really the main thing about you that you want others to see. I'm not talking about holding up a rosy image of your life (let's leave that to some Instagram accounts, where all food looks perfect and everybody is always in the sun). Authenticity online is something I care deeply about. What you want to share online depends on what you are comfortable with. Nobody is forcing you to post sarcastic tweets, or to retweet political things. I do, because I guess it's a GenY thing, and I've always embraced the internet as a means to communicate with the rest of the world. But nobody is forcing you to do so; it is perfectly fine if you only tweet about your field and your current work.

5. Finding your tribe

Once you start using social media platforms, you can start to form bonds online. Through the blogging and Twitter community, I've been reaching out to fellow academics over the last 6 years, and I have gained a tremendous amount of insights. I learned a lot of tips and tricks from fellow researchers during my PhD, and learned how to manage my time and plan accordingly. My tribe, as such, has been generally academic. Your tribe might be more specific to your field - whatever you are comfortable with, and whatever feels like developing meaningful connections. Make sure you reach out to others by leaving comments on their blogs, replying to tweets and interact in different ways. Once you have found your community, you will hopefully see the benefit of putting some time into your online profiles, and Google will show information that you yourself provided to the internet.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ten Life Lessons from Doing a PhD

Today, Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil is sharing with us what he learned during his PhD. Deepa is an Environmental Management professional with an engineering background and he has fourteen years of work experience in developing countries of Malawi, Lesotho, India and Swaziland. She has a B Tech degree in Civil Engineering (India), Post Graduate Diploma in Management (India), Masters in Environmental Management (University of Free State, South Africa) and a PhD in Environmental Science from North West University, South Africa. Her interest areas include climate change adaptation, ecosystems services studies and water resources management. Deepa wrote this blog as a reflection of her journey during the PhD studies.

Dedicating three to four years of your life on one study topic is only possible if you are really passionate about it. The passion will take you through the tough times.

You end up doing all tasks in a substandard manner. Focus you attention and time on one task and do it well. This may mean making hard decisions like taking a sabbatical from your full time work, just to focus on the PhD, or getting out of town somewhere quiet to do focused writing and analysis.

If you wait for the “mood” to set in, or for “inspiration” to come, before you know it, six months would have just flown by. Work every day, even if it’s for just fifteen minutes on your thesis and at the end of the week, you would have made some progress, which will give you the mood and inspiration to work harder.


Yes that means whatsapp, facebook, news notifications, games, etc. To do focused work, every day I would tell myself that I will only check social media after 5pm, NOT first thing in the morning.

I was doing my doctoral studies while working full time at a global NGO and having to juggle family and social life. There were many times I came close to quitting, many nights when I cried myself to sleep missing my family when I was at my university, more than one instance of feeling humiliated by comments from reviewers, and several times when I had to start over and scrap work that I worked so hard for. Coffee helped me concentrate, but took a toll on my health when I started taking 6-8 cups a day. The stress takes a toll on you, and yeah, I did get several grey hairs in the process. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.


Talk to everyone who will listen about your study, talking clears things in your mind. I talked to almost everyone, even total strangers I have met in airplanes and many times when I was stuck, I got breakthroughs from some of these discussions. Presenting at international conferences definitely helps; take the comments positively to improve your work.

Things work out with time, hang in there. Keep a positive attitude. PhD teaches you patience, but three/four years will pass before you know it. Enjoy the journey. Celebrate your small successes with a meal out or a family holiday. A chapter completed, field work concluded, a journal article published, a successfully completed analysis are all small wins worthy of a small celebration.

I learnt that in order to complete my PhD, I needed support from my supervisors, family, friends, colleagues and other doctoral students. Without their support, it would not have been possible; this was a humbling experience. I can’t thank my family enough for all their sacrifices, my friends for their unwavering support and kindness and my colleagues for their guidance. My parents, brother, sister in law, husband, all played a role and showered me with kindness and support. My mentors helped me so much, and having great supervisors aided tremendously. I learnt that one is dependent on others and one is really nothing without others. Ubuntu philosophy of “I am because you are” was a very humbling insight for me.


When I got my results, I cried with joy. It was an amazing feeling, I felt very relieved. I enjoyed being referred to as “Dr” and the respect received at the work place definitely improved my sense of self. It feels great to be headhunted as a result of your education. Wearing the red robe and being part of the ceremonial graduation, where the whole university celebrates you, is unbelievably glorifying yet humbling. I thought I would be filled with the glow for a long time, maybe even forever. But, No! The glow didn’t last very long. It lasted (yes I counted), four days since I got my results and about a week after graduation, thereafter, life goes on as usual. That’s when I realized, success is superficial. Success makes you happy for a short while, but it isn’t lasting joy.


I am grateful for the education I received and by no means want to belittle it. But I have realized that getting a PhD, although boosts your self-esteem for a while, does not bring lasting happiness. True meaning and happiness in life is found within yourself and in those you care for, your family, friends and in things which cannot be measured, such as love and kindness. Raising a child to the best of your abilities, making a home filled with love, that is true happiness.
Improving yourself, growing spiritually and overcoming your weaknesses, being a person whom people would remember fondly, that is true success. No number of degrees, no great award winning publication and no global job can compare to the miracle of a family coming together and bringing into being a child. I could never repay the support my parents, brother, sister in law, friends, supervisors and colleagues provided me. It was wonderful to see their proud smiles when I graduated, but I still wonder if the process was worth the sacrifices my parents made, the loneliness my husband and I felt while we were away from each other, the tears my child shed when she missed me?
A Doctorate is not the ultimate achievement, but what matters is living a life filled with love, that brings lasting joy… everyday… so…. The tenth and most important life lesson …..cherish your family and friends!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Application of Modified Bond Model to the capacity of Ruytenschildt Bridge

I recently gave a presentation in a session at the ACI Fall Convention on "ecent Developments in Two-way Slabs: Design, Analysis, Construction, and Evaluation". The session, in reality, turned out to be mostly aimed at shear problemns in slabs (which I enjoyed attending, of course).
This presentation combined the proof loading of the Ruytenschildt Bridge in Friesland, with my plasticity-based model that is under development.

The abstract of the presentation is the following:

The Ruytenschildt bridge in Friesland is a continuously supported concrete slab bridge, and was tested in two spans to failure in August 2014. The results of this experiment are valuable for the analysis of existing slab bridges and for analyzing the moment and shear capacity of reinforced concrete slabs and slab bridges.

Earlier analyses found that a large number of existing slab bridges in The Netherlands rate as insufficient for shear. However, these analyses did not take into account the beneficial effect of transverse load redistribution. Therefore, the Modified Bond Model was developed. This model covers beam shear, punching shear and flexure for reinforced concrete slabs.

The test results are now to compare to the predictions with the Modified Bond Model. Since the Modified Bond Model is independent of the failure mode, the maximum load that is found can be directly correlated to the maximum tandem load in the experiment. Comparing the test results on the bridge with the predictions based on the Modified Bond Model shows good correspondence. The results are also compared to a new proposal for vmin, the minimum shear stress at which shear failure takes place. For smaller value, a moment failure takes place.

While the presented results only show a comparison between 2 tests on an existing bridge and the proposed Modified Bond Model, the results indicate that the Modified Bond Model can become a useful tool for design and analysis of reinforced concrete slabs based on the principles of the theory of plasticity.

You can find the slides here:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I am Sarah Weldon and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Sarah Weldon in the "How I Work" series. Sarah is a YouTuber, rower, charity Director, and Science Communicator. Her research is based on a world first solo row around Britain which will raise funds to provide education to young people around the world. Sarah was named by Skype for International Women's Day as a 'woman changing the world through technology'. She is a Google Glass Explorer, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and lover of wearable technology. 

Current Job: Founder and Director of Oceans Project, a UK registered charity which provides free, online environmental and STEM education to young people aged 5-25 worldwide, and uses technology to bring the ocean alive.
Current Location: Kendal, Cumbria (though I'm not home much!)
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I actually fell into PhD research quite by accident as I offered to collect data on physiology for a number of universities, and was then offered a place on a PhD. I never imagined that offering to collect my poo each day at sea for the purposes of science would lead to so many opportunities! I spent a lot of time trying to narrow down my research question, to the point where my final topic was beyond the field of expertise of my Supervisors. I'm now in the process of moving university so I can get the supervision I need. There is very little research on ocean rowing and my expedition is a Guinness World record attempt to become the first person to circumnavigate Britain solo by rowing boat. Having never rowed before this project, I've become a bit obsessed with everything to do with rowing!

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?

Despite my love of wearable and new innovations in technology, I'm pretty much in the dark ages when it comes to tools, apps, and software. Part of the problem is that I moved to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, which is where my charity and the idea for doing a row to raise money came about. We didn't have electricity or internet where I was living, and I was seen as pretty cool because I had a Blackberry phone, in fact just having a phone full stop! During the time I was living in Georgia, Smart phones, iPads, and touch screen technology were invented so I've been playing catch up ever since and only recently got a smartphone. It was an incredible experience!

I use Google maps all of the time because I travel so much, giving talks on cruise ships and in schools, and I love using Periscope to connect with my students, as well as Skype. I've heard about apps like Evernote but have never really used it yet, and still do most things on pen and paper. But I'm really eager to find out what tools, apps, and software will help me with my workflow. I'm a huge fan of Apple's products but have come to realise that many universities only have PCs, so I find this quite frustrating at times as the Apple products integrate and run so simply but a lot of the PC packages are really alien and clunky to me. This is something I'll need to figure out, especially for collection and analysis of data.

What does your workspace setup look like?
Living through war and human rights protests and being in remote parts of Georgia, I learnt to go from being very fixed in how I work, to being a lot more resilient, creative, and adaptive. I actually find it really hard to study in communal spaces like PhD rooms, because I end up really anxious about typing too loudly or disturbing the creative flow of others and I develop this kind of imposter syndrome.

I generally prefer to adapt my workspace environment to the mood I am in or the task in hand. Sometimes it's good to inject energy into a study session, sometimes to be cosy in a corner, and sometimes just quiet and rigid at a desk.

If I'm reading papers, I prefer to do this on the go, on the train for example, especially if I have to make different train connections. The action of walking between platforms wakes me up and helps me break things into chunks somehow.

I love being in public spaces that are buzzing with energy, like the British Museum in London, it provides a kind of white noise but very uplifting atmosphere to work in. If I'm writing things and need to focus my thoughts, I can only do this in very quiet places with no distractions so I like my home office for this. I often sit for long hours, engrossed in my work so it's important to be comfortable.

As long as I have my laptop, Stanley Travel Mug full of tea, Leichturm note book for jotting notes, and a nice pen, that's all I need really. My office travels with me and the items I carry are associated with being 'at work' or 'in my office', I recently spent two weeks away as a cruise ship lecturer, which made the perfect venue for study as the ship had a library I would use for some tasks, and then I would move to a space with these 60's style pod chairs, called 'The Hideaway' for when I wanted to feel a bit more isolated. I got so much work down. It was ideal....food was already provided, and I could visit the pool or steam room in between for breaks from study!

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Don't worry about conforming or feeling less than adequate because the way you study is different from the 'norm' or suggested advice. Work in a way that suits you best. Give yourself permission.

I undertook my undergraduate degree with the Open University whilst working full time, and my Masters degree was done in the same place I worked, around my work commitments. I need to feel connected to the non academic or 'real world' outside of academia to keep me grounded and being self employed and self reliant on generating funds to pay rent each month nothing is more important to me than my time and my energy.

From experience I know that I get really frustrated if I have to come into the PhD lab and sit with others just to keep my supervisors happy and show that 'I am involved in PhD life'. It doesn't work for me, as I end up sitting around wasting away the day, not able to focus, and then have to go home and start my work again. It's really demoralising and a complete waste of time.

I generally work best really early in the morning and really late at night, when there are less distractions from emails or phone calls, and I have a lull around 3pm. A 9am-5pm day isn't great for my productivity but I used to struggle trying to adapt this to suit others. These days I know how I work best and I'm more assertive in making sure that my PhD is centred around my needs as much as I can. I don't think that in this day it's necessary to be 9-5 in a formal office setting, especially with things like Skype available for connecting with Supervisors (without the same distractions you get when in face to face meetings). I much prefer to work from home when I can, it's a lot cheaper, more productive, and I don't feel any less connected to my peers. When I do go in to the university it's for a purpose and my day is very structured, and less time is wasted in travel and earning the money to cover the cost of travel.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

I've tried all sorts of systems over the past few years, but I seem to keep coming back to old fashioned paper! There is something different in the creative flow about being able to scrawl everything out onto paper and then being able to physically cross it off a 'to do' list when it's done.

I find the most useful way for me, is to print out from the Google Calendar. I print off each month as a blank calendar onto A4 paper, and then I print off the individual days, 4 days to one sheet of paper and cut them up. I keep 18 months of one month view clipped together with a bull clip. And I do the same again with one month's worth of individual days. I then put stickers to mark off any conferences or special events, and write in anything special that is coming up or important deadlines.
On the individual days I like to write a list of things I need or want to achieve on that day, and if it doesn't get done, it gets carried over to the next day. As a task gets done I cross it off.

At one point I did use different coloured stickers to split up tasks into themes. A yellow sticker for a speaking event or conference, red for paid work or the student job, green for fitness training, and blue for charity or PhD tasks. This is now my favourite way of working and it helps me to remember where I was a few weeks ago, and what deadlines I have for today.
I cross off each day on the month view, and throw away the sheet of paper at the end of each day for the daily view. I have a separate piece of paper that I put on the wall which lists my everyday activities, for example: go to the gym, walk the dog, write 500 words of my thesis.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I'm really lucky to be a Google Glass Explorer and am beta testing a number of new apps ad some gesture controlled technology. I really like the Google Glass for organising my day and can see myself using it all the time in the future. It has so much potential for decreasing my workload and making me more effective in my daily management. It isn't robust enough at the moment to be my main tool - the battery doesn't last more than a few hours and I worry how people will react if they see me wearing it in the street, but i has been a huge help and I wish I had more time to spend experimenting with it.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

Having worked in remote and challenging environments for much of my life, and perhaps being an older student, I think I probably conform less and am a bit more of an extrovert - I'm quite stubborn, determined, and headstrong.

To me this is a great strength to have as an academic and it certainly helped me a lot when I worked for the Prime Minister in Georgia and on this big educational reform project. Actually I think that is why I loved Georgia so much, as people were open, honest and very spontaneous. They just lived in the moment.

When I'm passionate about something, I become all focused on it and I get annoyed when people tip toe around things and take my time away from my work. This is a strength as it means I get on with the task in hand and have a lot of stamina, but it has been a huge challenge and culture shock to come back to the UK and to have to read between the lines on what people say. Sometimes people can get very stuck in their ways and how things have always been done. In Georgia everything was constantly in flux so there was a lot more entrepreneurship and drive to try new things.

I don't think my determination is always seen as a skill now I'm back in the UK, but I certainly consider it to be my leading asset, especially where my PhD is concerned, even if it does mean I have to move universities rather than changing my research question to stay within my supervisor's field!!

What do you listen to when you work?

I don't really listen to anything when I'm working, though in my teens I couldn't study without some classical or some dance music in the background. I am very sensitive to noise if it isn't consistent as it will distract me from my train of thought. I think that's why I like to work in places that are busy and buzzing with people, as it provides an uplifting background noise, but is so consistent that you can zone it out.

What are you currently reading?

I'm not really reading much these days. Probably because I spend my day reading research papers! Instead I like to watch YouTube videos as I find these uplifting, and I love reading the Thesis Whisperer's blog. Unusually, I am reading a book at the moment, but it's because it was written by someone who really inspires me, and she also wrote a lovely piece in the book about how I had inspired her. That was really touching. The book is called 'Success at Sixty', and even though I'm not sixty it is still very relevant. It's like reading the wise words of an older relative, all of their little gems on life and the universe. I'm biased, but I definitely would recommend it!

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

I think I'm actually a bit of both. I have periods where I am the life and soul of the party, and periods where I really enjoy my own company.

I'm naturally very shy, but I use humour and bravado to mask this in public, especially as I often feel quite awkward socially! Again, this is what I loved about being in Georgia because I could just be myself without worrying about making social faux pas. For example, at dinner time, people just dig in to communal food, with their hands, no please or thank you, and make conversation and sing songs. This is very different to being at dinner in the UK, worrying about using the wrong knife or fork or being asked a question whilst you have your mouth full.

Becoming a YouTuber and having to become a public speaker and being filmed and photographed more as part of the ocean row I had no choice but to overcome my natural shyness and introversion. I've been really lucky to meet a lot of famous people and GB rowers which has really helped my confidence, especially as I realised that even they get nervous when in public or when speaking to an audience. It gave me permission to cut myself some slack and not worry about being a perfectionist.

I would definitely say that being socially awkward and naturally an introvert has hugely impacted on my working habits and is probably why I much prefer to work on my own, and in my own space away from other students. Working in a communal space, surrounded by others chitchatting about boyfriends or what to have for tea is my idea of hell as I never know how to engage in this chat, and often find myself getting annoyed as I want to focus on my work and not have people notice I'm in the room or pull me into their conversations. Not because I'm not interested in others, but more that I'm in my work zone and I'm focused on the task in hand.

But when I'm out socialising outside of my work I'm definitely more of an extrovert and I love to be the centre of attention.

What's your sleep routine like?
I've been working at full pelt on setting up and running my charity for the past 18 months so my whole lifestyle has changed dramatically since becoming self employed. I work very long hours, often getting up at 5am or 6am and going to bed at midnight or sometimes 2am. Early mornings and working late in the evening are my favourite times because you don't get as many distractions in the form of phone calls, emails, or postman ringing the doorbell.

In one respect I'm a typical rower as they generally will get up early and be on the water rowing by 5am or 6am. But in other respects I'm not a typical rower as most will be in bed by around 9pm.

Living in Georgia was ideal for me as people get up late, have a flexible and lose structure to their day, and will often drop by or invite you out for a coffee at 2am. Even children don't have set bedtimes, but just fall asleep when they are tired enough. I'm also in the process of training myself to sleep for a maximum of 2-4 hours at a time as this is what I will get at sea when I'm rowing around Britain.

You would think that I would get less sleep as a result, but I actually get more sleep now than I did when I worked for the NHS. I think the secret is to go with how you feel. I usually won't set my alarm, and I don't own a watch, but I'm usually really excited to get back to my research and will wake up early ready to start. I'll work through all morning, and then in the afternoon I'll run some errands, walk my dog, go to the gym, or have a 20 minute power nap. At bout 7pm I'll have my dinner and then get back to my research, working until I feel tired and start to get bored. Sometimes I have to force myself to stop my research as I'm so in to it, but this has a bit of an addiction feel about it, so I'm itching to get back to it the following day.

What's your work routine like?
I tend to go with the flow depending on what my week looks like. If I'm doing a paid talk in a school or speaking at an event, I'll probably spend much of my day on the train. If I know I have those days coming up, I'll print out the research papers I want to read and save them to read on those journeys.

If I'm away speaking on a cruise ship, I'll set myself tasks that require minimal access to the internet, so it's a good opportunity to catch up on journals, or to work on lengthy documents or editing my thesis.

If I have a typical day at home, I'll split my day into chunks based around my energy levels. If I'm not in the mood to sit still and focus on a complex task, perhaps I'm tired from being away or training a lot, then I'll start with some more creative or energising tasks like planning my diary or looking for inspiration. If my list of 'to do' jobs is long and I'm feeling overwhelmed then I will start with the quick tasks that I can tick off easily so that I feel as if I have achieved something. I like to plan in down time to my day, ironing, taking a bath, walking the dog as I find these are the best ways to let your brain mull over things and are often when I end up finding the solutions to things I've been stuck on.

What's the best advice you ever received?

I don't know about best advice ever, but I heard an expression a few days ago that 'your net worth is your network'. I think this applies not only to business environments and brands, but to undertaking a PhD too.

I do prefer to work alone and not to be surrounded by lots of people, but using your PhD to build your community is really important, it's a chance to place yourself within your chosen field as the expert in your subject. Think about why you are doing your PhD research and what outcome you want at the end of it. Do you want to become a University lecturer, or the go to consultant in industry? So you want to be a Science Communicator, an author, or to find a cure for cancer for example. Whatever your end goal, the PhD is your chance to build up your CV and to grow your network so that when a job comes up after you graduate, you are already the person that people to turn to for advice.

Think of yourself as a professional, not simply a student. Thinking about my research in this way, empowered me to focus on what I need in order to succeed in my research and to be less afraid to challenge and not to settle for fear of upsetting the apple cart. I was always taught 'to thine own self be true'. And to be true to yourself and your goals, sometimes you have to step away from the norm, even if it means fighting or upsetting things. At the end of the day it's you doing the research so don't be afraid to challenge when your gut instinct is yelling at you to do the opposite of what you are being advised.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Proposal for the fatigue strength of concrete under cycles of compression

We've recently published a paper in Construction and Building Materials, titled "Proposal for the fatigue strength of concrete under cycles of compression". This paper is based on the research I did during summer 2014 in Delft, to develop a proposal for the Dutch National Annex to the Eurocode.

You can download the paper for free following this link until March 1, 2016.

The abstract of the paper is:

The Dutch National Annex to Eurocode 2 deviates from Eurocode 2 for the W√∂hler curve for concrete in compression, but has a discontinuity in the S–N curve for 1 million load cycles. Therefore, a new expression for concrete subjected to repeated loading is sought, which should be valid, yet not overly conservative, for high strength concrete. A database of experiments on high strength concrete tested in compressive fatigue is developed, and used to derive new expressions. Two new formulas are proposed: (1) for the assessment of the fatigue strength of existing structures, and (2) a simplified method for

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I am Astrid Coxon and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Astrid Coxon for the "How I Work" series. Astrid is a first year PhD student at the University of East Anglia, and a Health Psychology trainee. Her current research interests include self-efficacy, stress, and team dynamics in healthcare professionals. In her spare time, she enjoys singing and playing the double bass, roller skating, and exploring the Suffolk countryside with her husband and their two whippets, Flotsam & Jetsam.

Current Job: First year PhD student (Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences)
Current Location: Living in Suffolk, working at the University of East Anglia (Norwich)
Current mobile device: HTC One X+
Current computer: Surface 2 Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?

My PhD research sits within a larger, NIHR funded research programme called PERFECTED (Peri-opERative hip FracturE Care for paTiEnts with Dementia). PERFECTED is a 5-year, nationwide project to design and pilot an evidence-based Enhanced Recovery Pathway (ERP) for hip fracture patients with dementia. With PERFECTED now executing its Work Package 2, the feasibility study for the ERP, the aims of my PhD research are to explore the context of the ERP's implementation, and identify barriers and aids to its successful integration to existing practice.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?

I use a lot of cloud/web-based/remote technology so I can access my work anywhere - my laptop comes with me all over the place! As I live quite a distance from campus, and the hospitals involved in my research being spread around the UK, remote access to my files is a godsend.

I don't have much specialist software - I use common Office software (excel, word, powerpoint, Outlook via Office 365), the citation manager Mendeley, OneDrive, OneNote. As my research is qualitative, I will likely use a data management tool such as NViVo at some point, but I'm not decided on that yet - I do love the traditional highlighters approach.

What does your workspace setup look like?
It varies depending on where I am, what I'm doing, and my mood! On campus, I have a shared office space with 10-20 other students. It's a hot-desking office, but at the moment there are plenty of computers spare so we sort of have our "regular" desks. I also work from home a fair amount - I do have a spare room which is my office, but more often than not, I wind up setting up camp on the sofa, surrounded by books, papers, and cups of tea.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Write something every day. It doesn't have to be perfect, or even good, but get things down on paper (or in a word document) - it's not only a good habit to keep your writing muscles limber, but it's also really useful for sorting out muddled ideas, and to see your ideas develop over time.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

Spreadsheets! Spreadsheets for everything. And OneNote can come in really handy for filing different things in different folders in an accessible way. I also have a whiteboard in my home office which I regularly update with rolling deadlines.

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

Not really! Although I do have an adapter to wirelessly link up my laptop to my TV. It can be fun to read journal articles on a 42" screen...

What do you listen to when you work?
I try not to listen to anything as I find it very distracting! But if I'm doing mindless busy-work (e.g. data entry) I'll often stick on a Shostakovich symphony, or something equally loud and Russian.

What are you currently reading?
I take it you mean other than journal articles?? Hah! I don't often find time for reading-for-leisure, as my free time is taken up with classical music and roller skating! I've got Iain Banks' "The Bridge" half read on the side - it's been there for months!! Most recent non-work-related book I finished was Maria Konnikova's "Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes" which was quite fun.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?

I'm that weird breed of introvert that's quite loud. I think people often assume introverts are shy and retiring. It's not that - we just find socialising very draining! I love people, but socialising takes a lot out of me. I find it very difficult to work in a social environment, hence why working from home often benefits me.

What's your sleep routine like?
It's ok! It can be a bit erratic on nights when I've been skating because I tend to get home quite late and then have to shower and unwind. But my sleeping patterns are nothing out of the ordinary.

What's your work routine like?

Erratic. I've been to a lot of conferences and training events recently and it can be hard to get into a good routine. I try to make a list (even if just a mental list) at the start of each day to make sure all the important stuff gets done.
I also archive emails once I've responded or acted on them, so that things don't get missed. But I definitely need to get better at "chipping away" at big tasks, rather than letting them get bumped down my list of priorities.

What's the best advice you ever received?
It's never too early to start something.