Thursday, March 14, 2019

PhD Defenses Around the World: a Defense in Portugal

Today, Dr. Miguel Abambres shares his experiences of the PhD defense. Miguel is a passionate Portuguese scientist, born in Lisbon in 1984 (Leo), and also a cat guy who loves traveling and teaching. He received his degree in Civil/Structural engineering in 2007 from IST (University of Lisbon) after spending the final semester of his undergrad at TU Delft. He received his PhD in 2014 from IST (University of Lisbon) on the topic of computational mechanics (novel FE formulation) applied to thin-walled carbon/stainless steel structural members. He did a post-doc at FCT (University of Coimbra, Portugal) in 2017-2018 on the development of an AI-based software for nonlinear regression problems in any field of knowledge. He also has 1,5 years of experience as a structural engineer in national and international firms, has spend 1,5 years as a under/postgrad professor (in Spanish) in Lima, Peru, and has worked 9,5 years as a scientist in several countries. His research interests include: Applied Computational Intelligence, Artificial Neural Networks, Civil Engineering, Structural Engineering, and Steel Structures. Besides Portugal, he has lived in Holland, Australia, Norway, Perú, Colombia and Brazil. This post was written in August 2018.

In my case it was a remarkable period, i loved it, but not anything i wasn´t expecting. The exception was a "little stress" in the final semester (don't forget a 0.5 mg XANAX pill in your pocket during moments like this LOL), when one night I realized I had to restart my last computer simulations because the results were not good - I got afraid not having time to apply for the 2013 Vinnakota Award, but thanks to God I managed and at the end I had the honor to receive my first, yet the only (apart from grants), research prize.

I got a 4 year PhD grant from the Portuguese Government, and in order to apply I had to write a research proposal with my supervisors. Around the 3rd year I realized we had proposed enough topics for 2 PhDs (LOL), but my supervisor soon told me that the research proposal didn´t have to be fully completed as long as there was a major innovation in my final PhD thesis. Talk to your "bosses" and make it clear from the beginning. Researching under stress and anxiety harms a lot your performance.

Concerning thesis writing, my strategy was to start writing the theoretical part since day 1.
I proposed a novel mathematical formulation. Every stage of it was first written in MS Word (in the "final" thesis format, including text - not just formulas), then coded in MATLAB. After 4 years of research (including 6 compulsory postgrad courses and 15 papers (10 to conferences)), the so desired final phase had come - 6 months to finish the 328 page thesis.



After delivering the manuscript, I waited 6 months for the public defense. In the meantime I prepared my .pptx and went for holidays with my best friend a few months before the D day. In that day it was a piece of cake ahahaha (seriously, no one in that room knows more about your work than yourself).
Be confident and do not rehearse too much your presentation. Speaking at several conferences before the defense might help increasing your confidence and decreasing your anxiety (don´t forget the XANAX "friend", just in case).

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Moving towards more Open Access publishing?

Eleven countries in Europe formed cOAlition-S, with as its basic principle:
"After 1 January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.”

I wondered if researchers are planning to move more towards open access, and ran a poll on the topic.

Here are the poll and its wake:

Thursday, March 7, 2019

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Avoid These 10 Mistakes During Your Ph.D.

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!


For the last few years, I've been consistently giving you my best advice. Today, I will give you a list of what not to do during your PhD years. Without me blabbering away with too much of an introduction, here are the 10 mistakes you should avoid when doing your PhD:

1. Start research without reading
When you start your PhD, you may be very eager to start working right away. While you may need to start working in the lab very soon after starting because of project deadlines, you need to start reading at the beginning as well to get a better understanding of what lies behind your observations in the laboratory. Your literature review is the basis of how you will phrase and tackle your research question. Pay due attention to the foundation of your work before you start building your research castle.

2. Stop reading after finishing the literature review
Once you finished your literature review, you may feel like you are "done" with the reading part of your research. Spoiler alert: you're never done reading. As a researchers, you need to keep up with the literature constantly. Set aside time on a weekly basis to read new papers, or to read classic/historical papers you missed when you did your literature review. Use this material to update your literature review until the final version of your dissertation is ready. And before your defense, delve into the literature again, so that you can show your committee members that your knowledge on your research topic is up-to-date and that you knwo their work very well too.

3. Avoid all "extra" work
You are not traveling to conferences and presenting your work because writing a conference paper is not a graduation requirement. You don't volunteer for extra work for committees within your university or of professional organizations. You reject all invitations to review papers. While I'm not an advocate for overloading you with work, you should consider opportunities carefully. For example, writing a conference paper can be a good first step before writing a journal paper. Presenting at conferences and other events helps you grow as a speaker, and replying questions during the Q&A prepares you for your defense.

4. Isolate yourself as a researcher
You don't talk about your research to the senior PhD students and post-docs. You don´t ask your supervisor for help when you feel stuck. You don´t listen to the input of the laboratory staff on your test setup. You are a complete solo player in your research. Unfortunately, research is a collaborative effort. Work in a team, and learn from those around you. Ask for help and advice - there's no shame in asking for help.

5. Isolate yourself socially
You eat lunch behind your computer. Your friends haven't seen you in months. At night, you watch Buzzfeed videos on your phone. Your mood levels are subarctic. Maybe you don´t even go to campus anymore but prefer to "work from home". Sounds familiar? Break out of your rut and make sure you rekindle your friendships and work relationships. Even better: set goals for your relationships with others, and add events to your planner (I learned this from Laura Vanderkam's 2018 book "Off the Clock" and now set goals for work, self, and relationships to balance these aspects of my life).

6. Procrastinate
OK, we all procrastinate. I love watching cat pictures on Twitter and reading random Wikipedia entries. But, when you can't get any work done because you are procrastinating more than anything else, you need to take action. You need to have a conversation with yourself about why you are not getting to your work. Is the task ahead seemingly too complex? Split it up into smaller, actionable items, and make lists and a planning. Do you have difficulties staying concentrated? Remove distractions and try the Pomodoro technique. Do you have something in your personal life that throws you off balance? Deal with it first and then get back to work.

7. Work without documenting your work
You want to work fast and don't want to get writing to slow you down - so you do all your calculations without documenting the references you used, the steps you followed, and the iterative changes your procedures went through. Big mistake. Document everything you do. If possible, ask for a computer with two screens: one screen for doing your calculations, and one screen in which you write down what you have been doing. Don't read without taking notes. Add a "version management" tab to your spreadsheets to log changes to your calculation sheets.

8. Work without a planning
You don't know where research will be leading you, so you don't need a planning. Maybe you work based on what comes into your email inbox. When you work like this, it's easy to lose track of your priorities. Make a list with your goals and priorities, and allocate your time accordingly. I'm a big advocate of setting milestones during the PhD, and planning at multiple levels (entire PhD trajectory, per year, per semester, per month, per week, and per day). I use a combination of lists in Todoist, planning and a weekly template in Google Calendar, and a Bullet Journal to write down my priorities and reflect on my progress.

9. Have the wrong motivation
Your goal in life is to become a professor so you need that PhD. Or, your goal in life is to make a lot of money, so you need the Dr. title. If you have the wrong motivation for doing your PhD, you will dread the journey. If you don't like what you're doing, then something is wrong. Try to find what motivates you to get to work every workday - will your research possibly have an impact on society? Whose lives will improve thanks to your work? How do you feel in the lab? If you really regret your decision, don't try to drag yourself through the next three or four years, but see if you can change project, topic, university, or even quit altogether if you learn that research is not for you.

10. Forget about self-care
You need to get through that PhD, whatever it takes. Well - it may take your health (physical and/or mental), and then you won't be able to finish maybe. So prioritize self-care, even when you feel you don't deserve it. Schedule time to unwind and do what energizes you. Take proper care of yourself by getting enough sleep, movement, and healthy food.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

I am Miguel Abambres, and This is How I Work.

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Miguel Abambres. Miguel is a passionate Portuguese scientist, born in Lisbon in 1984 (Leo), and also a cat guy who loves traveling and teaching. He received his degree in Civil/Structural engineering in 2007 from IST (University of Lisbon) after spending the final semester of his undergrad at TU Delft. He received his PhD in 2014 from IST (University of Lisbon) on the topic of computational mechanics (novel FE formulation) applied to thin-walled carbon/stainless steel structural members. He did a post-doc at FCT (University of Coimbra, Portugal) in 2017-2018 on the development of an AI-based software for nonlinear regression problems in any field of knowledge. He also has 1,5 years of experience as a structural engineer in national and international firms, has spend 1,5 years as a under/postgrad professor (in Spanish) in Lima, Peru, and has worked 9,5 years as a scientist in several countries. His research interests include: Applied Computational Intelligence, Artificial Neural Networks, Civil Engineering, Structural Engineering, and Steel Structures. Besides Portugal, he has lived in Holland, Australia, Norway, Perú, Colombia and Brazil. This interview was conducted in August 2018.

Current Job: Pro bono scientist
Current Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Current mobile device: black Samsung Galaxy A3
Current computer: hp pavilion x360 convertible (laptop)

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I'm in a sabbatical year since I finished my postdoc (Feb 20th, 2018), but actively looking for a faculty position since then (Europe, Canada or Latin America preferred). After finishing postdoc, in which I developed/validated an Artificial Neural Network software for functional approximation and classification problems in any field of knowledge, I’ve started looking for collaborations worldwide aiming to apply my software to real problems and propose novel analytical models to the scientific and technical communities (interested researchers are very welcome to get in touch @AbambresM and/or ResearchGate).

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

Windows-based laptop and desktop computer (running MATLAB simulations 24/7), Android-based cell phone, fast internet, MS office, MATLAB software, AnyDesk software/app.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I LOVE to work, so I might work anywhere as long as I have my laptop and a quiet/cozy place. My favorite office is in my place in Lisbon, where I work most of the time when i´m in town. At the moment I don´t have any institutional office (also, that´s not a requirement in my job seeking 😊 )

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Work exclusively on what you love and with the people you like. Rest enough and have some workout every week.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Checking email and the daily task list written on my phone’s calendar.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
A smart plug to schedule the time my home office fan is working when i´m abroad, in order to avoid computer overheating in hot days (air conditioning is much better, but mine cannot be accessed remotely)

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Analytical, hard-worker, ambitious and passionate (all in one 😊)

What do you listen to when you work?
None, some American hiphop (50 cent, Ryan Leslie), TV news in the background, classical music

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I don’t like reading….never did…only news in social media and job-related reading!

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Introvert. I am more productive when alone, but sometimes it feels good working at relatively quiet public places (libraries, coffee shops)

What's your sleep routine like?
When i´m employed, I like starting the day quite early. I try to sleep at least 7 h every night (if I cant some night, I compensate in other night). I´m a night owl when i´m not employed (2-6 am).

What's your work routine like?
I don´t have a fixed routine. I work whenever i´m not doing basic tasks or hanging out. Every single day is a working day for me (as long as I work on what i´m passionate about).

What's the best advice you ever received?

Be happy, follow your dreams, follow your inner voice.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Working hours in academia

I recently ran a poll on Twitter on how many hours academics work per week. As I've gone from 30(ish) hours per week for a year back to 40 hours - after always having worked 6 days a week for 8+ hours daily, I sometimes feel that I am not working enough, but I also realize that I don't have more hour that I can be in the office because of childcare constraints. I can try to put in some extra hours at night (or work on my blog at night, as I am doing now at 9pm on a Friday night), but I feel that I have to be super efficient at work and then still fall behind. I also feel guilty at times, because of the persistent myth that we all should be working 80 hours per week.

Long story short, I did a poll about working hours and very few of the respondents work more than 50 hours per week.

Here's the poll and its wake:

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

How long is a reasonable amount of time for peer review?

After a discussion about how fast or slow the review process is these days, and agreeing with a colleague that 3 weeks is a reasonable amount of time, I wanted to know if other academic think alike. The majority of the voters do agree with my first idea, and voted for the option "between 2 and 4 weeks".

Here's the wake of the poll:

Thursday, February 21, 2019

I am Steven Shaw, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Dr. Steven R. Shaw in the "How I Work" series. Steven is associate professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at McGill University in Montreal. Before entering academia, he had 17 years of experience as a practicing school psychologist. From 1997 to 2004, he served as lead psychologist and associate professor of pediatrics at The Children's Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina and Medical University of South Carolina. In 2000, the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists recognized him for "Outstanding Contributions to Education" for his work on addressing overrepresentation of minority groups in special education and development of teaching techniques for children with borderline intelligence. In 2010, he received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the Faculty of Education at McGill University. In 2012, he received the President’s Award from NASP for his innovative research-to-practice efforts. He has published a few papers, chapters, and such; talked to many groups of folks; and has also published four books. His fifth book, Applying recent advances in the science of intellectual disabilities to classroom and clinical practice will be published by Springer in early 2019. He is on the editorial board of six international scholarly journals, former editor of School Psychology Forum, and current editor of the Canadian Journal of School Psychology.

Current Job: Associate professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology
Current Location: McGill University, Montreal, QC Canada
Current mobile device: iPhone 6 (in the market for an upgrade because a friend just made fun of me for my old phone)
Current computer: SurfacePro III

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I tend to work on a specific area of research for a while, feel a pull to move on to something else, and then make a change. In some cases, I write a book to create closure on the topic. My new research concepts involve exploring the intersection among implementation science, open science, and evidence-based practices for the profession of school psychology. I am in the process of converting all my student-conducted research to entirely open science techniques that include registered reports, data sharing, and transparent analyses.
I have also completed 6 years of significant administrative responsibilities and am very excited to return to some decent levels of research productivity.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I use Slack for communication with students and project organization, a Pomodoro timer, and Dragon naturally speaking because I dictate all manuscripts and emails to improve speed and flow of thought.
I use RescueTime to troubleshoot my work habits if I find that I am falling behind. I use sheets on Google Docs to keep track of my major tasks in the day, writing productivity, and status of projects.

What does your workspace setup look like?

I prefer working from home whenever possible because it is about a 90-minute commute to the office. So working from home saves me about three hours in the day. I do all my creative work standing and have a standing desk situation in my office and at home. I find that the standing desk increases energy and mental alertness. I do sit to read. I have a yoga mat in both workplaces to do a quick stretch during the five-minute Pomodoro breaks.



What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Always have a big picture and purpose in mind. What am I trying to accomplish? Where do I want these ideas to be in five years? When I have these questions answered, then the only work I do supports those big picture ideas. At that point, the work is satisfying, fun, and has a purpose.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I have several files and tabs on Google sheets. My students have access to all these so that they can see what project I am giving attention to at any given moment.
I also have a notebook in which I write meeting notes and tasks for the day. I do this during my train commute to and from work. When I get to the office or return home, then I transcribe action items into a calendar or to do list.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I have a nice pen (it is old technology). I have had the same Waterman rollerball pen for 11 years. Usually it is used only to sign my name. Yet, I still use it to make notes at meetings.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Consistency. I am a bit of a grinder. I do some work every single day.
Also, I try my best to ensure that no matter how many tasks have deadlines or how far behind I am on my work that I always have time for people who are important to me or otherwise need my time and energy. I am always busy, but I always have time for you.
Finally, I have a mantra that I try to meet every day: read 100 pages, write 1000 words, laugh often, and support others.

What do you listen to when you work?
Classic jazz, hard rock/metal, or silence.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I read three or four journal articles every morning before I get started. Some are part of my duties as a journal editor, some are from links supplied by Twitter people, and some are papers discovered by my students.
I usually read nonacademic books in the late afternoon or evening. I tend to read about one book per week. Currently, I am rereading: Kodokan Judo: Throwing Techniques by Sensei Daigo. My favourite book that I read this summer is I Fight for a Living by Louis Moore.
Time is not something that you find it is something you prioritize. So I never really understand that question. It is like asking if I can find the time to breathe or eat.

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

Extremely introverted. Although I am social and have friends and family, I enjoy being alone. I have no difficulty working for days or weeks on end without seeing anyone but family.

What's your sleep routine like?

I go to bed between 10 and 11 PM and wake up at 5:50 AM. Morning routine consists of five-minute meditation, 15-minute brief stretching, walking the dog, shower, coffee, and on my way.

What's your work routine like?
I tend to read the news and be silly on Twitter for an hour every morning. Then I read journal articles and answer emails. After that, it is time to take on the first scheduled task of the day. I just do as much as I can as fast as I can and try not to suck (a paraphrase from @chuckwendig).

What's the best advice you ever received?

Just do what you do. If that is not appreciated in your current work environment, then go find a place that is a better fit. I know that will not work for everyone, but I have already had a career before I became an academic. So I do not take the world of academia too seriously. I prefer to think that I am still school psychologist who works in knowledge generation and translation, and is preparing the next group of professionals. That works better in my head than thinking of myself as a professor or academic.

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