Thursday, June 14, 2018

How long does a PhD defense last?

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

Here are the results:

You can find the wake of this poll here:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

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

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

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


Here's my reply:

Dear XX,

Thank you for reaching out to me through my blog.

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

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

I hope this helps,


Thursday, June 7, 2018

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

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory

Dear readers,

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

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

Here's a short description of the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, June 1, 2018

Newsflash: Stress-free PhD Programme Giveaway!!!

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

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

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

Thursday, May 31, 2018

I am Margaret Breidenbaugh and This is How I Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you listen to when you work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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