Thursday, March 26, 2020

Q&A: Advice on applying for a PhD position in Europe

I recently received the following question from a reader - edited to preserve anonymity:


Currently I am applying to PhD positions in Europe but not getting a preferable response and now I have started to get disappointed in myself.
My request is please give me your valuable advice on how can I achieve a PhD position in the My Field.
I am highly interested to pursue PhD in the field of my interest.
I found your contact details from & I hope you can help me through this situation.
Please see my details/profile in my CV attached in this mail.
Please let me know if you need any further information about me.
I realize how busy you must be and highly appreciate your time.
Waiting for your kind reply,


I will expand on this topic on a future post, but my quick answer was as follows:

Dear XXX,

Thanks for writing me.
Here are a few things to consider:
- If you apply for a position, apply for an open position as advertised on for example AcademicTransfer
- Don’t cold email professors
- Make sure you fulfil the requirements for GPA and requested exams before you apply.

I hope that helps.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Poll on tools for online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic

I'm writing this on March 20th at night, lockdown day 5 for me, and I've had a rough week. COVID-19 is making me very anxious. Will I be able to go to Delft this summer (I am supposed to travel on May 8th, with my toddler daughter)? And if I can travel, will I be able to return to Ecuador? What if something happens to my family in Europe and the borders are closed and I can't go help them? Lots of thoughts on repeat through my head.

Today, I've started to accept the situation:
- I've made a checklist for myself: daily meditation, 3 breaks with a bit of strength exercises, cardio, yoga - to keep moving
- I've accepted that some work done in a day is a win
- More than anything: I'm grateful that I am not separated from my daughter and husband and cat.
- We can't plan at the moment. I like planning. I need to let go and accept this situation.
- I realize I've only known peace and prosperity in my lifetime. I am grateful for that and am bracing myself for what comes ahead.

If you need to switch to an online defense of your proposal or PhD thesis, check out this post by Dr. Yvette Williams.

On another note, I ran a poll about teaching from home during this pandemic. Do we have the tools for teaching online? And did our universities provide them or did we buy these tools ourselves?

Here are the results of the two polls:

And here is the wake of the poll:

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Neural network-based formula for shear capacity prediction of one-way slabs under concentrated loads

My colleagues Miguel Abambres from Portugal and I just published an article titled "Neural network-based formula for shear capacity prediction of one-way slabs under concentrated loads". This paper is the third and last product of our collaboration through the USFQ program of Collaboration Grants of 2019.

The abstract of the paper is:
According to the current codes and guidelines, shear assessment of existing reinforced concrete slab bridges sometimes leads to the conclusion that the bridge under consideration has insufficient shear capacity. The calculated shear capacity, however, does not consider the transverse redistribution capacity of slabs, and thus leads to overly conservative values. While mechanics-based models have attempted to describe the problem of one-way shear in concrete slabs under concentrated loads, this problem is still not fully understood. Therefore, this paper proposes an artificial neural network (ANN)-based formula to come up with estimates of the shear capacity of one-way reinforced concrete slabs under a concentrated load that are as good as possible based on 287 test results obtained from the literature. The methods used for this purpose are: (i) the development of the database with experimental results from the literature, and (ii) the development of the ANN-based matrix formulation. For the latter purpose, many thousands of ANN models were generated, based on 475 distinct combinations of fifteen typical ANN features. The proposed “optimal” model yields maximum and mean relative errors of 0.0% for the 287 datapoints. Moreover, it was illustrated to clearly outperform (mean Vtest / VANN = 1.00) the Eurocode 2 provisions (mean VE,EC / VR,c = 1.59) for that dataset. A step-by-step assessment scheme for reinforced concrete slab bridges by means of the ANN-based model is also proposed in this work, which results in an improvement of the current assessment procedures.

You can access the paper for free during 50 days.

On another note: be safe and healthy. The COVID-19 pandemic is changing our life significantly now, and I'm not sure what the future will bring for me, for all of us, for the world economy, and for the world - but I worry.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Do you plan your yearly goals?

As the year ran to an end, I did a poll to see if other people plan their goals for the next year.

Here's the outcome for the poll:

Personally, I plan goals for myself on a yearly basis (sourced from my list of 100 dreams, as well as other things I want to do), and plan professional goals and trips on a semester basis.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Limiting your smartphone use with apps

Are you struggling with distractions, and in particular with the distraction your phone creates? There's a number of apps that can help in that case.

In the past, I used Moment to get an idea of how much time I'd be spending on my phone in a given day. I also followed one of the (free) courses in the app. In general, I like how the app is related to the book "Bored and Brilliant" by Manoush Zamorodi. The app itself has gone through quite some changes since then, and I find myself not using it anymore. It may be still of value for you.

The function of my phone that I use now is Screentime. With Screentime, I get an idea of how much time I spend on my phone, and I can set limits on phone usage. During the week, I set a limit of 20 minutes for social media and 1 hour for all phone usage, with some apps always allowed (meditation, workouts, ToDoist - apps that I feel are useful for me). As many people, I struggle with wanting to check social media too much, and yet not getting much out of it for myself (when did social media turn into an ad circus and political battleground? I just want to see pictures and status updates of my friends!). Limiting my use through Screentime is quite helpful for that purpose.

While using apps to reduce your time on your phone is a good hack, you need to address why you are so dependent on your pone. Do you check your phone when you are bored? When you need to solve a difficult problem? Just to kill time? Know why you are mindlessly scrolling in the first place, and then work at this underlying level to break free from the habit.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Uso de Materiales en IngenierĂ­a Estructural: Una Mirada al Futuro

I recently wrote an article titled "Uso de Materiales en IngenierĂ­a Estructural: Una Mirada al Futuro" for the magazine Mundo Constructor.

In this article (in Spanish), I gave an introduction to the materials of the future - more sustainable concrete, as well as biobased materials. I also stressed the urgency to reach net neutrality in Ecuador and in the construction sector.

You can read the magazine online here (the article is on page 35).

Thursday, March 5, 2020

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to return to academia from the industry

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!

Are you currently in an industry position, but wondering what it would be like to return to academia? Are you a PhD student wondering if you can return to academia after time in industry, and how to do this? Then read on - this post is for you!

While I haven't made the switch to industry and back to academia in my professional life, I've observed others doing so, with success, and am giving you here my observations and lessons learned from their stories.

1. Go part-time
In most cases, I've seen that people go to academia from the industry on a part-time basis. They may be working 2 or 3 days a week in their regular office, and the remainder of the week at university. If you are interested in returning to academia, but you're not sure if you want to take the dive for 100%, then try a short-term part-time contract. Make sure that you can return to your industry job fully at the end of the short-term contract, so that you keep your options open: either keep the part-time combination of both, return to industry, or dedicate yourself fully to academia.

2. Volunteer in committees
In my field, most technical committees are made up of academics, practitioners, and government workers. If you are interested in contributing to your field in a practical manner, volunteering in a committee may be the right way to go. You'll learn what academics in your field are currently working on, you can volunteer to help out writing technical documents, and you can serve your field.

3. Publish
If you want to return to academia, your publication record may or may not be important. In my field, traditionally, publications are not the driving factor for universities to hire somebody: the driving factor may be your practical experience, or your knowledge in a particular topic. As universities move towards one-size-fits-all requirements for hiring and tenure, however, a simple publication count may be part of a grading rubric that determines whether they want to hire you or not. If you want to increase your chances, publish from your thesis, and publish case studies you encounter in practice.

4. Teach a course

If you want to know if lecturing is for you, or you want to strengthen your profile to return to academia, you can teach a practical course. You can teach for example in a Master of Engineering program, or an online program, or a practical short-term course. You can also teach one semester of a course at a university (if they are in need of a lecturer) as an adjunct to see if it's something you'd like to do more of in the future. Don't go for a full-time academic position on an adjunct salary though, with vague promises of getting on the tenure track "when an opening comes".

5. Show up
Show your face, make sure people know you are interested in current research, and possibly interested in returning (part-time) to academia. This strategy may not land you a job today, but your former colleagues may keep you in mind when they need somebody to cover a course, or when there's an opportunity to hire somebody.