Thursday, April 23, 2015

I am Howard Scott and this is How I Work

Today in our series on How I Work, I have the pleasure of inviting Howard Scott.  Howard is a Technology Enhanced Learning doctorate student with the University of Hull in northern England and also works as an English lecturer at college level in the UK. He is interested in practices such as situated learning; experiential, mobile and outdoor learning; and all or any pedagogical theories to promote independent learning; as well as digital literacy.

Current Job: Teacher (Part-time during three year doctorate research period)
Current Location: North-west England
Current mobile device: Nokia something something
Current computer: Various – mostly write on an old HP, which is durable and reliable, but also use Mac sometimes.

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

I’m a 3rd Year PhD student on a full time doctorate with a University in the north of the UK. I also teach in the Further Education (tertiary) college sector in the UK, which sees big changes with digital technology beginning to shape its future. Prior to recent policy reports, I had envisaged use of social network platforms to support teaching and learning. The research analyses the data of student use of a situated learning space (Web platform) to understand how students – and teachers - can use these to support independent learning (or not) in a community of inquiry/practice. Much research already focuses on students, so in mine there is also an aspect that evaluates the teacher’s role in these areas. This falls into the remit of Technology Enhanced Learning, as a growing discipline. Evidence in this field is a controversial subject. I believe the use of the word ‘Enhanced’ is a misguided descriptor of the phenomenon, personally!

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

The prime platform for the research participants is www.edmodo.com; unfortunately, it’s not possible to take data samples from here to Nvivo, so I forsake my use of that until I transcribe my interviews. I used Microsoft Word ‘comments’ for coding, which is unconventional, perhaps, but I suggest anybody use the tools most familiar and adaptable to them. Some people still do paper analysis, which I think is perfectly acceptable.

What does your workspace setup look like?

I work in a study in my house, with a window facing some terraces on the opposite side with limited sunlight, so distractions (except the sound of ducks and dogs) are minimal. My desk resembles my brain: disorganized and untidy, but with everything eventually locatable and within easy reach. I have made good use of the walls for maps of various kinds (themes, codes, chapters, literature, memos, reminders, models – not that sort, but paradigmatic models).



I continually open and close and sort through folders looking for reports. These often remain where they fall until the next tidy-up. I operate in a strangely efficient function within what may appear to be chaos. Constantly I remind myself of the William Blake quote: "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s”. This reassures me that it’ll all be fine.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?


As above, create your own working system: a routine. I drink a lot of coffee from start to finish (usually 8:30 – 4ish) about 4 times a week. Two days I go to teach, so the parameters are absolutely necessary for my discipline and motivation. Set yourself short-term goals to achieve: daily tasks are important. I find just keeping your hand-in at all times helps, so any small break in the norm can be used to join-up, otherwise it can be hard to battle your way back in.

A good walk if you’re struggling (probably alone) to reflect, is always massively helpful to me as thinking time in the study is conflicted with the pressure to achieve something. Usually insights won’t arrive by force, but will present themselves when you’re calm and removed from the context with which you are intensely involved. That goes for me, but scientists probably work best in labs. I would recommend everyone to take time out and have a conscience about this, as feeling a little guilt is a great motivator. Procrastinating too is useful for getting lots of small tasks accomplished.

Lots of stuff here, so my best advice: fresh air and walks to get space from the data and reflect.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

Maps, memos, and notes – here, there and everywhere. Reflecting on the last supervision meeting is paramount too in order to check your progress against the targets set.

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

iPod – like phone – helps record remote or mobile thoughts. Otherwise no, except the programme in question that the students use.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

Literacy.

What do you listen to when you work?

BBC Radio4 is about all I can handle, but not always. Tried music but find it difficult to focus with too much going on.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?

I think this is really important. I try to read a novel every week so I can switch off and ensure that I can concentrate, enjoy reading and complete something. Too many reports or books become unfinished, which makes me feel unsettled generally. I only read in bed, which helps me sleep.

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


I’ve probably become more introverted since I started this PhD; I’ve had some bumps in the road throughout in relationships, which I would partly attribute to the kind of position one sometimes needs to take during a doctorate (long hours of introspection, sensitivity to distraction, periods of self-doubt). It just becomes more important as you go along and the pressure increases, so I have come to incrementally absorb myself – not always unintentionally. I switched off most social media in the past year, because living vicariously is wasteful, passive and unhelpful. This was significant to me as it means I get more from my time, enabling me to really focus on work and freeing up cognitive space. I still have a social life, but sometimes it’s difficult to relate to people after you’ve been doing analytical coding all day because, adversely, I want to talk about it as it helps me reflect on it and process what I’ve been doing in the isolation of the study. This probably all sounds a bit bleak, but you become so involved in the research project and want to succeed and not let anyone down that it can take over somewhat. I’m still able to do and enjoy things, though I have gone through many thresholds and, as I have discovered, you can’t regress through these as that perpetual liminality is part of a learner’s growth. I’m completely aware this all sounds egocentric, but I’ve become more reflective as I’ve become more introverted!

What's your sleep routine like?

It’s certainly been worse in the past. If I don’t achieve much I might fret, but as I said before, usually I read myself to sleep with novels. Often I wake up around 4am, which I heard a Philosopher academic friend say is the prime writing time as the brain is emancipated from the noise of everyday life. I’ve never actually got up and done so, though he regularly does. I started a hashtag for this for anyone prone to this peculiar hour of wakefulness when your brain is so lucid: #4amthinkersclub – just post your thoughts on a Tweet because they are often remarkably absurd. I always wake up at about the same time of the day and just get started without delay, because that morning lethargy makes me prone to apathy. Coffee is usually an imperative.

What's the best advice you ever received?

My Mum telling me at 17 not to drop out of school: “You should always complete things.” I try to apply that generally.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Registration Open for the Feminist Scholars Digital Workshop

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Tamara Girardi again for a newsflash on the blog. Tamara Girardi, a veteran adjunct, holds a PhD in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation, It Can Be Acquired and Learned: Building a Writer-Centered Pedagogical Approach to Creative Writing focuses on the field of creative writing studies. She studied creative writing at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and writes young adult fiction. She's a member of the English faculty for Virtual Learning at Harrisburg Area Community College and primarily works from home with her colleagues: a computer-programming husband, a three-year old son who spends his days pretending to be a train, a two-year-old daughter with bed head that rivals the best ‘80s hairstyle, and a three month old daughter who is sitting on her lap as she types this. Follow her on Twitter @TamaraGirardi.

I always love when my Introduction to Literature classes study feminism. The class analyzes the critical framework as it applies to several poems and short stories in the course, and throughout the process, we all learn a little more about the framework and ourselves.

Namely, we learn that feminism encompasses more than our preconceived notions of the term allowed us to realize.

In a speech to the United Nations this fall, actress and philanthropist Emma Watson called for both men and women “to take up this mantle so their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too – reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

While Watson discussed the relevance of both male and female genders in the cause of feminism, the latter part of the above quotation addresses the issue of feminism at its core for all individuals: “reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

My personal research and considerations of feminism relate to the adjunct debate in colleges and universities across the country. This past February 26 was National Adjunct Walkout Day, a day calling attention to the serious issue of working conditions for some of our most highly educated citizens, also known as adjuncts. In her article, “The Adjunct Crisis Is Everyone’s Problem,” Sarah Kendzior tells her story of earning a PhD and leaving academia.

“New PhDs are expected to move around the country in temporary postdocs or visiting professor jobs until finding tenure-track positions – financially impossible for me as a mother of two – or stay where they are and work as adjuncts with no job security and an average wage of $2,700 per course. While making an income below the poverty line, a new PhD is expected to spend thousands of dollars on job interviews at conferences in expensive cities and write paywalled papers for free,” Kendzior writes.

Male college instructors might not be the image my introduction to literature students envision when I present the word “feminist” in the course, but it applies. And the term might apply to your research as well, which is why I’m writing this post to invite you to the Feminist Scholars Digital Workshop, an online, asynchronous, interdisciplinary, participant-driven workshop for individuals working on feminist-oriented research projects.

Registration is now open, and the workshop is not hosted in an expensive city like so many conferences, but online. It is not static in that participants sit and listen to papers being read; it is a dynamic forum where researchers, like you, can share your ideas and read ideas of others.

The registration deadline is May 1, so visit the web site now, and consider registering. Please share with any colleagues who might also find interest in this scholarly forum.

How Does it Work?
The workshop is an informal, highly-collaborative meeting where participants create and set in motion their own agendas. There is no program for the workshop and there are no presentations. Participants collaborate in small groups to exchange research projects (e.g. articles, webtexts, syllabi, proposals) for feedback and peer review.

The workshop is free and open to anyone interested in feminist research, whether they are students, professors, academics, para-academics, or non-academics.

Workshop outcomes include:
Encourage inter- and cross-disciplinary research and collaboration
Discuss feminist research strategies, best practices, methodologies/methods
Promote collaborative learning and professional development
Create a supportive space for feminist scholars to interact and network​

Who Should Attend?
Anyone with an interest in feminist scholarship and research.

How Much Does it Cost?
Nothing! Participants can attend the workshop for free.

When Does it Take Place?
This year’s workshop will take place Monday, June 8th through Sunday, June 14th.

Participants are also invited to attend a virtual workshop entitled “Mindful Research: A Workshop for Feminist Scholars” by Amanda Strauss, Research Librarian at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America on Sunday, June 7th, 2015 at 1:00 p.m. eastern time. The workshop is hosted by HASTAC and is part of the annual Feminist Scholars Digital Workshop. It is free and open to the public. You do not need to register for the Feminist Scholars Digital Workshop to attend. Additional information is forthcoming.

Where Does it Take Place?
The Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC) hosts the workshop. Many thanks to HASTAC for their generous support.

What Do I Need for the Workshop?
Ideally, you will bring a work-in-progress manuscript (e.g. journal article, syllabus, dissertation chapter, webtext) to the workshop. However, you are not required to have a project to participate and can instead serve as a reader/respondent for others' work.

Whom Do I Contact for More Information?
For additional information on the workshop, please contact Lori Beth De Hertogh or Katie Morrissey at feministscholarsworkshop@gmail.com. You can also access updates via Twitter using #FSDW15.

Want to Learn More?
To learn more about the workshop and to register, visit the Feminist Scholars Digital Workshop group page.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I am Auriel Fournier, and this is How I Work

Today, I have invited Auriel Fournier to share with us how she works. Auriel is a Phd Candidate in the Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Arkansas. She has a B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Management from Michigan Technological University and has worked with birds in 10 states over the past decade on various projects. Her current work focuses on rail migration and wetland management and how to manage inland wetlands for the widest diversity of species. she describes herself as an avid birder, environmental educator, R user and outdoor enthusiast. She is passionate about getting people excited about their natural resources and increasing the diversity of people who are in science, and who enjoy the outdoors. Check out her website aurielmvfournier.com and Twitter account @RallidaeRule .

Current Job: PhD Candidate (3rd year) with the Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit - University of Arkansas
Current Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA
Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy S5
Current computer: Dell desktop at school (Windows 8), 2011 macbook pro on the go (Yosemite), sometimes take over husband's desktop (also Dell) at home (Windows 7)

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am a full time student who is supported by a research assistantship in the summer and fall and a teaching assistantship in the spring. During the fall I am out in the wetlands of Missouri surveying birds for most of the semester for my dissertation research. When I'm not in the field I spend most of my time in the office writing, modeling and teaching. I'm part of a lab that studies a variety of different birds and their migration and habitat needs.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I do all of my stats/programming/data management in R, so I spend a lot of time in R Studio. I use Evernote to capture things I find online that I want to keep long term. I use Xodo for pdf reading/annotation on both my desktop and tablet. I use Git/Github to maintain version control on my data and code. I use Dropbox to keep all of my other materials synced between all my devices and backed up. I use Mendeley for citation management, which might not be essential on a daily basis, but when I'm doing a lot of writing it is essential.

What does your workspace setup look like?
At work I have a standing desk (just converted a few weeks back and loving it!). My standing desk is just made out of some old shelves and milk crates/cinder blocks on top of my old sitting desk. I have a fatigue mat I stole from home to keep my feet happy and am barefoot/in my socks most of the time. I do most of my work during the week at my office at work. My office is a group office, with my five labmates, and the floor's lunch fridge and sink. Its a pretty busy space. I spend most of my day with headphones on.

On the weekends/evenings I often work at home, normally I save my reading for this time and just read on the couch, but I will occasionally commandeer my husband's desktop computer and work there.



What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Break things up into small pieces, schedule your time so that you have time for reading/writing at least every other day if not every day.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I have a five year plan set up in an Google Drive spreadsheet to help me keep track of the big picture with deadlines (both hard ones, and self set ones), (inspired by this: ). This helps me set and maintain monthly/semester goals. The last 3 years of the plan are pretty vague right now except for a few meetings I want to attend, since I have no idea where I will be job wise.

For the day to day I use Wunderlist to maintain my projects. Each MS has its own list with due dates and so I can look at project specific tasks or look at what is due for this week as a whole.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I have an asus memo tablet that I use for reading/annotating pdfs. I would like to use it more for note taking but haven't been able to afford a good enough stylus yet.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
For an ecologist I have very strong quantitative and coding skills. I am also very passionate about the organisms (rails) and system (wetlands) I study.

What do you listen to when you work?
Typically music, I have a few playlists on spotify that I cycle through. Some are more upbeat music, but often its just classical or something in the background. I often overlay it with coffivity to drown out my five office mates.

What are you currently reading?
I'm currently rereading Game of Thrones in preparation for Season 5 coming out in April. I would love to say I do tons of great non-work related non-fiction reading, but that is just not the case. If I'm not reading for school I'm either catching up on blogs or reading some kind of fantasy novel.

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

I am more of an introvert by nature, I don't enjoy spending time with people I don't know well and even then I often prefer working alone. As a result I spend a lot of time with my headphones on in the office and don't jump into conversations unless someone pulls me in specifically.

What's your sleep routine like?
I am up between 6 and 620 every day so I can catch the first bus to campus. I am normally in bed by 10, and trying to sleep by 1030. I am not the best sleeper, so while this might sound like a lot of sleep, it often isn't. I use twilight on my phone/computer to red phase my screens at sunset to help me sleep and I try to switch over to my kindle for reading before bed.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Almost nothing worth doing is easy, always try to work towards long term gains, the short term victories are rarely worth it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Proposal for the extension of the Eurocode shear formula for one-way slabs under concentrated loads


We recently published a paper in Engineering Structures based on the work from Chapter 6 of my dissertation, titles: "Proposal for the extension of the Eurocode shear formula for one-way slabs under concentrated loads".

The abstract is as follows:

A large number of existing reinforced concrete solid slab bridges in the Netherlands are found to be insufficient for shear when assessed for the governing live load models. However, due to transverse load redistribution, the shear capacity of reinforced concrete slabs under concentrated loads is larger than the capacity of beams, on which the code provisions for shear are based. Therefore, an extension of the Eurocode shear provisions for the case of slabs under concentrated loads in shear may be warranted.
To study the increase in capacity of slabs as compared to beams, a series of experiments on concrete slabs was carried out. These experimental results are combined with Monte Carlo simulations to quantify the increase in shear capacity in slabs as a result of transverse load redistribution. From the analysis of different subsets of experiments follows a proposal to extend the Eurocode shear provisions for the case of slabs under concentrated loads. Using this new expression and allowing larger shear stresses in slabs under concentrated loads results in less shear-critical cross-sections for existing slab bridges.


Elsevier is granting free access to the paper until May 28th 2015. You can download the paper here.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I am Kelly Dillon, and this is How I Work

Today, I'm starting a new series of interviews at PhD Talk, inspired by the "How I Work" series on lifehacker.com. Our first guest is Kelly Dillon. Kelly is a doctoral candidate in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University. She received her BA in Psychology from Kenyon College, an MA in Psychology from Vermont College at the Union Institute and University, and an MA in Communication from The Ohio State University. Ms. Dillon's research centers on cyberbystander behavior in cyberbullying and cyberharassment contexts under the advisement of Dr. Brad Bushman. She has over a decade of research and grant coordination experience in psychiatric, clinical, special education, biomedical, and higher education research. She lives in Columbus with her husband and two young children.

Current Job: Doctoral Candidate, research assistant (for external project), research assistant (for my advisor for funding), research coordinator (for Federal grant)
Current Location: Columbus, Ohio, USA
Current mobile device: iPhone 5c
Current Computer: MacBook pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am currently collecting dissertation data preparing to graduate from the School of Communication at The Ohio State University in Spring 2016. My dissertation and research focuses on cyberbystander behavior in cyberbullying. Specifically I am testing the social impact of various hyper personal affordances online communication gives users. I am trying to experimentally replicate the bystander effect online in a cyberbullying context in real time. My research has been published and recently garnered international and national press. I also manage my advisor's (Brad Bushman) research laboratory, supervising anywhere between 20-30 undergraduate research assistants on a variety of experiments. Right now I manage Dr. Bushman’s NSF grant examining aggression and media, children and violent media. I have recently joined an Anti-Hate Speech project at Harvard’s Beakman Center for Justice, working remotely to develop qualitative and quantitative means to study online speech that counters hate speech. Finally, I serve as the research coordinator for an NIH post-baccalaureate program, managing data collection, analysis, and human subjects review materials. Prior to starting graduate school I was the program coordinator for this project in the College of Medicine at The Ohio State University.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I rely on technology to keep me on task, to effectively communicate with my research assistants and collaborators, and to get my research done. My dissertation research focuses on online communication, and I use chat rooms for these experiments. I use Qualtrics, an online survey system, to collect all my data, and the data in Dr. Bushman’s projects. We use an online sign-up portal for research participants to schedule their participation in our laboratory. This helps me manage research participant flow, time in the lab, and helps students receive course credit for participation. I use Google hangout, Skype, and online conference calls for many projects with my collaborators. Recently I was a guest lecturer at the University of Georgia via Skype. I rely on cloud services such as Dropbox to help me share files with collaborators and to access my work from anywhere. Social media has become increasingly important as I prepare to enter the job market. It has helped me get word about my research out to important people, organizations, I have found collaborators for conference panels via groups on Facebook, and given my research interests, seeing how others communicate about cyber-aggression online is important. I waited until my second year in my PhD to get my iPad and I wish I had gotten it earlier. I use my iPad for reading anywhere I can: at the gym on the elliptical, waiting for an appointment, while kids are playing outside. I use the application GoodNotes to be able to make notes on readings, then upload to my Dropbox to access anywhere. This app is AMAZING, and allows text, handwritten notes, highlighting, shapes, photos, etc to be added to PDFs. Well worth the $4.99!

I also rely on technology to keep me on task. Currently I use RescueTime, an application that runs in the background of my computer while I use it. It tracks all applications I use, websites I visit, and tells me how much time I spend on productive or distracting tasks. It has helped me figure out when I am most productive, and I try to schedule my writing during that time. The daily/weekly summaries are really helpful, giving me metrics of my productivity. I set rewards for myself if I am 80% or more productive in any given week. Rewards usually involve chocolate, which isn’t good for my diet. :) I use RescueTime in tandem with SelfControl, an application I found for Mac users. It blocks access to certain websites (like Facebook, Twitter, newspapers, etc) you deem distracting. No matter what I do, restart my computer, log in as a different user, I cannot turn off this blocking app until time has expired. This REALLY boosts my productivity. The last piece of technology I use to keep on task is the timer on my cell phone. I set it for 20 minutes to stay on task, and after 20 minutes I get a 5min break to stretch. After 3 20-min blocks, or poms, I get a 10 minute break. Unfortunately a break usually involves some technology (like a goofy internet game, checking Facebook), but I’m trying to get better at that.

One of my most important low-tech technologies for tracking projects is using clipboards! I keep notes, plans, sketches, etc for each project on it's own clipboard and they travel with me or hang in my offices.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I currently have an at-home office, a small office space with other graduate students in my department’s building, and reserved space for running experiments. I have tried to set up my work so it is quite mobile and my research can be “cash and carry.” All I need is a laptop with internet service and I can get anything done. I have found I am reliant on a second monitor, and have this set-up at home and in my school office. I usually carry around an extra mouse or thumb drive in case wherever I am has neither. Both spaces are fairly public. I share my school office with 6 other graduate students, and sometimes it’s a little crowded and chatty. We tend to have an understanding that if someone has headphones on while working, they wish to not be disturbed. My home office is also my children’s play room, adjacent to the kitchen and backyard. It’s not ideal, but the light is better here and I can try to work while my children are home easier. No matter where I am located or working, music is always on. I have different playlists for different tasks, but I cannot work without music. Thank goodness for streaming services!




What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Have the forest in front of you. Too often we focus on the tree immediately in front of us. I think academics can get too myopic when working on a study. Reminding yourself of the bigger picture, how this study fits in your research program area, discipline, professional growth, personal life, can help when you’re stuck. I also cannot stress enough to get OUT OF YOUR HEAD OCCASIONALLY! I am not ashamed to say I watch trashy reality television. It’s like a cognitive palate cleanser. I get my best ideas in the sauna after a really good cardio workout - when the only thing I could think about was not passing out or falling off the treadmill. When we get out of our head, it’s like a breather for our mind and soul. I’m always more productive with these breaks, not in quantity but quality. Give yourself permission to get out of your head.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I use a mixed methods approach, and projects are in different stages: idea formulation, IRB submitted, data collection, data analysis, writing, conference submission, journal submission, DOA. I keep a running tab of projects on a Google docs spreadsheet for one of my advisors to see, organized by stage of project, color coded. This list is also on a piece of paper in my line of sight in my school office with priorities listed. I also use dry erase boards like fish use water. I have two 2m dry erase boards at home, at least 6 smaller ones peppered throughout my various offices, and I actually have one in my backpack. I use these in the short-term for task listing, mind-mapping projects, fleshing out the narrative I’m trying to put together for analysis, etc. I also use a Passion Planner, which is a recent addition to the mix and I love it (it was a Christmas gift). It helps me see my month or week at a glance but gives me some space to reflect, flesh out, play.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
My strongest skill is research coordination. I can maximize efficiency in any project, any experiment, with any group of people. I am really good at multiple moving parts in multiple projects. In part, it comes from 10 years research coordination before returning to graduate school. I know how to write protocols that should I ever get hit by a bus, anyone could pick it up and do my experiments. Having had worked for so many PIs on so many federal grants, I also know how to anticipate problems, formulate contingency plans, and execute them (I also come from a long line of engineers, so contingency plans are just part of my DNA). In just 4 weeks, I have successfully run 30% of the participants I need for my dissertation (n=109). Apparently this is a new record for my department. My research pipeline is full, moving smoothly, and in large part it’s because of my coordination abilities.

What do you listen to when you work?
The task decides the soundtrack. Data analysis is dance/electronic music, anything with a BPM of 140 or greater. AND LOUD! Part of getting out of my head. Writing is typically 80s/90s music, because it’s the stuff I grew up on and is my happy place. Reading is non-lyrical, music only stuff, but not traditional classical. I was a music major for half of my undergraduate, a performer since age 9, so traditional classical music is actually too distracting. I like gregorian chant, new age music if I’m reading. Everyday tasks usually depends on my mood. Right now I’m on an alternative rock and classic rock kick. Makes me nostalgic sometimes.

What are you currently reading?
Ugh. I’m not. Honestly, and I feel tremendously guilty about it. I’m a reader but I can’t stand fiction. The last book I read was The Upside of Down: Why failing well is the key to success. I gobble up any new articles in my area, but lately I’ve been re-reading a lot of the older stuff to get inspired. My research is based on social psychological theories from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. I feel they have a lot of application in online settings, so I keep re-reading them. Otherwise, it’s a lot of children’s books like How to Train Your Dragon or some Transformers books (I have two sons, ages 7 and 5).
I don’t find time for reading, unfortunately. It’s not right now a priority, more than writing or analyzing data. I miss reading, and it’s one of the few things I really enjoyed during candidacy exams. Conference season is starting so I’m hoping to pick up a few texts then (when I travel). I typically use my downtime to crochet, which I find helps me get out of my head, feel productive, and gives me something kinetic to do when the house is quiet.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Extrovert as the day is long. Sometimes it’s a curse as it makes me interested in almost anything I hear about (RESEARCH ALL THE THINGS!) and I want to collaborate with so many amazing people. It’s a blessing in a way that people want to work with me. I have the lowest turnover in research assistants in my lab because we have a great work environment, I believe I’m approachable, and can read people really well. It also helps at conferences, where I’m not afraid to approach strangers and start conversations.

What's your sleep routine like?
I’m so glad you asked this, because I’m a complete convert and all I do is lecture our first and second year graduate students on this topic. I’ve only needed about 5hrs of sleep a night since I was a little girl, usually in bed about 1/2am, up around 6 or so (I’m not a coffee drinker either!). It was great during college, when my kids were younger. First year of graduate school nearly killed me, and looking back I can point to my sleep routines, or lack thereof. At least one all-nighter a week, sometimes two. Zombie mommy was grumpy, not making much sense in the lab, and more than a few times I would get lost on my way home. I have since realized I have clinically low blood pressure, an electrical issue in my heart, and a really good marriage that I need to keep healthy. Sleep, apparently, is the magic variable that helps me maintain my sanity, keep my heart palpitations at bay, and my BP from plummeting during the day. I make it my mission, now, to be in bed no later than 11pm since I must get up at 6am to get my children on the bus. My husband and partner works third shift so I can go to school, so typically most family responsibilities at night fall on me. Some days I’m better at that 11p-6a time table, some days not so much. I don’t have any caffeine after 3pm, I get to the gym at least 3 times a week, sometimes more, and I don’t watch TV in my bed anymore. Since I have shifted these habits I’m finally losing weight, my children don’t fight on bedtime any more (good modeling of behaviors I want to see) and I don’t hate going to school so early any more. I’m even an early riser on the weekends without hating it.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Better is the enemy of good. An engineer my father worked with said this once, and it stuck with me. I don’t know if it’s an American thing, or a western thing or what, but we’re always trying to reinvent, one-up ourselves, constantly making stuff BETTER. But what if it works? What if it’s good? What if that paragraph is just fine the way it is. Better is paralyzing. Better keeps me from sending something to a journal (but it could be better). Better keeps me from finishing the data analysis (but more subjects could make the p value better). Good is good enough. I’m not saying standards should be raised. But raise your standards on whatever you’re doing with purpose. Don’t just raise them to procrastinate, to be better than someone else you are somehow comparing yourself to. Be good.

The second best piece of advice I ever was told was don’t compare your journey to someone else’s finish line. This is especially important for graduate students. I had NO idea the rejection rate for journals (in my discipline, for one of our flagships, the rejection rate was 97% last year. NINETY-SEVEN PERCENT REJECTED). My journey and all it’s bumps, twists, pitfalls, mistakes, hiccups - I can’t compare that to someone else’s finished product. I don’t see all the rejection letters they received. I don’t see all the null results. I only see the gold medal they received. Social comparison is a necessary evil in graduate school and academia. But it doesn’t have to suck all the life or fun out of it. Use it as a motivator, but not as a barometer of your own success (still learning this…).

The final thing I would say, isn’t so much advice, but just a question my father asks me all the time: what’s the worst that could happen? Graduate students tend to catastrophize situations. If I don’t get this article published I won’t get a job. If I don’t get a job, I can’t pay my bills. If I can’t pay my bills, I’ll lose my house. If I lose my house, my kids will grow up in a tiny apartment. If my kids live in a tiny apartment….and so on. All hinging on one journal editor and three random reviewers my kids might be homeless? Stopping this spiral of catastrophic thinking by simply asking what’s the worst that could happen puts things in perspective. So I don’t get published in this journal. So what. There’s hundreds if not thousands of other journals. My literal life and success does not hinge on this publication. Being aware of spiraling thoughts can stop them in their tracks.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Volunteering as an act of self-care

Today, I'm inviting Rebecca Geoffroy-Schwinden to share her perspective on self-care in academia. Rebecca is a musicologist who researches sound as politics since the eighteenth century, particularly musicians during the French Revolution. Her recent work has been published in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Kinetophone, and Provoke!. Rebecca will receive her Ph.D. in musicology from Duke University this May and will begin a position as Assistant Professor of Music History at the University of North Texas in August. You can follow her on Twitter @BeccaSchwinRoy.

I circulated my dissertation to the dissertation committee precisely five hours before I sat down to write this post. Before I venture too far into a post-grad school frame of mind, I want to take this opportunity to speak as my Ph.D. candidate self and to share one way that I took care of that self during my last year of writing, which coincided with my first year on the dreaded academic job market.

Last August, I began to prepare job applications. I knew the 2014–2015 academic year held potential for complete emotional deflation, despite the fact that I had mercifully been able to find funding from my university's graduate school for one more year of writing. Dissertation problems, when you're in the middle of them, can seem like soul-crushing catastrophes. It is a lonely process and oftentimes human interaction mostly comes in the form of critical feedback on hours of painstaking work. Compounded with job market rejections, the final year of dissertating can be downright devastating. The devastation, at least for me, came from a search for purpose: the "real world" insists that Ph.D.s in the arts and humanities are increasingly useless, while the job market implies that you aren't welcome there either. At a time when you should be celebrating that the finish line is in sight, you're also anxiously contemplating the possibility that there might not be anything there to welcome you upon arrival.

I decided to pre-empt these scary feelings, which I had already projected and mentally lived before the year even began. I started volunteering a few hours per week: two hours I walked dogs at the local animal shelter and three hours I tutored an adult to improve literacy skills. Although I worried about taking time away from the writing process, I knew that I had to take at least 5 hours of time off per week anyway. I also knew that without a sense of purpose that paid off immediately, I might not be able to finish the dissertation at all. Volunteering gave me a sense of utility, a break from the dissertation, and a living connection that often becomes lost during that long final push to finish. It also forced me to put dissertation problems in perspective. There are animals without homes and adults who can't read. They needed me to show up twice per week. And feeling like I mattered saved me from succumbing to a negative state of mind.

Bill Clinton has been famously praised and ridiculed for describing his philanthropic work as "selfish." But during the past year I could not help but feel the power of mutually beneficial service. For five hours per week I felt that my existence in the world made a difference to living beings. Humans need to feel needed. During the 2013–2014 academic year, my teaching certainly filled this void. I realize many Ph.D. candidates write their dissertations under stressful time frames that include children and other jobs. This self-care suggestion is certainly not for those who are already stretched to the brink. However, for those who only have the dissertation to face every morning, finding a cause close to your heart and using that as a productive outlet during the dissertation stage can provide a valuable source of self-care.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: What I wish I'd known one year ago when I started as a professor

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!


This semester is my third semester of work as a professor at Universidad San Francisco de Quito. Since my first semester, Spring 2014, I've been in charge of 3 courses per semester - each course of 3 hours of lecture per week. The courses include midterm exams, homeworks, projects and more fun stuff that needs to be graded.

I'm not going to lie about it - the first semester was really tough. I had a hard time preparing all the material for these 3 new courses; I set up 3 courses entirely from scratch, and it was a ton of work. On top of preparing and teaching the courses, I also had to grade, hold office hours for questions of students, and reply the massive influx of email that comes with being a professor. Oh, and set up a new lab and write my papers. And find time for having something like a life too. And get adjusted to a new country.

With a few semester of teaching in the pocket, there are a number of things I wish I knew when I started as a professor. Here are my 10 best pieces of advice for new professors (especially those who skip the post-doc and roll straight into a faculty position).

1. Slowly move your papers forward

Even with a heavy teaching load, the most important aspect of your academic life is still your publications. If you did not get to write the papers from your dissertation during your post-doc, you need to do it while getting settled into a new job, new university and maybe even a new country. Try to carve out at least 2 blocks of 2 hours every week to work on your papers. Have a planning for which papers you want to write and where you need to submit them.

2. Prioritize

What's important: writing papers, research projects, having class prepared before the actual hour of class, setting up the lab, technical committee work.
What's not important: e-mail, meetings, review requests.

Learn how to set up an urgent/important matrix, and prioritize. Learn to accept that, as long as things move forward, you are making progress. Things will start to move forward much more slowly than before (I recently booked 70 hours on a project between September and March - as a full-time researcher I'd have done this work in 2-3 weeks' time).

3. Make self-care a priority

If you have a lot on your plate, you risk getting sick if you don't take proper care of yourself. Hear your mom's voice telling you to sleep well, eat well and take some time to relax every day. Getting more work on your plate does not mean that you need to start inflating your working hours. You are not more productive if you work more hours. Cut down on the dead-end tasks and focus on what really matters - and yes, you, yourself are something that matters.

4. Tell others when you need time to arrange paperwork

If you are one of the few foreigners in a given university, your colleagues might not even be aware of how hard the people at immigrations are being on you. Tell your colleagues when you need to go and sit in a government institution for yet another entire afternoon. Explain them how complicated simple things become for foreigners. Ask them to give you a little break when your in the middle of sorting things out.

5. Hide when you need to

Set up a home office, and work from home if you can't be undisturbed in your university office. I use two early-morning blocks of time for writing my papers, or doing research-related work. When I need to concentrate, I make sure I can't be found. Yes, this attitude might sound egoistic, but you have a lot on your plate and you need to learn to be ruthless: if you want important things to be able to move forward, then take that time off from being available to colleagues and students and work from home.

6. Minimum preparation

Having class notes is enough. There's no need to develop notes and slides and a handbook and examples and everything in one single semester. I developed the basic notes in my first semester, and from then on have been focusing on a single course each semester that I am improving. These improvements might include the development of additional examples (future work for me) or making slides instead of writing everything on the whiteboard (my project for one course for this semester).

7. Take matters into your own hands

So you need a lab? Start making a proposal, and once you have permission, start bugging every single person to move things forward. You can't just send a document to somebody and expect them to get back to you (the mistake I made several times, and still tend to make). You have to continuously remind people to look at your proposal, to ask for money even though you might have received the approval, and follow up with the flow of the budget as much as you can. If possible, hire a lab assistant right when the first equipment starts to arrive - you simply won't have enough time to do everything so you need to learn to delegate.

8. Keep reading papers

Whatever happens, reading papers is very important to keep up with the recent developments in your field. I'm currently trying to schedule two blocks of an hour every week to read papers, and I plan in advance what I need to read. The time you sit in supervising exams is also a great little window of time to catch up with reading. Remember that reading sparks creativity - learn to read papers hunting for possible thesis ideas that might help your research move forward.

9. Set up a grading system

Don't fret too much over how you will grade exams. I simply subdivide every answer into different steps, each with an assigned number of points. If a student reaches to a certain step in the answer, he/she might get the points until that step of the answer (provided that he/she developed the work correctly until there, of course). Just sum the points, and move on. Grade per question, not per exam - this technique helps you to keep in mind what the previous student wrote and how much points you are taking off for standard mistakes (such as: missing units, calculation errors, and the like).

10. Have a schedule

If you need to fit in many different tasks, you can benefit a lot from having a standard schedule. I ran a series about academic schedules on PhD Talk previously, in which guest authors talked about how their days look like. My schedule is a general blueprint of different tasks I need to get done in a typical week, and I fine-tune my schedule every Friday night for the next week. Meetings might move my time around, or I might need to book a time slot to grade an exam - so I move the blocks around and see where the pieces fall.
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