Thursday, July 23, 2015

Presentation at the 2015 ACI Spring Convention

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

The abstract for the presentation is as follows:

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

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I am Adrian Letchford and This is How I Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How To Choose Your Research Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I am George Musgrave and This is How I Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's your work routine like?

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

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

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

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Q & A: The PhD and The Job Market

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

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

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

2. Were you always interested in going into academia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I am Salameh Abu Rmeileh and This is How I Work

Today I am inviting Salameh Abu Rmeileh in the "This is How I Work" series. Salameh is originally from Jerusalem. His first degree is a BSc in Computer Science for WIT in Jerusalem. He came to the UK to do a MSc in Computer Science which he completed with distinction, at Birmingham City University, and then has offered to do a PhD in Information Security at the same university. Currently he is in the second year of his PhD. Also, he works as a graduate teaching assistant for his school and teaches security systems theory module.

Current Job: PhD Researcher & Graduate Teaching Assistant
Current Location: Faculty of Computing, Engineering, and Built Environment (C.E.B.E), Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK
Current mobile device: Samsung Note 4
Current computer: Dell Precision M4800 Workstation Laptop (Intel Core i7-4900MQ @ 2.8GHz, 16.0GB RAM)

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
Currently I am in my second year as a PhD student in which I am working on required experiments and the same time teaching security systems theory module. My research is in information security in general and attribute assurance in digital identities in particular. The main focus of my research is to improve the quality and trustworthiness of users' digital attributes (such as name, address, passport number, etc.) while enhancing the users' privacy. The motivation for my research is that a significant amount of our daily activities have been replaced by their digital counterparts (online services) such as banking, social networking, and shopping, to name a few. As their real life former selves, online service providers must be able to identify and authenticate their consumers in order to make informed access control decisions. Also, users are often required to memorise multiple passwords for accessing different services, which is cumbersome. Providing an efficient and applicable attribute assurance framework will help service providers to make better decisions, and users to maintain their privacy.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I use a variety of tools to manage my research and daily workflow:
Mendeley for managing my literature
DropBox and GoogleDrive for backup and syncing.
Outlook for emails and calendars.
Evernote for note taking and daily journal writing.
Latex for typing papers and chapters for my research.
Visio for drawing figures and diagrams.
TrueCrypt for encrypting my confidential files.
PowerPoint for creating presentations.
Visual Studio for implementation.
Vmware Workstation for virtual machines and simulations.
Skype for keeping in touch with my supervisors while they're away, which they always are.
MS Project for project management

What does your workspace setup look like?
I alternate between home office and university office and my lab usually is a virtual machine on my laptop.
This is my desk in our research lab at uni.

And this is my cozy workspace at my place.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
I don't think there is one best advice for productive academic work. It depends solely on the personality and circumstances of the individual. But if I have to give one, it will be motivation. As long as the researcher is motivated he/she will definitely productive. The moment we lose motivation our productivity will start falling down even if we are using the best productivity techniques and tools. I've seen colleagues of mine who are masters in productivity spent weeks doing nothing because they lost motivation and didn't feel like it, well, same with me. Keep checking your motivation and try to keep it up to a certain level. When you feel it's starting to drop think of a way to raise it up again, either by doing something you like or going for a vacation, productivity will come automatically as it's a symptom of motivation.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I use to-do lists and calendars for urgent and immediate tasks and Microsoft Project for long term goals. Also, I use meetings with my supervisors and paper deadlines as checkpoints of my progress.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
Yes. I use routers for experiments and testing, and I use Network Attached Storage (NAS) for daily backups at home.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
The ability to explain complex concepts, theories and maths in a simple yet interesting way.

What do you listen to when you work?
While working I mostly listen to Yanni and some Bollywood songs, although I'm not Indian. However, I find the Hindi music soothing and the fact that I don't understand the lyrics helps me stay focused and not get distracted.

What are you currently reading?
Currently, I am reading Lethal Code by Thomas Waite. I usually read in bed before going to sleep.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I like to think of myself as a little bit of an extrovert. Being social and proactive has its pros and cons. As much as I enjoy socializing with my colleagues either talking about research or general stuff, sometimes it influences my work negatively as I have take work home with me to finish it and in some cases lose momentum. However, a balanced socializing and networking helps me share my ideas, get reviews, learn something new and most importantly keep my sanity. It took me a year to learn how to balance my socializing and focus on my research.

What's your sleep routine like?
My sleep routine is usually fluctuating depending on how much work I have and if I have approaching deadlines. However, I try my best to have at least 7 hours of sleep each night.

What's your work routine like?
My work routine varies depending on the week day. I start a usual day with writing, usually till noon, then I take care of management and academic responsibilities, have my lunch, catch up with a colleague, attend a seminar, or having a meeting with my supervisors. Reaching the end of the day I prepare for the upcoming lectures I have to deliver and spend sometime reflecting on my research. I do my research related reading when I reach at my place in the evening while I am having my dinner.

What's the best advice you ever received?
The best advice I have received was in a time management seminar by one of our professors and it is "Learn how to say No!". I consider it as the best advice because at the time I wanted to say yes to everyone because I felt so honored that people had reached out, but it really started to impact my work. However, It needs to be said in a polite and professional manner.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: 20 things you need to do when living in the Netherlands

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 summer, I am focusing on topics related to moving to, living in and working in The Netherlands.
Why? To celebrate the release of! On this website, you can find all information you need as a foreigner coming to do research in The Netherlands. And even for me, coming from neighbour country Belgium and speaking the same language (well, sort of...), those FactCards would have been really useful and could have saved me from a few headaches...

In this post, I share with you the 20 things I enjoyed most about my time in The Netherlands, and things that I still enjoy when I come back for my research stay during the summer.

1. Bike

Who needs a car if you can bike your commute? When you live in The Netherlands, one of the first things you need to look for is a decent bike. Your bike doesn't need to be a shining new one, but you do want to have a bike that is right in size for you, and that has some gears to help you bike up hills/bridges. Get yourself some bike bags to transport your groceries on your bike, and you're ready to go!

2. Visit Keukenhof

If you are in The Netherlands during spring when the tulips are in bloom, you just need to go and visit Keukenhof. The wealth of flowers in and around the Bollenstreek is simply overwhelming. I just wish I'd gone more often during the years I was in The Netherlands (I did go 2 out of the 4 years I lived in Delft).

3. Visit Amsterdam

The iconic capital of The Netherlands has much more to offer than drugs and the red light district. It's a stunning city with beautiful architecture and charming canals. The museums are world class, there are plenty of great places for dining, sipping coffee and hanging out, and of course you need to enjoy the presence of the water everywhere.

4. Travel to the neighboring countries

The Netherlands is very well-connected to its neighboring countries. You can take the train right into Belgium, France or Germany, or take the boat to the United Kingdom (or connect in Brussels to the Eurostar train) (keep in mind that you might need an additional visa for visiting the UK!). Snatch a cheap flight on Ryanair or EasyJet and go explore another city somewhere in Europe. Enjoy it where you are there, in the center of Europe!

5. Buy yourself some flowers

Flowers are cheap in The Netherlands, so indulge and get yourself some flowers every now and then to freshen up your house. Tulips in spring, roses in the early summer - you might want to buy them from your city's market to get a great deal.

6. Swim in the North Sea

Ah, the North Sea - there is not a sea or ocean in the world that smells like the North Sea. It's not the beautiful Mediterranean sea, but there is nothing like walking on the empty beach in November or swimming in the very salty water of the North Sea. Enjoy a day at the beach, and enjoy all the attractions of the beach towns.

7. Sample international cuisine in Rotterdam

Rotterdam is the melting pot of the Netherlands. While Rotterdam might not have come out of the wars of the 20th century without wounds, it is arguably the city with the most modern feel of The Netherlands. Marvel at the highrises, then go sample some international cuisine - Rotterdam caters to all tastes.

8. Go to the Hoge Veluwe

The Veluwe feels far away from everything else in The Netherlands, and it makes for a perfect weekend getaway. Stay close to the national park, bike around the park and visit the Kröller-Müller Museum. Watch the wildlife and hills that are so distinctly different from the flat and mostly urban landscape of the rest of the Netherlands.

9. Sail

Head to Frisia, hit the lakes and sail - or learn to sail. Water sports are the most popular sports in The Netherlands during the summer. Head out for a day and sail the waters, feel the sun on your skin and the wind in your hair - sailing might be one of the most relaxing activities you can do.

10. Go to a summer festival

Europe and summer festivals - it's a match made in heaven. Chose a summer festival according to the style of music you like best, camp out and feel the unity in music while rocking out to one of your favorite bands.

11. Join a sports or hobby club to make friends

While making friends in The Netherlands might take a little more time than in other parts of the world, you can help your luck a little bit by joining a sports team, a music group or by singing up for evening classes.

12. Go watch a soccer game on a big screen

The Dutch go crazy when their national team plays - especially in the world cup or Eurocup. If it's a sunny game day, don't miss the atmosphere and go watch the game on a big screen. Have a beer and enjoy the orange madness.

13. Travel by boat or bike

The Netherlands are an excellent location for slow travel. Towns and cities are close to each other, so you don't need to worry about long stretches without shops or restaurants when you travel slowly. Travel by bike along the excellent biking facilities of The Netherlands, or travel by boat along the rivers and canals.

14. Walk in wooden shoes

Just because we need to throw in a little cliche here too: go for nostalgia and get yourself a pair of wooden shoes and walk around in them, reminiscing the old days.

15. See the windmills of Kinderdijk

Now that we're talking about the typical Dutch cliches, we can't miss the windmills of Kinderdijk. Maybe a little bit too much of a touristic location, but hey, you just need your picture with the windmills to show your family back home that you really are in The Netherlands.

16. "Terrasje doen" in summer

When the sun's out, you gotta join the locals and sit on the terrace of a pub with a beer or soft drink. It's called "terrasje doen" (doing a terrace), and we even talk about "terrasjesweer" (terrace weather - when the weather is good enough to sit outside).

17. "Gezellig" in winter

The days are dark and short during winter, so it's the perfect time of the year to cuddle up on the couch under a blanket or spend evenings playing board games and indoor grilling with friends - all of it at a slow pace, with smell of comfort food around. "Gezellig" we call it in Dutch, ad it loosely translates to "cosy", but it's much more than that - you need to experience it.

18. Fine dining in Brabant and Limburg

The Southern parts of the Netherlands are closer to the Burgundian Belgians, so they know more about good food and fine dining (not saying this because I am Belgian...). Maastricht is a lovely city in Dutch Limburg, close to Germany and Belgium, where food is plenty and delicious. The same goes for Brabant, famous for baked goods, such as Bossche Bollen, and more extensive meals than the rest of the country.

19. Take a mountain of sandwiches for lunch

How does lunch look like in The Netherlands (and often Belgium too)? Well, you take a loaf of bread, take at least 4 slices of them, and put something between two slices. You can for example put cheese between two slices of bread and you have one "dubbele boterham" (a sandwich). Jam is a popular choice for breakfast (yes, you can just do the same for breakfast).

20. Visit a spa

Did you know we call a spa a spa because of the city Spa in Belgium, a famous bathing place for the rich and famous? Spas in this part of the world a luscious experience, with pools and saunas to enjoy (absolutely something I miss when I am in Ecuador). Perfect for a cold winter days, to rejuvenate and heat up in a Finnish sauna.