Thursday, May 28, 2020

A holiday in covid19-times

I took a holiday from May 9th through May 17th. If we wouldn't have had a global pandemic, I would have traveled to Delft on May 8th. As this date was drawing nearer, and I saw the itinerary on my calendar every time, it made me quite sad. A week before the (already canceled) trip, I removed the appointment from my calendar, and May 8th passed by without me thinking much about the situation at all. I also decided to take a week off - the combination of online teaching, regular work, and no childcare had been very taxing.

I put my out of office reply, and was planning to disconnect from it all for a week. But these are strange times - so things did not go as planned. I am working towards my university teaching qualification for the Netherlands, and was supposed to take two courses during my stay in Delft. They are online now, but in the mornings in the Netherlands (and 2:30am local time). They managed to get me on an earlier course that meets in the afternoon instead - so I'm quite happy with that, but it also meant I had to spend half a day on the course anyway. (I quite liked it though). In addition, I had to attend a Zoom meeting of our department, and then another Thing came up that had me lay awake at night in bed. Disconnecting did not happen, alas.

What did happen, was a lot of time with my daughter. I have tried to make most of this time quality time, but I admit to sometimes sitting next to here while scrolling through something on my phone. It's something that I want to stop doing. I don't mind sitting next to her, reading a book. I want her to remember me later as a mom who was reading a lot, not one who was scrolling through Twitter a lot. All in all, we did a lot of fun adventures together: including baking, cooking, lots of playing, some coloring, painting, some educational websites (logo, 123zing, ABCMouse), and some playing in and around a small tub with water on the roof.

I had made a checklist for myself for the week, planning to tick off the following every day:
- meditate
- yoga
- strength training
- cardio
- creativity for my daughter (2 boxes)
- educational activity for my daughter (2 boxes, one for the morning and one for the afternoon)
- call a family member or friend
- something for myself
- organizing in the house
- cooking
- time outside

I made a plan for my workouts for the week, I made a plan for the creativity and educational activities for my daughter, a list of people to call, a list of 10 self-care ideas, a list of 10 cupboards/spaces in the house to organize, a meal plan for the week, and a list of outside adventure. I did some of it, but also learned that:
- I've become a slacker in my meditations and tend to fall asleep and just sleep through. That's because I'm very tired still, but also because I've allowed myself to do so. From now on, I'm trying to meditate in the morning instead.
- Working out with a toddler around and my husband working from home is not easy. Best time is either after she goes to bed, or while she is playing happily on her own.
- When she's playing happily on her own, it's no use disrupting that because it is "time" for the planned learning activity.
- I may have time to call people when I remove work from my schedule, but the people I want to call, not.
- I did some of my selfcare ideas, including making a facial mask myself - which ended up leaking into my eyes and all over the house.
- I did some organizing, but those overflowing drawers in the bathroom still need some attention.
- I cooked some, but the meal plan was not followed much.

I enjoyed making these plans, and I will try something similar if I take a break between the summer and fall semester, but this time, it was only a partial success.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Evaluation of my spring semester goals

I was doubting if I should write this post at all. We all made goals for 2020, and then sars-cov-2 came around and laughed very hard. But at least, the first months of the spring semester were normal.

My work goals were a lot. Let's see how I did:
- Finish research project 1: I delivered the final report, and have been receiving comments that I am implementing.
- Finish research project 2: We worked on this with a number of people, and managed to deliver it just a few days past the deadline at the beginning of the lockdowns. We're working on some improvements, but it's mostly going in the right direction.
- Submit 5 papers: Submitted 2, one as second author and one as first author. A third one is really close to submission. I have a lot in drafts at various stages, with different people.
- Prepare experiments: We delivered a new version of the preparation report, but progress in the lab has been limited because of covid19.
- Set up questionnaire about PhD defenses: I've had this list of questions since August or so. I've been sitting on the reviews from the IRB for resubmission since December. Let's see if I can get this up and rolling in the Summer.
- Visiting PhD student from Colombia: Yes, but unfortunately, we still had the majority of our discussions through videocall, while sitting at 2 kms from eachother...
- Start PhD student in Delft: Paperwork is slow but I hope he can get started soon.
- Proposal research project : delayed
- Rework material of Reinforced Concrete II lectures: Yes! I flipped some of my lectures by assigning videos, dropped a topic (retaining walls) and included a new topic (shear walls). And then covid19 came and I had to teach online and I dropped my flipped classroom idea because I wanted to reduce the amount of time my students would need to prepare for class.
- Start preparing material for Structural Reliability course: I started at the beginning of the semester and then dropped the ball.

On the "self" front, here's how I did:
- exercise routine: Relatively constant. I get antsy when I don't get to move, so I did manage to sneak in 30 minutes workouts. I also PRd my 5k time on the treadmill at the beginning of the lockdown.
- play cello: No, I think I can count the times I played, and then I've only been playing nursery rhymes. No solid practice.
- meditation practice: Broke my streak a few times, but generally OK. I do notice I fall asleep more often during meditation or get lost in thought. It feels more difficult than it used it.
- sleep more: Ha ha ha. Next question please. Yawn.
- spend time in nature: Before covid19, yes. Afterwards, hard pass, prohibited.

On the "Relationships" front, here's how I did:
- Start construction of our house: Not started yet, but there's progress on the design side.
- 4 trips outside Quito: Did one, the trip with the train to Boliche. We had trips planned to Banos, Otavallo, Pasachoa, and the zoo in Guayabamba, but those did not happen.
- 5 date nights: We did three, including a restaurant visit right before the lockdown order came.
- do something fun with my husband: We did a spa afternoon for Valentine's that was quite nice (and included a very funny ice shower).

Thursday, May 21, 2020

My weekly template for the summer 2020 semester

I've noticed that I've been wanting to compare my weekly templates from previous semesters, but did not keep track of them. So I decided to put my weekly template for the Summer of 2020 here, for reference (week of June 22nd taken from my Google Calendar). I've taken out the names of my PhD students that have weekly calls with me for their privacy, but you get the idea. The red block is an appointment for a meeting that would have taken place if I'd had been in Delft. Another red block doesn't even show up: a course that I need to take for my University Teaching Qualification, which most likely will be online, but 2:30am - 6:00 am in my timezone. I'm not sure about that, and my daughter and husband will not appreciate this.

Anyway, I have a heavy teaching load this summer (whereas normally I don't teach over the summer). These are also big timeblocks, not including breaks and lunch. I also don't know what my childcare situation will look like over the summer and when our nanny will be able to return to work. We've been sending our daughter to her grandmother now for childcare, but that's only a temporary solution.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Working from home during covid-19

Has anybody been counting how many days it's been since we got locked down? We know that in Quito, the stoplight remains in "red" (i.e. full lockdown) at least until the end of the month, with the exception for a few selected construction projects that are tested as pilot projects.

We may all be working (mostly) from home until a vaccine is widely available (I'm rooting for you, virologists and immunologists et al for your dedication to science and your hard work these days.) So, how do we do this?

I used to work from home a couple of hours each day before my daughter was born. These *used* to be my most productive hours of the day - just distraction-free writing on my tiny Ikea corner desk.

However, things are different now - and with a two-year-old toddler running wild, it's not easy to get anything done. Maybe when you saw the title of this post, you expected some peptalk from Auntie Eva. But this time, I have only one message for you: cut yourself some slack.

You may not have small children that scream for your attention, but you may be worrying about your parents or grandparents, or your immunocompromised friends. The job market is uncertain. Many people have lost their jobs (the stock market does not seem to care). We all have things eating up our mental space. This is not working from home under normal conditions.

So, cut yourself some slack. If your supervisor is human, he/she will understand. If the thought hasn't crossed his/her mind, then just tell him/her that you're not up to your best work these days.

Set priorities. I am trying to prioritize my graduate students at the moment. Between my own research and their need for advice, my own work will need to go to the backburner (even though numbercrunching may be the thing I enjoy doing most). I've pretty much rejected all requests to review papers. I'm reconsidering all planned trips, not just because of the logistics, but also because I'm not sure where I'll get the funding for it.

Stay healthy.
If you are allowed to walk around the block, and you think it is safe - then come out and get some movement and daylight. If you need to stay inside, see if you can get in a home workout, and open your windows for a bit of air and natural light. Eat well and get your zzzzs. Don't be like me, trying to work/parent on and off from 5 am to midnight (and then wake up 3 times in the night for a daughter with nightmares) - it doesn't get you anymore.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

PhD Defenses around the World: A Zoom defense from Indonesia to New Zealand

Today, I have invited Dr. Annisa Sidi to talk about her digital PhD defense. Annisa Sidi did her PhD thesis on national identity and multiculturalism in Indonesia at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. She is part of Indonesia's diplomatic corps and has resumed her work after submitting her PhD thesis. She also holds an MA in International Relations and International Organisation from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

On 1 April 2020, I defended my PhD thesis on Zoom. Unlike perhaps thousands of other PhD candidates who now have to defend their theses virtually because of COVID-19, my thesis defense had been planned to take place virtually since about a year ago. It became clear to my supervisors and myself that I would not be able to finish and submit my thesis to allow for enough time for the defense to take place before my scholarship and student visa expired (I am Indonesian and did my PhD in New Zealand. It is too expensive for me to travel back to New Zealand on my own funds just for the defense).

While I was saddened by the situation, I had enough time to come to terms with it. I kept telling myself that I would have the comfort of my own living room for the viva, and that I could blame poor internet connections if things go bad (I did not do this. In fact, I found a hotel with high-speed in-room internet connection because the internet at my own place could be unreliable).

In any case, even if I had the funds to go to New Zealand, I wouldn't have been able to, because of COVID-19. And if I did go to New Zealand, the viva would still take place via Zoom due to lockdown policies in place. So what was left for me was to make the best out of the situation.

Naturally, I was nervous about the whole process. My convener told me that because of New Zealand's lockdown policy, she would have to convene my viva from her home instead of the university's video conferencing suites, where IT support was always available. She said that this would be a first for her, even though she had convened virtual meetings before from the university premises. I was also nervous about my examiners. Would they be able to make it? What if they mistook the meeting time? What if I overslept? (The viva was scheduled for 3am local time for me.)

As the date drew nearer, I received an email from my convener with an invitation link for my defense on Zoom. It was a private meeting, as is custom at my university. This situation was a relief for me, because I have heard of Zoombombing, which is apparently a new pastime for really mean people. I made sure I had the link saved in multiple places. My convener also passed along some questions from my examiners, so I could prepare ahead of time. There could be more questions on the day, she told me. However, the guiding questions were a good indicator of the direction of the upcoming discussions.

On the d-day, I got online about fifteen minutes before the meeting time, and logged in to Zoom about ten minutes prior. To my delight, after I entered the virtual meeting room, I was greeted by an IT support person from the university! She said she would be there with us for the entire meeting to help with any issues that may arise. This is a blessing for me, and really good practice: I believe this should be the standard for every virtual defense. About two minutes after, my supervisor got online, and we were able to catch up quickly. Afterwards, my convener came online, too, as did my three examiners, one by one. When everyone was there, the convenor started by letting us introduce ourselves to each other, and then gave the floor to me to deliver my thesis presentation.

I was given 15 minutes to deliver a presentation on my thesis. The examiners had already read it, so I didn't have to explain all the details: just my main arguments, as well as my reasons for wanting to do research on my chosen topic (it was national identity and multiculturalism in Indonesia) and my plans for after the PhD. Then the examiners asked me their main questions and we went on with discussions.

My convener did her job exceptionally well. She ensured me that she was there to make sure the defense went smoothly, made sure everyone spoke in turns, and that they spoke slowly and clearly. Her attitude really made me feel that I was in a safe space. After about 90 minutes of discussions, the convener said that my supervisor and I would be kicked out of the meeting for a few minutes while they deliberated on the results. It was the longest ten minutes of my life. To my delight, I was back in the meeting room again and the convener announced that everyone agreed to accept my thesis with minor editorial revisions. There was round of congratulations, a round of thank yous, a round of goodbyes, and just like that, everyone went offline one by one. Thankfully, there were no issues with IT.

For everyone else planning to do a virtual defense, I guess the main takeaway is to make sure you have a convener who knows how to do their job, and if possible, to have an IT support person throughout the meeting. These are extraordinary times, but we will remember our virtual defense forever. Also, I'm thankful for technology!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A comprehensive guide to maintaining consistency while drafting a research paper

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Mansi Tyagi, a journalism graduate who works as an academic content writer for an e-publishing company. She has over two years of experience in social media marketing. In her post, you'll learn what it takes to draft a comprehensive research paper and get published in reputed journals. This article contains valuable tips and suggestions on how authors, researchers, and scholars can improve the quality of their research paper

An author cannot write a research paper without doing research first. To draft an academic research paper, the author must have a clear idea about the topic so that they can frame their main argument in the way it was intended. Using credible sources and collecting evidence to support a theory is as important as drafting the manuscript using the style guide such as APA or MLA depending on the requirements

With the right choice of words and carefully structuring the sentences, authors can prepare a polished and professional manuscript. To improve academic writing, authors should start preparing an outline and note down the main points. Creating a rough structure will help them present, summarize, and evaluate their ideas properly. Authors should make sure that their manuscript’s content has:
• Logical
• Outline
• Structure
• Evidence to support ideas
• Appropriate use of language

Various sections of a research paper:

Abstract: This section provides a brief overview of the manuscript. Summarize the key concepts and information on which your paper is based. Insert keywords to make your paper accessible to your target readers.

Background: In the background section, you have to explain scientific theories and concepts. Keep your target audience in mind while framing sentences. Include terms and historical data that can solidify your research and help your readers develop a better understanding of your research topic.

Introduction: Explain the topic of your research and how is it going to going to benefit the readers. Include hypothesis, literature review, problem statement, and purpose of doing research work.

Methodology: This section informs the readers about how the results are generated. Describe the methods in detail so that the study can be replicated in the future.

Result: Present your research data in tables and figures. Report the key findings and include information about the sample size and descriptive data.

Conclusion: Provide a summary of the results and discussion. Address each research question and emphasize the implications of the research findings.

Conflicts of interest: Describe the circumstances that might have influenced or affected your research such as sponsorships, funding, or financial issue.

Checklist for submitting your research paper:
• Is your topic within the aim and scope of the journal?
• Is there sufficient new material?
• Is the paper well-organized and structured?
• Does the result represent the collected data?
• Are there any grammatical or spelling errors?
• Are the methods used for experimenting suitable?

Target audience: An academic paper is written with the purpose to inform the readers about the development in the research field. The use of complex terminologies and sentence formation should be done according to the target audience. Readers with a strong academic background will be able to process information faster.

Important points to remember:
• Less usage of longer sentences
• Use simple vocabulary
• Insert paragraph breaks
• Correct use of punctuations
• Write an informative abstract
• Write a proper introduction

Structure: Creating a framework helps to organize the information and structure the academic manuscript. Authors can go through the styling and formatting guidelines and learn how to focus on the key elements such as the introduction, background information, methodology, results, and conclusion. Creating notes will help researchers avoid content repetition.

Important points to remember:
• Write in short paragraphs
• Provide relevant evidence
• Present argument using examples
• Present argument in different paragraphs
• Use signal words to write arguments

Summarizing information: An academic manuscript includes a description of other research work done in the similar field of study. Authors present their own views and thoughts on the same by paraphrasing the text. By understanding the core concept, the authors can summarize the entire information in their own words. Including citations and the names of the original source also adds credibility to the paper.

Important points to remember:
• Write a condensed version of the research
• Identify relevant points of the argument
• Provide reference and in-text citation
• Provide relevant and selective information

Concise language: Using clear and concise language makes the content easy to understand for the target audience. The authors should only means include one idea per sentence to avoid confusion and information overload. To maintain a formal tone, content repetition and use of redundant words should be avoided. Authors should use simple vocabulary instead of incorporating colloquialisms and slangs.

Important points to remember:
• Use both active and passive verb
• Avoid redundant words
• Use formal language
• Avoid the use of colloquialisms

Hedges and Boosters: While mentioning a statement, it is essential that the author knows how to differentiate between a claim and a fact. Hedging is a type of language device used to express uncertainty about something. On the other hand, a booster is used to represent an amount of certainty and confidence. For example, the author can use words such as certainly, in fact, obviously, and evidently.

Important points to remember:
• Introductory verbs such as- seems, appear to be, suggest or indicate are used in case the author is not sure about something.
• Lexical verbs like assume and modal adverbs such as- certainly and perhaps to express your opinions clearly.
• The most commonly used hedgers are- ‘This suggests,’ ‘Usually,’ and ‘Sometimes.’
• The most commonly used boosters are- ‘Clearly,’ and ‘Results indicate.’

Drafting an argument: Writing an argument is a way of expressing the author’s point of view on a particular subject where they also provide a piece of evidence to support their claims. The argument talks about the main idea behind the research and provides the answer to the question. Authors can plan the overall structure of their manuscript and focus on their research more efficiently if they already have got a thesis statement and argument.

Important points to remember:
• Always structure your argument
• Write a proper conclusion
• Develop your argument
• Add evidence/findings
• Add your opinion
• Use strong language

Language Quality: An academic manuscript is assessed by the editorial board on the basis of its scope, aim, and subject area. Along with this, another factor that is considered is the overall quality of the language used to draft the manuscript.

Important points to remember:
• Check grammar and punctuation marks
• Use a spell checker
• Review the sentence structure
• Use simple vocabulary

Content revision
: After finishing the draft, authors should revise the content they have written. Getting feedback from peers will help the authors understand which section of the research paper needs improvement. The authors should present all the ideas clearly and ensure that the statements support their argument.

Important points to remember:
• Read the content out loud
• Minimize the use of technical and complex terminologies
• Maintain the sentence structure
• Maintain consistency

Avoid plagiarism: If the editorial board finds the content in the manuscript plagiarized, then the paper is automatically rejected. The content is checked for plagiarism before it is even reviewed and assessed.

Important points to remember:
• Always mention the name of the sources and quote the people
• Provide proper citations
• Create a bibliography page and present the names of all the relevant sources.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Post-doc or faculty position after the PhD

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!

I'm often asked what is best: to do a post-doc after your PhD, or directly go for a faculty position. As with all answers: it depends. Here are a few factors it depends on.

1. Job openings
First of all, if you are doubting between a post-doc after your PhD or a faculty position, then I'm assuming you have seen some job openings you are considering applying to for both cases. If you are planning to stay in academia, and you don't see any faculty position advertised in your region (and are not considering moving), then you may have more options in terms of funding and scholarships to do a post-doc. The first condition to consider is thus that both opportunities should be available to you, and you consider yourself a suitable candidate for both.

2. Your career plan (content-wise)
If you want to delve deep into a topic different from your PhD research, a post-doc is the best option: you'll get to dedicate 2 years (or a different period of time) to work on a single topic. As a faculty member, it is harder to carve out a longer period of time to dedicate yourself to a new topic.
On the other hand, if you want to start working with graduate students and want to spend a significant portion of your time on teaching, then a faculty position may better fit you. Think about your career plan in terms of contents.

3. Location
The requirement of "location" fits nicely together with the "job openings" requirement.
There are different things to consider here. First, if you want to gain international experience and then return to your home country or alma mater, a post-doc for a fixed period of time abroad may be the best choice. If you are interested in moving to another university, then you may want to "try out" the lab and its environment with a post-doc project, before you apply for a faculty position.
Some countries do not have post-doctoral positions - in that case, your location may dictate that a faculty position is your only option. Think about your career plan in terms of where you would ideally want to do what.

4. Future career requirements
If you take a faculty position, will you have to go through the tenure track system? If so, what are the most important requirements on the tenure track system: the amount of funding you bring in, the number of students you've supervised, your number of publications...?
If funding is the most important element, go for a post-doc first, so that you have extra time to gain experience with writing proposals.
If your number of publications is the most important element, go for a post-doc first, so that you have time to publish the papers from your PhD research, and do a major effort in publishing the papers from your post-doc.
If students supervised and teaching is the most important element, go for the faculty position and work on developing your teaching skills.

5. Scholarship prestige
If you want to build your resume after your PhD, going abroad for a post-doc (provided that your life situation won't suffer from it) and applying for a prestigious scholarship, may set you up for success later in your career. Excellent options here would be an EU scholarship of a Fulbright scholarship.

6. Talk to your career counselor

Every situation is different. Know that your university has the services to help you make the right decision for your career after your PhD. If you are doubting, make an appointment with your career counselor and talk your options through.

When you consider these elements for your situation, you will be able to make an informed decision. And remember: a post-doc or a faculty position are just two of many many options you have after your PhD. And after your post-doc you can apply for a faculty position, do another post-doc (I had 3 post-doc contracts before getting a tenured faculty position in the Netherlands), or go in a different direction altogether. You build your path - nothing is set in stone.