Thursday, December 18, 2014

Evaluation of my goals for 2014

At the beginning of 2014, I wrote quite an ambitious list of goals for 2014. Since I shared this list publicly, I wanted to take a moment to discuss what happened to all these goals. Somewhere in April, I already tweeted that I replaced this entire list by the simple goal of surviving the semester without passing out under a pile of homeworks-to-be-graded.

Things changed this year, life is fluid - but let's see how I did:

My academic goals for 2014 are the following:
- try a month of writing daily from 6am to 8am

Didn't happen. I ended up going to the gym in the early morning, and never did the writing-in-the-morning experiment. Maybe I'll try this out in 2015.

- start up a laboratory at the university where I'm currently employed

Yes! It's up and running in its very first stage, and we had the official opening celebration in November. The space is temporary and too small, but the lab is running great with 2 parallels of the Construction Materials Lab class that I was teaching in the Fall, thesis projects, a research project, students who are preparing for the national concrete competition, and we will also host said competition at our institution. We're on a roll!

- get involved in a bridge design project

Yes! Get prepared for pictures of this bridge as it gets built next year.

- teach awesome courses to my students

Leave out the awesome, and that's what I did: 3 courses per semester, 4 new courses this year. It's a LOT of work *__*.

- organize a science communication course

I made the syllabus, got everybody enthusiastic.... and then the authorities realized they needed me to teach civil engineering courses, because we are too few professors.

- graduate 4 thesis students

I have 1 student officially registered this Fall semester, and a few people getting ready to graduate under my supervision, but this plan has been slower than I thought.

- write a grant proposal

Didn't happen - I need to do this in 2015. I've been surfing on Delft projects, and joining projects that were thrown at me because of m knowledge, but I have been more in a reactive than in active mode in that regard.

- submit at least 6 journal papers for review (priority number 1!)

I submitted 6 new papers (2 of which got accepted in the mean time), worked on reviews of 4 papers submitted in 2013 (2 of which got accepted in the mean time). I have more papers to write about my dissertation work, and after that about the research projects I did last summer.

- learn Spanish

I didn't take an official course, I didn't work through the books I bought - but I understand what people say, and sometimes I speak a bit.

Overall: Even though I steered away from some goals, I think it's been an interesting year. My focus shifted from purely research to teaching, research, outreach and more, and I had to make quite some course correction this year to fit everything in. It's been a learning process, and given the fact that I'm adjusting and learning all this, I think it is sort of OK how I've been doing.

My health/personal goals for 2014 are the following:
- get back onto the FLO living protocol for eating and time management

Postponed to 2015....

- try a month of going to the gym daily at 6am

Yes - I've been pretty much doing this the entire Fall semester. 6am yoga classes, 6:15am weight lifting - I've been in the gym early most days. But sometimes I am tired.

- eat vegan for a month

I joined the Vegan Challenge in April, and felt amazing - so I've kept eating a "95% plant-based diet". I occasionally eat eggs when I travel when there are no other options. I'm moving away from animal-based clothing, products and all that, and replacing all my toiletries by cruelty-free versions.

- revisit the Silva course

Didn't happen, postponed to 2015.

- find friends in my new city Quito

Working on it (and as an introvert, I'm not too good at this): I am playing in a band, taking yoga classes, started a meetup group (and closed it again, but am working on finding a tribe in a different way at the moment), get along well with some of my colleagues, and hang out with my sister-in-law every now and then. But when shit hits the fan, I call my mom or friends at home, because they are really close to me, and I don't easily find people like them.

- give up refined sugar for 40 days

I'm a chocolate junkie. I eat an entire bar of chocolate a day, or more. I'll try this in 2015, but I'm scared I'll be super cranky.

- buy an apartment

Not yet - I need to be working for a year in the country, registered in social security (which I only have since January) to apply for a loan. Plus the 30% down payment they require here is a little unpleasant. And housing is surprisingly expensive here.

- exercise daily

Maximum 6 days out of 7, because I need a rest day once a week. But yes, since March, I've joined a gym, and I've been going strong.

- meditate daily

I used to meditate first thing in the morning, but that doesn't happen if I need to wake up at 5:30 am to take a class in the gym at 6 am... Other options would be to meditate before I sleep (but I always get to bed too late, especially if I want to wake up at 5:30 am the next day to go to the gym), or right when I come home from work (which would be a great way to change gears in my mind, but somehow, there's always a hungry cat, dirty litter box, mess in the kitchen or what not waiting for me when I enter the house...).

- journal daily

Moderate success: not daily, but I've been consistently journaling. I had a block in my heart and writing for a few months when my dad passed away at the end of August.

- read 60 books

I'm writing this post on the last day of November, and so far I've read 91 books this year. Maybe I'll make it to 100 books.

And for PhD Talk, I'd like to do the following:
- transform PhD Talk
- write a book
- teach a social media workshop
- write 10 guest posts for other blogs

None of this happened - with changing jobs, adjusting to Ecuador and all that, I decided I'd put my plans with PhD Talk in the fridge in the mean time.

And a few fun activities that I want to do:
- go hike in a national park

Best hike I did: hiking down to Papallacta from La Virgen, through the national park of Coca-Cayambe.

- run a race

Didn't happen... hopefully in 2015!

- play more music

Yes - I booked a seat for Mr. Cello Lantsoght on my flight from Brussels to Quito last summer, joined a band, and I've even started to study some new sheet music (something I haven't done in the last 10 years...).

- go horseriding in nature

Yes, although they kept the horse guided - so no "real" horseriding yet.

- volunteer a couple of days on an organic farm and forest-keeping project

No, that will be for 2015... I got sick so often in 2014 (salmonella and other food-borne diseases) that I shooed away from going to the Amazon rainforest until I can stomach tap water in the highlands.

- get involved with the local TEDx community

TEDxQuito took place while I was in Europe, so I didn't volunteer for the event.

- write a bundle of poems and publish them

Not a single poem... postponed to 2015!

- go for a singing weekend

No, I can't find anything like that in Ecuador - so I'm hoping to join one in Europe during the summer.

- study an NLP course

I started a self-study course, but didn't get any further than 1 video.

- climb the Cotopaxi volcano

I visited the volcano, but I still get dizzy before even reaching the refugio on the volcano from which the real climbers depart on their trek to the top.

- attend a meditation workshop

Postponed to 2015...

- do one handscraft project

I made candles with my sister-in-law a couple of times, and it was fun!

- go on a yoga weekend

I joined the Ecuador yoga festival for a weekend, and it was amazing: my first time to the beach since moving to Ecuador, and I learned so much.

- draw 7 mandalas

I drew 1 so far - the rest will be for 2015.

All in all: I needed a lot of energy for starting my new job and adjusting to a new country, and I've been working very hard. Hopefully, in 2015, I can relax a little more, explore more of the country, and spend more time doing creative work.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Load testing of a bridge in Friesland

Last summer, I spent a week helping out with the load testing of a bridge in the North of the Netherlands, in Friesland. Prior to that, I spent a couple of months making predictions of the capacity of the bridge in the test, and I'm currently trying my very best to wrap up the analysis before the end of the year.

You can find a short video about the testing here:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Influence of Width on Shear Capacity of Reinforced Concrete Members

In the latest issue of the ACI Structural Journal, we have published a paper that describes a series of experiments we carried out on slab strips.

The abstract of the paper is:

Code provisions for one-way shear assume a linear relation between the shear capacity of a reinforced concrete member and its width. For wide members subjected to a concentrated load, an effective width in shear should be introduced. To study the effective width and the influence of the member width on shear capacity, a series of experiments was carried out on continuous one-way elements of different widths. The size of the loading plate, the moment distribution at the support, and the shear span-depth ratio were varied and studied as a function of the member width. The effective width can be determined by using a 45-degree oad-spreading method from the far side of the loading plate to the face of the support. This proposed effective width is easy to implement, yet gives good results in combination with code provisions.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Writers' Lab: One Day, It Will Be Done

Today, we're returning to the Writer's Lab. Tamara Girardi shares with us how she managed to finish her dissertation, with a baby in her arms. Tamara 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, and an 18-month old daughter. Follow her on Twitter @TamaraGirardi.

The thought of writing a dissertation spikes my heart rate, which is saying something since I've already written, defended, and earned a degree for one. The task - choosing a focus, developing the idea, reading the literature that never ends, formulating quality research questions, theorizing appropriate methods for addressing the questions, executing the study, and finally determining what is worth saying about the results - is, needless to say, daunting.

Additionally, when I was finishing my doctoral coursework in the Composition and TESOL Program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, my husband and I decided we should start a family. After all, my coursework would be well behind me by the time the baby was born. Nine months was a long time to prepare. And that was true, but then there was the dissertation. Our son was born in September. In November, I began reading for my literature review. With my infant in his bouncy chair, I piled books all around us and read, earmarked, annotated them. To ensure he was stimulated, I often read aloud. He often fell asleep. I don't blame him. I would have fallen asleep too if I could have.

Around this time, I shared a progress update with my dissertation advisor. Although I didn't reveal my apprehensions directly, he must have noticed certain cues. Or perhaps he has advised enough students to anticipate apprehension as a general rule. His advice was not ground-breaking, but it was perfect. He said, "Just sit down and do a bit every day, and one day, it will be done." Of course, I thought! Theoretically, and theory was part of my every thought, one day it would have to end. I needn't think of that last day or every day. Just one day. Today.

The advice is similar to Anne Lamott's ever popular text on writing, Bird by Bird. She tells the story of her brother who procrastinated a research essay on birds one year. She recalls her father sitting down with him at the kitchen table the night before the essay was due telling him, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."

As is often the case with simple advice, the recommendation is certainly wise. Investing time every day in the dissertation kept my mind focused on the topic and the unique challenges that developed throughout my study. Even when I wasn't reading or writing, I was simmering the ideas from my last reading or writing session. Daily connections propelled my work forward. Sometimes, I read or wrote for only an hour a day, but over time, I came to believe that an hour per day was more effective for my thought processes than seven hours every Saturday or Sunday. I notice a similar experience with my fiction writing. If I write for even 15 minutes daily I'm able to follow my own story and innovate with unique setting, character, and plot details. If I write weekly or monthly, I spend much of my time reading my previous work to remind myself of my decisions from the last writing session.

Although I'm advocating for daily connections to doctoral candidates' dissertations, I realize schedules vary. That said, I believe in this approach. If you can read one chapter or one article, if you can write a few pages or brainstorm ideas, you are connected to your work. Writing process theorist and Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Donald Murray believed that rehearsal, or the time writers spend thinking about writing, is a valuable part of the writing process. In a way, that's what the daily connection to writing suggests. Being connected to your focus, idea, literature review, research questions, research methods, and study results could spark new ideas as your mind "rehearses." In addition to the fact that if you invest a little time each day, one day, the dissertation will be done, daily progress could enrich your research project in ways you never imagined.

So when your heart rate spikes and the task seems daunting, disempower the overwhelming pile of books and the blank word processing page and follow some good advice: do a bit every day, and one day, it will be done.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: The Toolbox of the PhD Students

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've been asked many times: "Eva, what makes somebody a successful PhD student? Why do some students who had great grades in their undergraduate program and in their masters, suddenly start to have trouble when they start their PhD program?".

Success in a PhD program is not only related to being a good student. Yes, being a good student is THE prerequisite for starting a PhD program, but it's not the only necessary condition.

Without good grades and a good grip on the material of your field, you don't have the understanding to dig deep into your field and explore the boundaries of the current knowledge in your field.

However, there are a number of essential research skills to develop as a PhD student. Being aware of these skills is one thing - and actively working on improving their skills will facilitate your path as a PhD student (not that with these skills success will come for free - hard work and many iterations are still the stuff that make up science).

Here is a list of skills you will need during a PhD program:

1. Study on your own

You'll need to be able to identify, honestly, your lacks in knowledge, and study on your own to gain a better understanding of your topic. You'll need to master the skill of studying for understanding - not just studying in order to pass a test. Be prepared to hole up in your room or the library with a text book of a course you never took, and chew your way right through it. This way of studying might or might not fit your learning style - and you might find it difficult to stay focused for long stretches of time.

2. Reading for quickly grasping results

Besides the skill of studying a new topic on yourself, and deeply delving into a topic, you also need to develop the skill to quickly scan a large number of papers, and filter out the results you need. Some papers (say: the seminal papers on which you will build further) are papers that you need to read in depth, go over all the derivations and understand every single fiber and though of it. But some papers will just serve you to bring some data, or to give you an idea on how to improve your experimental setup. Learn when you can go and quickly rob the ideas you need, without chewing over the entire paper endlessly. Understand the different phases of reading you need.

3. Finding the gaps between papers

If your research question is not defined at the outset of your PhD research (and I wonder: when ever is it really defined by the PI before the grad student delves in and starts spinning further from the -sometimes loose- ideas of the PI), you will need to describe in better detail what exactly you will try to answer in your PhD research. A good way to better describe your research question, and to start your hunt, is to read for having a good overview of the current state of understanding of the problem you study, and then compare the different papers to see where the gaps in the current state-of-the-art are. Do you find conflicting data? Different opinions? These situations are typically red flags for you to stop and look better at the difference between the papers you are studying.

4. Testing the boundary conditions of theories

Advances in science are made by those who try and push the boundaries of our knowledge. Whenever I get stuck on theoretical work, I meticulously go over the assumptions of the theories that I have been using, and test the boundary conditions and domain of validity of the used theories. Many times, when you get stuck on theoretical work, it is not your derivation that goes awry (you can derive and derive it 20 times and still come up with the same formula that then in a simulation will give you 3+4i as a result) - you simply are running out of the bounds of the field of application of some theories.

5. Academic writing

Many tweets (check out #acwri) and posts have been devoted to academic writing. As simple as it is: you can't get your PhD degree if you don't write a 100k book dissertation or get a number of papers accepted for publication (depending on the system your university has decided upon). You might have written a couple of lab reports, and probably even a Master's thesis before - but lo and behold, serious Academic Writing that takes you to the PhD level ain't nothing like that. I haven't come across a single person to whom writing their first article or the first chapter of their dissertation came naturally and effortlessly. It's a pain in the beginning, but it's just like learning to ride a bike. Practice makes perfect (or at least: practice makes you faster).

6. Planning

As an undergraduate or Master's student, you can be in a reactive mode, where you simply take on the tasks that are thrown at you, and make sure you deliver them by the homework deadline or study by the exam date. For a PhD program, especially research-based programs, where you can Do Whatever for 4 years, as long as your book is written at the end of the ride, you will need to learn how to plan your work. Learn to subdivide your tasks, from the long-term planning, down to your daily to-do list. You can find some inspiration on productive planning and the use of lists in this linked post.

7. Managing your time

If you want some inspiration on how to structure your time, check out the academic schedules series that is running here at PhD Talk. It will take some iterations (just like research), but ultimately, you will find a time management system that works for you (or you might like to keep evolving your system as you learn more about time management, and because you might end up liking to experiment with different approaches). You need to learn to understand that now you are in charge of your program. You are not sitting here and making homework - you are the owner of your research project, and it's all up to you to bring it to success.

8. Designing experiments

In undergraduate and MSc level courses, you will follow experiments that are well-understood and that are perhaps described by international codes and standards. Once you start pushing the boundaries of the understanding on a certain topic, you might need to device an entirely new testing method to isolate the parameter you want to study. Experiment design is not a course you can typically take, and it will take patience, failed setups, and a lot of coffees with the senior PhD students or lab staff to come up with a setup that works.

9. Taking ownership of your work

As I've mentioned before, PhD level research is not about sitting and waiting for your adviser to give you instructions on which steps to follow and just sit and crunch numbers for him/her. At the end of your PhD, you need to show the (research) world that you are an independent researcher, ready to develop your own lines of research. Your PhD is your first step in this direction. Typically, your adviser will guide you more in the beginning, but gradually will let you loose and just ask you for your main findings. Understand that your PhD is your metamorphosis from guided MSc student to independent researcher - and anticipate the responsibilities associated therewith.

10. Bouncing back after a setback

Every PhD student goes through the Valley of Despair a number of times. Life doesn't end when you reach a dead end in your research. It's OK to be mad at the world, your experiments and your supervisor for a weekend, and spend said weekend reading fiction / gaming / cooking / hating research. But that phase will and should go - and then you need to scramble yourself together, and make course corrections in your research. With this big change, comes the humility of accepting that you are wrong, with accepting that you can't know from the very beginning what is the exact path of research. It can be painful and frustrating, but you'll need to develop the skill of taking a deep breathe, letting go, and starting over new.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Schedule That Motivates You

Today, Rebecca Pollet shares her academic schedule with us. Rebecca is a 4th year PhD candidate in Biochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research interests include crystallography and how the human gut microbiome affects our health. She is also interested in undergraduate mentorship and teaching. You can find her tweeting at @rmpollet.

In my fourth year of graduate school in biomedical research, my daily focus is completing enough experiments in the lab to write peer reviewed papers and my thesis. This means that each day the majority of my time is spent researching, planning, and executing these experiments in order to complete “my story.” However, in line with my interest in undergraduate mentoring and teaching, a good bit of my time is also spent teaching and explaining those experiments and the scientific thought process to undergraduate students working with me.

Early in my graduate career I realized that working with undergraduate students made me more interested in completing my research. Some days I was motivated to go into the lab more for the teaching opportunity with undergraduate students than for the desire to get some basic experiments done. From this I learned a lesson that I think can be helpful to anyone trying to organize their schedule- find what you are interested in, what motivates you and work that into your schedule. I think in any occupation or training, but especially in graduate school, you will be required to do things you don’t particularly enjoy- classes for some, writing for others- but if you have something you look forward to, it will be easier to get through. I am currently working with two undergraduate students and a post-baccalaureate student. This means that I am constantly motivated to stay on top of the techniques we are doing in order to explain it to them. I also benefit from their questions that frequently lead to better controls or new, exciting experiments.

It is also important that I keep time to myself to organize my thoughts, run my own experiments, and read new papers in my field. Luckily working with undergraduate students allows for an easy allocation of time as undergraduates often cluster their classes in the morning leaving their afternoons open to work in lab and my mornings free to work on my own. This has worked well for me as I find that I am able to focus and get difficult work done best in the morning so I can focus on reading a paper or planning a difficult set of experiments each morning and then be more active in the afternoon, working with others, at a time I would otherwise be losing focus.

All this is not to say that my time is perfectly delineated between my own experiments and teaching undergraduate students. I also spend a bit of time each day checking email and twitter. Throughout the day I’ll note emails that need a reply, links or papers I need to spend a bit of time reading, and twitter conversations I’d like to follow. I tend to return to these at the end of the day after the undergraduate students leave for day and my experiments are wrapping up. This allows me to give each of these items more focus than if I was trying to squeeze them in between experiments and helps me wind down after being up and about all day. There is also a fair bit of time spent catching up with other graduate students and my mentor that provide invaluable insights as well as generally good conversation.

After wrapping up experiments, emails, and cleaning up a bit I head home for dinner with my husband. My husband is not in science so home is an escape from the stresses of failed experiments but he is learning enough about my projects to understand what I have been working on each day and celebrate my achievements. In addition to my husband, it is very important to me to have friends and activities outside the university and my research so a few nights each month and some time on weekends are set aside for planning and attending events, spending time with friends, and facilitating communication for the various organizational boards I serve on. Rather than having a hobby like music or crafts, planning and attending these events allows me time away from science that allows me to focus better when I return to the lab. I’ve also met plenty of friends who support me in my research through these organizations!

For nights without a social engagement I spend time after dinner reading papers, writing, and catching up on email while watching TV with my husband. I also reserve some time each weekend to review my work from the previous week and plan for the upcoming week. I find that spending a little time in the lab on the weekend helps me focus and find gaps in my experimental design without the distraction of the commotion that happens in the lab during the week. For me this organization as well as making sure I always have something to look forward to helps me have an enjoyable and productive schedule!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

When workshops and lectures give you a fixed schedule

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Samar Almossa who shares her academic schedule with us. Samar is a second year PhD student at King’s College London, Department of Education and Professional study. She works as a lecturer at Umm Alqura University in Saudi Arabia and she holds MA in Teaching English as a foreign Language from University of Essex. Her PhD explores formative assessment practises in English language courses in Saudi Higher Education. She blogs and tweets about her academic experience to Arabic audience @Ssssamar

I have just started my second year and I have just passed my upgrade from MPhil to PhD which is such a huge step. I recall all the days and nights I spent working toward passing my upgrade and starting my field work. I am not the kind of person who is an organising freak or has one fixed routine. I love change and I do like to change my routine and try different ways of getting my work done. I read quite a lot of blogs and books and have attended workshops about the PhD experience, academic writing and time management. I found time management is always an important topic and the key secret in the PhD journey. In addition, I learned the concept of working smarter rather than harder.

My first year schedule was almost fixed as there were training courses to attend, from how to use Endnote to how to pass your upgrade. There were too many classes and workshops, so I used Google Calendar to keep a record of all of my ‘must do’ academic commitments, along with supervision meetings, weekly department seminars and other personal commitments. After organizing my calendar using colour codes to mark each type of task, I filled in the gaps in my schedule. I fitted reading and writing in the empty spaces. Accordingly, I sometimes used to have a very busy day and I could not get my head together between workshops, etc. Consequently, I studied two or three hours in the evenings. I did not fit any academic tasks into the weekends unless a deadline was coming soon or, in particular, due on Monday! Obviously, the weekend was important ‘me time’ to allow me to relax, to manage cleaning, and to go shopping.

My academic schedule worked very well for the first year. One important element that helped me in having an organized schedule was attending workshops and having regular meetings with my supervisor. Having very regular meetings helped me a lot in terms of being committed to my work and having clear plans and goals to ensure that I made consistent progress. After each meeting, I knew exactly what I was doing, what I had to read, and what resources I had to consult. I also had a clear timeline with my supervisor. So I knew the kind of work expected of me, and the sources to use, the time available and the submission date!

When I first started, it was very difficult to find the perfect place in which to study where I felt comfortable. I love my flat, but was afraid of doing everything other than studying. I tried to study in the PhD students’ shared office and in the library. I did 60% of year one work in my flat, 30% in the PhD office and 10% in the library. I change my work space when I feel less motivated and find that I can increase my motivation by moving to a different place. As I mentioned earlier I had regular meetings with my supervisor. I also had a very fixed routine, and I started writing very early. After each meeting, I counted how many days I had got ‘till the next meeting. For example, if I have 14 days until the next meeting, I always allow 10 days for reading and writing. I also set a deadline that allows three days before the meeting to send off my work, so that my supervisor has a chance to read my work and I have two days for myself to enjoy ‘Phew’!. Then, after the meeting, I take on board my supervisor’s comments, and work within the block of the number of days I have until the next submission and meeting. Working with a deadline in mind helps me to stay focused, take it seriously, and work hard toward the small goals. In the back of my mind I know that if I have achieved this goal, I have moved a step towards my goal.

My motto in order to stay sane during this journey is ‘Kill the stress and bad habits before they get the best of you’. Developing a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy food and hitting the gym, having some time to relax and to enjoy and rewarding myself, do what I love to do, really helped me to be satisfied with my life in general. From PhD day one, I reminded myself that I did not want this PhD to prevent me from enjoying my life. I tried to block all bad ideas and worries. I stopped working when I was tired and changed where I studied when I was bored (e.g. studying in the park). Also, had some good times by going out with friends, playing games. Never in my life have I been a gamer, but I found myself playing games with passion. I felt like my brain was being activated and that really helped me boost my confidence and increase my focus!

I am not a big fan of coffee but I tried to have coffee every evening to boost my energy, but it was a bad idea - insomnia got the best of me. Also, I used to have my desk in my bedroom and that was another reason for my sleeping problems because I turned my relaxing and sleeping zone into a work station. Three months after starting the PhD, I quit my massive coffee consumption, moved my desk to the living room, and switched off the Wifi. For the first time, I had a really good night’s sleep, and never had insomnia gain.

For the second year, there are fewer workshops, so I have more time to schedule my studies. I have joined a writing group where people who write novels, stories, scenarios and PhDs meet every week and accomplish a piece of writing. I prepare my notes and reading beforehand and I go to the cafĂ© where we meet to get some work done with the group! I find that working with a group and attending writing retreats are motivational. As this helps me to stay focused, which is exactly what I need. I will be off for field work shortly. I am planning to write 500 words a day and keep on planning my routine in order to achieve my second year goals, which will be the second step towards the big goal of gaining my ‘PhD’. All the best to my fellow PhDers.