Thursday, June 25, 2015

PhD Careers - Interview for QS Top Grad School

After my recent guest post for Topuniversities.com, I was contacted by QS again, this time to see if I could answer a few questions about finding a job after the PhD.

The information from my interview and many others will be used to develop the 2015/2016 QS Top Grad School Guide. Since this guide will be published only before the start of the Fall semester, I can't link to the document yet - but you can go and check out the 2014/2015 edition of the guide.

Here you can find the questions I was asked, and my answers:

When you began your PhD, what were your initial career plans?
I didn’t really have plans – my original plan was to pursue a PhD at the university where I was enrolled for my Master’s, but then the economic crisis of 2008 hit and funding was impossible to find. At the beginning of my PhD I was open for both working in the industry after my PhD (seeing bridges being built) as well as staying in academia. More than anything, I went into my PhD out of curiosity and out of my love for learning – two factors that have been driving the course of my life.

Were you always interested in going into academia?
Not really – I just always wanted to do something that I find interesting and challenging. The regular school system had me bored out of my mind, and once I got out of there, I just wanted to go and study something difficult, something that would actually be fun and intriguing – and, as I mentioned before, this curiosity and need for getting my brain to work, has been a constant drive for me.

If you weren’t in academia, what career path would you have taken?
I have a broad range of interests. I could have gone full-time into bridge engineering in the industry (I am working on some projects in the industry besides my academic work at the moment). Other career paths that draw my attention (in no particular order) are: teaching yoga, writing (poetry mostly) and music.

How did your PhD research get picked up by the Dutch Ministry of Transport?
I actually joined a project as one of 5 PhD students that was funded based on a need of the Dutch Ministry of Transportation to further analyse the shear capacity of the existing bridges. Since I applied to the open position for a PhD student, their need for this research came before any of my results.

How did you secure your research position at TU Delft after receiving your PhD?
It followed naturally from the experiences that I had during my PhD – more than anything, I think the excellent work relationship I built up with my direct colleagues made it a logical step to keep working together. It was decided before my graduation that at least I would be able to stay as a guest, without a salary, but keeping the research tie, keeping my library access and similar benefits. When funding was found to hire me as a part-time researcher, I was very happy. Practically it means that during the summer semester of Universidad San Francisco de Quito, where I am a professor, I return to The Netherlands to focus on research, work on short research projects, or chip in where my colleagues need an extra bit of help.

What do you think of the jobs market for PhD graduates outside of academia?
At least in the field of engineering, I think there will always be a need for people with a deep understanding of the problems that the industry faces. Sometimes it might be a little more difficult to explain the value of the PhD degree to some companies, but none of my fellow PhD students from the same research group seemed to have any difficulties securing a job position – in academia or in industry.

Do you feel your PhD gave you an ample skillset to pursue roles outside of academia?
Absolutely. I work on some smaller projects in the field of design of structures outside of my academic work, and the speed with which I can develop a design is very high, because I have a deep understanding of the structural behaviour of concrete. Moreover, when I’m faced with the need to design a structural element I haven’t designed before, or I need to familiarize myself with a code that I haven’t used before, I only need a few hours to soak up the new material before I can put it into practice – again, thanks to a thorough understanding of the behaviour of structural concrete.

You mention the need to learn ‘non-scientific skills’ during a PhD, what are these?
Communication more than anything: giving presentations and writing reports and papers. Planning and time management skills are another important set of skills: you can’t manage 4 years’ worth of research without a basic time management system.

What advice would you give someone undertaking a PhD who is worried about finding a job after graduation?
If your graduation date is more than a year into the future: relax – you never know what curveball the economy is going to throw you (good or bad). If you graduation date is coming up: go to events and network with companies and other universities, talk to your senior colleagues about your job search and ask about their recommendations and experiences, visit the career center of your university for some guidance on finding a position upon graduating. If you want to stay in academia, familiarize yourself with the institutions that award research grants, and their requirements.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I am Daniel Orellana and This is How I Work

Today, in the "This is How I work" I am interviewing Daniel Orellana. Daniel is a young researcher on Geographic Sciences interested in understanding the interactions among human societies and environment from a multidisciplinary approach. He has experience in theory and methods on Geographic Information Sciences applied to society-environment interactions. The diversity of universities and places where he studied (Ecuador, Spain, Netherlands) and his work and research experience
in places like the Galapagos Islands allowed himto gain a board perspective on both the technological and the social sides of the most recent advances in geographic sciences. Currently he is appointed as Principal Professor at Universidad de Cuenca, where he conducts research with two research groups: Water Resources and Sustainable Cities. His work has been published in several scientific journals and conferences as well as in technical magazines and books. He is convinced that solutions to environmental problems cannot be isolated from the human context, and combines scientific research and practice to envisage and implement novel solutions to those problems.


Current Job: Principal Professor at Universidad de Cuenca.
Current Location: Cuenca, Ecuador
Current mobile device: Android HTC One
Current computer: MacBook (laptop), HP (desktop).

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I'm a professor and researcher on Geographic and Environmental Science. My research focus is on the interactions between people and environment at different scales. I conduct my research at two research departments at University of Cuenca: Environmental Sciences and Water Resources Department; and Space and People Interdisciplinary Department. Currently I'm starting several projects, one of them is aimed to study the movement patterns of pedestrians and bikers in urban areas. This project will look for creating synergy between new technologies and algorithms for movement pattern detection, and methods from social psychology for studying perceptions about the urban environment. I also have other projects, mainly related with the Galapagos Islands.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I usually prefer on-line platforms rather than desktop software for the basic tasks: Documents, spreadsheets, presentations etc. for what I usually work on Google Docs. I do a lot of mapping and spatial analysis of geographic information, and my winner for that is QGIS together with R.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I alternate among three spaces: the computer lab where I teach Spatial Analysis and Remote Sensing, and my two desktops at the different departments. We are actually moving to a new lab.





What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Learning and developing good habits for each tasks essential. First of all, a weekly To-Do List has been super useful for me. Also I try to switch spaces for different tasks: If I have to read some papers or focus on some difficult problem, I go to the library since we share a noisy room with several other researchers). If I need to do some creative work (trying to solve a conceptual problem, for example), I prefer to go for a walk outside. Also, when I get stuck on something (like writing), I take a break but do not start any other task until I finish. Last but not least, having and creating a good working environment is essential: you and your team will be much more productive if you trust on each other and you are available for help.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
A weekly To-Do list for the tasks is super useful. For projects I'm just starting with "Project Libre", an open-source version of MS Project that covers all my needs.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I use mapping devices and technologies very often, mainly GPSs and Drones.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I would say the spatial analysis skills.

What do you listen to when you work?
Mostly classical music, mainly when I need to focus. Also, when I'm creating maps or doing any other task that doesn't require verbal reasoning, I listen to rock, even hard rock.

What are you currently reading?
I read every night until I fall asleep. Currently I'm reading "Nueva Historia del Hombre", a great essay on the nature of humans from a post-humanist perspective. I also read a lot of fiction, last one was "El Hombre que Amaba a los Perros"

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?
I'm more of an extrovert. People know that they can approach me for help and talk and I'm usually open for discussing opposite points of view. That makes it easier to connect with other people beyond my research group and getting help and advice from researches on other areas.

What's your sleep routine like?
7 hours from 11 to 6 sharp.

What's your work routine like?
My schedule is kind of messy due different projects and classes in different campus. I like to start early (7am) and try to leave around 5.30pm, although is not always possible. I move around by bike and that helps to clean my mind and feeling good.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Your work is like ice cream: there are different flavors and not everybody will like your choice. But as far as it is consistent and doesn't melt at the smallest touch, it will be good.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Time Management in Academia, Or, Educated Chaos

Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming back Dr. Scheg to share her views on time management in academia. Dr. Abigail Scheg is an Assistant Professor of English at Elizabeth City State University and an Adjunct Dissertation Chair for Northcentral University. She researches and publishes in the areas of composition, online pedagogy, and popular culture. She loves working with doctoral students and is dedicated to creating and participating in networks for doctoral student support. Follow her on Twitter @ag_scheg

As a doctoral student advisor, my role is not just limited to reviewing dissertations and dissertation-related documents. In addition to the obvious work, students look to me for advice on job hunting, creating a CV, how I feel about tenure track and non-tenure track position, alt-ac positions, and much more. Among the least obvious questions about “academic life” that I get from students is about creating a work schedule, or building their own time frames for projects. I am asked things like: How long should it take me to write a journal article? How long should it take me to turn my dissertation into something else? Am I doing enough? Am I working fast enough on this document/project?

While I am happy to answer these questions for my students, I feel that this is only part of a larger, interesting dialogue regarding self-care, or lack thereof, in academia. Using these questions from my students, I’m able to gauge that workflow and self-scheduling is a unique consideration of academic life that is rarely talked about, or considered.

I can’t give a concrete answer to the question: How long should it take me to write a journal article?

I guess I could say:

Well, some topics are easier than others. Some publications are easier than others. Some journal articles may be representative of years of research or work, so if you consider that, then it may take you years to write a single article. But, others may be short, anecdotal pieces about pedagogy or grad school, and you could whip it out in an afternoon with enough coffee and a motivational soundtrack.

And, it depends on how much of the process you are considering when you talk about the writing process. The actual writing of an article may take you a short period of time, but then you’ll learn that many journals and academic publishers have a slow turnaround time. In these cases your journal article may take a year (or more) to get to publication because of lulls in the peer-review process.

I can see my students’ eyes glazing over. Wait, mine are too.

The subtext of this question is far more interesting to consider, though: “Am I writing this fast enough?” and “Am I working hard enough?” is what they’re really asking. And what’s worse, I don’t have a concrete answer for that one either. Not because of numerous external factors, though, I don’t have an answer because this is personal.

The amount of projects one can pursue at a single time is a personal choice. The perceived “academic quality” of projects is as well. Time frames, personal responsibilities, individual organization style. These are all factors that one must consider when trying to build a schedule, and expectations of their academic production style. That is responsible academic self-care.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m good at this. Anyone who knows me would generally say that I’m overextended. But I do utilize a system of weights and measures and checks and balances to determine the feasibility of a new project, similar to the game Mousetrap. If I give my doctoral students the answer of “Well, that’s completely up to you,” or something along that line, their follow up question is, inevitably, “Well, then, how long does it take you to do X?”

I always answer honestly, but tell my students that their work timeframe is entirely for them to determine. Writing is hard, meetings are hard, teaching is hard, grading is hard, learning is hard. When you pile all of these things on top of one another, the workload can become insurmountable. Everyone negotiates their own workload in their own way. Some people make personal policies: “No school email past 7pm.” Others set aside specific weekends in which to complete all of their side projects. Others power through projects to get them off of their plate as soon as possible. And all of these are “the right way to do it.”

There are ebbs and flows to academic work. Sometimes I’m drowning, and other times I retreat all together and focus on other aspects of my life. My advice then is three-fold:
  1. It may take years to develop your academic stride. And then even when you have it down, something will inevitably trip you up, and cause you to rethink your cadence.
  2. It means nothing to measure your work patterns against someone else’s. Focus on your own balance.
  3. Don’t judge individuals who move at a faster or slower pace than you. We all have good days and bad days, easy projects, and projects that we’re sure will swallow us whole. Look for ways to support colleagues and peers. It may just pay off for you in the end.
As always, #GoScholarGo.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I am Gabriela Hajduk and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Gabriela Hajduk in the "This is How I Work" series. Gabriela has a background in behavioral ecology. She has done her undergraduate degree with integrated masters year at the University of Sheffield (MBiolSci in Animal Behavior, graduated summer 2014). Her masters year project focused on the mechanisms of sperm storage in avian female reproductive tract. She is currently pursuing a PhD in evolutionary ecology at the University of Edinburgh. Birds are her preferred study organism and she has a particular interest in the genetic and evolutionary basis of their reproductive and social behaviours. Beyond that she has a wider interest in wildlife conservation and animal welfare, as well as science communication and the challenges faced by minorities in science and academia. In her free time she enjoys the great outdoors and is a keen rock climber, when at home she enjoys drawing, as well as food-related things. Follow her on Twitter @AmidstScience and/or check out her blog.

Current Job:
PhD Researcher
Current Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Current mobile device: cheapy Android smartphone (not getting much use)
Current computer: MacBook Pro (13 inch)

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am an Evolutionary Ecology PhD researcher at the University of Edinburgh. Due to the nature of my project I also have strong links to the Australian National University.

My work focuses on inbreeding and infidelity in an Australian passerine bird, the cooperatively breeding superb fairy-wren. It is an absolutely fascinating system! Socially monogamous pairs are often supported during breeding season by male helpers. The whole group takes care of the chicks, yet due to extreme rates of female infidelity most nests have at least one chick fathered by a male from a different territory - the social male and all those helpers are raising babies who are unrelated to them. I am trying to understand the dynamics of this system: do females cheat to avoid mating with relatives, with whom they are socially paired? Or maybe they paired up with those relatives because they were going to cheat anyway?

On the more practical side the project involves analysis of multigenerational long-term dataset, working with pedigrees and statistical modelling, as well as behavioural observations of wild birds during their breeding season.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?

I do the majority of my work on my laptop. I use Scrivener for scientific papers’ note taking and any work-in-progress that is likely to require substantial changes (especially structural changes), LaTeX for later stages such as sorting out figures/tables, formatting references (from Mendeley) and final output. I use Skim for reading and do data analysis in R. I have recently started using Aquamacs for all my R and LaTeX needs. This set up gives me enough options so that I can use the right tool for each job and the majority of the programs work together very nicely, for example the combination of R and LaTeX allows me to create dynamic reports of my analysis (I am a sucker for literate programming and reproducible science).
When it comes to organisation Evernote is my weapon of choice, it is great for note taking during seminars and meetings, for collecting bits of random information and keeping those “must have” emails, lab rotas and event schedules handy. I also use it as a Lab Journal, which helps me get closer to working paperless. I also couldn’t really do without a digital calendar to keep track of my life.

You can read more about my PhD tools on my blog too

What does your workspace setup look like?

I have been allocated a workspace in a mixed PhD office (there are 8 of us, mainly first and second years, all working under different supervisors). I have a fairly nice set up in the office, although I do wish I had a more comfy chair. I try to keep my desk clear of clutter and I love having two screens dedicated to work. I do the majority of my work at the office, but every now and then I need a change of scenery so I work from home. Being able to work from home also comes in handy when the office is getting too chatty or when I need to catch up on house chores (I can squeeze the chores, one at a time, between pomodoros of work). My home desk tends to be a bit more messy than my office desk, but benefits from a higher quality secondary screen and a tea maker. I don’t do any lab work, but I do go away for fieldwork.



What is your best advice for productive academic work?
I am right at the start of my academic career, so I am probably not the best person to give advice! One thing I would say is to not be scared to experiment in order to find the time, place, set up or workflow that makes you more productive AND to stop messing with it once you found it! Otherwise it turns into never-ending playing with new “productivity hacks”, which is actually counterproductive.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I split the PhD into several questions and arranged those to be tackled in a particular order. It is easier to think of one “chunk” rather than try to deal with the entire PhD all at once. Each question then needs several analyses in order to be answered. At the moment I simply keep a list of those things and a list of other ideas that appear along the way, but I think it might work better as a mind-map, as all those ideas are very interconnected and all feed into one PhD project.

On a weekly and day-to-day basis I use my Lab Journal in Evernote; each Monday morning I review the week before to see what got done and what’s slipping throughout the cracks, and then I plan the week ahead. While planning I use my Calendar, so that I can take into account all scheduled events and any approaching deadlines. Obviously this relays on inputting all those important things into the Calendar in the first place! For weekly planning I focus on the Calendar events for that week, but I also have a quick look at the month ahead for anything “big” like a fieldwork trip on which I’m demonstrating, a stats course or a conference. I also plan weekends to ensure that in all this madness I can see my partner regularly (like so many others in academia, we have the infamous two body problem).

This helps to put my mind at ease, I can focus on one week or even one day at a time, but I don’t have the nagging feeling at the back of my mind that I have forgotten about something important in a slightly more distant future.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I have an iPad mini that accompanies me to all lectures, seminars, talks and meetings - I use it to take notes in Evernote. The notes sync to my account and are ready for me when I get back to my laptop. It is also very handy to have access to my calendar and Lab Journal during meetings. I thought I would do more reading on it, but that doesn’t seem to be happening (Skim iPad app would likely change that!).

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

Perseverance.

What do you listen to when you work?
I rarely listen to anything while working, I actually find it quite distracting. Sometimes, when office is going through one of the chatty days, I will listen to classical or instrumental music (it is still distracting, but less so than a conversation). If I’m doing something less taxing, for instance looking for papers or sorting out references I might listen to science-related podcasts or TED talks.

What are you currently reading?
Dune by Frank Herbert. To be honest I struggle to find as much time for reading as I would like and it is something that I definitely need to sort out. I think that the best shot at regular reading is incorporating it into my evening/bedtime routine. I read shorter things like essays and blog posts on my iPad when I am on public transport, but I prefer to read books when I can really immerse in the story. I am a book person and love having the physical copy of a book… But travelling is much easier with my Kindle than with a bunch of heavy books.

What's your sleep routine like?

I try to get 7 hours of sleep every night. I can “make do” with less than that, but it is not sustainable long term and my productivity drops too. I try to keep a regular schedule and go to bed at the same time each night, but it is incredibly hard to do since I’m away from home very often. I use f.lux on my computers so that the backlight gets adjusted according to the time of day and I read on a Kindle rather than on a backlit device. I also have one of those wake-up lamps that gets progressively brighter. I was initially sceptical about it, but winter in Edinburgh left me with little choice - I now love the lamp, it really works for me.

I generally have no problems falling asleep and sleep quite well. However, in order to avoid any anxiousness that could reduce the quality of my sleep I spend a little time organising and prepping things in the evening - I might make a task list or a grocery list, check what needs to be done the next day and note it all down, so I don’t need to worry about forgetting things. Each evening I also tidy up the house, wash up the dishes, prepare my lunch and breakfast for the next day. This makes the mornings less stressful and so makes relaxing before bed easier.

What's your work routine like?
Just like my sleep routine, I try to keep my work routine fairly consistent, but often life gets in the way. During a regular week I’m in the office and ready to start work by 8 am. I work till anywhere between 4:30 and 6:30 pm, although try to leave no later than 5ish. On Monday mornings I spend a little time planning the week and figuring out what needs to be done and what is feasible given the events scheduled for that particular week (some weeks are more meeting/seminar heavy than other).

I like to start every day with an hour or two of reading and writing - mostly notes and ideas at this stage, although hopefully will move onto putting it all together soon. I have set up Shut up & Write sessions on Tuesday mornings to get some company, which works really well for me. I wish I had a writing buddy for every morning!

I then have a look at emails and/or tackle something small on my to-do list, after which it is time for a quick break chatting to people & having a snack while they enjoy their morning coffee. The next couple of hours or so are usually dedicated to data analysis (read: fighting with R and still getting amused by its error messages including “FUN is missing”). By lunchtime I have an idea of what needs to be sorted and how smoothly a particular bit of analysis will go. Now that it is getting warmer I hope to have my lunch outside every day and go for a little stroll.

After lunch I carry on with analysis till the inevitable afternoon slump. Then, depending on how I feel, I either have a proper break and go back to work or I move onto less demanding tasks (emails, literature searches, sorting references, admin/expenses etc.). Once my brain feels useless or I get too frustrated I stop for the day.

Of course not every day looks exactly like this, but my Monday morning planning allows me to customise this general schedule and adjust as needed. In addition to my own research I do a little bit of demonstrating for undergraduate courses from time to time and participate in various workshops. My Wednesdays are jam-packed with meetings (3-4 hrs) and seminars (1-2 hrs), so I rarely do much analysis in between those. Instead, I try to sort out other things from my to-do list to free up time for work on other days.

What's the best advice you ever received?

Make your own choices because you are the one who will have to live with the consequences.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Transition from one-way to two-way shear in slabs under concentrated loads



It's my pleasure to announce the publication (online, ahead of print) of the second paper in the Magazine of Concrete Research. You can access the article online.

The abstract is as follows:

The long-standing problem of shear in structural concrete elements is typically studied as one-way shear in beams, or as two-way shear in slab–column connections. The problem of one-way shear in slabs, as encountered by bridge engineers when considering the concentrated live loads on slab bridges, is not described by codes. This paper reviews the literature regarding one-way slabs and wide beams failing in shear. The mechanisms of shear transfer and the existing models and code methods for one-way and two-way shear are reviewed. Subsequently, the similarities, differences and the transition zone between one-way and two-way shear, and the models representing these failure modes, are studied. This overview of the literature highlights that knowledge of one-way shear is limited to the comparison with small, heavily reinforced slender beams and of two-way shear to the comparison with slab–column connections. The transition zone between these two failure modes, which often occurs in structural concrete elements used in practice, is typically not studied. Possible solutions for the transition zone between the two failure modes are listed.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I am Jeff Havixbeck and This is How I work

Today, I'm interviewing Jeff Havixbeck for the "This is How I Work" series. Jeff is currently a 3rd year PhD candidate at the University of Alberta studying immunology and cell biology, where he works primarily on the induction and regulation of inflammation with a focus on neutrophils. In 2014 he received the NSERC Vanier CGS scholarship to fund the completion of his PhD. You can find him on twitter @JJHavixbeck and @BackboneBiology.

Current Job: PhD Student at the University of Alberta
Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Current mobile device: iPhone 5
Current computer: Macbook Pro

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

I am a 3rd year PhD candidate studying immunology. My project focuses on examining the contribution of neutrophils (white blood cells) to the induction and regulation of inflammation.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?

When it comes to data collection, I rely heavily upon flow cytometers and microscopes to help me analyze neutrophils and their cellular responses. I use a program called GraphPad Prism for my graphing and statistical analysis. I also use a program called Zotero when writing. Zotero is a free program that allows me to ‘cite while I write’. In addition, it also allows me to organize and store all of my papers automatically (simple one click download from online sources such as PubMed).

What does your workspace setup look like?

My workspace is relatively low tech- I typically bring only my iPad or Macbook to my lab at the University. I also generally use a second monitor at work. Stacks of paper surround me, albeit they are all organized!



What is your best advice for productive academic work?

My best advice is to learn how to manage your time effectively. In the early stages of my PhD I was constantly working evenings and many weekends to try and stay ahead of the curve. However, I quickly learnt how to manage my time, leaving plenty of time for extra curricular activities, all while staying productive in the lab.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I keep a whiteboard on my lab bench outlining all of my current projects and experiments to be done. This allows me to easily alter and update my future plans. I would take a picture, but that would give away all of my plans!

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I use my iPad as well, however, this is typically for personal use.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I believe that I pushed myself early in my degree to separate myself from the rest of the pack by learning how to ask the right questions. This has allowed me to push my research forward at a quicker pace than many others. In addition, I attribute much of my current success to common sense. Many people do not want to admit this, but I definitely believe that common sense has allowed me to work smarter than many others. There are far too many people, especially in science, who let common sense go by the wayside.

What do you listen to when you work?

I listen to a number of podcasts while I work. However, while I am writing manuscripts, I don’t typically listen to anything.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?

I am currently reading 3 books- The Double Helix, The Lean Startup, and The $100 Startup. I try and make every moment of my day productive in one way or another. I read during my commute time to and from work (25 minutes each way) as well as before bed.

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

I am an extrovert. This is a rather interesting question because I have never thought about how it influences my work habits. I would say being an extrovert has allowed me to push past my comfort zone and continually explore new opportunities. For example, I have volunteered with Let’s Talk Science, I run a scientific help site called Backbone Biology, and I will go out of my way to help other students. This has allowed me to establish many collaborations and projects outside my direct area of study.

What's your sleep routine like?
I would say I average 6.5-7 hours a night. Typically from 12pm to 6:30/7am.

What's your work routine like?

As a graduate student, I typically don't have a daily work routine. I arrive at my lab around 8am and work until 5pm. I generally dedicated at least part of my morning (30 minutes or so) to read about finance, the markets, and business.

What's the best advice you ever received?
The best advice I have received was to never let someone talk you into a PhD. There are far too many students that were talked into doing a PhD, only to regret it immensely later on. If you are planning to do a PhD, make sure it is your plan!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: 20 Things You Need To Know When Moving To The Netherlands

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!


This summer, I am focusing on topics related to moving to, living in and working in The Netherlands.
Why? To celebrate the release of FactCards.nl! On this website, you can find all information you need as a foreigner coming to do research in The Netherlands. And even for me, coming from neighbour country Belgium and speaking the same language (well, sort of...), those FactCards would have been really useful and could have saved me from a few headaches...

From my side, I'd like to give you an overview of 20 things you need to know when moving to The Netherlands:

1. Gratis

First Dutch word to learn! "Gratis" means "free", so you see it a lot in the supermarket: 10% gratis, 1+1 gratis, ...

2. Ride a bike

A bike is a useful and necessary means for transportation. Many people in The Netherlands bike their commute, and you surely should considering joining them when you move to The Netherlands - by the time you reach the office, you've had some exercise, and you'll feel refreshed and ready to start the day. Don't bike too slowly though, you'd be a bottleneck in the traffic.

3. University buildings have closing times

Unlike in the United States where most university buildings are open 24/7 if you have door access, the Dutch universities and laboratories typically have closing times for safety reasons. Don't try to break into the building on a Sunday, or stay at night past closing time... the guards will find you.

4. Start looking for housing early on

Finding affordable housing in The Netherlands can be quite a challenge, and I wrote a post about this topic for AcademicTransfer earlier on. Start looking for housing as soon as you can, and you will find something.

5. The Dutch are not misers, but they use their resources wisely

What I appreciate a lot about the Dutch, is that they use their resources wisely. In their neighboring countries, this might be seen as being stingy, but in reality they are not misers (and donating much more to charity than the Flemish!). As compared to Ecuador, I see much less excessive wealth in The Netherlands (luxury cars, houses with tons of antiques, ...). Sure they exist, and sure there are superwealthy neighborhoods in The Netherlands, but most people are not big fans of excessive spending on material goods. Calvinist spirit or something...

6. Bread makes a meal

You take two slices of bread and put something in between (ham, cheese, spreads, ...). Repeat a number of times and you have a meal. When you are too busy, you can even have three of these meals in a given day.

7. No authoritarian systems

At work, the Dutch treat eachother as equals, and the team leader will coordinate how you work together, but will not be playing the big boss over you. Other countries might have clear systems of who has authority over whom and to whom you need to ask permission, but in The Netherlands I've been surprised many times by the confidence my senior coworkers put in me and how they trusted me with certain tasks without asking me to constantly report to them.

8. Everybody is heard during a meeting

Junior or senior member, everybody has a say in a meeting. It's called the poldermodel, the Dutch way of running meetings, and the disadvantage might be that, since nobody is really taking on the big authoritarian position, it can be harder to reach consensus - everybody needs to contribute and feel that they have been heard.

9. Always bring a gift when you are invited

Chocolates or flowers are always a success. When you are invited to somebody's house, or to an event hosted by a colleagues, you are expected to bring a small gift as a token of your appreciation for the invitation.

10. People go crazy over soccer games

When the Eurocup or the Worldcup take place, the country morphs into a sea of orange. People start grilling outdoors, drinking beers together while watching the games on temporary big screens provided in the big cities and party all over the place. They might look intimidating, those crazy orange Dutchies, but they are fun to hang out with, no worries!

11. You are expected to be independent

Since the system is not relying on authority, you are expected to work independently. You are not expected to report to your supervisor as a spoon-fed student who just spews out the results of an analysis, but you are expected to take initiative and move your research forward by yourself.

12. You are expected to set your own schedule

Nobody is going to make your planning, and you are expected to decide when to work and what to work on. If you work with other people or if you need to do laboratory work, you are of course expected to show up to work at the times when your coworkers are available.

13. Be punctual

I heard that in the very South of The Netherlands, you can have 15 minutes of a delay without needing an excuse, but in the Rotterdam-Amsterdam region, you are expected to be punctual. No excuses.

14. Be honest

No need to go in convoluted ways around people, especially those in a more senior position, if you need to get something done. Talk clearly, and tell people what you need, without asking them if they please could maybe do something whenever they have the time for it - the message won't go through.

15. Expect honest feedback

The Dutch are direct, which means they give you their ideas in a honest and direct way. Their feedback is not trying to be politcally correct, but they go straight to the good and bad points of your work.

16. Some regions are very packed - be courteous to others

Parts of The Netherlands are just very densily populated - and people here are used to live in densely knit cities. Be courteous to others, and everything works fine.

17. You won't impress your colleagues by working 120 hours

If you do so, they might think you have a planning problem or that you can't do your work in the normal allotted time. You'll see people leave their offices in time to go home for dinner at 6pm. You might think they leave early and are not working hard, but you should see the amount of work they get done during their working day...

18. Many people speak English...

Almost everybody in The Netherlands, and certainly everybody in the universities, speaks English. This makes your arrival much easier, and often English is the language of choice during meetings to make sure everybody can follow.

19. ...but you should learn Dutch

However, if you are staying for a few years, you should learn Dutch. It's part showing respect for the culture of the country, and part a way to really become part of the country and its systems.

20. It's fun!

As with every new place, I needed some time to adjust to The Netherlands, but after many years here, and still spending my summers here, I can say that I really enjoy living in The Netherlands and working at TU Delft.
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