Thursday, September 1, 2011

Halfway my PhD

Today, I'm exactly halfway the time it is supposed to take me to finish my PhD. Looking back at the past two years, and thinking of what still needs to be done, I find it hard to tell if I am on schedule, but I can say for certain that I've had a fruitful learning experience so far.

What I've done so far:
- Experiments: the largest chunk of my time has gone into preparing and carrying out experiments in the lab. In total we've done 134 tests on 31 specimens by now, and we've just started our smaller, second series of experiments.
- Reading: I've been reading technical papers and reports with an insatiable hunger for a broader knowledge. I'm nearing 500 entries into Endnote (which just looks like a fun number, but it doesn't tell you that much). What matters is that I feel that I've started to get a good overview on what we know with regard to shear in concrete and existing concrete bridges.
- Analysis: I've done the larger part of data analysis of the experiments which I have finished.
- Writing/presenting my research: I've written a few conference papers, gave some talks and am about to finish a set of research reports.
- Case studies on existing bridges: which I found very valuable - maybe mot directly for my thesis, but definitely for my general understanding of my topic.
- Teaching: I've been TA for a course for two years, and I've just seen my first MSc thesis student defend with flying colors and graduate.
- Study: Of only one course I followed the course and finished the exam. Since I have no requirement for a certain amount of credits I should obtain to get my degree, I've been mainly shopping around in some courses to learn what I directly need. I wanted to study more, but I couldn't combine it with my busy lab-schedule. Additionally, I followed some workshops and courses on skills for PhD students, which I found very helpful.

What I still need to do:
- Finish my experiments, 7 more slabs to go.
- Analysis: I'm curious to see what will come out of these new experiments
- Development of a theory: I have a few loose ideas, but I have to do it. This is still an enormous task to tackle.
- Writing: I haven't finished my literature review yet. I haven't written any chapter of my thesis at all (a thought which by times mildly distresses me). I don't have a journal paper out yet, either. Also, I want to write more conference papers.
- Teaching: keep doing and keep learning from practice.

What I've learned so far:
- Writing: When I look chronologically at the different conference papers I've written, I see progress in my own writing. I try to improve step by step.
- Organizing/Productivity: Bit by bit, I've been developing my own ways to keep all my documents and ongoing projects organized and up-and-running.My main goal now is (still) to be able to get as much out of my concentration and focus as possible.
- Teaching: If I compare the way I was TA-ing the course last year and this year, I notice that I've become much better organized and found a way which works very well for me.

It's been an interesting journey so far - and I'm really curious to see where the path will be going.

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