Thursday, November 15, 2018

Average word count of a dissertation

For some reason, I always thought a doctoral thesis is about 100,000 words in length (and I've taken that number as a reference for my book as well). However, I wanted to test this assumption, so I ran a poll about the topic. From the comments, I learned that word count limits are common in the UK (mostly), and that they differ across disciplines.

You can find the poll and its wake here:

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Research Counts, Not the Journal

Together with Miguel Abambres, Tiago Ribeiro, and Ana Sousa I've recently published a preprint titled "Research Counts, Not the Journal".

As we're exploring post-publication peer review and the use of preprints, working only open access and bypassing for-profit publishers, this paper is on the Zenodo platform and open for discussion on ResearchGate. I'd be grateful if you find a moment to read the paper and share your thoughts with us on its contents!

Here's the abstract of the paper:

If there is one thing every bibliometrician agrees, is that you should never use the journal impact factor (JIF) to evaluate research performance for an article or an individual-that is a mortal sin'. Few sentences could define so precisely the uses and misuses of the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) better than Anthony van Raan's. This manuscript presents a critical overview on the international use, by governments and institutions, of the JIF and/or journal indexing information for individual research quality assessment. Interviews given by Nobel Laureates speaking on this matter are partially illustrated in this work. Furthermore, the authors propose complementary and alternative versions of the journal impact factor, respectively named Complementary (CIF) and Timeless (TIF) Impact Factors, aiming to better assess the average quality of a journal-never of a paper or an author. The idea behind impact factors is not useless, it has just been misused.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Ineffective Obsessions in Brazilian Academia and Proposals Towards Meritocracy

Together with Miguel Abambres, Tiago Ribeiro, and Ana Sousa I've recently published a preprint titled "Ineffective Obsessions in Brazilian Academia and Proposals Towards Meritocracy".

As we're exploring post-publication peer review and the use of preprints, working only open access and bypassing for-profit publishers, this paper is on the Zenodo platform and open for discussion on ResearchGate. I'd be grateful if you find a moment to read the paper and share your thoughts with us on its contents!

Here's the abstract of the paper:

Albeit its constitutional claim for quality, Brazilian academia has largely been referred to as unmeritocratic and academic hiring is still inward-oriented. Lattes platform, a public curricular information system, reflects elements of this protectionism. This article assesses two ‘obsessions’ in Brazilian academia: (i) the ‘mandatory’ Lattes CV, and (ii) the candidates’ assessment criteria in public tenders for faculty positions. Several pros and cons (mostly) of the Lattes platform are identified. The following improvements are proposed: (i) evaluations in public tenders based only on candidate’s CV, interview, and a sample lecture, (ii) the dismissal of Lattes CV as a mandatory format, and (iii) the use of platforms as Microsoft Academic, Google Scholar, ORCID or ResearcherID for curricular information. With these recommendations, Brazil can move towards a more meritocratic academic hiring system.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Time for writing a dissertation

Some PhD students wait until the very end of their studies to spend three (miserable?) months writing their thesis. Others work in a more gradual way. I spent about 1,5 years on writing (while still finishing up research tasks as well).

To have an idea of which method is most common, I ran a poll on Twitter on this topic.

You can find the wake of this poll here:

Thursday, November 1, 2018

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to start a new research topic as a post-doc

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!


As a post doctoral researcher, you can be hired on a project for 1 or 2 years, on a topic that is different from the topic you worked on during your PhD years. It may feel daunting to start all over again, and do it in less than half of the time you needed to do your PhD. As I've worked on a number of different topics during my post-doc years in Delft (including my "new" research line on load testing), I'm here to demystify the process.

First of all: remember that you are trained to do research. Your PhD years were the years in which you learned how to do research. Writing your dissertation and/or first journal articles were the training you needed to grapple with your writing style, find your identity as a scholar through writing, and learn the ropes.

Does that mean that when you start a post-doc, you can make a plan from start to finish of the post-doc project and simply execute? No - research is never a straight line. You will get stuck, you will struggle with your scholarly identity in writing about a new topic, and you will have to start over new when something doesn't lead you to discovery. Just as for the PhD trajectory, it is difficult to plan a research project - but allowing for plenty of buffer time in your planning and having an overall idea of what is expected from you, should help you draw a blueprint for your planning.

Since the general steps of a post-doc project are similar to a PhD trajectory, I will here discuss the particularities only of a post-doc project.

1. Topic description
A post-doc project usually comes with a more specific description that a PhD research project, since for the PhD it is expected from the candidate that he/she comes up with a significant novel contribution. This contribution is often required to be in the form of a new theory - and many supervisors will leave it open to the candidate to see how he/she will develop such a theory.
For a post-doc project, there is often a more specific description of the problem, as well as of the expected deliverables and their deadlines. The topic description is a good starting point to define your research question for the post-doc project.

2. Literature review
A post-doc project doesn't give you the time to spend a year exploring the literature, as you may have done during your PhD years. You'll need to be able to set up the literature review in a reasonable amount of time. If the post-doc project is part of a larger research project, you can collaborate with the other researchers (post-doc and/or PhD) to develop your literature review. If not, you can take the topic description as a starting point (this description will typically have literature references that can help to get you started).
As a post-doc with a limited amount of time, you need to delve into the literature with a purpose. While I generally encourage reading broadly for your general interest, you won't be able to read and reread all interesting articles on your topic and then decide what you want to do with these. You will need to start turning the literature directly into elements for your deliverables. If you need to study a new theory, take the seminal papers on the topic, and work your way through these by taking plenty of notes and/or deriving the formulas yourself. Document this work in a background document for yourself. If you'll need the formulas later, program them in a spreadsheet. If you need to set up a database of experiments, start developing this database while you read the articles - don't make the mistake of reading all the articles first, and then processing the information. Similarly, start drafting your literature review report right as you are reading the articles. Take screenshots of interesting information, type discussions of what you read, and place this information within a report that has an outline which you can either shape as you read or set up from the beginning.

3. Planning
During your PhD years, you may have been able to devote 80% or more of your time to your research project. As a post-doc, you can be balancing your new research project with writing papers about your dissertation, taking on service appointments, supervising students, and perhaps you help with some of the teaching in your department. Planning is more important than ever. If you need to balance a number of responsibilities, try out using a weekly template.
Your long-term planning should focus on the deliverables of your project - make sure you plan towards them and leave plenty of time for dealing with setbacks in your research.

4. Research
As I mentioned earlier, research doesn't become "easier" as you move through your research career. The very essence of research is dealing with the unknown, so just as during your PhD trajectory, you will iterate towards a solution. You may be expected to handle the same amount of experimental data as during your PhD in a shorter amount of time. If you have a number of responsibilities, make sure you can carve out the time you need to think and do deep work. Your PhD credentials already show that you can do research - now make sure you make the time and have the headspace to crunch numbers and do the work.

5. Publications and deliverables
Post-doc projects typically require you to submit a certain amount of reports to the funding body, or submit a certain amount of papers for review by a certain date. Besides the publications from this project, your post-doc years also can be the right time to turn your thesis into journal articles. Make sure you put writing on your calendar to move your publications forward - these are incredibly important for your future career.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Challenges with academic writing

I recently ran a poll on Twitter to learn what are the most common challenges with academic writing. While a quick poll with only four options to answer is a very limited approach, I did learn that my idea that "finding time for writing" is a challenge for many. For me, too, it is what I struggle with most. I try to block two hours each morning for my writing, but with everything I still need to write, it often feels like those two hours are not enough.

Here's the poll and its wake:

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The post-PhD blues

I've mentioned it before, but after defending my PhD, I felt sad and experienced some "withdrawal" symptoms after being very focused on my PhD. The first paper I wrote after defending came together very slowly. I defended in June, still had until September on my PhD contract (but no project defined yet at that point), didn't know if I'd be able to remain working for TU Delft (and fretted about it, a lot), and would only start my new job in November in Ecuador (and could pretty much do any research I wanted there, which was scary as well).

I wanted to know if my experience is in line with others, so I ran a poll. You can see the wake of this poll and the results here:

UA-49678081-1