Thursday, August 25, 2016

Q&A: PhD in Europe

Another episode in the Q&A series!

I got the following question:

I am seeking information for an Ecuadorian to do a PhD in Europe. Can you please suggest what websites to go to?

My reply was as follows:

You can check Academic Transfer which shows all positions in The Netherlands.

The best way to find a PhD position, is to have a direct contact with a professor with whom you’d like to work – it is typically their decision to hire somebody as a researcher, unlike the USA where you have to apply to a program.


My reply was a little hurried, so let me expand a bit more here.

Besides AcademicTransfer, look out for openings through the websites of universities, their Twitter accounts, and don't forget to read up on information on European projects in your field (i.e. projects with funding from the European Union; these typically extend over a number of countries and research groups).

Other websites you might want to check are Engineeroxy, Academia.edu, ResearchGate and LinkedIn.

And the, you need to find direct contact with a professor. You can cold-call or send an email, which is what I did. The secretary later told me that I was lucky, because about 20 people every day send an email to apply for a PhD position. Perhaps the fact that I wrote in Dutch instead of English made me stand out. Besides cold-calling or mailing, you can try to get introduced via a mutual acquaintance. Or you can attend a conference where this professor will be presenting, and try to have a quick chat with him after his talk.

Edit on 25/08/2016: Right after sharing this post on Twitter, I heard that in Germany, there exist semi-structured programs (more like the system used by the universities in the USA). These programs allow you to apply directly. An example is the PhD program in Cultural Studies from the Justus-Liebig-Universitaet Giessen.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Top 3 reasons YOU should start a PhD blog

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Gaia Cantelli, one of the authors of a collaborative blog at her university, to share her experiences. Gaia is a fourth-year PhD student in the Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics at King's College London. Her research focusses on cancer cell motility and the molecular biology of melanoma progression. Before starting her PhD, she studied for her undergraduate degree in Genetics at the University of Cambridge. Here are her top 3 reasons for starting a PhD blog:

1. You get to engage the public about something you love!
You’re a PhD student. You love your subject so much you chose to dedicate four to six years of your life to it. It’s only natural for you to want to tell everybody about what you love! Engaging the public with your research is both really difficult and incredibly rewarding. Breaking down a complicated concept into a set of smaller, simpler ideas is a challenge both for your writing skills and for your understanding of your own subject. Explain what your field is all about and how your research is making a difference (or at least trying to)! Debunk some myths about your subject or talk about how it is perceived in the media. As long as you are passionate about it, other people will relate to you!

2. You get to practice your writing skills!

As an academic, your life probably revolves around writing. Writing your thesis is undoubtedly looming at the horizon and you are probably involved in writing papers, reviews, conference abstracts, applications for funding and all sorts of smaller sized nightmares. Plus, after you graduate and get a “real job” you are probably going to be writing even more. Whether you choose to stay in academia or escape to the private sector, most of the jobs open to PhD graduates are heavily writing-based. In conclusion, practicing your writing is almost definitely going to give you a great advantage! On a related note, employers for those “real jobs” value writing experience!

3. You get to be creative!

PhD life is all about working hard and playing hard. It might be difficult for you to find a creative outlet. A blog is the perfect space for letting your creative juices flow! Have you always wanted to experiment with a video-camera? Do interviews? Do you want to replicate your favourite web-series basing it on your field? This is the Internet – there are no bad ideas!

Are you convinced yet? We at the Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics certainly were! Our excellent PhD student reps came up with the idea and set up a collaborative PhD student blog for all PhD students in the Division to work on. We now post every week – everybody is pitching in to discuss their lives, their projects, science in the news and much more! Here are the 3 steps that helped us get started.

1. Talk to your student representatives!
Your school or division almost definitely has PhD student representatives. If you want to start a collaborative PhD student blog, they are the best people to get this organised. If you’re keen to get involved, offer to help! PhD student reps are busy people and will definitely be happy to let you help.

2. Get in touch with your school administration
Our PhD reps wanted our blog to be officially linked to our Division. If you also want to have an “officially endorsed” blog, get in touch with the administration office of your division/department/school. Once you get them on your side, they might even include a link to your blog onto their website, which will help put you on the map and get more people to discover your blog!

3. Let everybody know!
If you want to start a collaborative blog, you are going to want other people to collaborate with. Let everybody in your school/department know a while before the blog goes live so you can get some content lined up and keep reminding people after the blog is live! Emails are of course a good way of doing it, but try scattering a few posters along the corridors as well! If PhD students in your school have regular meetups (pizza nights, PhD student talks etc.), that’s a great chance to remind people regularly about the blog without spamming everyone. Once your blog is live, let everybody know every time you get a new idea or start a new series so you can maximise the number of PhD students in your school that are getting involved!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

I am Benjamin Bowman and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Benjamin Bowman in the "How I Work" series. Benjamin is a PhD student working on young people's politics in the UK. He's interested in how everyday life and young people's everyday lives influence the ways they develop their own ways of thinking about politics and doing politics. He submitted his thesis in May. He told me that this has been a big year for him because he has been teaching full time while writing up, and became a father for the first time in August, so he wanted to contribute his experiences to PhD Talk about parenthood and PhD work.


Current Job: Teaching Fellow in Comparative Politics
Current Location: University of Bath
Current mobile device: Google (LG) Nexus 5
Current computer: Samsung something-or-other laptop, it was a donation from a friend!

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am marking dissertations and essays, hoping to get a contract for next year, and invigilating exams. It's a busy time of year.
In my research, I am hoping to get a few articles published out of my thesis work. I also have a book forthcoming with Routledge on political theory, and I'm also part of a nationwide project interviewing students about the UK-EU referendum.

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

I use Google stuff because they all speak to each other reliably. Google calendar syncs well between my phone and my partner's phone, so we know where each other are.

Zotero and NVivo got me through my PhD and I recommend them to students, too.
In teaching, I've really enjoyed using clickers to wake up lectures and get students engaged. My University subscribes to a provider called TurningPoint, but I know there are others out there.

At the end of my writing up, my thesis (and my students) started to dominate all my waking life and I used an app called (offtime) to basically disable my phone outside working hours, so that I wasn't getting email notifications or re-reading supervisor comments all day and all night.

When my kid was younger we also used a phone app called Feed Baby Pro to track his feeds and sleeping, so I could take over when I got home. It was really useful for being able to know what is going on when you've had three hours sleep and a full day's work, and you're probably too tired to spell "nap" but still need to know when the next nap is scheduled...!

What does your workspace setup look like?
I have a desk at the University where I keep all my books, meet students and work on campus. It's in an office I share with three other teaching fellows, but we get along great so it works out.

At the moment there's no teaching and hardly any students need to meet me, so I work from home when I can. Working at home makes it a lot easier to eat lunch with my kid, to change him and make my partner coffee, and so on. It also cuts down on my travel time.



What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Keep working hours, and if you're not in working hours, don't work. Like, at all.
If there's a job you can do that takes less than 5 minutes, do it straight away.
And finally - don't be afraid to leave emails until later.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

I keep a spreadsheet of all my projects and a to-do list of the tasks I have to do, and I keep both on my Google drive so that it doesn't matter whether I'm in the office or at home, they're synchronized.

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

I use clickers in lectures, and a USB presentation controller so I can walk around during a lecture without losing control of the slides. I also have a voice recorder that I use for my fieldwork.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I like to think my research and my teaching share those spaces with other people as equals. I want participants in my research and students in my lectures to feel like I respect them, and that the process we're in together is less like me writing the music and more like a collaborative remix. I use participant digital photography in my research a lot for this reason. Having a photograph that you took yourself is a great way in my experience to say to someone, "I'm the expert in this", and in my research I want exactly that, for my participants to be the experts in their own lives.

What do you listen to when you work?

When I'm grading students' work there are a few things I like to listen to. Old 80s-90s hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest or Slick Rick. I grew up listening to funk around the house so I listen to a lot of George Clinton, Parliament, Bootsy Collins, Rick James and Prince when I want to feel at home. The other side of music I like is really heavy metal like Sunn 0))) or one of the spin-offs, like Thorr's Hammer, or something similar like Electric Wizard or Acid King. That stuff is good for a tall pile of essays.

For just everyday work I like to put on a 90s radio station or my Spotify playlist, which is more varied.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
Meg and Mog, and Judith Kerr! I read to my kid every night and sometimes during the day too, if he wants. If he really needs to sleep we are about halfway through Treasure Island. When he was a tiny baby I used to read him Moby Dick or the sports section of the paper, which would put him to sleep.

Reading for myself - I haven't really done that since I started writing up. I get to the end of the day and just want to check out. But I'll get back into it in the autumn. I have a stack of books waiting for me!

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

I'm an extrovert so I have to socialize in order to feel like I've done anything at all. I talk to my colleagues a lot about football or just go shoot the breeze with the other PhD students in the student office. Throughout my PhD I worked really hard to build and maintain little social groups: a seminar series in the Department, a student-run journal at our regional doctoral training centre, student conferences and so on. It's really vital that PhD students communicate with each other because we need to build our own communities most of the time.

What's your sleep routine like?
I usually go to bed at 10:30 or 11:00 and then my kid wakes me up at 6ish and we get up and play, have breakfast, and then I wake up his mom so I can get to work.

What's your work routine like?
Right now, all over the place because there's very little structure to my marking. I am waiting on dissertations and coursework to be first marked and submitted. My other projects get stuffed into the gaps.

What's the best advice you ever received?
"It's wrong to work"! It's easy to start thinking of your work as something moral or dutiful when you're a PhD student, and I think that's destructive. You start to feel bad when you're not working, and resent work when you're doing it. It's a hazard of the job. Students should think of their work like any other work: something you do in order to live happy and be yourself. So there's a time to work, and a time to be happy, and you should structure your work and your working hours so that at all other times you can live, be happy and put it all behind you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Time management for MSc students

Today, I am inviting Esraa Farag to talk about her experiences with time management during her MSc studies. Esraa got her M.Sc. degree in Information Technology in February 2016, after long struggles with procrastination, lack of motivation and miscommunication with her advisors. Now, she is writing her Ph.D. while working as a full-time Software Development Team Lead. In the time she is not doing research, not working, she likes to run, to read, to write and to hang out with friends.

Are you struggling to meet tight deadlines? Are your efforts scattered around multiple tasks and projects and hardly gets anything done?

I was once in your exact position, I was so overwhelmed by the amount of things I have to do in the limited time I have... But I had learned only one thing that actually changed my perspective: there is never enough time to do everything you have to do. That’s why choosing what you do in the time you have, determines how much work gets done. Here are some tips I used that helped me to finish my master’s thesis.

1-Plan your day the night before
Before you go to sleep spend 30 minutes planning what you are going to do the next day. Make a list of the tasks you are planning to work on, and break down each task to its detailed steps. The more detailed the tasks, the less overwhelming they seem, the more motivated you will feel to work on them, and the easier for you to do them.

Trust me, those 30 minutes will save you at least 2 hours of the next day.

2- Decide the 3 most important things
From the task list you created, choose the most 3 important, urgent tasks, that you have to do tomorrow. Do these 3 tasks the very first thing in the morning, or schedule them at a certain time during the day. When you complete these important tasks you will feel accomplished, productive and confident. Afterwards, you can proceed with the remaining tasks with high enthusiasm.

Doing the important tasks in the morning will free up evening time to spend with family, friends, gym or you can simply rest. This will prevent feeling frustrated at the end of the day knowing that you wasted the day in less important tasks.

3- Do only one task at a time
When performing a task, make sure that you give all your focus to the task at hand. Don’t try to multitask; multitasking is a lie - it actually reduces your productivity. Giving all your focus to one task at a time dramatically increases your productivity.

If focusing on one thing at a time is a hard thing for you, then try the 30 minutes rule. The 30 minutes rule simply means that you focus on the tasks at hand for 30 minutes with no distractions. Spend the 30 minutes without checking emails ,answering the phone(swaitch your mobile to the silent mode), checking social media or doing anything else. Just focus on what you are doing.

After the 30 minutes are over, you can then take a break for 10 minutes (you can make phone calls, check Facebook, talk to a friend, write an email, take a walk, ..etc.)

These three easy tips can help you get more done in less time and more enthusiasm.

Time management is a skill you must have as a grad student. The good news is that it can be learned :) .

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Q & A: Applying for a PhD with average grades

Time for another episode of the Q&A series! (Not so) recently I received the following message (edited to protect the writer's anonymity):

Hi there,

I want to do a PHD, very keen to do it but my school academics and under graduation academics were not that good due to my sports activities. I have been a national level player and missed my classes for my sports practice. However, I have improved my scores in MBA. I have two years of work experience in Human Resource and at present I am pursuing a Diploma course in Something from Somewhere.

I am very keen to do a PHD after this from a reputed university which can help me get into teaching later. Request your guidance to help me give some information which can accept my PHD application and also the list of good colleges, if you are aware of, who can consider me with my average academic background.

Thanks in Advance


As always, let's break this question down.

I want to do a PHD, very keen to do

Very good - motivation is super important for a PhD.

but my school academics and under graduation academics were not that good due to my sports activities. I have been a national level player and missed my classes for my sports practice.

I think you can frame this very well when you apply for a PhD position. If you've been able to get your degree and be an athlete at a high level, that certainly tells us something about your time management skills, dedication to your studies and discipline. You can focus on what you learned by being a pro-athlete, and how you plan to take that special experience into your PhD program.

Secondly, if your PhD program is more research-based than coursework-based, your ability to study and your ability to do research are two separate things. Your ability to study sometimes unfortunately relates to how much information you can cram into your head to pass an exam, or how smart you are in figuring out what will go on the exam. Your ability to do research of course requires a certain level of intelligence, but research is a different skill than studying.

One final comment: my first year at university was not all sparkles. I had some trouble adjusting, was very affected by the way I was treated as a woman in an engineering program, partied too much and my grades were so-so. I didn't fail any class, but I passed without honors or anything. My grades gradually climbed up over the years as I figured out what was expected from me on exams, and as I gained confidence and learned to brush off the stupid remarks and everyday sexism.

I have two years of work experience in Human Resource


If this work experience is relevant to the PhD program that you want to apply to, take full benefit of the fact that you have industry experience. Otherwise, you can frame your work experience as a form of maturity, and that you have some real-world experience.

Request your guidance to help me give some information which can accept my PHD application

Hmm, that all depends on your field. What do you want to study? Who do you want to work with. If you need some guidance on selecting a PhD program and advisor, please check out this post.

the list of good colleges, if you are aware of, who can consider me with my average academic background.

Again, depends a lot on the country. If you want to go to a US university, your GRE grades and TOEFL (if necessary) will also tell them something. Your statement of purpose will be very important - you can use that opportunity to stress your former athletic career and your real-life work experience.

If you are going to go to a European university, a lot will depend on the contact you develop with your possible future advisor. Since you will be in a research-oriented PhD program, you need to make sure beforehand that you research plans and even your character are compatible with your advisor.

Hope that helps! Good luck with the applications.... and to all other readers, feel free to shoot me some more questions.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Q&A: Self plagiarism, ethics and salami slicing

Let's catch up with another good question from a reader today (edited for anonymity):

Hello Eva,

I am Name. I completed my MBBS and MD in anatomy from Country. I am currently an assistant professor in Anatomy in a medical college in Country. I happened to read your article How to turn your dissertation into journal articles. I am confused about this. My thesis topic for MD was Something. I got two important conclusions- both are quite large. As research is at its infancy in parts like ours, I have practically no one to ask for guidance. One conclusion got accepted in a journal and is about to be published. I am planning to send the other one to another journal. And then I heard about this self plagiarism, ethics, and salami slicing.

I really dont understand what these are and I am not sure whether if I publish two parts of my large thesis in two related journals it would be unethical.

Kinldy reply me as to what I should do. Is it that one thesis work can be converted only to one paper and if u need another paper you need to do another work.

Name


My first question here would be: What does your PhD advisor say? Can he give you some guidance in your field?

In my opinion, every original contribution from your dissertation can be a self-sustained article. If I look at my dissertation, this is what I've pulled out of it:
Chapter 2: two companion papers
Chapter 3 + chapter 4 + chapter 6 (parts): six papers
Chapter 5: 1 paper that I am about to submit
Chapter 6: 1 paper
Chapter 7: 3 papers

For example for chapters 3, 4 and 6, I did a large amount of experiments, and I honestly wouldn't even know how to smash them all together into one paper, discuss all the parameters, and compare it to all the codes. Most of these papers do include some additional work as compared to my original thesis, and I have been delving deeper into some topics, also depending on the comments and requests from the reviewers.

For my chapter 2, I tried hard to shrink everything into a single paper - but I just couldn't cut that much, so I ended up writing two companion papers. Am I salami slicing? I tend to think I need my 10000 words for explaining a certain concept...

And as for self plagiarism: of course publishing the same content in different journal is a big no. But, at least from my perspective, when you introduce the broader scope of your work, it is very well possible that you repeat the same thing (perhaps highlighting different aspects, but still...). I don't know how many times I've mentioned the expansion of the Dutch road network following the Second World War, and that the bridges were built at that time are now reaching the end of their service life.

For those universities that require a PhD by publication of papers, they also seem to require 4 to 6 accepted papers (depending on the field) - so I don't think that what you are doing is unethical.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to stay afloat during a particularly hard semester

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!


I now have been in universities for the last 12 years, and employed as an academic for the last 7 years. And somehow I've come to the understanding that the Flying Spaghettimonster has the ability to make all difficult things come together in a Semester of Doom. His noodly highness pulls the strings of academia, and seems to enjoy observing whether we'll sink or swim in a particularly hard semester.

Spaghettimonsters and pirates aside, today I want to give you some tips on how to stay afloat during a Semester of Doom. The kind of semester in which you need to teach three new courses and start a new lab, or when you need to set up one new class and get all the paper deadlines and your research has deadlines but your finite element software gives every possible license error under the sun? Been there, done that, didn't even get a T-shirt for it.

I could be brief in discussing this topic: the key is in planning and time management (gnagnagna), and, on a similar note, making sure you don't crash and burn. Getting sick in the 6th week of the semester never got you to the end of the semester in style. So here are my best tips for avoiding to become like the owl in the famous meme:



1. Make a list of what you need to do

Feeling overwhelmed by all your tasks? Write them out in a list. Before every semester, I make an overview in my notebook of my responsibilities for the upcoming semester, in the following categories:
  • research projects
  • papers to write
  • teaching responsibilities
  • committee work
  • conferences to attend

Next to each task I write (in pencil, so I can erase and roll with the punches) in which weeks of the semester I will need to work on that task. Some tasks, like bigger research projects, will take an entire semester.

2. Prioritize

If it's all too much, see what you *really* need to get done this semester, and what you can shuttle over to the (near?) future. I'm bringing up the urgent-important matrix here again:



Obviously, the urgent tasks are the ones that will have deadlines, and that you can't postpone to a later time. However, don't let your important - not urgent tasks fall behind, because doing so will cost you in the long run.

3. Don't postpone writing

Talking about important - not urgent tasks: your first submission to a journal does not have a deadline (unless you are participating in a special issue). That does not mean you should postpone writing altogether to another semester. Try to schedule time for writing frequently, try to move your manuscripts forward. Slow but steady will get you there. Set a goal for yourself, and stick to it: an hour a day, 750 words a day, two hours in three blocks during the week, every Friday afternoon - make sure your goal is not just "I will write", but measurable, regular and attainable.

4. Schedule


Develop a blueprint for the weeks of your semester. I've written about my experiments with schedules: from my ambitious attempts in my first semester of teaching, to a more open schedule in the next semester, and my observations on why rigid scheduling can conflict with the creative nature of scientific work. Similar musing and an even more open schedule is what Dr. Pacheco-Vega recommends.

In general, if you commit to tasks you will work on, try to identify how many hours a week you will spend on these tasks. Put blocks for these in your schedule, and build in buffer. If you put 2 hours for writing, know that this timeslot will be easily reduced to 1,5 of effective writing, when you factor in all kinds of smaller disturbances. And that's OK - you're not a robot. Schedule in 1 - 2 hours every day for email and admin. All in all, in an 8 hour working day, you can schedule maximum maximum 6 hours of core tasks.

If you see you won't be able to make it, not even if you throw in 55 hours of productive work a week, go back to step 2, and see what you can postpone to the future.

5. Streamline processes

Automatization is your best friend. Set up spreadsheets to facilitate grading. Code scripts for processes you carry out often. Process email in a quick way: either reply right away, or schedule time to take care of a certain task. Process email and admin tasks during a set timeslot during the day. Silence your phone during a number of timeslots. Plan your meals, prep meals and batch cook.

6. Renegotiate tasks

If your schedule shows you can't possibly deliver on all your commitments, go talk to your PI or dean and tell them you are overloaded. Most of us in academia really love our job and research, and don't even feel it when we work long days - but at the end of the day, you're paid for 36 /38/40 hours (whatever is the legal maximum in your country) of work. If you really need to put much more time and effort, you have too much on your plate and/or are seriously underpaid.

An option is to shed administrative tasks to colleagues or supporting personnel (having professors fill out too much administrative documents which your secretary could fill out too is bad for university - imagine the extra paper you could write in a semester if you could shove off the standard administrative procedures!).

7. Get support from students or colleagues

If there is a lot of research work to be done on a project, see if you can enlist a MSc student for a thesis project. See if your colleagues can take some more tasks related to governing your department while you try to survive this semester. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Yes, there will always be Haters who start talking behind your back that you were simply not able to get everything done because you're not smart/good/supercalifragilisticexpialidocious enough. Haters are gonna hate, potatoes are gonna potate - and you need to get through the mud without losing your boots.

8. Find joy

If your semester is extremely loaded, it's easy to fall in the trap of starting to just count down the weeks, hold your breath and wait for the torture to be over. Don't do this - try to find joy in small things instead. Try to take at least one day a week off (for me, that's usually my Saturday, which is reserved for crossfit, groceries, cooking, sometimes a restaurant visit or party, music, gaming, reading, long skype talks, and more fun stuff - whatever I feel like).

Find joy in the small things: a good espresso during a break, a piece of chocolate while grading, an evening of reading, grading from home with a cat chasing your pen, ...

9. Stay healthy

Every action you take that is Good for You is like putting some money in your savings account to guard you for the future. Don't let exercise, eating well, and sleep slide to the side. These are not things you can postpone to another semester. Simple meals and batch cooking can get you a long way in the eating well department. Put exercise in your schedule. Try to have a cut-off time every night for work.

10. Find a routine and eliminate choices


With a schedule for work, some easy (but yummy) recipes to rely on for healthy food and an exercise routine you can stick to, you will find a routine. During my research stays in Delft, I need to squeeze in pretty much all my research of a year into 1 - 2 months. For that short period of time, I live a simple, yet enjoyable routine.
  • Work from 7:30 am to 6:20 pm
  • Training from 7 pm - 8 pm
  • home at 8:30 pm for cooking and preparing my food for the next day
  • 9:30 pm - 10:30 pm for blogging or replying personal mails
  • One weekend off to visit family in Belgium, one weekend on (work both days)

While such a routine is extremely regimented and intense, it keeps me afloat for the short time that I am enjoying my research stay, and makes sure I eat well, exercise, sleep enough, and, of course, get as much work done as possible
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