Thursday, May 21, 2015

I am Sebastian Zimmer and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Sebastian Zimmer for the This is How I Work series. Sebastian holds a Master's in European Studies and is currently a Economics PhD Candidate in the "Emerging Attraction" project at European University of Flensburg. His work is concerned with approaching the influence of territorial borders on cross-border cluster formation through a communication lens. He remains in search for filters to scientific knowledge.

Current Job: PhD Student (Scholarship) & Lecturer
Current Location: Flensburg, Germany and S√łnderborg, Denmark
Current mobile device: iPhone 6
Current computer: MacBook Pro (late 2007, and she has to last another two years)

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
Currently doing my PhD in a cross-border research group brought to life by Interreg first and now is very much kept active by the six of us. At the same time, I work as a lecturer for the Methods department at the university to keep in touch with students, the basics of research methods and close the income gap the scholarship creates in contrast to a fully paid position. My research focuses on how much influence a territorial border has on cross-border cooperation especially in the setting of an economic agglomeration (cluster). Combining the fields of Economics, Sociology, Communication Science, Informatics and Physics with a mixed method approach makes it very challenging.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
iCal, Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, texstudio, Safari, Spotify, GitHub, eMail-Software, WhatsApp in a random order. Occasional fun with R excluded.

What does your workspace setup look like?
The main workspace is actually my private laptop, which is used for my Danish office once a week, and on travels (which meant 40 hours/week on a train for almost a year but that has calmed down now). My home office consists of said laptop and a large screen and lots of desk space.... and so do the other two offices where the laptop is supported by the provided PCs - clouds be thanked for a system-overarching workflow. So, yeah.. all five "locations" with the laptop.


What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Find a place where you can actually focus and if you don't have one, create one. You may only be able to pull that off for three hours a day but if you make those count, your life will be better.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
iCal, Evernote, reminders on the phone, eMails as mind hooks and lots of sticky notes (virtually and physically). Everything has a system but only in my personal perception.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
Coffee machine. Electronic toothbrush. Oh, and various PlayStation devices. And fancy headphones to just space out.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Interdisciplinary thinking and a craftsman's eye for methods.

What do you listen to when you work?
Randomly changing music, depending on my work speed. Classic, Rock, HipHop, Soundtracks, Random playlists.

What are you currently reading?
Reading time is forced into my schedule by simply reserving twenty minutes between going to bed and sleeping. Sci-Fi classics by Philipp K. Dick and others but as summer approaches, it will probably be replaced by non-fictional literature because of my knowledge thirst.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Stronger on the introvert side, thus I do like to have discussions my colleagues in the office, but I do prefer my headphone zone and get my work done in the majority of time.

What's your sleep routine like?
Rou... what? Biologically, my body would love 3am to 11am, but reality makes it that sleep definitely happens between 4am and 7am with varying start and ending points. Bumpy?

What's your work routine like?
Equally bumpy at the moment. Working in three different physical offices makes it a challenge to develop routines. But usually, I start to work intensively two hours after waking up for a couple hours and then in the evenings again. Night owl!

What's the best advice you ever received?
"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff." - Doctor Who (2007, Blink).

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

PhD Talk and Grammarly Giveaway

Exciting news today! The first giveaway on PhD Talk!

Grammarly, an advanced grammar and spelling checker to help you improve your writing, is offering a 3-month premium account to the winning reader.

Here's how to enter:
1. Follow me @evalantsoght on Twitter
2. Like PhD Talk on Facebook
3. Write a comment to this blog post, stating the Twitter account with which you follow me, and the name under which you liked the Facebook page of PhD Talk. Explain how using an improved grammar checker would help your writing.
4. Spread the word.

Please submit your comment before June 15th! A winner will be chosen among the comments and announced on June 16th.

Here's an excellent infographic from Grammarly about why writing skills are so important:

Writing Skills and improved professional careers, more pay infographic

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I am Matthew Hanchard, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Matthew Hanchard in the "How I Work" series.  Matthew is a part-time, self-funded PhD candidate in Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield. His research focuses on digital map practices in everyday life, combining digital sociology with cartographic theory, both grounded in qualitative primary research. Alongside his role as PhD, he works 37.5 hours a week on compressed hours (over 4 days) for the UK's leading drug and alcohol misuse charity as a software developer, maintaining overall responsibility for the intranet and project managing software implementations (full cycle). He also has a 20 month old daughter called Penelope. He attributes juggling the three aspects of his life to good time-management, a great sense of humor, and trying to getting the work/life balance right.

Current Job: IT Software Develop/SharePoint Administrator for the UK’s leading drug and alcohol misuse charity – 37.5 hours per week over 4 days + PhD (self-funded) Part-time (2 days a week)
Current Location: Derby, Derbyshire
Current mobile device: Samsung S3 and a Samsung Galaxy Tab3
Current computer: Acer Aspire 6930 (Laptop)

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
Parent to a 19 month old, work full-time, and I do my PhD on one weekday and one weekend day. My research covers digital maps as practised media entangled within social relations. I focus on how digital maps are used, and how that fits in with other social practices – to see if they anchor/order social life in any way e.g., does using Google Maps and Zoopla shape which homes you view when looking to buy a house.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
At Work – SharePoint, Excel and InfoPath. On my PhD, Nvivo, Word, Google Drive and Twitter.

In the last couple of weeks I have also started using IFTTT and Pocket. I think it's important to keep up to date with new technologies than can optimise time management, but I like to sit back and see how others' in my social network find them first. I tried those two because Mark Carrigan had some good reviews of both. So I tried them. He is in my Twitter social network, and holds similar academic interests to me, but I have never met him in person. I guess some tools shift on a daily basis e.g. my University provides a Google account, so I use Google Drive where I used Dropbox before, and others are fixed in place (stabilised) through a social network - for me that's LinkedIn (professional profile), Facebook (friends, family and more intimately known people), Twitter (public forum to share ideas and enter debate).        

What does your workspace setup look like?
At work I have a desk. On my PhD I have an office room with desk, where my laptop sits in a permanent space.

PhD workspace
Day job workspace

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Get some real-life work experience before entering academia. That way, you soon notice that it’s actually pretty easy to manage. Only those with little or no experience moan about how hard it is. Outside academia, workloads are far heavier – this may change when you’re a paid member of faculty.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
A1 size wall-planner which I update regularly (I have no means to combine my work and home calendars in digital format)

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I don’t use a phone for my research. That is a little presumptuous. I use books, map and SatNav.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Almost 10 years of project management. Having worked in teams that commission academic research as a day job. Awesome at networking

What do you listen to when you work?
If I am transcribing, I listen to the interview/focus group video. Otherwise I like soft music, without too many high or low notes which could distract me. Madeleine Peyroux is good.

What are you currently reading?
I read academic books in bed, because I have no other time. At the minute it is Castells ‘Internet Galaxy’, but I’m about to re-read Shove, Panzar and Watson’s Social Dynamics of Practice’.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?
Probably more introvert. It helps me deal with the isolation and solitude of a PhD. At work I often say things quietly and get over-spoken. Then my idea gets claimed by another.

What's your sleep routine like?
Bad. My toddler has glue ear. I go to bed about 10.30pm and read for an hour. My alarm goes off at 6.00am. I have not had an uninterrupted night of sleep for almost 4 months.

What's your work routine like?
I work best between about 10pm and 3am. No idea why. My lifestyle does not allow this, so Mon, Tue, Wed I go to work from 8am to 6pm. Friday I work from 8am to 5.30pm. Thurs and Sat I have a lie in until 8am and then work on my PhD from about 10am to 8pm, with a longer break at lunch.

What's the best advice you ever received?
It’s a PhD, not a nobel prize; Good enough is good enough; it’s all or nothing; Sharing best practices just least to a lot of mediocre; Enjoy life while you can, nobody ever thinks they are just about to die!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Self-care in Academia: How to keep sane and healthy while travelling and shifting countries

Today, I'm inviting Silvia Tavares to share her thoughts on self-care in academia. Silvia is a Brazilian researcher living in New Zealand. She submitted her PhD in Urban Landscape at Lincoln University last July, and just after that she headed to Germany for a six-month experience as a Visiting Researcher. Silvia’s research interests include urban comfort and design, microclimate, wellbeing, health and climate change. You can find her tweeting as @silgtavares and blogging at

Last year was a big one. In six months (July to December), I submitted my PhD thesis, spent six months in Europe as a visiting researcher, and coronated it all getting married in Brazil early this year. It was amazing, but also challenging.

My PhD was handed in 3rd of July and I naively believed the hard bit was behind me. During the doctorate I developed consistent habits of writing every day, using the Pomodoro Technique to improve focus and make sure I achieve at leat my minimum daily goal. Exercising has also always been a priority, I used Sleep Cycle to assess the quality and amount of sleep, and had a good work space both at the university and at home. With all that in place I managed to submit the thesis in three years.

One week after the submission I was on my way to Europe. Living in New Zealand almost anything becomes ‘on the way’ to Europe, and then I stopped in Brazil for a week to see my family, friends and make some wedding decisions.

By the 22nd July I was in Europe about to start work. I allowed one week between arriving and starting work. I wanted to have time to open a bank account, and find my way around the city. But the differences in time zone (15 hours between Brazil and New Zealand, and four between Germany and Brazil), language (I don’t speak German), food and climate had its toll.

In the midst of the excitement, I didn’t realise the impact it all was having on me. I failed to fully assess my state of tiredness. I had intentions of joining the gym and having a routine, but before I knew I ended up at a physician’s clinic. I felt strange, with chest pressure and a fainty feeling. The diagnosis was ‘stress’, and recommendation was to ‘relax’ and exercise. Easy. Well… Sort of.

It was all very exciting and that first month was just the outcome of a lot of things I had had dreamed about and worked for, and all the accumulated anxiety and passion seemed to have found a way out of my system through a ‘crisis’. I did slow down, but never had a ‘normal routine’ in those six months, much less one that fitted a gym hour a few times a week. When I thought all was back on track other symptoms related to stress of immunity started to show up. The reality is that I never managed to live life to the fullest during those six months.

From now on life is probably not going to change much as the changes will be constant, and this is one of the many aspects I like about academia. I do want to keep improving my research skills and hope to have more oportunities to have academic overseas experience. But after this episode I’ve learned a few lessons about how to keep healthy in the midst of changes:

Planning, planning, planning

It is particularly difficult to achieve a ‘normal’ routine when you have a lot of work to do and only a few months in a new place, which is generally the situation for visiting researcher experiences. Commiting to a daily life that includes all your normal activities might mean you won’t have time to make the most of the new environment. How do you envisage your new routine? What are the things you want to fit into your day? Are you travelling in the weekends? Put it on paper and work on it, even if it changes later. Make sure you allow enough time – and a little more – for yourself to get used to the new environment, and to put your life and stuff in order before starting the formal work. When you are more settled, revise the plan, find a way of practicing your favourite physical activities, get enough rest, and find something that helps you to relax.

Never accept ‘being tired’ as a norm
No matter what the situation is, if you have been travelling or working long hours in the same place, and even if you consider blaming the jetlag, being exhausted is not an option. Make sure you have enough hours of sleep, and if after sleeping you still feel tired, it might be time to find some extra relaxing activities such as meditating, yoga, exercising, or anything else that works for you.

Add physical activities to all budgets
Especially to the time and financial budgets. In my experience, exercising helps me keep the levels of motivation up. In my case this means having a gym membership, as I don’t like exercising in the rain or cold weather, and these are always excuses to avoid it. If the weather is good, that can always be a plan B for variation. But I always make sure in all conditions I will get it done.

Take the PhD as a learning process for life
Yes you will be an expert in your area of research, but more than that it is a great opportunity to learn about yourself. Take the chance to learn what times of the day you work better, how many hours of sleep your body needs, what types of time management and planning techniques work for you, and to find physical activities that you love. Life after the PhD is more dynamic but not necessarily easier. You will still have a lot of publications to manage, co-authors to report to, papers to review, classes to teach, and so forth. So take the chance now to make the PhD the best preparation for what lies ahead.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

PhD Talk for Academic Transfer: How to start up a new laboratory

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!

When I started to work at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, one of the tasks I started to work on in the very beginning was the development of a structural concrete laboratory.

While the finalization of the laboratory is not quite there yet, it has been a very interesting journey. Often new professors on the tenure track are required to set up at least some lab space for their research. In my case, the laboratory is (not yet) for my research as well as for a number of teaching activities.

And, there was nothing to start from. The students simply had to go to another university for their laboratory class until recently.

While at times I wish everything would be just done and I could walk into a finished, spacious laboratory and keep working on my experimental research, I trust that with some patience the moment will be there when that will be possible.

Even though I'm currently in step 2 of a 6-stage process, I have learned a number of lessons from the experience of the last 1,5 years of building up a laboratory that I would like to share with you.

Here's a list of a number of things to keep in mind when you develop your lab space:

1. Get to know the local providers of lab equipment

If you need to import test equipment from abroad, it can be helpful to get to know the brands that have a local representative. This representative can help you with the installation of the equipment, regular maintenance and calibration, and trouble-shooting of any issues you could have with the equipment. A good technical representative can help you with all that, and even more. Unfortunately, some companies seem to have salespeople rather than technical people in their rather distant locations.

2. It's OK to start small...

Unless you managed to secure a large budget for the development of your laboratory, chances are that you'll have to start small and take time to develop the entire space. I'm currently housed in a space that is not even 10% of the floor space that I need, without much of the equipment or facilities that I need for my research, and only with the ability to teach a class in the space and allow for some research on concrete mix design (not my research topic). But it is something, and we're using the space and equipment we have to their maximum abilities.

3.... but make sure you get results with a small lab to notify the authorities of the importance of your lab

As long as there's no big lab floor, I can't continue the experimental research I want to do - but that doesn't mean I'm going to sit in a corner and wait until I finally have the space I need. The space our department has now, is what I've been using for teaching a class (now taught by a junior colleague), for giving space to the students who competed in the national and international concrete competition, and for thesis projects. With our small space, we've had excellent results - our students won the national competition and ended up second in the international competition. And these results have not gone unnoticed by the authorities of the university. I'm hoping that these successes will give more priority to the further development of our lab.

4. Get help

Hire a lab assistant and/or a technician. If you're on the tenure track and need to publish, teach, carry out research and more, then you simply don't have the time to run to the story whenever you run out of something in the lab. Shortly before opening of the lab, our department hired a junior colleague, freshly graduated, who is now in charge of the day-to-day management of the laboratory and teaching the mix design class. It's been a tremendous help, and one of the driving factors in the success of our students in the competitions.

5. Plan stages

You could walk into the office of the authorities of your university and ask for a million dollars, but chances are small they will open their pockets and give you all you need. I was asked to subdivide the development of the laboratory into stages, and focus on the most urgent needs first. We're long since behind on the original plan, but at least we have something that is producing results, and I keep pushing to realize the next stages.

6. Involve your students

The more people you involve, the more enthusiasm for your laboratory. By now, the small space we have is almost always bubbling with activity, and I have the impression that our students like hanging out in and around the lab (except for the afternoons, when our lack of air conditioning makes the inside temperature pretty much unbearable).

7. Get professional affiliations

See if you can get a tie to a professional organization in your laboratory, set up a student chapter of a professional organization, or organize certification exams in your new lab. You'll be able to reach out from the ivory tower and involve more local practitioners into your laboratory, and build a stronger reputation by doing so.

8. Ask for donations

Ask producers for donations of material and maybe even donations of used laboratory equipment. Whatever you get for free, helps, of course, and you'd be surprised how often companies are willing to give a small donation to universities for educational purposes. A plant that produces material by the truckload typically will not make a problem out of a donation of just a few bags of material. Even more so, it might be difficult for you to buy small quantities of material that is typically sold by the truckload.

9. Dream big

Last but not least: pour your heart and soul into the development of your laboratory, and dream big. The civil engineering laboratory of USFQ officially opened in November, and we've organized the national concrete competition, won it, got second place in the international competition, are doing some interesting undergraduate research projects, have started a student chapter of the American Concrete Institute - all of that in an abandoned greenhouse on campus. These successes not only make us proud of our accomplishments, but also motivate us to keep working towards a better and bigger laboratory.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I am Eric Martell and This is How I Work

Today, I'm interviewing Dr. Eric Martell for the This is How I Work series. Dr. Martell obtained a BS from North Central College in 1993 and a PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1999. His main area of research is theoretical particle physics. He has taught for two years at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI, one year at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, and two years at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. He has been at Millikin University since 2004. On a personal level, he's been married since 2004, and has three kids - a six year old and two year old twins (all boys).

Current Job: Associate Professor of Physics
Current Location: Millikin University
Current mobile device: iPhone 5S
Current computer: Lenovo Thinkpad (employer provided)

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

My school is a PUI with a standard 4/4 (12 contact hours/semester) teaching load. I teach courses from freshman-level intro to senior, plus research projects. My current research interests are in three main areas: 1) Physics of Theatre - applying physics concepts to mechanical design in theatre (my wife, who works at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is my research partner), 2) Physics Education Research, and 3) Whatever my students are interested in.

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

In addition to the standard Office and internet apps, I also use National Instruments' LabVIEW, Mathematica, LaTeX, GIMP, and Educreations on the iPad.

What does your workspace setup look like?

I have an office at work, a research lab which is used sometimes depending on the projects I'm doing, and I work from home, but not in any particular office.

This is roughly what my office looks like. We can pretend it's still this clean.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Find your balance. Some people can be in the office and do research 16 hours a day 6-7 days a week. Not everyone can. But if you burn yourself out, or make yourself miserable because you spend all your time at work, you won't last. Your work is important, but it's not the only important thing.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

I use Google Calendar, and I write out lots of lists.

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

Daily life - tv, satellite radio; Work - classroom clickers, Vernier sensors, Arduinos, IOLabs

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

My ability to work across disciplines. I've done interdisciplinary research and teaching, collaborating with colleagues in theatre and in education, and worked effectively on university-wide committees, often in leadership positions. Being able to collaborate with people who have widely different philosophical and disciplinary experiences is important, especially at a smaller school.

What do you listen to when you work?

Music - typically rock or classic rock. I use Spotify a lot.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished a book called Storm in a Teacup, by Emmie Mears. I have to carve out time - there are weeks I don't have much, and weeks I find a bunch.

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

It depends on the scenario. At work, I'm much more extroverted, because I feel that it's my role as a faculty member to speak up for what's important. I end up chairing a lot of committees and councils, which impacts my time to teach and do research.

What's your sleep routine like?

I try to sleep about 11-6:30. Doesn't always work.

What's the best advice you ever received?

Listen more, talk less.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Applications of sound in engineering

Some time ago, I gave a short presentation about the use of sound in engineering for the college of Medicine of Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

In this presentation, you find a brief overview of how we take sound into account when we design (buildings as well as pavements), and then I go deeper into the use of sound in bridge engineering. Sound is used for the inspection of bridges (non-destructive techniques) as well as for measurements during proofloading. I used the case of the Ruytenschildt bridge which we tested in The Netherlands last summer to illustrate how acoustic emission measurements work for proofloading.

You can find the slides of the presentation here: