Thursday, June 30, 2016

I am Amanda Glaze, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Glaze for the "How I Work" series. Dr. Glaze is beginning her tenth year of teaching and has taught both physical and biological science at levels from secondary through graduate school. Her research centers on the intersections of science and society, specifically the acceptance and rejection of evolution in the Southeastern United States and the broader impact of the conflict between religion and evolution on science literacy and the general public. She has been featured on the NPR series Science Friday with Ira Flatow as well as social media outlets such as and as a guest for Ada Lovelace Day and guest curator for @RealScientists on Twitter. Her research has been published in Science Education, Science & Children, and the International Journal of Science and Math Education, and she is currently co-editor of a volume on evolution research and teaching in and around the Southeastern United States. She presently resides in Alabama with her husband, Greg, the younger two of their three children, Jaymon and Maddox (the eldest, Stephanie, is a doctoral student at University of Kansas), two beagles, a cat, a hedgehog, one carnivorous frog, and whatever other manner of flora and fauna her boys happen to drag in on any given day.

Current Job: Researcher/Science Teacher
Current Location: Alabama USA
Current mobile device: LG Android
Current computer: Macbook Pro & Dell Laptop

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I research the teaching and learning of evolution in the United States, especially the worldview and lived experiences behind acceptance and rejection of evolution in the Southeastern United States. A lot of my time is spent talking to people, reviewing surveys about view on evolution, and crunching numbers to explore variation in acceptance. I am presently graduate faculty at Texas A & M University Commerce, but also work with the Jacksonville Middle Preparatory Academy in Jacksonville AL.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I need fast computers and A LOT of storage for what I do, especially my present project which involves data from the national level. I use statistical analysis tools like SPSS, AtlasTI, and survey software Qualtrics on a regular basis.

Much of what I do involves talking to various groups of people about their experiences with teaching and learning of controversial topics so there are also elements of audio/video and transcription that come into play. I am doing a lot of stats right now, so combinations of SPSS are great. I do a lot of my data analysis on my PC but use mac products in the field because they communicate more seamlessly.

What does your workspace setup look like?
All of the above really. I have office space, teaching space, and space at home. My official space is downstairs in my basement where I have a full office set up that includes a database and hardcopy matrix of all the research I have pooled in the last few years regarding evolution education. It has two desks, one long table to spread things out, file cabinets and many stacks of articles that are organized by topic.

I am a visual person so I also have a lot of things pinned to my walls at any given time or set up in timeline/storyboard form in post-it notes. These organizers help me line up my thoughts and are great when I start writing. I spend most of my time in that office when I am reading articles and sorting ideas but I do a lot of my work in informal places, like my living room, surrounded by my family. I seem to work best when things are going on around me, it allows me to hone in on what I am doing and let other things fall into the background. I do most of my actual writing and editing in loud places swarming with my boys.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Time management skills take effort but are necessary, both on a daily basis and on a year to year basis. You have to set solid short and long term goals and carve out work time and personal time to make them happen.

Personal time can be more important than work time. If you are not taking care of yourself physically and mentally, your work is going to suffer.

One thing that saved my life is having an actual physical, written-out, five year plan. It is like a month-to-month calendar to carve up the year and it should have everything on it from submission deadlines for grants/conferences/writing to carved out time for specific articles, grants, and other preparations. Doing this keeps you productive because you have a sort of checklist for what to do when and it forces you to manage your time. Everyone I talk to about this says that having a plan like that to look at has helped them get more work done and get more funding because they are staying on top of things instead of doing a hodge-podge that contributes to nothing.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

I use my five year plan, a month to month calendar, and a day to day calendar to keep up with everything I have to do. I keep a lot of lists, both hard copy and digital, to manage my day to day and to plan for what I need to get done. This makes sure that in all the hustle and bustle of the day that nothing gets overlooked.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I pull articles in my areas of research interest several times a year to add them to my growing matrix and save myself the trouble of having to read a massive stack of articles all at once when I am writing, so I always have some articles to check out.

I do also like to read for fun, so I have to carve that time out, usually at night, to help me power down for the day. I read a wide variety of things, many with scientific background to them, like James Rollins Sigma books, Jefferson Bass "Body farm" novels, and Kathy Reichs' "Temperance Brennan" books (aka Bones). I have found that when I am working on a particularly difficult problem or with a large dataset that requires extra time and stress, that I love science fiction and supernatural books because they are such a break from what I am doing daily... my guilty pleasures would be things like Sookie Stackhouse, Dark Hunters, Supernatural, that kind of thing.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I am very much an extrovert which makes it easy for me to meet and talk to new people. I am so much an extrovert that I have actually had to work on "toning it down" so that I don't totally overwhelm some people. This is great because I enjoy being around a wide variety of people and watching them just do what they do. Where I am, in the South, working on exploring backgrounds and positions on controversial topics, this helps me by allowing me to take positive risks and reach out to people without being afraid of their response (which isn't always a good one).

What's your sleep routine like?
I run non-stop from 5:00am until about 9:30pm and then sleep like a rock in between. I have trained myself to do so by making sure that I mentally power down in the evenings and set aside my work and all other distractions early enough that I can rest.

What's your work routine like?
I am pretty OCD about my work schedule, but not to the point that having to adjust throws me for a loop. I try to manage my time well and break up what I am doing throughout the day. I spend a lot of my time with students, whether in class or talking about various projects, and a good deal of my time is also spent on data collection of some variety or another. I don't have a checklist, but it seems that I tend to do many of the same things each day in cycles between teaching, writing, reading, logistics, and data.

What's the best advice you ever received?

That's a hard one because it seems like in the South we are purveyors of great sayings to cover pretty much everything. The one that has been sticking with me lately is "Wear beige and stay in your own lane"...which is something a good friend told me about working in departments with a lot of people. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just blend in and do your thing, at least until the time is right to stand out. I think a lot of people are so focused on themselves that they fail to stop and listen, and even learn, from all the people and experiences around them. It is one thing to be competitive, which I am by nature, but another thing to let that overrule the fact that we all have so much we don't know.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

PhD Defenses around the world: a defense in political science from Penn State

Today, I am hosting Daniel J. Mallinson to share the experience of his PhD defense for the "PhD defenses around the world" series. Dan grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (though he is not Amish). As an undergraduate he studied political science at Elizabethtown College. He worked at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and then the Inspector General’s Office at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services while doing his masters at Villanova University. He returned to graduate school full time at Penn State, earning his Ph.D. in political science in 2015, and now works as an Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Political Science at Stockton University in southern New Jersey.

December 3, 2014 – D-Day is two months away. No, not defense day, but my first child’s due date. It was also time to finish up my dissertation and defend. Having accepted a job offer the month before, my wife (a postdoc in Kinesiology) and I decided that a pre-baby defense would better allow me to help in the transition to parenthood. No problem, I would gather the committee in mid-January and wrap things up before the February 3rd due date. Multiple rounds of Doodle Polls later, it became apparent that there was not one day in January that all of my committee members were physically in State College. Furthermore, those that were traveling were not able to teleconference in for the defense. So, January was out. My wife and I discussed the situation and decided to set the defense date for February 4, the day after our baby was due. We also set a back-up date of February 25 so that I could still hit the early deadline for a May graduation.

Gratefully, wrapping up the dissertation was not a large source of stress. I had received helpful feedback throughout the process, and my committee generally seemed pleased. That said, there had been significant discord over one particular chapter that I still decided to keep in the final project. So, there was much uncertainty regarding that particular part of the dissertation. As time ticked away and the due date neared, we were also uncertain as to whether our baby would wait long enough for me to defend. We had few signs of early labor, but the baby was positioned to come quickly when the time came. During the months of December and January, we largely went about our days, but both the defense date and due date hung over my head as I tried to prepare. Defending a dissertation is an important life event, but it seemed small in the scope of also preparing to welcome new life into the world. Especially our first child. The days passed and baby Mallinson seemed increasingly determined to let me finish.

Of course, you hear that first babies often come late, but there are plenty that come early. I was fortunate that ours did, in fact, arrive late. The due date came and passed with no signs of our baby wanting to go anywhere. So I prepared for and carried through with the defense. Our department has an unusual process for defenses. They are technically public, but are not advertised and the candidate almost always meets with just the committee. During the defense, we had a very pleasant and constructive dialogue about the project, holes in my logic, and potential avenues for future work. As far as defenses are concerned, it was a great experience. While gathering for dinner and drinks that night with friends and my very pregnant wife, the whole thing felt surreal. In a yet un-recognized blessing, my committee asked for few revisions, allowing me to file the final paperwork and the dissertation the Friday of my defense week, which was only 2 days after my defense.

That same day, February 6th, we had a difficult OB-GYN appointment. My wife was committed to giving birth naturally, but it turns out that baby Mallinson was very content staying put. Perhaps we had willed too strongly to let me finish my defense and dissertation. So, an induction was scheduled. Little did we know in December that not only would our little one not come early, but we might have to push the process along. As my wife left her last day of work before six weeks of maternity leave, which happened to be the same day that I filed my final dissertation with the Graduate School, we were again uncertain as to how the next few days would progress. We were anxious about an induction and had an army of people praying that our little one would come in its own time. The following day, my wife went into labor, and on Sunday morning February 8, four days after my defense, our little Peter was born after an intense, but relatively short, natural labor.

Many graduate students, such as my wife, remember the chaos and stress leading up to defense day, with cramming in final analyses and revisions. I, on the other hand, was fortunate that this was not my experience, but my defense was stressful in other, unique ways. When I think back to those days, I will remember all of the uncertainty surrounding the birth of our little boy. The wonder of his birth certainly overshadowed the fact that I had reached a culminating point in my educational journey. And therein lies the greatest lesson of this experience. Defending my dissertation was a culminating experience, but the birth of my son was deeply meaningful in a way that the Ph.D. was not. The Ph.D. was really a milestone in the longer arc of an academic career, whereas my son has changed my life forever. His birth and my defense experience also taught me about grace, humility, and faith. Grace for myself and for others, even when things were not going the way I thought they should. Humility in the juxtaposition of my achievement and new life. Faith in God’s provision.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I am Amanda Sewell and This is How I Work

Today, I am inviting Amanda Sewell to the "How I Work" series. Amanda is a freelance academic editor in Michigan (USA). Amanda holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Indiana University, and her scholarship has been published in the Journal of the Society for American Music and the Journal of Popular Music Studies. She also contributed a chapter on nerdcore hip-hop to the recently-published Cambridge Companion to Hip-Hop. Additionally, Amanda is a part-time classical music host on Interlochen Public Radio. Check out her website, facebook, Twitter account and profiles.

Current Job: academic editor
Current Location: Traverse City, MI, USA
Current mobile device: iPhone 6
Current computer: Asus Zenbook

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I received my Ph.D. in musicology from Indiana University in 2013 and chose to go into business for myself as an academic editor. As an editor, I work with individual clients on their articles, dissertations, and academic book manuscripts, and I also perform contract work for various academic presses, including W. W. Norton and Oxford University Press. I do everything from proofreading and copy editing (adding commas or helping non-native English speakers sound more like native speakers) to developmental editing (aiding researchers in revising the direction, tone, or content of their projects).

As fate would have it, I wound up living ten miles from the Interlochen Arts Academy, one of the most respected institutions in the United States for training young musicians and artists. I now work part-time at Interlochen Public Radio as a classical music host, and I have also written program notes for the summer concert series.

I have published several peer-reviewed pieces since completing my Ph.D., but I am still working out how to balance my own research agenda with the career I have chosen. I struggle with the idea of giving up billable hours in order to do my own research, even though there are a lot of topics I want to investigate. Stay tuned as I continue to figure out this dimension of my life.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I’m pretty simple. I edit clients’ documents on my PC using Microsoft Word’s track changes feature and comment tool. To transmit documents and communicate with clients, I use Google apps (Gmail, docs, sheets, etc.), Dropbox, and whatever else the client needs. Some larger companies have their own systems, so I’m adaptable.

What does your workspace setup look like?

I have a home office, but if I’m feeling cagey, I can always go work in a coffee shop, public library, or other space. My work is portable, meaning that I can work almost anywhere, which is both a blessing and a curse sometimes.

I have two dogs who keep me company at home and remind me to take breaks. At 3 PM every day, like clockwork, my sheltie will bring me a tennis ball, as if to say, “Amanda, perhaps you should stretch a bit. Allow me to help you.”

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

My best advice is also the advice I find hardest to take myself. I’m always pushing and pushing, and I don’t always stop to refresh or decompress. Graduate school trained me to work 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, which is a very difficult habit to break. I know, theoretically, that if I take a day (or even just a few hours) to relax in some way, I will return to my work with more energy and vigor. It’s often hard to give myself permission to take that break, though.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

I have a giant dry erase board where I list ongoing projects and their deadlines, outstanding invoices and their amounts, project quotes, and other miscellaneous reminders (“schedule March Facebook posts” or “conduct Ph.D. Talk interview”). I also use a wall calendar and the calendar on my phone for hard deadlines or appointments.

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

No, but if I had it to do over again, I would take a course on how to use Microsoft Office, including Word and Excel. My skills are quite basic, and although they fulfill my present needs, I think I could accomplish much more much faster if I had greater knowledge of these programs.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I’m assertive and advocate for myself. A colleague recently teased me about “hustling” publishers at a conference, but how else will people know who I am and what I do if I don’t introduce myself? I can’t just put my website out there and hope people will find it - instead, I have to speak up and let people know about me.

That said, if you’re looking for an editor, or if you want to talk more about academic careers outside the academy, I would love to chat with you. Please send me an email.

What do you listen to when you work?

Nothing. I’m a musicologist, which means that I am wholly incapable of listening to music in the background. Whether it’s Adele or J. S. Bach, I can’t NOT analyze what I’m hearing.

What are you currently reading?
I read the New Yorker every week, and I’m also working my way through a biography of Julia Child. I love her. If I come across an old rerun of The French Chef on public television, I will drop everything I’m doing and watch it.

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

I am very much an extrovert, but I like to work in solitude. I can talk to everyone in the room to hand out my business card and find out what they need from me, but when I sit down to work on their project, I’ll be silent until it’s finished.

What's your sleep routine like?

I commit to a regular sleep schedule. I do love a nap in the middle of the afternoon, if time allows.

What's your work routine like?
I’m at my desk more or less all day. My spouse works a 9-5 job, so I usually try to wrap up what I’m doing by 5 or 6 so that we can spend the evening together. If I have an appointment, lunch with a friend, or a shift at the radio station during the day, I will often make up the time in the evening, though.

What's the best advice you ever received?

When I was a senior in college and was applying for master’s degree programs, one of my advisors told me that I should not pay for graduate school. He said that if a program wanted me and saw potential in me, it would fund me fully. I took this advice to heart, because it meant that I need to recognize my own worth. This advice helped me in my choices of graduate school programs, but it also was crucial as I established my own business because I charge what my time is worth.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

PhD Defenses around the world: a defense in medicine from New York

Today, I have invited Rachel Ames to talk about her PhD Defense. Rachel completed her PhD in the Pathology Department at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she currently remains as a research fellow while applying for postdoctoral fellowships. For her PhD thesis work, she studied transcriptional regulation of CD4+ T cell responses to Plasmodium parasites. In addition to immunological research, Rachel is interested in improving research training quality and efficiency, and in effective science communication to diverse audiences. You can connect with her on Twitter @rachelyames.

Here's a "secret" no graduate student really likes to admit - many of us imagine ourselves defending when we watch another student's thesis defense. You think about what it would feel like, what you would say - and then sometimes worry that that day will never come. So when that day finally arrives, it feels like a somewhat surreal experience, with both feelings of deja vu as well as the new excitement of this rite of passage finally happening.

At Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, students must obtain permission to write and defend their thesis from their advisory committee, comprised of at least three faculty members in addition to your mentor. In addition to completing all required coursework and a qualifying exam, our university requires a manuscript be at least submitted to a peer-reviewed journal as a degree requirement. Permission is therefore usually obtained after this paper is submitted, or if the student appears to be very close to that point (the manuscript can be submitted up to the day of your defense, technically, but that is not recommended!). The written thesis document is to be distributed to the thesis committee members three weeks prior to the defense date to allow time for the committee to assess the document and raise issues in advance of the defense, if necessary. Typically, the thesis committee consists mainly of members of your advisory committee (if scheduling allows), an alternate to ensure sufficient quorum in the case of a last minute cancellation, and one expert in your field from outside of your institution.

I defended my PhD thesis last November, and I found it to be a truly enjoyable experience. Both Albert Einstein and the State of New York require a public seminar as a portion of the thesis defense, which is then followed by a closed-door oral exam for one-to-two hours. Because of the public seminar format, many students take the opportunity to invite family and friends, and it is really nice to share that occasion with those individuals who have probably spent many years wondering what exactly you were doing with your time. Often, even for friends in my own graduate program, their thesis defense was the first time that I really grasped the big picture of what they were studying, as we were spread out in different departments. It is also a nice opportunity to thank all those who supported your PhD work, both from a scientific perspective as well as those who supported you personally - who are just as essential to the work but are not frequently publically recognized.

The oral exam, for me, was also very pleasant - after countless hours writing the thesis in a mostly solitary setting, I found it to be really enjoyable to discuss the field and my data with my committee during the defense. This session is typically a relaxed discussion, mostly regarding implications of your work or any questions the examiners may have regarding the specifics of your field. The qualifying exam, which takes place two years into the PhD program at Einstein and involves a grant-style proposal of your project, occurs at a time while you are often still trying to wrap your head around all the basics of your research, both the techniques and literature of the field. By the time of the thesis defense, you should know well which things you know, don't know, and what is still to be discovered, and that deeper knowledge makes discussing the work so much more enjoyable, rather than feeling like a classic "exam."

The PhD process is a test in itself, both testing you day to day on your understanding of basic principles and your field, as well as testing your mettle over many years of hard work. Rather than an intense exam, the day of my defense felt more like a capstone of that process, an opportunity to look back at what I had created and learned, and all the people that had helped me get there.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

PhD Defenses around the world: a defense in Finland

Today, I am inviting Alexandra Mihailova to discuss her PhD defense in the "Defenses around the world" series. Alex is turning 28 in less than two weeks, and is originally from Moscow, Russia. Her family relocated to Finland when she was 11, and she has lived in Tampere ever since. She got her MSc degree there as well, at the University of Tampere. She studied biomedical science and was especially interested in regenerative medicine, so she started working with pluripotent stem cells as an undergraduate student and continued in the same research group for her PhD. Right now, she is recovering from the defense and figuring out what to do next. Her plans are not set in stone yet though, so she can't say anything for sure, but she will hopefully continue in the field of biomedicine and would like to engage more in scientific communication. In her free time she keeps herself busy by long-distance running and baking.

I recently successfully defended my PhD in biomedical science at University of Tampere, Finland. The topic of my dissertation was “Tissue engineering for ocular surface reconstruction”. In a nutshell, the main aim of my study was to investigate differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells towards corneal epithelium.

First off, some background about writing a doctoral dissertation in Finland. In the field of life science and other “hard sciences”, doctoral dissertations are almost exclusively based on scientific publications. Typically three or four publications are needed for a PhD (this varies among universities), and the PhD student should have had a significant contribution to all of them. The actual PhD thesis should tie the publications together by introducing the general background of the study, summing up the results and discussing the main outcomes and limitations of the research. Once it is written and approved by the institute, two external reviewers evaluate the thesis and give feedback to the student to improve its quality. At this point, the reviewers can also reject the thesis if they feel it is not strong enough for a public defense. If that is the case, the PhD student has to make corrections to the thesis and go through the review process again. Once both external reviewers approve the thesis, the PhD student gets a permission to defend the dissertation.

The PhD defense is public from start to finish, and usually friends and family are invited in addition to colleagues and collaborators. There are also many formalities involved, most of which are somewhat old-fashioned. The dress code is strict and there are set phrases that have to be said at the beginning and at the end. The disputant, opponent and custos (a professor at the institute and preferably but not necessarily the supervisor) enter the auditorium at exactly 12:15, and the audience stands while they walk to the front of the room. The custos begins the defense by briefly introducing the disputant and opponent.

Then the disputant gives an introductory lecture (officially called Lectio praecursoria), for the public to get a general overview of the study background and aims. This tends to be the part where most disputants are noticeably nervous – my legs were feeling a little shaky for the entire 15 minutes of talking. Then the opponent gives a few general remarks which he/she thinks may be relevant. Usually this part is very short, maybe 5 minutes. However, at my defense, the opponent gave a fairly long presentation, to make sure the audience understood the aims of my study. After that, the actual discussion of the doctoral dissertation begins, and it takes 1-2 hours.

I’ve been to several PhD defenses before my own, and this part is very different every time, so you never really know what to expect. Some opponents ask very specific questions, while others choose to be broader. My opponent basically asked me to explain each of my three publications, and asked various questions related to them all throughout. Overall, I think I answered fairly well, although of course some questions were more difficult than others. It is somewhat common for the opponents to ask what are the main strengths and weaknesses of the PhD study, so I think it’s good to prepare an answer just in case. My opponent didn’t ask anything like that (although I had an answer ready!), but he did ask how I would choose to proceed in the project if money wasn’t an issue. Also a vague question, but I personally prefer those to the more technical ones, because it gives more room for discussion.

Finally, once the opponent is finished with the questions, he/she stands up to give a brief statement about the overall quality of the dissertation and defense. The disputant then thanks the opponent for the discussion and asks the audience if anyone has additional questions or comments. This is more of a formality, as it is very rare that someone from the audience asks anything.

The custos then announces that the defense is finished, and everyone is free to leave the auditorium after the disputant and opponent exit. Coffee and cake is served immediately after, and there is usually a party later in the evening in honor of the opponent. If they want to, PhD recipients in Finland can get a doctoral hat (looks somewhat like a top hat) and a doctoral sword for future academic occasions. But that’s basically all there is to it - several years of work and then one day it's over and new challenges await!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Q&A: TU Delft or Georgia Tech for an MSc. in Structural Engineering

Dear readers, it's time for anoher Q&A post. Today, we are comparing TU Delft with Georgia Tech for a master's degree in Structural Engineering.

Some time ago, I received the following message:

Dear Doctor Lantsoght,

I am a student recently being admitted by TU Delft for MSc program in Civil Engineering ( Structural Engineering Track ). I am writing to you to ask for help in comparing TU Delft with the Georgia Institute of Technology. While TU Delft offers me with scholarship, the Georgia Institute of Technology gives me an admission of MS without financial aid. My main concern is that TU Delft seems to be a less recognized university in my country and I wonder whether Gatech has a better reputation on a worldwide scale (especially in terms of civil engineering). Would you please give me some advice on this issue?
Thanks a lot for your time!

My reply was the following (I enjoyed my time at Georgia Tech and TU Delft a lot):

Dear XX,

Thank you for reaching out to me with your question.

When deciding upon going to Georgia Tech and TU Delft, you are in a luxury situation: both are excellent schools. While I can't make the deciscion for you or tell you where to go, here are a few things to consider:
- If you don't get financial aid, does that mean you'll be paying off student debt until your retirement?
- in terms of rankings, both schools are doing very well. According to the QS international rankings, Delft is currently 2nd worldwide and GT 24th.

If finances are not an issue, try to figure out with whom you'd be working, and where you'd be able to find an advisor that is the best match for you, and your future plans. If you would like to spend some time after your studies working in Europe, Delft would be the best option, if you want to work in the USA, GT is your best option. Both schools are excellent options if you'd be interested in doing a PhD after the MSc program.

Hope that helps,


Thursday, June 9, 2016

PhD Song

Some time ago, I received a nice email from Stephen from Sweden. He wrote me about the song he developed that described his PhD experience. I enjoyed it very much, so I decided to share it here:

Have fun with this!