Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I am Chris Jones and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Chris Jones for the "How I Work" series. Chris is currently a 2nd year PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received his B.S. in Environmental Science with a minor in Mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research interests are in forest pests and pathogens; specifically, their effect on ecosystem processes and services. In this realm, he is particularly interested in their effect on fire and carbon sequestration. His research is funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. He is also very passionate about science communication and grad student issues. You can find Chris on twitter @ChrisM_Jones or at RockYourResearch.com.

Current Job: Phd Student at UNC @ Chapel Hill in Geography (NSF Graduate Research Fellow)
Current Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Current mobile device: LG G2 (will be switching to an I-phone next contract cycle)
Current computer: I built my own computer (I7 processor, 32 GB RAM, 2 TB Hard drive, good video card). I use Windows 8 as my OS due to ArcGIS only working on Windows.

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am currently a PhD student in Geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. This fall I will start my 3rd year in my PhD program. I will take my comprehensive exams and defend my dissertation proposal this fall. My research is on an invasive forest pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum, in California. It is the pathogen responsible for sudden oak death, a disease that kills oak and tanoak trees that are iconic parts of the California landscape. I use computational simulations to understand the effects of P. ramorum on wildfire and forest succession. I am particular interested in how this pathogen can change fire frequency and magnitude and how the interaction between wildfire and the pathogen is likely to change the species that make up the forests in California.

I am also deeply interested in graduate student issues and have a recently launched website on this topic. I am currently working on a podcast by the same name that should launch mid to late July. I love good science communication and think that science needs to be written in a more fun, publicly understandable way.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I use R studio for all of my statistics and data manipulation and analysis. I use ArcGIS for all of my map making and some processing. Evernote is where I store everything about my life and PhD. I use it for a lab notebook to keep track of day to day tasks related to my research. I also use it for journaling, storing receipts, taxes, etc. I keep it very organized using tags. I use Gmail, google calendar and Calendly to schedule appointments and keep track of meetings and obligations. Everything I do integrates well with Gmail and Google calendar. I use Nozbe for project and task management.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I work only in my home office. I am currently trying out standing at my desk and so far it has improved productivity. The modification to make it a standing desk is crude (in so far as I used game boxes) but I didn’t want to commit time and money into something I wouldn’t enjoy. I am currently on week 3 of my 4 week trial. If I still love it after 4 weeks I will raise the desk permanently.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
List all of your current projects. Then decide what task are necessary to complete each project. Break these tasks into chunks that you can complete in one day. Then decide which tasks on each project are the next one you need to accomplish and start working through them. Make sure this list is stored somewhere it won’t be lost and that you will always be able to access when you need it. Do 1 or 2 of these essential tasks per day and you will feel much more accomplished than if you jump from project to project.

Also keep email to the bare minimum. I check email twice a day.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I use Nozbe to manage all of my projects. I list every task that needs to be accomplished from start to finish of the project. It synchs with Evernote and Dropbox so I can link to the files that I need to complete the task or project. I can also email myself a task. This app allows me to structure my workflow and have a broad overview of all of my projects, both personal and professional. My wife (who is also a graduate student) can even assign me a task to do, which works out great for us both! I can see it when it is convenient for me rather than having her interrupt me while I am concentrating on an important task. I can then do the task and she can see that it is done when it is convenient for her. She uses it too, so I can assign tasks to her in the same manner. We use it for everything, including grocery lists. It has an app for all major platforms. It also integrates with Gmail and Google calendar. If I set a date and time for doing a task it blocks that task out in my calendar so I don’t double book myself. I treat appointments with myself the same way I treat appointments with others.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I love my kindle paper white for reading books. It doesn’t handle pdf figures well so it doesn’t work well for papers. I tend to use my tablet for reading pdfs.

My brother in law bought us a Neato vacuum. It is a small robot like a Roomba. It vacuums the floor for us on a schedule and all I need to do is empty the dirt bin when it is done. This is pricey if you have to buy one but I couldn’t imagine not having it now.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
This is a hard question to answer. I would say it is my ability to automate most of my processing to allow me to get more done in less time. My computer can be processing my data and running models (sometimes this takes 3-7 days) while I am able to get other work done. Putting in the time up front to have automated processes saves me so much time now and in the future.

I also take really good notes so that I know what I did and how I did it. This again takes time now but saves lots of time later.

What do you listen to when you work?
I listen to Focus@Will. It is music designed for productivity. I personally listen to the drums and hums on medium intensity. It works best for me and keeps me focused. I find other music distracting.

What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading Free to Learn by Peter Gray. I have a 7 month old and am interested in how children learn. I am also reading the Four hour work week by Tim Ferris because it inspires me to live a better life now rather than waiting for someday. I listen to a lot of audio books as well. I make reading a priority in my life. I read for 20 minutes before bed and while my son naps because he doesn’t nap by himself yet.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I am more of an introvert. I am working on being more outgoing and meeting more people. I can’t work around other people though. I am like one of those little dogs (a picture of a pug turning its head back and forth would be funny here) that is constantly looking at everything going on around me. I find doing work anywhere with any movement or noise very distracting. I need to work during a quiet time or I am very ineffective. I think that is a big weakness and will make it hard to work in a job that would require me to be there in person.

What's your sleep routine like?
I go to bed between 7 and 8 pm and wake up at 2 am every day. This allows me to work for many hours while the house is quiet, before my son wakes up. There are exceptions to this but they are rare.

What's your work routine like?
I get up and start a 30 minute inspirational podcast. While that is playing I drink a quart of water, do 10 minutes of yoga, do 8 minutes of a Tabata workout, make and drink a protein shake, and take my vitamins. This wakes me up and starts my day with lots of energy.

I then write 15 minutes on my dissertation (whether I want to or not) using a timer.

Then I check my project manager where I have laid out all of the tasks that I want to get done that week. I choose the 1st and 2nd most important tasks that I want to get done today. I then get to work on knocking those out. While doing this I use the Pomodoro technique, where I work for 25 minutes then take a short break and repeat. During the break I move around to get my energy back up.

I usually work until about 8 am. This is roughly when my 7 month old wakes up and I go see him. That is usually the end of my workday. I work approximately 42 hours a week during this time because I do it 7 days a week. I do have meetings and other times that I work if it is necessary to get a time sensitive task done. I find that I get more done in this amount of time than I did my first year and half of graduate school working 70 to 90 hours a week during normal working hours.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Efficiency does not mean effectiveness. If you are doing a task really efficiently but that task doesn’t need to be done then you aren’t effective. Effectiveness is knowing which tasks are absolutely essential and then being efficient at those tasks.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to prepare for your first conference

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!

Today's post is about preparing yourself to attend and (I am assuming) to present at your first academic conference. I'm assuming you have written your paper (if you haven't done so yet, check out how I write my conclusions), and your request has been approved - now, all that remains to be done, is to "just" go and attend the conference.

1. Request a travel budget

I think it's inherently wrong that we're so often tacitly assumed to be forking out (part of) the money ourselves to attend conferences. Asking an underpaid PhD student to pay a registration fee of 1000 USD at a conference is so far away from the gist of why we are practicing science and want to exchange our ideas. Most universities do have travel budgets you can apply to. Some of these additional scholarships are more unbiased, in other cases you might just need to write a letter to an Important Person and hope he reads this on a good day and helps you with the expenses. By all means, the system at Delft University of Technology is fair and straightforward: if you have the approval to travel, they take care of all your expenses (including the cost of food while you are away).

2. Book in advance

Many conferences have early-bird registration fees. Avoid additional costs by booking as early as possible (by the same token: apply for travel funding as early as possible). Similarly, your flight ticket and hotel registration may be cheaper when you book in advance - and you avoid the unpleasant situation of not finding spots on the flight or in the hotel of your choice anymore as the date of your conference approaches. Booking early is part of being well-prepared.

3. Study the conference schedule

Now that you know that you are going for sure, it is time to outline your itinerary for the days of the conference. Make sure you read all the information of the conference, and know where and when to register (pro tip: try to register as early as possible to avoid unpleasant surprises, such as a payment that did not go through and your registration that did not get processed).
Read the titles of all presentations to familiarize yourself with the topics, and mark which presentations you want to see. Note that sometimes presentations only are remotely related to the topic of the session, so don't let yourself be guided too much by the topic of the session. Plan to ask questions after the presentations as well.

4. Identify who to talk to

From the conference schedule, identify who is carrying out research related to yours, and make sure you attend these presentations. Try to talk with the presenter after his/her presentation, so you can introduce yourself to him/her. Also identify in the scientific committee if there are senior researchers you would like to talk to - often the members of the scientific committee will attend the conference as well.

5. Plan some downtime

Conferences are exhausting, so it is a good ideas, especially for your first conference, to identify when you could have a little bit of downtime. If your conference schedule is packed with dinners until midnight and sessions that start at 8 am, you will be running on -say- 6 hours of sleep, which for many of us is not enough. Factor in the fact that attending conference presentations is like a scaled-up version of attending lectures, and you know you need your full concentration to benefit from attending the sessions. Often as well, you will be jetlagged and tired from traveling to the conference, so that doesn't help either to keep your attention sharp. Don't neglect self-care when traveling.

6. Pack your clothes

When packing your bag, travel light - just take the clothes you are planning to wear for the days of the conference, a spare shirt in case you spill your coffee, workout clothes if you think you can squeeze in some exercise, and comfortable clothes for your flight. You can find an overview of what I typically take to a conference here. Keep in mind as well that sometimes you might be traveling to a warm destination, but the AC in the conference venue might be turned to arctic. Similarly, you might be heading to Snow Capital in January, and find that the heating is set to boil you alive. The solution: take some layers.

7. Explore the city

Plan in advance when you will have time to see something of the city, and what you are going to visit. Keep in mind that the conference is your main goal, but that the chance that you will return to the city of the conference in the next years might be small. A good strategy is to arrive early: you will have a day to see something of the city, register for the conference, and if your flight gets delayed you only miss out on the touristing part and will not have your attendance at the conference in peril.

8. Go with your presentation ready

You will not have time to make your presentation during the conference. Go well-prepared and have your presentation ready, and practiced. I typically make my presentation 2-3 weeks in advance so that I can send it to my co-authors for approval. I also (still, after all these years!) practice my presentation until I have a good feeling for the time I have available. Keep in mind as well that if, for example, your conference has 4 presentations per hour, you will not speak for 15 minutes. You'll need to calculate the time for getting introduced, sometimes the time for getting the computers up and running, and time for questions. For this case, prepare a presentation of 10-12 minutes. You don't want to be the person taking too much time (especially not before the coffee or lunch breaks, when everybody wants to go eat, drink something or just take a break). Many conferences will ask you to send/upload your presentation in advance. By all means, check in the speaker ready room if your presentation is in the system, and if everything comes on the screen as you intended it to (different versions of powerpoint sometimes move things around - correct that before you are up on the stage to present).
If you feel insecure about presenting your (early) work to some of the top researchers in your field, you can practice power-posing to boost your self-confidence.

9. Travel early

I once almost missed the first day of a conference because my first flight was delayed, I missed my connecting flight and then was put onto the waiting list. I was hoping so hard they'd find a spot for me, and just before the flight took off, I heard my name from the standby list as cleared to board. Since then, I've been traveling with a day of extra time for my long flights. I'd rather stay one night extra in the hotel, than miss the entire first day of a conference because of travel problems.

10. Have everything backed-up

Print out your boarding pass, hotel reservations and conference registration confirmation. Figure out how to get from the airport to the hotel to avoid having to pay for a cab. Print out your slides of the presentation to practice. Put all the emails about the conference, your paper, presentation and all relevant documents on a back-up for when you need them. I am not traveling with a laptop anymore, but use a Surface tablet (the device itself is so glitchy that I wouldn't recommend you getting it, but when it works, it is useful for my teaching and for having access to MS Office and the internet when traveling)

11. Plan you time before and after the conference

I once did the math to see how much time a conference really takes me - from the step of finding a suitable conference to present my work to the point of needing some extra time to recover after a conference.
Keep in mind as well that, after the conference, you don't just simply return to your office, park yourself in front of your computer and get going again. You'll need to file for reimbursement and do all the administration work. You will need to send a few emails to catch up with people you met during the conference. Your overflowing mailbox might take a day to get sorted out. You'll need to catch up in the lab to see how things are going. There'll be people who need to talk to you, mail you or phone you. You'll be tired and busy. Plan accordingly.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I am Ashley Williamson and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Ashley Williamson for the "How I Work" series. Ashley has a BA (Hons.) in English and Drama from Queen’s University and an MA in Theatre Studies from York University. She is currently in her third year of a PhD at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto. Her research on Historical Sites and the performances that happen at them is taking her on a cross Canada road trip this summer.

Current Job: Third Year PhD Student (includes RA and TA work)
Current Location: University of Toronto
Current mobile device: iphone
Current computer: mac book air 13 inches

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am preparing for a summer long research road trip that will take me all over Canada. I work out of the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies and I research the use of performance in National Historic Sites - so the costumed animators at Forts, Historic Houses and Farms, or Settlements. I am interested how these performers interact with the visitors, what historical elements are emphasis or not in the performances and whether or not a national narrative is emerging, piece by piece, at all these places. This trip and research means I am finishing up my ethics review, planning my route and writing my prospectus simultaneously. It is ... stressful just now.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I am a list maker and each item on the list has an estimated time the task will take and box to tick when the task it done. These accountability features are relatively new but they make sure I don’t have 35 item daily lists. Long daily lists are just a way to set yourself up for disappointment or a sneaky way of getting out of doing anything.

I use Evernote to track notes, websites links and documents related to all my projects - academic or otherwise. I read on lifehack.com that best way to use Evernote was to use it for everything. I like that the app is linked between my computer and phone. It means that all the pictures I take on my iPhone of things I need to remember have a labelled place to go. I also save drafts of important emails I have written in Evernote so I can pillage them for phrases and ideas.

I write with Scrivener but only for long works that need to be sectioned off so I don’t lose track - like lit reviews, journal articles and eventually my dissertation. I use Pages/Word for all other writing - it is clumsy and not quite right but... I don’t have time to find
anything better.

I am also heavily dependent on a giant wall calendar, paper agenda, legal pads, coloured pens, sharpies, post-it notes. I use the wall of my carrel to chart out my projects visually and to record how much time I have spent on them. I often need to chart out work on very large pieces of paper with markers and stickers because (and this sounds nuts) I can’t ‘see them’ in my computer. If I could write my dissertation on 25 metres of butcher paper I would be a happy woman.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I was assigned a carrel in my University Library on Dec 3, 2014 and my entire work-life changed. I had a been a nomad until then, with a list of coffee shops I did the rounds of over the course of a week. My ‘cube’, as I like to call it not only got me into a routine but got all of my academic life OUT OF MY HOUSE. I can walk away from it all at the end of the day and nothing else I have ever done has been as helpful. The carrel itself is not big. I tell people it is like a generous handicapped washroom stall. I also don’t control the overhead lights or the temperature... but beggars can’t be choosers. You can see from the pictures that I really use my walls. I visualize my work. I have always done that but I think my theatre background honed it - set diagrams, costume sketches, and production timetables have been transferred to research maps, post-it note halos, and calendar flow charts.

View of Ashley's desk
Post-it system

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Separation and compartmentalization. I have never had a fixed work place or day - I worked as a theatre programme director, a freelance editor, and have been a student for all of my 30s. It is easy for all of those jobs to take up every single minute of the day for all seven days a week - and I let them. I decided when I was in my MA to treat it like a job - 9-5, 5 days a week. It is not for everyone but it works for me. I am less interested in how much time I spend on something and more of what results are achieved. How many chapters of this book do I need to read today? How many pages do I need to edit.

Also - and this happened in the approximately the last 18 months - limited email time. I do not look at or respond to email until 3pm. This made me really nervous at first - what if something happens! What if I don’t response and people think I have forgotten or am rude?! This didn’t happen -ever. Emails get answered everyday, at the end of my day and I don’t get sucked into the endless spiral of reply/send/reply/send all day long. It has also made my relationship with my students better. I will not correspond with my students over email. Period. I tell them on day one they may use email only to book an in person meeting with me. This was controversial for a lot of my colleagues but it worked. I have generous office hours and will always stay after class to chat with students if they want. I have eliminated them using me as a quick resource for answers they should be able to find themselves (things on the syllabus!) and made our interactions more meaningful. I am also not spending my time teaching via email which I know for many of my friends is a massive time suck.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Big calendar and multiple lists on the wall. If I can’t see it I can’t cope with it.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I use an iPad for reading articles and pdfs and a camera to document research at historical sites (I am between cameras right now - I had a Canon).

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Project development. I have always been a Big Picture person looking at the broad strokes and finding people to handle the smaller details. As I have gotten further and further into the PhD process I have gotten better and making big projects into smaller chunks and figuring out how much time an what resources I will be need to complete them. I guess I have gotten better at sorting out the details.

I like to mark - yup, I am the only one I have every met. I think of marking papers as a form of communication. I know. Nuts.

I am also a kick-ass archival researcher.

What do you listen to when you work?
CBC Radio 2 online while I read and write. Hip-hop for dance breaks.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I am reading a book of Detective Rebus Short Stories by Ian Rankin, Caught by Lisa Moore, and a romance called Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare. Since I was about 13 or 14 I have always read in the bathtub at night. It is a decompression method and I mostly read mysteries, or The New Yorker. I have the romance novel on my iPad based on a podcast recommendation. I generally read on my iPad on Saturday or Sunday mornings with coffee. It is unusual for it to be fiction though - I read A LOT of nonfiction - Bright Side by Barbara Ehrenreich, Over Dressed by Elizabeth L Cline, that sort of thing. I have always read more than one book at a time.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?
I have a hard time with this because I seem like an extroverted person. I am chatty, good at a party and have a wide and varied circle of friends. However, being quiet and alone is how I get my energy. This works academically because I like to be in class to talk though an idea, theory or article, but in order to process it I have to be by myself to write and think.

What's your sleep routine like?
Well guarded. I have a bath at 10-10.30 and then get in bed to read, or watch some Netflix (I know bad) and then I am lights out by 1140-12. I have always listened to the radio to fall asleep (my whole life) and that has now been replaced by podcasts. I never hear the end of them! I wake up between 7.30-9 depending on what the next day looks like. If I am in a very high work cycle, or at a conference to have just started to teach
again after a term off I get very sleepy about 3, or 4 and have to have a power nap. This is the perfect scenario, of course.

What's your work routine like?
I like to work for at least 5 or 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. Sometimes I will work on a weekend and leave a weekday free, or I will work to ‘bank’ days. For example I have been invited to a friend’s cottage from a Tuesday- Friday, so I am working the next two weekends to get my days in. I live a 30 minute walk from the Library my carrel is in and I walk to and from it everyday, regardless of the weather. The walk in feels like prep and the walk home feels like walking away from it all. I have a very dorky routine once I make it into the office - I change the day of the week calendar page, feed the Japanese lucky cat, and get water for my Brita. I then water my plant (which I have in my office to keep me from staying away too long - if I don’t show up something WILL DIE!).

The plant!

As for actually getting tasks done - I always leave a list before I leave the day before - how many chapters to read, what needs to be written, edited, or planned. And then I use the Pomodoro system of 25 minutes on and 5 off. I started this in Feb. and I have found it very productive. I have always blocked in times for my work but I think I have hit the perfect ratio for me with this system. Every second break I walk around the floor of the library three times, and go the washroom. The other breaks are for internet reading or dancing it out. I have a half hour for lunch and I try to eat it out of my carrel. It is summer now so I make myself go outside. I check email at 3pm and I only give myself 25 minutes for that too. I try to time my day in terms of how many Pomodoros I do. Is it
6, or 9, or 11 or 4. I am pretty good at sticking to the number and I cross them off at the top of the day’s list. I also have a hard fast rule that as soon as I catch myself goofing off in my cube I have to shut it down. I don’t want my carrel to be somewhere I associate with it being ok to read gossip blogs, or watch cat videos. I have a two strike policy. The first time I get distracted I take quick walk and try to re-focus. If it works - great. If not. Go home.

What's the best advice you ever received?

My academic mentor gave me some really great advice buried in another piece of great advice. She was trying to explain that a PhD wasn’t the be all and then end all and to get myself done and out in a timely manner. In explaining how she had done this she told me she worked everyday on her dissertation until she got 1000 good words and then she stopped and could do whatever she wanted. Some days she was finished by noon and got
to have an afternoon to herself. Sometimes it was harder and she was at it until 4 or 5. It was the idea of having a tangible, measurable product - 1000 good words - that resonated with me. It wasn’t the time you were spending but the outcome. I have tried to keep my work outcome oriented. I want to be able to have tangible answers if someone asks me about my day - read a relevant article, finished a grant application, wrote 1000 words, rather than a vague statements like - went to the library or worked on my dissertation.
Even when it is hard, Dr Tyson is supportive.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Review: A Scholar's Guide to Getting Published in English

It's time for a book review again - it actually has been too long since I wrote my last book review on PhD Talk. I haven't been reading books related to getting a PhD or PhD research anymore, since I figured I don't need to advice as I already have the degree. I'm sure though that I could always learn something from reading a book for my daily research practice. But in the mean time, I'm just reading mostly books that come for free with the newspaper - guilty pleasure!

A few months ago I was contacted with the question if I wanted to review a book called "A Scholar's Guide to Getting Published in English", and I agreed. Here's the synopsis of the book:

In many locations round the globe, scholars are coming under increasing pressure to publish in English in addition to their other languages. However research has shown that proficiency in English is not always the key to success in English-medium publishing. So rather than focus on the linguistic and rhetorical strategies involved in writing for publication, this guide aims to help scholars explore the larger social practices, politics, networks and resources involved in academic publishing and to encourage scholars to consider how they wish to take part in these practices - as well as to engage in current debates about them. Based on 10 years of research in academic writing and publishing practices, this guide will be invaluable both to individuals looking for information and support in publishing, and to those working to support others' publishing activities.

Based on the title of the book, I thought the main focus would be on writing academic English, with hints to style and grammar. There are a large number of books on this topic, and I hoped that there would be something new about this book.

What I didn't expect from "A Scholar's Guide to Getting Published in English" is that the book mainly navigates scholarly identity across languages, and I found it a very thought-provoking read:

Who do I write for when I write an article in Dutch? How different is this audience from the audience I'd write a paper for in English? - My audiences are different in both cases, and the way I bring my results is different too (more practical, applied to local market or more general, with more emphasis on the science)

Not only does the book touch upon this topic, but it also goes beyond the surface by presenting the results of 10 years of research on this topic. Every chapter contains a testimony from a non-native researcher and questions to reflect on for the reader. As such, the book goes into a dialogue with the reader. Additionally, there are plenty of (bibliographic and other) sources in the book.

The chapters of the book cover all aspects of publishing as a researcher: from navigating institutional requirements with regard to publishing (across languages, often), to selecting a journal, participating in international research networks, presenting your work and serving as an editor or reviewer of scholarly publications. The topics are as broad as our publishing work extends.

I could highlight some elements from the book here, but it wouldn't serve the dialogue style of the book right, nor would it fit the sequence of the book, which follows the publication process (from identifying your institution's requirements, to publishing, to reviewing).
If you are an academic, and you did not grow up speaking English, and function as an academic in a country of which the language is not English, you should read this book. I'm sure it will help you focus on the parameter of language in your writing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I am Jonathan Laskovsky and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Jonathan Laskovsky for the "How I Work" series. Jonathan is the Senior Coordinator, Research Partnerships in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University. Alongside this role, Jonathan has research interests in modern and postmodern literature with a particular focus on fictional space and critical theory. He has a BA(Hons) in Philosophy from La Trobe University (Aus), and an MA in Critical Methodology from King’s College London (UK). Jonathan is in his first year of a part-time PhD at Monash University.

Current Job: Senior Coordinator, Research Partnerships and PhD student (3 weeks in)
Current Location: Melbourne, Australia
Current mobile device: iPhone 4s 64Gb
Current computer: Work: Macbook air 13" with 20" Thunderbolt display. Home: 21.5" iMac

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I work in the College of Design and Social Context providing support to Research staff across 7 Schools. My research is focussed on spaces in fiction - primarily postmodern fiction - as affective or disruptive on the realms of fiction, theory and the real world.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I use Google Mail for personal and work purposes. I also work with Google Docs and Drive quite a bit. Evernote I use a lot both on desktop and mobile versions for writing and notes etc. I use Excel a lot for work and Word for developing articles etc but I'm slowly moving more to Google docs for this. I use TypeForm for survey work and have just bought my first Google Book.

What does your workspace setup look like?
My workplace is a desk in a shared (2-person) office though I often have meetings elsewhere on campus. I use the local cafe a lot for meetings as it's central and has wifi etc.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Two points: Use your calendar as a hard landscape, and go to Shut Up and Write sessions.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I keep a running project list in Evernote. I also use a GTD approach to email which helps a lot. This was introduced to me in the UK by a consultant Steve Stark who runs this website - I'm a complete convert and zealot with this system as it has redefined the way I work with email.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I have an iPad that I use at home for couch surfing and a PS3 for gaming but my laptop and iPhone get the most use.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
As a very new PhD student, I'm hesitant to say this makes me stand out but I organise my work well and am productive in my work life. This will help me as a part-time PhD student. Also, whilst not technically a skill, as part of my day job I've had to review 100s of postdoc applications so I know what my CV needs to look like at the end of my PhD in order to be competitive in the job market.

What do you listen to when you work?
Primarily music with no lyrics. Three stalwarts are: "Global Underground 13 (disc 1)" by Sasha, "Money Jungle" by Mingus/Ellington/Roach, "DE9: Transitions" by Richie Hawtin. I also like the Dark Knight soundtrack.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
Currently reading Life: A Users Manual by George Perec and re-reading Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself the David Foster Wallace interview by David Lipsky. I generally read on the train and in the evening before bed.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?
Somewhat extroverted. My writing is fairly solo work so I like Shut Up and Write sessions as they are productive and socialise the often solitary writing process.

What's your sleep routine like?
Pretty consistent. Usually in bed by 10:30-11:00pm, up at 7am for work or 8am on the weekends.

What's your work routine like?
I get in to work at 8am and work on my phd for an hour each day (after reading on the train) then switch over to my day job work. I find it hard to write in the evenings so mainly read then. Every Friday I do a Shut Up and Write session. Writing on the weekends hasn't quite worked yet but I'm tweaking the routine.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Remember to keep the main thing the main thing. In other words, keep your goal in sight at all times.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Experimental investigation on shear capacity of reinforced concrete slabs with plain bars and slabs on elastomeric bearings

My co-authors and I recently published a paper in Engineering Structures - this paper is our second paper in this journal. To better distribute the paper, Elsevier allows free access to the paper via this link until October 29th, 2015.

The abstract of the paper is the following:

One-way slabs supported by line supports and reinforced with deformed bars were shown previously to behave differently in (one-way) shear than beams. For the application to existing slab bridges, the influence on the shear capacity of using plain reinforcement bars and of supporting the slab by discrete bearings is investigated. To study these parameters and their influence on the shear capacity, a series of experiments was carried out on continuous one-way slabs (5 m x 2.5 m x 0.3 m), subjected to concentrated loads close to the support line. The results from these experiments are compared to code provisions and a method developed by Regan. These experiments confirm the findings that slabs subjected to concentrated loads close to supports have larger shear capacities than beams.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Buried Under Piles of Publications?

Today, I am welcoming Chassie Lee to share her perspective on speed reading on PhD Talk. Chassie is the Content Expert for eReflect – creator of 7 Speed Reading, which is currently being used by tens of thousands of happy customers in over 110 countries.

One of the most daunting aspects of studying for a PhD is the sheer amount of reading you've got to do. Even if you thought you had your reading load under control when you were working on your Masters, you might be overwhelmed now by the seemingly endless streams of information you need to navigate in order to fully research your topic, and keep up with any new developments in your field. So how can you speed through those mountains of manuscripts, both online and in print? Speed reading, that's how.

You might think that speed reading is just hype - that no one can flip through pages and get the relevant information they need without reading word by word and line by line. While it's true that some speed reading claims are exaggerated, many of the techniques that speed readers use not only let you read faster, they help you categorize and remember the facts and figures in the text you're reading. Below are just some of the ways that speed reading improves the way you handle your reading workload.

Speed reading saves you time by cutting out clutter.

To save time in the end, start by taking the time to categorize your reading material. When you learn the speed reading techniques of scanning and skimming you'll be able to quickly sort through documents and classify them into three categories:
• things you need to read now for pertinent and/or timely information
• things you need to read later for general research and fact-finding
• things that might have useful information but aren't immediately relevant

Once you've grouped the most important papers together, you'll have a much smaller pile in front of you. This simple visual will provide a subliminal reassurance that you don't have to be as stressed out about the quantity of documents, which will help you focus on the material you're reading. You'll find that when you have this relaxed focus, your concentration will improve, and you'll be able to get through the papers more quickly.

You can also de-clutter your online documents by learning how to use automatic news feeds. Setting up keywords that target your specific topic will bump those publications to the top of your online lists, and you won't have to waste time scrolling through articles that don't apply to your field of research.

Speed reading teaches you how to identify key information.

Another speed reading technique that helps you locate and remember the information you need is related to fixation expansion. Your eyes will be trained to take in larger groups of words at once, rather than reading one word at a time. These word groups are centered on key vocabulary words, rather than on "filler" words that your brain automatically processes. Once your eyes have stopped on the word cluster containing the targeted term(s), you can quickly make a note of the relevant information before continuing to read. By taking notes, you'll stimulate other areas of your brain linked to motor movements and memory processing, which will help ensure that you remember this information more easily in the future.

After taking the notes, be sure to make an archive of what you've read, and save that along with the written or online notes you've been taking. Use the same key vocabulary words you were focused on, and add tags or bookmarks to help you locate specific graphs, charts, statistics, or quotes when you need to reference that document in the future.

Speed reading helps you enjoy the process.

You're in a doctoral program because you're passionate about what you're doing, but the more your stress levels rise, the more there's a danger that your passion will turn from love to hate. When you've learned to use speed reading techniques to help you classify, comprehend, and catalog your documents, you'll have more time to focus on writing your dissertation, or on preparing for your oral and written exams. And you'll have more time to yourself - time you can use to relax, to take a quick weekend break with friends, or just to spend time at home with a glass of wine or a cup of tea and a good fiction book (that best-seller all your non-doctoral friends are talking about, for example).

Finally, for those of you who are reading this because you're thinking about going for a PhD, remember that speed reading can help you prepare for and score well on your entrance exams - and you'll use the same techniques to sail through your years of study and writing afterwards.