Thursday, July 19, 2018

Book review: You Must Be Very Intelligent (The PhD Delusion) by Karin Bodewits



Some time ago, I was happy to receive a review copy of Karin Bodewits's first novel "You Must Be Very Intelligent" with as subtitle "the PhD Delusion". This book is a hybrid between memoir and work of fiction about Bodewits's years as a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh.

The short summary of the book is as follows:
You Must be Very Intelligent is the author’s account of studying for a PhD in a modern, successful university. Part-memoir and part-expos√©, this book is highly entertaining and unusually revealing about the dubious morality and desperate behaviour which underpins competition in twenty-first century academia.

This witty, warts-and-all account of Bodewits´ years as a PhD student in the august University of Edinburgh is full of success and failure, passion and pathos, insight, farce and warm-hearted disillusionment. She describes a world of collaboration and backstabbing; nefarious financing and wasted genius; cosmopolitan dreamers and discoveries that might just change the world… Is this a smart people’s world or a drip can of weird species? Modern academia is certainly darker and stranger than one might suspect…

This book will put a wry, knowing smile on the faces of former researchers. And it is a cautionary parable for innocents who still believe that lofty academia is erected upon moral high ground…


The book is structured along the three years of the PhD program in Edinburgh. While staying lighthearted, it touches upon all the facets of the PhD years, including the interview for a PhD position, getting started in a program, the drudgery of failed experiments, making friends on (and off) campus, struggles with the PhD supervisors, and trying to graduate and get out. As Bodewits describes it, in terms of research finances and possibilities for the PhD students, there are research groups that have a gilded robe as their group leader, and others that have a mere peasant frock. But to her demise, she learned that her research group was threadbare underpants - there was not even money or space for a desk and computer for her when she started her PhD!

While I was reading You Must Be Very Intelligent I smiled a lot, and at some point I laughed so hard that I woke up my baby daughter. There are smiles of recognition when seeing the sketches of the typical characters one encounters in academia. There are smiles in sympathy for the struggles and mishaps of the leading character, who goes through all the struggles that are part of the PhD trajectory. There are cheeky smiles when there is too much liquor and smokes involved, or during the quest for a decent and free cup of coffee.

You Must Be Very Intelligent is a quick and captivating read - I read large parts of it with my e-reader propped up on my breastfeeding infant's head, and I just couldn't put it down. If you are looking for an entertaining read for your summer holidays, don't look further and get yourself a print or digital copy of You Must Be Very Intelligent.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Thesis by dissertation or publication?

I recently ran a poll on Twitter to ask if respondents received their PhD by writing a big book style thesis or by publication, or what they currently are working towards. The result is that the majority is receiving their PhD by writing a dissertation, but a good 25% (or more, if we leave out the votes for "just show me the results") received their PhD by publication (or are working towards getting their degree in this format).

You can find the wake of the pol below:

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Sound applications in Engineering

Last semester, I presented during the colloquium of the School of Engineering and Sciences of USFQ. The topic of my talk was applications of sound in engineering.

Even though there are multiple uses of sound in engineering, most engineering schools do not offer acoustic engineering as a career. In this presentation, I show the vast variety of applications of sound. We start with the architectural acoustics, discussing how different buildings with different uses require a different treatment of sound. I showed a fascinating TEDx talk about how to design rooms that have unique acoustic features. Then, I made the jump to the applications of sound in civil engineering, with as an example of how better asphalt mixes can be used for noise reduction. Finally, I brought the topic to my field, bridge engineering. Here, we see different non-destructive testing methods that use sound waves (or other types of waves) to look inside a material of a bridge. We talked about acoustic emission measurements, a way of listening to what happens inside a bridge when it is loaded. Finally, I discussed how we use these type of measurements during load testing of bridges, and showed the example of the collapse test of the Ruytenschildt Bridge.

You can find the slides of this presentation here:

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

What planning tools are most popular?

I recently ran a poll to identify if digital or analog planners are more popular. The winner of the poll is the digital planner.

Over the years, I have moved from using an analog planner for everything, to a hybrid solution with my daily appointments in an analog planner and longer-term planning in a digital planner, to a fully digital approach. By now, I use Google calendar for my weekly template, and fill in every day what I will be working on during which time block and add all appointments. In addition to that, I use ToDoist to set reminders for myself to follow up with emails that I sent out, to identify the tasks that I want to tick off my list on a daily basis, and to sync tasks with my pomodoro app.

You can find the poll and its wake below:

Thursday, July 5, 2018

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Measuring your service efforts as a reviewer through Publons

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!


As you reach the end of your PhD years, you may be invited as a reviewer for scientific journals for the first time. If you have never been asked to review a paper, and feel ready to take on the task, you can follow the recommendations of Dr. Cheplygina in this post. Once you are invited to write the review, you can follow the procedure that I recommend for writing a review of a paper.

But what do you do after you have finished reviewing a paper? How can you keep track of your efforts as a reviewer?

The first thing you can do, is list on your full curriculum vitae which journals you are reviewing for. You can add this information in the section with your service appointments. But then again, there are a few drawbacks to this approach. First of all, by simply listing the journals, somebody reviewing your CV may not know if you reviewed one paper ever for the journal you mentioned, or if you review one paper monthly for this journal. Some journals send you a certificate with the number of papers you reviewed for them in the last year as a token of their appreciation, but for many journals it may even be difficult to prove that you review for them. And since nowadays in some cases you need to be able to provide proof of every single element on your CV, you may need a good system to confirm that you reviewed for a certain journal, and to keep track of the journals you review for and the number of papers you reviewed for them.

Enter Publons!

Publons is a service you can use to get an overview of your service efforts as a reviewer. Here-s a list of a few cool features of Publons:
1. It's super easy to track your reviews. You just forward the "Thank you" email from the editor confirming that you reviewed a paper, and Publons will take care of it.
2. Depending on the journal and editor, Publons will either automatically confirm your review as "real", or contact the editor to confirm that you really reviewed for them.
3. You can export a verified reviewer record, which you can use as a proof of your service as a reviewer.
4. Publons produces a number of stats. It shows when you review, how much you review as compared to others, and how long your reviews are as compared to others in your field and at your institution.
5. If you review rather frequently, you may be getting an award for your efforts.
6. Editors can give you extra credit if you write a review they find particularly good, and these kudos get displayed on your profile as well.
7. As you increase the number of reviews, you will get more reviewer credit, which shows up on the side bar of your profile.
8. If you decide to make your reviews public, other researchers can endorse your reviews. You can also endorse the reviews of other researchers.

Publons is part of the Clarivate analytics empire, so they use Publons data for further processing. One of the cool outcomes of this data analysis is "Your year in peer review", the Clarivate list of highly cited researchers, and the Publons Hall of fame for "productive" reviewers.

Here are some examples of what you can do with Publons:

Year in review
Part of the stats Publons makes of your profile
Getting credit and awards

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

How much time does it take to go from data analysis to manuscript draft

I recently ran a poll on Twitter to ask my fellow #acwri community how long the writing up stage of developing a manuscript takes. Not to my surprise, the majority voted that it widely depends. I, too, have experienced that not all papers are born equally. Sometimes I can knock out a draft in 12 hours. Sometimes, I keep changing the introduction to make sure I get the right approach angle and get the work to stand on its own.

Below you can find the wake of this poll:

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Use these 5 tips to save time writing any paper

Today, I am inviting Michael Kulakov to share his best tips for writing papers. Michael is a freelance writer, who mainly works in the field of art, academia and education. He is also majoring in Linguistics. You can reach him at his Facebook page.

Writing a paper, whether it is a PhD research or a short essay, may be a huge pain. While it is fun, given that you enjoy the topic, the process of putting it together in writing takes an awful amount of time.

Follow these tips and you will find that the time you spend writing your paper will decrease significantly.

Take breaks


As counter intuitive as it may seem, to work more efficiently, you should take breaks rather often. It may be appealing to think that you can finish the paper in a 5 hour writing binge, but more often than not, working for too many hours straight will actually decrease your productivity.

Eye strain and mental fatigue will build up over time, making it harder for you to concentrate. Make sure to have a 5 minutes break every half an hour and a longer break up to 15 minutes every two hours to preserve your focus.

Keep consistent notes


Many young scholars tend to be rather chaotic in their research. They often leave numerous notes in different places. A couple of related documents on the desktop, scraps of paper, book pages, a coffee-stained napkin from that time an idea struck you in the cafeteria.

It is okay to write down ideas as they come, but keeping them in order is a must if you want to save yourself a lot of time later. Keep a document specifically for notes and make it a habit to transfer all the ideas you had during the day in it.

Citations first


Another major hurdle that you face while writing a paper is putting citations in place. Monotonous and time consuming process in itself, it can be worsened if you have to figure which citation goes where after the main copy of the paper is finished.

Make sure that each piece that you quote has a rough citation next to it even in the first draft. It is even easier for MLA style papers, as your work with in-text citations in most cases requires nothing but a name and a page number.

Practice touch typing


The citations are in place, you have the wording figured, but the speed of your fingers doesn’t quite match up to the speed of your thought. It is safe to assume that you are a much faster typer than your grandfather and you don’t glace at the keyboard all the time. But still, typing really fast is a challenge and you spend a lot of time correcting typos.

The odds are, that you, like many others, are using a hybrid two-fingered touch typing. While you have the keys’ positions memorised, you are only using your middle and index fingers.

It is an upgrade from looking at the keyboard constantly, but this method has a couple of significant disadvantages. Since you are using only two fingers that rest in the center of the keyboard, certain keys appear to be on the periphery, so it takes a bit more time to hit them. Also, these keys are the ones that cause most typos, as your hand is not very stable when you are hitting them.

Learning ten finger touch typing will help you save a small amount of time on hitting periphery keys and a huge amount of time on finding and correcting typos. Here are a couple of resources that will help you do that:

Typisto. It is a minimalistic site that lets you practice touch typing for free, no registration needed. The texts for typing are taken from classic literature. Check out the tips in the “Articles” section and you are good to go.

The typing cat. This resource is for complete beginners, they have it all explained really simple. You can take look at their step by step guides and typing games. It does require a registration, though.

Keyboard hacks for MS Office and Google Docs


Small details can save you a lot of time. Use these shortcuts to avoid looking up the icon to click.

MS Office shortcuts


Ctrl+Shift+L Quickly create a bullet point.
Ctrl+J Aligns the selected text or line to justify the screen.
Ctrl+M Indent the paragraph.
Ctrl+'+ Insert a character with an accent (é) mark
Ctrl+Shift+* View or hide non printing characters.
Ctrl+Spacebar Reset highlighted text to the default font.
Ctrl+1 Single-space lines.
Ctrl+2 Double-space lines.
Ctrl+5 1.5-line spacing.

Google Docs shortcuts


Ctrl + / Show common keyboard shortcuts
Alt + /;Alt + Shift + z; Google Chrome: Alt + z Search the menus

Ctrl + Enter Insert page break
Ctrl + . Superscript
Ctrl + , Subscript
Ctrl + Shift + 7 Numbered list
Ctrl + Shift + 8 Bulleted list
Ctrl + Alt + c Copy text formatting
Ctrl + ] Increase paragraph indentation
Ctrl + Alt + 0 Apply normal text style
Ctrl + Alt + m Insert comment
holding Ctrl + Alt, press n then h Move to next heading
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