Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why you should study civil engineering

Every semester, I teach a seminar in the general course on sciences and engineering, to show first-year students why civil engineering is the coolest thing ever. The presentation explores the range of problems civil engineering deals with, and shows the students how civil engineers improve our daily lives day after day.

Here you can find the slides of my presentation:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I am Sarah Morton, and This is How I Work

Today I am interviewing Sarah Morton in the "How I Work" series. Sarah is completing her Ph.D at the University of Abertay, Dundee, Scotland. Her current research takes a cross-discipline approach in establishing how design might be used within the adventure sport industry in rural Scotland. The philosophy that underpins all her research is using design to encourage perception change for positive impact.

Current Job: Ph.D researcher, freelance adventure sport writer, yoga teacher.
Current Location: Chamonix and St. Andrews - I live between the two.
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am in the process of writing the second draft of my thesis and hope to sit my Viva in the next couple of months. My research focuses on how design could be used within the adventure sport industry in rural Scotland to influence positive changes - including perceptions. I utilised qualitative methods to explore experiences, motivations, opinions etc.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
Skype, a recording device, camera, the Internet, Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Word.

What does your workspace setup look like?
Most of my research took place in the field - the Highlands of Scotland and the Alps, this has been a wonderful office, however, it has been difficult at times to manage recording conversations and information - this influenced my decision to take an auto-ethnographic approach.

I have an office at the university - this is shared with other Ph.D researchers who are at a similar point in their study.

I also work from home quite a lot - in France I have a wonderful balcony with views toward Mont Blanc, in Scotland I have a nice space with wonderful views also, however, this is my parents home and it can be busy and disruptive at times. I love being able to work at home, as it fits my personality and active lifestyle, however, I do wish my home was in one place and closer to the university - it would be much less disruptive, although having to be so meticulously organised has definitely been a point of personal development!

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Don't force yourself to work when you really need a break - the most productive thing I did was taking a month off to go trail running in the Alps - toward the end of the holiday, I felt refreshed and ready to get back into work, desperate to get back to it in fact - this was the complete opposite to how I felt prior to the holiday - I was so focused on my research that I hadn't realised my progress had slowed. It was thanks to my supervisor for identifying that I needed a break, and encouraging me to take one.

Always make time to read - it fuels your thoughts - right now, while writing my thesis, I have little time to read and although this is often advised so as not to distract or go off in a new direction, I find reading really helps keep my mind active and my thoughts fresh.

Find a great place to work - lots of space, loads of light - your own little sanctuary.

Be selfish - don't let anyone or anything take you away from your work when you really need to focus on it, people will try - I've experienced lots of people who think research is my hobby, purely because I do it in the evenings and the weekends, or whenever really.

Find a good pastime - I took up ultrarunning. Most people think I'm mad, and I probably am, but it provides a daily escape that makes me feel great. Yoga is also really good!

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Initially I tried to do everything and this was overambitious - I learned to filter out what I didn't really need to do, and also learned that sometimes I would just have to accept that there were things I wouldn't have time for. I think research takes over, and it can make you look like a flaky person - I find it hard to keep social commitments or regularly meet with a running or sports club - my research is so fluid, that I just can't keep a regular schedule.

I keep a paper diary (Filofax) and it is my bible almost, pretty much every task is assigned a date and time, I have lots of notebooks for different things, and I date all my notes, I try to respond to emails every day when I have access to the Internet - I do most things in writing, so I can always refer to them at a later date.

The worst thing to do, is store everything in your head - that's when it starts to go wrong! Being organised is the key!

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

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I'm not sure I personally stand out as an academic - but I think the ability to juggle tasks and remain calm under pressure has helped me greatly, especially since my research and my life is so dispersed. I think being critical while being fair is very important - an understanding of difference, and different areas of interest is very important.

Be super organised and creative, don't let anyone pull you in a direction you're not comfortable with, and love your research - there's no point spending years exploring something you really don't feel passionate about. I don't know what impact my research will have, but I know my reasons for pursuing it, are because I wholly believe in it and want it to make a positive change.

What do you listen to when you work?
Nothing specific - I love environmental sounds (I'm partially deaf and can't concentrate or focus when there is many different sounds for me to identify) - right now, I'm listening to the birds, last night I was listening to my husband chat with his pals and listen to music, in the office - it will be the chatter of the other researchers. I zone out quite a bit as well.

What are you currently reading?
I am reading two books - Phenomenological Research Methods by Clark Moustakas and Sport Ethnography by Robert R Sands.

The hardest thing is to start reading - but then it is great, and helps to clear a lot of thoughts up, to introduce new thoughts and to cement decisions. Finding time can be difficult and it is hard to sustain the momentum, especially with books. Reading journal articles is usually a joy - some are hard work though! I highlight and make notes on the printed pages - this is the easiest way for me to incorporate those elements of literature into my own works. Picture books are definitely my preference - but they don't always fit well with research!

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Both - it depends how I feel, how much I have to do, the company I am in. Some days I don't want to speak to anyone - others I can't shut up. I react accordingly and it's great that I can work at home when I don't feel the office is the best place for me to be.

What's your sleep routine like?
Good - although I do like a lie in.

What's your work routine like?
Varies - because my research has been so dispersed I have to be organised, but I can't always get access to the resources I need to do a particular task. So, I often have to change my plans and work out what I can cover instead of what I wanted to cover. It can be hard to manage and it can be very frustrating - I just try to do something everyday, even a little bit is better than nothing.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Just keep going.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Research seminar: Testing to Failure of the Ruytenschildt Bridge

Last April, I gave a presentation in the research seminar of the Politecnico of Universidad San Francisco de Quito about testing the Ruytenschildt Bridge in Friesland, and some of the first results of the analysis.

You can find the slides of the presentation here:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I am Ondrej Cernotik, and This is How I Work

Today I am interviewing Ondrej Cernotik. Ondrej is a PhD student in theoretical physics at the Leibniz University Hannover, Germany. He focuses on quantum optics with applications to quantum information processing. More specifically, he is investigating ways to convert weak microwave signals to light (or the other way around) and the applications this can have for quantum information processing and quantum communication. He got his master’s degree in optics at Palacky University Olomouc, Czech Republic (his home country); during this time he also spent a year as an exchange student at Umea University in Sweden. He also blogs about quantum physics and my work at and tweets as @cernotik.

Current Job: Research assistant, Leibniz University Hannover
Current Location: Hannover, Germany
Current mobile device: iPad Air
Current computer: MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I'm doing a PhD in theoretical physics in Germany. The German system means that I do not have to attend any courses or pass any exams. I don't even have to teach (because I am employed on an EU project which requires me to spend all my time on research) so all I have to care about is my dissertation. That comes with many advantages — I can really focus on the science and don't have to stress about exams or teaching loads — but on the other hand, no teaching experience will probably be a bit of a disadvantage when looking for a postdoc (I want to stay in academia after graduation).
Working in theoretical physics means that I never get in a lab and all my work is done in my office. My work thus basically consists of developing new ideas that can then be tested in an experiment by someone else. For this, I do either calculations with pen and paper or some numerical simulations on my computer, so there is a lot of maths and programming involved. Specifically, I am looking at how mechanical oscillators (tiny vibrating membranes, mostly) can be used to convert microwave signals to light and vice versa. This is something that is easy to do with strong signals but not so much when the waves involved are very weak.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
First, there are the analog tools. I do many calculations with just pen and paper. I am also a bit old-fashioned and like keeping all sorts of notes on paper so there are always notebooks and loose sheets lying around. Sometimes, I switch to a whiteboard — either when discussing something with my colleagues or even when doing maths by myself so I do not sit at my desk all day.
Then, there is a lot of software that I couldn't live without. For my physics, Mathematica and IPython (with the QuTiP — Quantum toolbox in Python — module) are crucial. Like many STEM people, I use LaTeX for scientific writing. Then there is Inkscape for creating posters and figures for my papers and Mendeley to help me to stay on top of research literature. Finally, I use Evernote for various notes and to keep track of where my research projects are going.
For social networks, there is Wordpress for my blog (and following other blogs) and Hootsuite for Twitter. I used the standard Twitter app but switched recently since with Hootsuite I can schedule tweets and follow hashtags easily (the most important hashtags for me are #phdchat, #acwri, and #scicomm). When I stumble upon something I want to read later, I save it to Pocket. And because I don't get to see my family and friends in the Czech Republic so often, Skype is a must.
I'm currently trying to find the best tools for making presentations; I used LaTeX beamer for a long time since it makes it easy to include mathematical expressions but the output is usually not that aesthetically pleasing. I did my last talk in LibreOffice but did not enjoy that experience much either. Next, I want to try Keynote, maybe Prezi...there are simply too many options!

What does your workspace setup look like?
I keep all my work at the university and do not bring it home unless I really have to. That means I have no home office and get all my work done in my university office which is pretty standard — a desk with a computer, a bookcase, and a whiteboard on the wall. And since I am a theoretical physicist, I do not have a lab.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
I do not like giving general advice because everyone will prefer a different workflow. But there is one thing — create a routine and stick to it. Try to work regular hours, include regular slots for all sorts of activities (reading, writing, teaching, meetings, and so on). And find what schedule works best for you.
But do not stick to the schedule at all cost. If you have a week when nothing goes according to plan, do not force it and leave work earlier to recharge in whatever way you like. When you are on the right track, you can stay longer and catch up on what you did not manage to do when things did not go so well.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I am not really organised when it comes to keeping track of projects and tasks. Some things, I simply keep in my mind — that’s the case for things that will get done on the same or the next day (like the next step in a long calculation). For more complex issues (such as remembering all possibilities to explore when studying a problem), I use Evernote to record ideas for what to do next. To keep track of the stuff I did, I usually write a report in LaTeX. This has several advantages — I can easily keep my supervisor updated on all the technical details that are too insignificant to be discussed in detail during meetings and writing things down helps me to build a solid picture of the problem I am working on. And it is a great writing exercise which is useful when one needs to transform the notes into a research paper or, later on, a dissertation. And for lots of other things, there are random hand-written notes

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
The only mobile device I really use is my tablet. (My phone is a rather old one that cannot do much apart from voice calls and texts.) It is not that crucial for my everyday activities but it comes in handy when travelling to conferences. It is much easier to carry around and operate a tablet than a laptop.

What do you listen to when you work?
That depends a lot on my mood and the type of work. Generally, I listen only to instrumental music when working because any singing easily distracts me. For the main scientific work (any mathematical derivations or numerical simulations) I usually stick to film music (nothing motivates scientific work better than a good science fiction soundtrack — one then feels like saving the world!). For reading or writing I usually have to be absolutely focused and use music only to drown any noise coming from my colleagues (they are usually not so loud, though). And for editing, classical music works best for me.

What's your sleep routine like?
I try to keep my sleep regular, going to bed before 11 in the evening and getting up around 7:15. Some people might find it strange that I try to stick to this regime also at weekends but it really helps. With a regular routine, I find it much easier to fall asleep in the evening and wake up in the morning.

What's your work routine like?
I come to work around 8:30 and start by checking emails, mostly to find out what papers have come out. (That might affect my plans for the day — if someone publishes something highly relevant to my work, I try to read it as soon as possible.) There are two large breaks in my work — lunch from 12:00 to 12:45 PM and a coffee break from 3 PM for about 20 minutes. Other fixed points in my schedule are my reading time (every day straight after lunch for about half an hour) and regular weekly meetings with my supervisor (currently Friday afternoon). I usually leave around 5 PM. The rest is filled as needed. This includes my actual scientific work, writing, preparing posters or talks, or attending seminars. If need be, I can also add more reading or discussions with my supervisor. I also try to have a few short breaks (about 5 minutes) scattered throughout the day but I am not too strict about those. If my work is running smoothly, there is not much point in stopping to take a breath, but working for several hours straight is usually too much to do without a small break somewhere in between.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Q&A: Further exploring self-care in academia

After hosting Jenna's guest post on self-care in academia, I was contacted by John Elmes from the Times Higher Education who got interested in this topic. He asked me and Jenna a few additional questions, and used this material for a piece he published recently on THE.

As part of the Q&A series, I'm reproducing the short questions that John sent me, and their answers:

1.) Are Jenna’s experiences and recommendations (so far) similar to your own or friends’?

Yes. Even though I haven’t had any serious health problems during my PhD, I used to push myself a little extra before going on a holiday, and very often I’d be sick from exhaustion the first 2 – 3 days of my holiday, having to stay in bed with fever.
During the years of my PhD, I’ve experimented a lot trying to find out what works best for me, and what makes me productive for a long stretch of time. Jenna’s recommendations are similar to what turns out to work very well for me. While I have no fixed hours (I could for example work 6am – 8am from home, hit the gym, and then be in my office around 10:45am to prepare class and have office hours for my students), I do limit the total number of hours I work on a given week. Essentially, I plan and move blocks of time around so that I can fit work, exercise, sufficient sleep, running my blog, playing music, household chores, family time … all into my schedule.

2.) You have several in this series on self-care in academia, do you hope that these pieces of advice will help current PhD students from all over the global HE world, but also can be taken on into one’s further academic career?

I do really hope these pieces will help current PhD students and ECR who might be struggling with their workload, the pressure of academia, and juggling a number of tasks. I myself am also learning from these pieces and others’ perspectives on self-care, and adopting some of the advice and lessons of the guest writers into my weeks and months. Certainly, I think developing good practices for workflow and self-care during the PhD are beneficial for one’s further academic career, but every new step in an academic career brings new challenges. As organized as I was towards the end of my PhD, my first semester as an assistant professor was really really tough (teaching 3 new courses + research + service + admin + whatnot) and it took me time to adjust and make changes to my schedule and set new limits for myself to find a way to keep everything moving forward without depleting myself.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I am Catherine Pope and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Catherine Pope for the "How I Work" series. Catherine holds a PhD in Victorian literature and culture from the University of Sussex. She is a digital and research skills trainer and has also published ebooks on Zotero, Evernote, and Scrivener. For more information, please visit

Current Job: Research skills trainer, publisher, and academic
Current Location: Brighton, UK
Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy smartphone and Arnova tablet
Current computer: Windows 8.1 and Mac Mini

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I finished my PhD last year and now work with doctoral researchers at the University of Sussex, delivering workshops on everything from developing their social media presence, to writing a literature review and preparing for a viva. Recently I was a visiting lecturer at the University of Brighton, teaching Victorian literature. In my spare time, such as it is, I’ve been writing a monograph based on my thesis. My topic is the nineteenth-century author Florence Marryat, who wrote rather colourful novels about transgressive women and enjoyed an equally colourful personal life.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
Well, my three favourite tools are Zotero, Evernote, and Scrivener. I do tend to go on about them rather a lot and have written ebook guides on them all. Zotero is just brilliant for managing thousands of citations, Evernote is like having a second brain, and Scrivener makes writing a joyful experience. I encourage all researchers to try these tools, as they really do help enormously. I can’t imagine being without them.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I mainly work from home when I’m not teaching, as it’s a very comfortable and quiet space. I like having an enormous monitor, and one of those weird keyboards with the scrolling bar to prevent RSI. When writing, I prefer to start in longhand and it’s easier if I’m nowhere near the computer. Proximity to the internet tempts me to look things up every 5 minutes, rather than actually getting on with it. You could say that my favourite mobile app is a writing pad and pen. For me the pace of writing with a pen allows the ideas to flow. I then transcribe it into Scrivener, editing as I go along.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
I’m going to sound like a self-improvement book now, but here goes … set your goals and measure your progress. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I like to set myself daily targets. I use a mobile app called to cultivate good habits, e.g. writing at least 500 words a day. Apart from providing a useful tracking device, also offers a community of users who support each other to reach their goals.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I’m evangelical about for task management. I was studying for my PhD alongside a full-time job, so every minute counted. Breaking everything down into tiny steps and keeping track of it all helped me get through.

I also have a paper-based weekly planner. For some reason, I find it much easier to get a sense of what I’m doing when it’s laid out on a page. Here I scribble down the projects I’m going to work on each day, then I break them down into specific tasks in Todoist.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
For the last few years I’ve been developing elearning materials, so use various bits and bobs for producing screencasts and podcasts. I use Audacity and Camtasia for producing the sound and video files.

I’m also never more than a few feet away from my Kindle. While I still love printed books (there are around 3,000 in my house), I can now carry hundreds of novels with me wherever I go. The highlighting and annotation features are also incredibly helpful. I use an app called to manage all my Kindle highlights and export them to Evernote.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
In my discipline of Victorian literature and culture, I stand out as someone who can actually work a computer. Some of my colleagues think there’s nothing wrong with telegrams, and can’t really see the point of email or Twitter. On bad days, I tend to agree with them. I actually worked as an IT manager and a web developer for 12 years before beginning an academic career, so I’m keen to use technology to improve the student learning experience and also to give doctoral researchers the skills they need in the workplace.

What do you listen to when you work?
Annoyingly, I just can’t listen to music while I work, unless I’m doing something very repetitive. If I could manage it, I’d mainly listen to Kate Bush.

What are you currently reading?

I’m a voracious reader and always have been. It takes priority over many activities, including housework. I’m currently reading The Making of Home by Judith Flanders and A. N. Wilson’s biography of C S Lewis. The joy of the Kindle is that it’s easy to read wherever I am.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Hmm, I’m probably an extroverted introvert. It took me a long time to overcome my terror of public speaking, but I knew it was essential to the career I wanted to pursue. The first time I gave a talk, one of the attendees commented on how confident I appeared. She was astonished when I explained that I’d spent the first five minutes wondering if I could sneak out through the fire escape.

I’m very happy working alone, which I do much of the time, but always look forward to teaching and interacting.

What's your sleep routine like?
I can’t really cope with fewer than 8 hours’ sleep these days. Most nights I’m in bed by 10pm, read for half an hour, then I’m up at 6.30ish.

What's your work routine like?
As my partner would tell you, I’m never happier than when I’m working. I probably work 60 hours a week. It doesn’t feel like a lot, though, as I enjoy most of what I do.

What's the best advice you ever received?
That you won’t get something done by just talking about it. Deeds not words, as the suffragettes would say.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to outline a planning for a semester

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!

If you live on the northern hemisphere, the days are getting shorter again, and summer is ever so slightly coming to an end. The long holidays are over (or the quiet semester with less lectures and responsibilities is over), and the buzzing of Fall semester can be heard in the distance.

And now that the Fall semester is drawing near, it might be a good moment to set goals for this semester, and plan accordingly. In this post, I'll guide you through the steps that will make Fall 2015 your most productive semester ever.

Ready for the challenge? Here we go.

1. Outline your major goals for the semester

Before you go into more details for the semester and how everything will fit in, time-wise and all the nitty-gritty, PAUSE and focus your thoughts:

What are the five most important things that you need to do this semester?

If you don't like lists, you can journal about it - either via, a document in Evernote, or by writing long hand. Just find the red thread throughout your semester - this is the clothes hanger on which you will build your semester (don't you think Dutch expression translated can be very informative?).

Once you have outlined these five tasks (or even less, if you are working on a very large project such as your dissertation), try to identify when during the semester you will work on each project/task.

Will you work a few hours a week on each project, to make sure all projects move forward at the same pace?
Will you tackle one project at a time?

Identify how you will work first, and then map these tasks onto a plan for the semester. I like to use a monthly overview in Google Calendar, and select all the days that a project will be running (this is the approach I used in the past), or I put daily/weekly reminders in my ToDoist for the period of time that I plan to work on this task (my current approach).

If I want to study Spanish every 3 days during the semester, I'll put such a reminder in ToDoist. I also put a reminder of when I plan to start drafting a paper, when I plan to have the first version finished and when I plan to submit it.

2. Make a weekly planning

Now that you have the big rocks of your semester identified, you can zoom into your semester and try to fit all the bits and pieces of work that need to be done on a daily basis into a weekly schedule.

The elements that you need to fit in are (among others):
- teaching
- class preparation
- research
- writing papers
- reading papers / keeping up with the output in your field
- faculty responsibilities (such as, directing a lab)
- service on committees and other regular meetings
- office hours
- time to reply e-mails
- admin time

As you can see, I filter out e-mail and admin, and bunch all these small tasks into an hour of mail/admin a day (even though that hour sometimes expands beyond its limitations). I'm not replying to every single mail the moment it shows up on my phone (I typically stow away my phone in the drawer and close my mailbox anyway), and e-mail has a low priority for me: I'd rather miss my daily hour of replying e-mails than my daily hour of writing papers. Because papers are fab and emails mostly flab.

Once you have identified your building bricks, you can start to construct the framework of your semester. First, think of how many hours a week you are willing to work. 30? 40? 50? I don't recommend that you plan to work more than 60 hours a week, because your brain needs to refresh and refocus from time to time as well.
Then, distribute the hours that you have over the different categories. Typically, your time can be divided along the different categories (just giving you some rough estimates - things might look very different for you if your responsibilities are different):

- teaching: the number of hours you are actually in class
- class preparation: 2 hours per hour of class if it's a course you've taught before; 4 if it is a new course
- research: a few chunks of 2 hours throughout the week
- writing papers: at least an hour a day
- reading papers / keeping up with the output in your field: at least twice a week an hour
- faculty responsibilities (such as, directing a lab): at least three times a week an hour
- service on committees and other regular meetings: as scheduled
- office hours: depends on your university guidelines
- time to reply e-mails: about an hour a day
- admin time: half an hour a day

The details of setting up your schedule for the semester are in a previous post from this series.

3. Make a semester planning

You have already identified how your Big Rocks are taking up time and space in your planning for the entire semester. Now, you can weave your other responsibilities around it.

Sounds vague?

Here are a few things to identify:

When will homeworks be due, and when will you take midterms?
What are your important self-imposed deadlines for your research?
What are good times throughout the semester to follow-up with (international) collaborators?

Have these elements sorted out, and add them to your planning.

You will see that, as the semester progresses, your weekly schedule will serve as a guide for you, but it shouldn't be a terribly rigid plan. You are able to, and allowed to, move some blocks of time around in your schedule as necessary. Similarly, you can identify weeks where your schedule might be disrupted because of conferences or other special activities. Make sure you already build these elements into your schedule for the semester.

4. Plan personal activities

So important - don't forget to plan activities that you find important into your weekly and semesterly schedule.

On a weekly basis, you might think of planning time for workouts, social activities, date nights and other "regular" activities that you want to do repeatedly during the semester. Make time for them, and put them in your planning. You will feel much better when you arrange quality time for yourself (whether that means an evening of reading a good book, taking a bath, or crushing a damn-hard workout), than when you just stick around the house after work, eat and veg out on the couch (not that you are never allowed to do so and always have to be productive, but that in-between state is just not good for you when you stay in that state for too long).

Then, on a semesterly basis, plan out a few cool things you want to do. It's OK to spend an entire weekend working, if necessary, but don't do so the entire semester - you might want to have something to look forward to on a shorter notice. Decide what you want to do with your semester breaks: work on a paper, or get out to the mountains and hike - both are great options. Sleeping in, trying to "write a bit", replying emails and watching Netflix - not so good, too much in that half-working half-relaxing kinda state.

5. Focus

Now that you have your schedule figured it, it's time to put your ass in your office chair and grind. Or at least, ideally. In reality, there are a ton of social media platforms, the news, food, internet, your phone, your puppy and your mother-in-law that all want your attention. So remember your Big Rocks of the semester, and focus on those. I recommend you check out my guideline for better concentration in five steps, to help you sharpen your focus.

Remember that you feel much more successful if you've spend a day pomodoring through a difficult task, with short breaks for coffee, walks, bathroom and all of that, than when you try to do a bit, then go to check Instagram, do a little more, then read a blog post and so on (guilty as charged - I admit!).

Focus, focus, focus - try to think of what you will remember of this semester in two or five years from now. It won't be that BuzzFeed video - I'm sure.

6. Reward yourself

If you work hard, you gotta pat yourself on your back. Nobody will come after you to pat you on your back, so you have to take care of it yourself....

Finish a paper on time? Go get yourself a massage.
Submitted your research proposal? Head to the beach for a weekend.
Graded all those exams? Time for a movie.
Got a paper accepted? Go out to dinner and celebrate.

Life is to be enjoyed - and as academics, we're often too hard on ourselves (we little club of perfectionists...). So take good care of yourself, and put a bit of sparkle into your semester. This bit of magic will make your semester so much more balanced and enjoyable.

So, go ahead, get started with planning your semester - both in terms of work and fun - and get back to me to tell me what your semester will look like!