Thursday, September 19, 2019

Defenses around the world: a PhD defense at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Dominique Maciejewski did her bachelors in psychology in Wuppertal, Germany. In 2011, she came to the Netherlands for an internship at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. It was supposed to be a 3-month internship, but Dominique really liked the Netherlands and so she stayed to write her thesis there. She graduated in 2014 from her research masters “Clinical and Developmental Psychopathology”, after which she started her PhD research. In 2016, she received her PhD Degree for her thesis about the development of mood variability during adolescence. In 2016, she went to the United States (Virginia Tech) for a postdoc on neurobiological determinants of adolescent psychopathology. After 6 months, she got offered a job as a postdoc and project coordinator for a large project – the Mood and Resilience in Offspring Project (MARIO; In 2017, Dominique and her colleagues received 1.4 million euros to set up the MARIO project, a project in children of parents with mood disorders to better understand, detect and prevent depression in those children. Dominique lives with her boyfriend in Amsterdam and enjoys yoga, playing guitar, meeting her friends, and drinking beers on her sunny balcony.

On May 2016, I defended my dissertation at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. My dissertation was entitled: Keep your mood stable! Adolescent mood variability: Measurement, development, and association with adjustment”. Specifically, we followed around 500 adolescents from 13 to 18 years. During this time, they filled in internet diaries about their emotions 3 week as per year. We were interested about how mood fluctuations developed during adolescence and how they were related to adolescent adjustment. Short story: Adolescent’s mood is most unstable in the beginning of adolescence, but gradually becomes more stable. However a subgroup develops more unstable mood and those also show more psychopathology. If you are interested in the thesis, you can check it out here:

In the Netherlands, a PhD defense is a big event. My defense took place in a large hall with my family, friends and colleagues. Before going into the big hall, you sit in a room that is literally called the “sweat room”. Here you wait until the committee comes to pick you up to explain the procedure to you. The first person going into the hall is a person from the “pedel”. In my case this was a nice lady with a large golden stick. She made sure that everything is running smoothly. Then my supervisors and reading committee entered. Lastly, I came together with my two “paranimfen”, which are two people of your choice who support you during preparations and your defense. I chose two colleagues and close friends of mine and I was happy they were there to call me down, because I was quite nervous.

I had a reading committee consisting of 5 researchers, ranging from assistant to full professors. They had already read my thesis and approved it 5 months before. I started my defense with a 10-minute talk about the results of my PhD research (see a video of that talk here). This is called the “lekenpraatje” and you are supposed to summarize your research over the past years to a lay audience. So, I tried my best that even my parents understood what I was talking about all these years. Although I was really nervous, as soon as I stood on the podium, all my anxiety was gone and I was really ready to defend my thesis.

After my talk, the questioning began and took about 45 minutes. Each member of the reading committee asked me questions about my dissertation. They ranged from broad questions (“why should we study emotions?”) to very technical questions (“what are degrees of freedom?”). I even had a member who did similar research, but found completely opposite results. I was initially scared of her questions, but it turned out to be a wonderful scientific discussion!

After 45 minutes, the lady from the pedel came in with her golden stick, put it on the ground and said “Hora est”, which is Latin for “the time is up”. Then, I left the hall again with my paranimfen, supervisors and committee. The committee went into a separate room and I sat outside with my paranimfen. That was the moment that they decided whether I would receive my PhD or not (although to be fair – if the reading committee approves of your thesis, you generally also pass your defense). Then, they called me in and told me, I received my PhD. Together with them, we went back into the big hall, where the dean told everyone that I officially received my PhD and that I graduated cum laude (i.e., with distinction), which I did not know before and did not expect. This is a really big thing in the Netherlands, as it does not happen a lot. My supervisor then held a really nice speech and I was given my official diploma.

After that, it was time for a celebration. The weather was amazing! I had an official reception and invited my supervisors and family to a dinner. In the evening, I rented a bar and I celebrated with my colleagues, friends and family until 3 in the morning. I can seriously say that this was the best day of my life.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Favorite social media platform for research

I recently ran a poll on Twitter about social media platforms for research. For a long time, I kept both my ResearchGate and profiles up to date, but I always preferred the interface of ResearchGate, even though I've had my for a longer time. I wondered if this is just a matter of personal taste, so I ran this poll and learned that for many researchers, Twitter has everything we need. The winning platform of the poll was ResearchGate, and it looks like is pretty much abandoned.

Here's the poll and its wake:

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Minimize worry and maximize writing your dissertation

You may remember that time ago, I invited Dr. Yvette Williams, CEO of The Esteemed Scribe, LLC, for a guest post on Improving weaknesses with your dissertation..

This is a quick service announcement to let you know that Dr. Williams is organizing a webinar, titled Minimize worry and maximize writing your dissertation on September 17th and 24th.

The description of the webinar is as follows:

If you find yourself tired, stressed out, and maybe even worried about finishing writing your dissertation, then this webinar is for you!

In this 30-minute webinar,* you learn:

Three strategies to address weak areas in your dissertation
Three ways to organize the last chapter of your dissertation
Four tips for finding the best editor for your dissertation

A Q & A session will follow the presentation.

As a bonus, participants will receive a special offer at the end of the presentation.

After participating in this webinar, you'll become better at managing the process of writing your dissertation which means you'll write more confidently and efficiently.

Go from stress to successfully finishing writing your dissertation!

Space is limited to 20 participants so sign up today!

*This is an online event. Registered participants will receive a confirmation email within 24-48 hours of the scheduled event date with instructions for how to use the Zoom webinar platform.

You can register for free here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

I am Steve Tippins, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Steve Tippins. Steve has worked for insurance companies and banks and done consulting for numerous firms, both for profit and not-for-profit. He has been a professor in various forms for 30 years. His true passion lies in helping people achieve their goals.
In graduate school, at Florida State University, he was the only student in a new degree program. All of his classes were one-on-one. He is well aware of the lonely journey of a PhD student. After graduate school he worked at Indiana State University for one year then 10 years at Howard University followed by 9 years at Roosevelt University and 6 years at the University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse. He also worked for Walden University for the last 15 years and spent 4 years on the graduate faculty at NorthCentral University. He has broad experience at both traditional and online schools. He has been granted tenure twice and promoted several times. Holds a Professor Emeritus position at Howard University. Been a Department Chair and served on many search committees and promotion and tenure committees. Steve has published over 50 times in academic journals and presented at many conferences. He has written one book that was translated into Japanese. He has Chaired over 80 dissertation committees. With these accomplishments his biggest joy is in working one-on-one with individuals at He enjoys helping people define their goals both related to school and after school and setting up programs and plans to help them get there.

Current Job: Owner/Coach at and Contributing Faculty at Walden University
Current Location: Eugene, OR
Current mobile device: Iphone 6
Current computer: Macbook - I don't like it as I prefer to be hardwired to the internet yet there is only one port for connecting. There are after market devices that accept the internet connection and the power adapter but they tend to break easily

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I currently teach online and coach doctoral students and recent PhD graduates about their careers. Five years ago we had the chance to move to Costa Rica so I resigned from my job at the University of Wisconsin - LaCrosse. After 3 years of Costa Rican life (we really enjoyed it) my wife decided to get a graduate degree in Marriage and Family Therapy so we moved to Eugene. I miss the classroom but I love working with my coaching clients and helping them reach their goals.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
The Microsoft suite of programs, my website, and coaching management software (I am just installing this and hope that it really works out). The internet provides everything else that I need at this point.

What does your workspace setup look like?
My workspace is anywhere that I open my laptop. Most days I sit on the couch at home but have been known to work from a tent at a campground, in a coffee shop, or even in my car.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Keep at it! Knowledge grows in incremental steps and our work gets done in small pieces. If you get discouraged take a moment to see how far you have come instead of looking at how far you have to go.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I am a big list maker and and calendar user. Everyday I look at what needs to be accomplished today, this week, and this month. I am a plodder, I like to get a little bit done every day instead of waiting until the last minute. I also like to be finished a few days before a deadline and let whatever it is sit for a day before I submit anything. That gives my mind a day to let it sit there and see if anything else arises.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I am pretty much a Luddite, I find that my computer and phone are enough.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

I have been successful taking complicated topics and making them easy for students to understand. As a researcher I figured out a long time ago the review is an outlet for just about anything and not to take the comments of reviewers personally. This has helped me move forward if an article gets rejected.

What do you listen to when you work?

I like Folk music and sometimes Classical or Rock. If I need to be creatively inspired the tight harmonies of the Indigo Girls always seem to help me.

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

I make sure that I read every night before I go to sleep. My wife and I have been reading to each other before we go to sleep for over 20 years. I find it helps us connect and sleep. On my own I am currently reading Decolonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva and a biography of Winston Churchill.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I am basically an introvert but in some situations have extrovert tendencies (usually not work related). I like to let ideas come to me so I need time alone to let this happen. I have come up with many ideas while running, biking, or wandering around. I find that I need to give myself space and then ideas/solutions come.

What's your sleep routine like?
I like to be in bed by 10:00 pm every night (many nights earlier) and am up by 5:30 am.

What's your work routine like?
I like to start work by 7:00 am and finish up by 2:00 pm if possible. I do set aside time for phone calls throughout the day.

What's the best advice you ever received?
"Take a moment to listen to your inner voice - you really know what you want"

Thursday, September 5, 2019

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to find papers when you do your literature review

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 you start your literature review, you may feel intimidated by the quantity of work that you should go through. You may as well be worrying where to start in the first place.

In today's post, we look at different places where you can find (references to) papers that could be of your interest. Not all papers will eventually be equally important for your thesis. Depending on the article and its contents, you may simply browse the article for the main findings in less than 20 minutes, or you may sit down with the article for a week, pulling apart all its calculations and equations. But of course, you can't know how important a reference is until you find it and have a first look at it.

Here are nine different places where you can find (references to) papers that you may want to check:

1. Ask your supervisor where to start
If your supervisor gave you your thesis topic, he/she may already have a folder with information on the topic. Especially when you are hired on a funded project, your supervisor must have already been doing some preliminary work to write the proposal. Your first destination for your literature review is thus to ask your supervisor for references that can get you started.

2. Read up on the basics in a textbook

If you are new to a topic, there is no harm in reading a textbook. While a textbook may not have the depth and information of a journal article, it can provide you with the basic concepts that you need to understand to start reading in more detail. In addition to this information to get you started, textbooks also typically have extensive lists of references. You can check out these references and download the relevant articles.

3. References from the research proposal
If you're hired on a funded project, then the references to the research proposal are a good place to start familiarizing yourself with the work that supported the proposal in the first place. Download the references cited in the proposal so that you have all relevant background.

4. Find a good review paper on your topic
An excellent starting place for finding good references as well as getting a broad overview of your research topic, is by reading and analyzing a review paper on the topic. The references cited in the review paper can then be next up on your reading list.

5. Look for technical reports, theses, code documents etc
Don't limit yourself to research papers to find references to other papers. In technical reports and code documents on your topic, you can find important citations (as well information of practical value). When it comes to depth and extent of analytical work, nothing is as complete as a PhD thesis. Look for theses from students who worked on your topic, and see which references they cited.

6. Google Scholar

Google Scholar can help you find relevant articles by using the search function. In addition, you can subscribe to updates of colleagues in your field, so that you have the latest references accessible. Depending on the publisher of a journal paper, Google Scholar may also be faster in reporting a certain article in their database than other database, which can take up to 2 years to include an article.

7. Scopus
While Scopus has strong searching functions, and help with identifying the relative importance of a paper in its field with the published metrics, it may be slow in including articles (for my own publications, I have noticed it may take up to 2 years before an article is included).

8. ResearchGate
ResearchGate allows for "traditional" searching for publications, but it also allows you to do the following: 1) follow researchers in your field so you can see their updates, 2) follow research projects of other researchers to receive updates, and 3) interact by commenting on publications, asking questions, and sending direct messages.

9. References of papers
Just as for the list of references of a good review paper, the list of references of any paper you read can be a good starting point to find more papers to read. Make it a habit to carefully check the list of references and see which publications you have "missed" so far.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Presentation about Load Testing of Structures

The ACI USFQ Student Chapter organized a session with presentations last October. I gave a general introduction to the session, as well as an overview of load testing of structures. You can find my slides here:

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Selecting your research topic is the first step for a successful career

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Dr. Moustafa Gabr with a guest post about selecting your research topic. Dr. Gabr is a recent PhD graduate in chemistry from University of Iowa. He completed his undergraduate studies in pharmaceutical sciences in Egypt. After earning his Master’s degree in medicinal chemistry in a joint program between Georgia State University and Mansoura University, he pursued a PhD in bioinorganic chemistry. Moustafa has more than 25 publications in medicinal chemistry and chemical biology. His ORCID is 0000-0001-9074-3331. Moustafa has a strong passion for utilizing chemistry tools to answer long-existing questions in biology. His Twitter account @gabr2003

There is no question that choosing research advisor is the most important decision graduate students make during their doctoral training. Now you have chosen an advisor who you think can provide a mentoring style and healthy environment that would lead to your success in graduate school. The step that you should be considering at this point is the selection of your research project. Since you have joined this specific research group, you are already interested in more than one line of research pursued in this group. Most likely, your advisor has given general guidelines for your proposed project as well as recommendations for specific start points. Now it’s on you to pursue your own research path which will start with selecting a research topic.

Let your reading in literature guide you. The more you read about relevant research problems and the proposed solutions for them, the more you are capable of proposing alternative solutions to the existing research questions as well as identifying new questions. In your first year, try to focus on literature relevant to your current research. However, reading in other research areas will be very helpful starting from your second year in graduate school.
Scientific progress is incremental. However, that doesn’t mean that it lacks innovation. You can start with trying to use previous findings from your group or other groups to find a novel connection or a new research direction.

Be realistic. There are many interesting research projects, however, you need to choose a project that is feasible. As an early graduate student, you have a heavy course load and numerous skills to develop. The last thing you want to add at this point is a project with limited feasibility based on research costs, time needed and required facilities. With the level of experience of a first year graduate, this information can be obtained by communicating with senior graduate students and your advisor.

Consider your career goals. Indeed the research project you are choosing now will affect your progress in graduate school. Importantly, this research will set the stage for your postdoctoral experience as well. Research projects that address questions related to broad-ranging problems are most likely to attract opportunities for you in both academia and industry. A trending research topic at the moment might be outdated research in the near future. When you are selecting your research topic, keep in mind that you should select a project that has the potential to be a hot topic in the next few years when you are in the job market.

Collaborative versus independent research. A main objective for you as a junior researcher is to be an independent thinker and build expertise in your field. However, seeking what current or potential collaborators can add to your research might be a pivotal factor in furthering your career motives and objectives.

Now you have your research topic: Write and talk. The first thing you want to do is to write your primary research question in one sentence. Summarize your proposed approach in few sentences. Putting your idea into words will develop clearer vision which fosters more ideas. Talk to peers about your proposed research and see if they are convinced with the significance of the research problem. Pay attention to their questions which can guide you to reorganize your thoughts.