Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I am Kimberley Mitchell, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Kimberley Mitchell in the "How I Work" series. Kim is a registered nurse and has been an instructor in the nursing department at Red River College in Winnipeg, Canada since 2002 where she has primarily taught the least nursey stuff possible: research methods and academic writing. She also acts as faculty writing mentor and all-round advice giver. Kim is also currently a PhD student at the University of Manitoba in the College of Nursing where she is plotting her doctoral thesis to explore the Theoretical Construction and Measurement of Writing Self-Efficacy. She has designed, completed and published several studies exploring writing self-efficacy in nursing students. In 2016, Kim created the persona and blogs at https://academicswrite.wordpress.com and tweets @academicswrite in order to inspire, share, and create a community of practice related to academic writing, research, and instruction.

Current Job: Instructor, Red River College
Current Location: Winnipeg, MB Canada
Current mobile device: iPhone 8+
Current computer: MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am a doctoral student at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. My home department is nursing as I have been a registered nurse since 1997 and working in nursing education at a teaching focused institution since 2002 shortly after I finished my Masters degree. It took me this long to do my PhD (I started in 2016) only because I didn’t need it and I was enjoying life and the ample free time my flexible job allowed me. But the research bug crept back into my life around 2011. The most common question I get related to my nurse educator status is: “Did you ever do “real” nursing?” To which I tell them that what I do is REAL nursing, educating the future practitioners, but I did practice in a hospital for 5 years after my nursing degree and worked in Cardiac and Vascular surgery and Intensive Care. As an educator, I taught academic writing in our department from 2005-2015 and I have been teaching research methods since 2007.

In 2011 I decided that since I had developed this first year writing course for our nursing students that I should start collecting evidence as to if it was successful. I decided to focus on writing self-efficacy. I’ve done 3 studies on my local student population related to writing self-efficacy, developed an instrument, and did an analysis of all the writing self-efficacy instruments that have been used in research. These studies taught me that to increase my knowledge, the only solution was to do my PhD. My PhD focus is nursing education. I am carrying on with work in writing self-efficacy and re-developing my instrument to measure it and doing some other philosophical work in that area as well.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
Microsoft office. I write. A lot. So my main tool is Word. But I also make use of Exel for data entry and I’ve been learning SPSS and most recently Rstudio for doing latent variable analysis.

What does your workspace setup look like?

I alternate between home and office. Currently, as I type, I am at my Red River College office but I have a PC laptop here which I hate. I much prefer working on my Mac. My workspace is really uninteresting as it is just a desk and a computer and not much of a view.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

I am known for being extremely efficient and productive. And I don’t really know if I have any tips for anyone that would actually work for them. I just do what I do and I don't think about it a whole lot. I never stop thinking. I just don’t procrastinate. I mean, I do procrastinate but I really consider that ‘thinking time’ rather than procrastination. I’ve put off duties like writing up assignment guidelines, for example, and then when I sit down to write them out, I can hammer out a first draft in about 30 minutes because the whole thing is usually pre-written in my head. That doesn’t necessarily work for academic writing.

I am very old school in my paper writing practices. I read paper copies of articles. I take handwritten notes of those articles. I thematically analyze the articles as I am taking notes often because my ideas form during reading and then are transformed and thickened by writing.

I’m very efficient. I look for the quickest way to get things done and I tend to not dither over decisions. All things that are truely time saving. My brain just "sees" how things should be organized before I go to organize it and it helps me to work faster.

I work very independently. Meaning, I know some folk that can’t seem to make a decision or implement a change without checking in with someone or getting approval. I don’t need any of that. I do what I do and I face the consequences later if I've done something inappropriate -- which is both often, and rare at the same time. There... those are my productive work paradoxes.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Mostly in my head. I know what I need to get done and when it needs to get done by and I tend to only work on 2 things at a time. I do have a magnet board with some listed papers I would like to tackle but it is kind of outdated right now. I mentally block off time to complete a particular task.

For example, I have a factor analysis paper I want to write about my original questionnaire and I hope to have it done by mid April. I have three papers at journals right now in various stages of the review process. I have a systematic review I am working on unrelated to my PhD life that is being conducted with work colleagues and that one will go out before the end of the month. I have a educational innovation paper I wrote on a whim last week and I would like to have that one submitted before the end of the month too but it is the second priority from the systematic review. I have another paper I want to revise but I’m still percolating on. I had a meeting last week about team writing an editorial but that is usually a day of writing and it is collaborative writing so less time consuming overall. I’m involved in about 4 research projects as a team member all in various stages of completion. So I may have lied when I said I only work on 2 projects at once. I have about 11 I am involved in but really only 2 sit at the top of the priority list on any given day and I only allow 2 of them to "call for my attention" at any given time. It’s complicated but all academic life is complicated and I am pretty sure that is normal.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?


Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
My efficiency and my writing skills. I’m not a perfect writer. No one is. But I have a thorough metacognitive understanding of writing. I can diagnose writing issues easily. Mostly other people’s writing issues. With my own writing issues, I tend to have a bit more trouble. Also because I have been teaching research methods for 11 years, I have a very well honed understanding of a variety of research methods.

What do you listen to when you work?
I rarely listen to anything but when I do it is usually whatever is on my iPhone in iTunes which is mostly 90s grunge or sappy pop from the same era.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I have two books going at once at the moment. Both are things that I don’t “have” to be reading but yet neither is pleasure reading. One is William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and the other is Connelly and Clandinin’s Narrative Inquiry. Nursing is a very article based discipline so I am finding it a tough conversion to look at books. Most of the classic writing literature is in book form not in article publications. Because I am taking a measurement course right now, I am also reading a lot of Exploratory and Confirmatory Factor Analysis Studies.

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

I’ve done the Myer’s Briggs surveys numerous times and I sit right on the border of Introvert and Extrovert so the answer changes depending on my mood. I’m not shy but I do have social anxiety. My extroverted side was out in full force yesterday at the office where I talked several people’s ears off till I think they wanted to get rid of me. But I could also quite happily live in the forest on a lake and never see people for days on end and be lost inside my head writing. When I was writing as a young adult, I could often be swayed away from the pen by a phone call from a friend saying, “Hey let’s go out!” That’s probably why I never finished any of the writing I started at that age. I could easily be pulled away from it to socialize. Now in my 40s I would be more likely to say, "no thanks, I need to write."

What's your sleep routine like?
My ideal biorhythm is from about 9 am to 1 or 2 am but I often don’t get to live up to that. But I rarely work past 8 PM. I never work in the middle of the night or early in the morning. I am in bed by 10 or 1030 and lights out by 11. My partner has a strict routine and it is a good relationship practice (especially in my busy PhD student life) to go to bed at the same time so I follow his routine. But I could easily sit up and write till 1 or 2AM. When I wrote my novel that's what I did and because of it I started drinking coffee at the age of 35. But the only time I could write was when my children went to bed and I had rare children who slept and were in bed by 7PM so it worked. They were about 5 and 3 at that time. The writing got done from 7PM until I hit a brick wall. The house didn't get cleaned. It ended my marriage. But I was writing and it was one of the happiest times of my life.

What's your work routine like?
There is a lot of talk on Twitter on work-life balance which I respect but I find it doesn’t work for me to have strict “I only work from 9-5” rules to structure my work life. I work when my head is in that head space and I don’t when it isn’t. I'm not a pleasant person to be around if I have some writing or other task itching in my brain and I'm being kept from it by some obligation or other mundane task. I find my best work hours are between 10AM and 8PM. I don't watch much TV. My work routine can only be described as unpredictable.

I live outside of the city of Winnipeg which means about a thirty minute to one hour commute to get to work or to get to school. Sometimes I work at home -- whenever I can but that is not often these days. I teach 2 days a week currently and those days are spent at my Red River office. I usually have to be at the university for some student related activity for minimum one other day of the week. I will set up office in the grad lounge on those days or the research office depending on what needs to be done. My kids don't go to school in the town I live in, so they get driven into the city with me which often means I do a split work day. My office hour time is done by about 3PM and then I drive to pick up the kids and do grocery shopping and run errands and take them home. The kids are 16 and 14 now. Then I work for another hour till dinner, and, many evenings, after dinner for another couple hours.

I work when work calls, and I do life when life calls. sometimes that means working all evening or weekend and sometimes that means going for a three hour bike ride at 10AM on a Tuesday morning. As long as deadlines are met, I don't tend to fret about it much. I don't much let a clock dicate when either happens. The writing muse doesn't always appear because a clock says it should. And sometimes life needs to happen at 10AM instead of at 5PM. (editors note: sometimes there are spousal complaints). It is a crazy work life but it works for me. It is hard to describe to others. My solice is in the fact that at my current job I have 44 days of vacation a year to use and I tend to do nothing but leisure time, and read, most of the summer.

What's the best advice you ever received?

I don't know if this falls in the category of advice per se, but I've been teaching undergraduate nursing for 15 years and I had a mentor for the first 12 of those who was in the same office as me (before she retired) who really inspired my approach to learning. As the writing instructor we had many conversations about plagairism and she was also the adminstrator who had to have conversations with students when their assignments were suspected plagiarism. She always used to say, "Would we rather be police? Or would we rather teach?" And the first time I heard her say that it changed my thinking. Of course I would rather teach! I changed my pedagogial choices after that. I really don't think much about or every go hunting for plagiarism. Students are less likely to plagiarise if you are in their face about their writing process. So find a way, in every assignment, to make sure that every one of your students has to look you in the eyes with respect to their writen work.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

How long does a PhD defense last?

I recently ran a poll on Twitter about the average length of the PhD defense or viva. Even though we all have heard the horror stories of defenses lasting 6 hours or more, the average defense seems to last between 1 and 2 hours.

Here are the results:

You can find the wake of this poll here:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Q&A: How to find a PhD position in the Netherlands

I recently received this reader email, which can be interesting for other readers of PhD Talk as well (edited for anonymity):

Dear Eva Lantsoght,
I earned my Bachelors of Field and M.Sc. in Field Economics from the University of Somewhere and desiring to have my PhD in the same or related field from a university in Netherlands. Can you advise me on how to go about with my application especially on how to find supervisors?
Many thank in anticipation for your kind and prompt response.


Here's my reply:

Dear XX,

Thank you for reaching out to me through my blog.

If you want to apply for a PhD position in the Netherlands, there is no standard procedure through an application website. The hiring process depends on the university and on the full professor you would want to work for.

The best way to find a position is to be directly in contact with a possible promotor. I don't recommend that you cold email a possible promotor. I did this, and I was lucky to be invited for an interview, but in most cases such emails immediately go to the trash can or spam folder. If possible, I recommend you visit a university of your interest and talk to possible promotors. You can strengthen your profile as a candidate by applying for funding and bringing this advantage to the table.

I hope this helps,


Thursday, June 7, 2018

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: What reviewers look for in your submission

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!

In the past, we've mostly looked at the topic of academic writing from the perspective of the authors. From working on a writing habit, sustaining writing habits, working on several papers at the same time, writing academic books, setting the scene for deep work and writing and focused flow, and using a template for planning your time that facilitates writing and plan a semester accordingly.

Today, we are looking at academic writing from a different perspective. As a journal paper reviewer (see my Publons profile here), what do I look for in a submission?

The elements that I look for in a review fall into two categories:
  1. General aspects of the scientific method and paper presentation.
  2. Technical and editorial details of the paper.
Therefore, I usually compose my reviews in two parts: a few paragraphs discussing the general aspects, and then a table with pages and line numbers of specific elements that I want to discuss.

The specific elements, of course, change from paper to paper, and I can't give you recommendations on that. On the other hand, the general aspects are things you can check for yourself before submission. Ask yourself the following questions before you submit your manuscript to increase your chances of success at acceptance (after review or rounds of review):

  • Who is my audience? Who are you writing your paper for? If you are writing for researchers only, are you including all relevant details so that an interested researcher can continue your work? If you are writing (as well) for industry practitioners and/or government officials and policy makers, have you included recommendations for practice? Are you submitting your manuscript to the right journal in terms of audience?
  • Is my abstract written correctly? An abstract follows a specific style (see my post on how to write an abstract). Make sure your abstract complies with these elements.
  • Does the introduction explain the broader context of the study? Why are you studying a certain topic? What is its broader relevance and impact on society? This information should be contained in your introduction paragraph. Do not mix your introduction paragraph with your literature review - it tends to result in sloppy structure.
  • Did you include a literature review? Have you presented your literature review in the right way, and not as an annotated bibliography? Did you cover all relevant references? If you did the work some time ago, did you check the current literature to see if any recent papers were published on your topic that may need to be included?
  • Did you describe your methods in sufficient detail? Which methods did you use to address your research question? If you used experiments, have you described all the relevant details of your experiment? If you used a model, have you shown all characteristics and assumptions used in your model? If you derived a theory, have you included all relevant steps? Why did you study certain parameters? Can you place your work within the existing literature?
  • Have you discussed your results properly? Don't make the mistake of only reporting your results. Make sure you provide interpretation for your results. How do your results fit within the available body of knowledge? Are your results as expected? If not, can you explain what happened? Can you discuss your results in comparison to existing theories?
  • What are the direct implications of your work? Can you formulate recommendations for practice and/or for policy makers? Do you need to do more experiments?
  • Is your summary and conclusions section written in the right form? Did you summarize the contents of your paper? Did you highlight the main findings and conclusions from your work? Make sure you don't introduce new contents in this section. Are all conclusions supported by the material presented in the paper?
  • How is your writing? Did you ask colleagues and/or native English speakers to read your work? Did you proofread thoroughly for grammar, style, and punctuation? Poor writing will make it difficult for the reviewer to understand the message you want to convey.
  • Did you check your figures and tables? Are all references to figures and tables done correctly in the text? Are the figures and tables in the correct style and format? Have you submitted your figures with sufficient resolution? Are your figures and tables clear, and do they contain all relevant information?
  • If relevant, did you add a list of notations? If you are using parameters and formulas, you should include a list of notations for easy reference.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory

Dear readers,

I've published a new book "The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory" in the Springer Texts in Education. You can read all about it (and buy it!) on the Springer website.

The book is full of new material. There are topics that I've written about in the blog, but I reworked everything and added tons of new material. I've learned that there are topics I've written more about than others on this blog, and to develop a coherent story, I had to correct that imbalance.

Here's a short description of the book:

This textbook is a guide to success during the PhD trajectory. The first part of this book takes the reader through all steps of the PhD trajectory, and the second part contains a unique glossary of terms and explanation relevant for PhD candidates. Written in the accessible language of the PhD Talk blogs, the book contains a great deal of practical advice for carrying out research, and presenting one’s work. It includes tips and advice from current and former PhD candidates, thus representing a broad range of opinions. The book includes exercises that help PhD candidates get their work kick-started. It covers all steps of a doctoral journey in STEM: getting started in a program, planning the work, the literature review, the research question, experimental work, writing, presenting, online tools, presenting at one’s first conference, writing the first journal paper, writing and defending the thesis, and the career after the PhD. Since a PhD trajectory is a deeply personal journey, this book suggests methods PhD candidates can try out, and teaches them how to figure out for themselves which proposed methods work for them, and how to find their own way of doing things.

And here are some of the comments from the reviewers of the book:

“This strategy makes readers feel as if they are reading letters from a friend who’s providing suggestions on how to become successful, instead of an academic book. The author touches on many dimensions of the doctoral training that are left assumed, such as taking responsibility for honing one’s academic writing skills and, if students have English as a second language, tips and suggestions for addressing this added level of complexity. I can’t wait to have the book and recommend it to my own doctoral students.” (Patricia Goodson, Department of Health and Kinesiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA)

“The personal insight and practical tips and exercises make an original contribution here.” (Alex Hope, Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom)

“The review is incredibly comprehensive and relatively thorough. It’s also very easy to navigate. In this sense I can imagine it sitting on the shelf of any PhD student as a reference guide. This book has broad appeal. It is comprehensive and easy to navigate and I can see this being a reference manual for any PhD student.” (Ben Libberton, MAX IV Laboratory, Lund, Sweden)

You can request a review copy of the book through the Springer website.

If you want to develop a course based on this book, please let me know!

I hope this book will serve you, and I'm looking forward to your comments on this book and experiences with the implementation of the strategies and exercises.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Newsflash: Stress-free PhD Programme Giveaway!!!

You may remember Dr. Amber Davis from her guest posts on "How to become a productive slacker," "Challenge your office mentality," and "Using your physiology to your advantage."

I have excellent news - and for this exceptional news, I am publishing this newsflash outside of the regular posting scheme here.

On June 11th, Amber is starting the "Stress-free PhD Programme". It will increase your PhD productivity, re-ignite your inspiration and lower your stress levels. To celebrate the launch of the programme Amber has two free spots in class available. Join the Giveaway here.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

I am Margaret Breidenbaugh and This is How I Work

Today I am interviewing Margaret Breidenbaugh for the "How I Work" series. Born and raised in Ohio’s first capital, Chillicothe, Margaret Breidenbaugh completed her undergraduate work in music composition and vocal performance at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. A search for her German roots necessitated learning to read nineteenth-century German handwriting. An opportunity to process German collections for Cincinnati Museum Center followed. In 2014 Margaret stumbled upon an anonymous travel diary on eBay, a purchase which changed the course of her professional life. After confirming the identity of the writer, Margaret began work on a historical fiction manuscript about German noblewoman Marie von Bonin’s factual 1855 trip to Paris. She received sage advice about this project from Stanley Planton, historical consultant to Dan Brown. As a second-year M.A. History student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Margaret researches nineteenth- and twentieth-century German social and cultural history, especially women’s conceptions of identity and agency. Her current research is a companion to her historical fiction project, and argues that Bonin saw her travels as an opportunity for intellectual and personal growth. Recent training includes an internship at Cincinnati Museum Center with James DaMico, Curator of Photographs and Prints, and a California Rare Book School workshop, “History, Identification, & Preservation of Photographic Materials,” taught by photograph conservator Gawain Weaver. Margaret’s future plans include continuing to teach voice lessons, completing and publishing her novel, and managing an archive or special collections library.

Current Job: 1) Graduate Assistant, Havighurst Special Collections, Miami University; 2) private voice instructor
Current Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: Apple 27" desktop and 12" laptop

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?

At present I have two jobs, which means I have to be very conservative and efficient with my time. I am a full-time graduate student in the Department of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I hold a 20-hour-per-week assistantship with Miami U's Special Collections Library, and I teach private voice lessons part-time. I also volunteer at Cincinnati Museum Center's Geier Collections and Research Center. I usually have more than one research project going, all of which have to do with German women, identity, and agency in the 19th and 20th centuries. My primary focus is my thesis project, which examines the life of Marie von Bonin, a young noble woman who kept a travel diary during the summer of 1855. I use her diary as evidence of subversion of social norms about women's experiences with travel, courtship and marriage, and education.

The greatest moment of my research life so far! This is me kneeling beside the final resting place of Marie von Bonin, the young German noblewoman I began researching in 2014

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I do pretty much everything on Google Drive. I cannot imagine not being able to pull up my work wherever I go. I use Docs for writing and teaching materials (which I convert to Microsoft Word for submissions), Sheets for longterm planning and budgeting, and Slides for conference presentations.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I have four workspaces! All four have a computer. Three have a mug warmer. One has a piano! Since school is on break, my home office is my primary one. I just purchased modular shelving, folders, and small boxes to organize all of my work and personal papers, which are then arranged by subject and chronology on my shelving. My school office is currently a mess, but I decided not to stress about it until classes resume at the end of this month. My voice studio is my third office, and I have a fourth workspace at Cincinnati Museum Center, where I am processing a collection for the photo curator, James DaMico.

My home office with my two workspaces, a traditional desk for typing and a large table for reading or spreading out research materials
My home office with my modular shelving where I store research materials (papers, books, photographs, etc.)

This is my history department office. Not pictured: storage above my desk for everyday items like paper, pens, wet wipes, coffee - all the essentials! On the bulletin board to my right are two maps: France and Prussia in the mid-1850s. Photo courtesy of Austin Hall.

This is my Special Collections library workspace. I work at different stations depending on my project. These are papers relating to a past president of Miami University, Philip Shriver. It is an honor to help preserve his legacy.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Every night, write out a work plan for the following day. Every Sunday night, sketch out a loose idea of what you want to accomplish during the entire week. If I did not do this, I would let too much unscheduled time get away from me.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I use a physical planner to sketch out longterm projects. It is color-coded, of course! Orange is school, green is bills/appointments, purple is teaching voice, light blue is fun stuff. I put due dates on monthly calendars and then write weekly goals on daily pages. I am always looking ahead so there are no surprises.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I use my iPad in my voice studio to share videos with students. It fits perfectly on a music stand and has a pretty powerful speaker.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I can read 19th-century German handwriting fluently. I also have extensive formal music and theater training, including paid work as a living history actor. I can sight read almost any sheet music with no issue, which I think would serve me well working as a music librarian (possible future career goal).

What do you listen to when you work?

Nothing. Music is my other, equal passion, and I find myself unable to avoid singing or humming along, even if the music is instrumental. I do like working in noisy coffee shops, however. I find the din helps me focus.

What are you currently reading?
I am not reading anything fun at the moment. I need to get back into the habit. I love a good Harlan Coben novel.

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

I exhibit characteristics of both, and when I feel one way or the other seems to be arbitrary. I am not sure how this affects my work habits, to be honest. Great question that I will ponder!

What's your sleep routine like?
I drink WAY too much coffee, a behavior I have tried to curb this year with no success, so I tend to get around 5.5-6 hours of sleep a night. This often means I am tired throughout the day, or I let myself sleep in and miss out on precious research and writing time. Definitely something I need to address before spring semester starts!

What's your work routine like?
I tend to block out 2-3 hours for each activity. I prefer to read in the morning and write in the afternoon. For many people this might seem counterintuitive (better to write when you are at your freshest) but reading comprehension is something I have always struggled with. It takes all receptors firing at once to get the gist of what I'm reading. Writing comes naturally to me, so I don't stress about it nearly as much.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Learn to say no! It is okay not to take on every opportunity that comes your way. You'll enjoy better results with the projects you do take on, and your mental health will thank you for it.