Tuesday, December 3, 2019

I am Ayesha Scott, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ayesha Scott. Dr Scott joined the AUT Business School, Finance Department in October 2016. She obtained her PhD in Financial Econometrics in July 2016 from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia, and has undergraduate degrees in Mathematics and Finance. She is an interdisciplinary researcher, with an agenda that spans violence against women, empirical finance, personal finance and financial econometrics. Her work (particularly on KiwiSaver and personal finance) has generated media interest within Aotearoa New Zealand, and you will find her commentary in outlets such as the NZ Herald and stuff.co.nz. Passionate about healthy financial relationships, Ayesha has ongoing projects exploring the impact of financial and economic abuse in the context of intimate partnerships. This is a critical social issue that must be addressed in NZ and internationally, and her current work aims to give voice to women facing this evasive, invasive and poorly understood form of intimate partner violence.
Ayesha is also interested in the personal financial literacy and capability of New Zealanders, including vulnerable populations, and how we might improve the financial fitness of individuals. Poor financial literacy (knowledge of financial concepts) and capability (the ability to use that knowledge to make better decisions) has a significantly negative social and economic impact on a nation, both in terms of the macro economy and individual welfare.

Broadly, her doctoral research focused on the volatility and correlation dynamics of financial assets such as stocks. The near-continuous flow of price and trade data of financial assets presents researchers with opportunities, as well as unique challenges, to capture the return dynamics of these assets individually and as a group. Such models may lead to insights regarding optimal portfolio allocation decisions, information that will directly benefit investors.”

Current Job: Senior Lecturer – Finance (equivalent of Associate Professor in the US system) at Auckland University of Technology
Current Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Current mobile device: Samsung J-series – don’t ask me what model. Not the most recent one!
Current computer: Work provided HP Elitebook

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

I am a permanent academic faculty member (equivalent of a tenured Associate Prof in the US system), mother of two children (7 and 5 years old – yes, I had them during my PhD) and my husband is the primary carer. My secret weapon is without doubt the support of my husband, who works part-time at the kids’ school, and is otherwise a stay-at-home dad.

My research is eclectic. I have projects spanning intimate partner violence, personal finance, empirical finance, corporate finance…the project closest to my heart is financial violence, which is the use of money as a weapon against a romantic partner. Predominantly gender-based violence, financial and economic abuse (financial violence) has devastating consequences on families, and my work is focussed on theorising solutions, raising awareness and telling the stories of survivors.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?

For planning (aka keeping ALL the balls in the air): My bullet journal and Microsoft Outlook calendar
For writing: Word or Scrivener, depending on the project and team
For storage: OneDrive/Dropbox, depending on the collaborator
For data analysis: Matlab, Stata or NVivo, depending on the project
For music: Spotify

What does your workspace setup look like?
Ha! Messy! I am in a perpetual state of flux for this one. I do the work primarily from my office on campus (photo below), because I adore having a double monitor with the option of a third if I open my laptop screen (in the photo this is being used as additional desk space). What you can’t see is the bed, couch and home office I work from at home, the yoga mat in my campus office when I want to lie down and read, or the pile of random paper on a chair behind my desk chair that is my quick version of ‘tidying’ my desk. This ‘tidying’ helps my desk stay relatively operational, and I can’t see the mess 😉
The wall behind my computer monitor is covered in art from my kids, photos of those kids, thank you cards and inspirational quotes.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Do what you love. I have been extremely fortunate to land in a department at a university in a country that supports research that matters, and I have been able to transition from a solely quantitative researcher (my PhD is in Financial Econometrics) to a qualitative researcher focusing on personal finance and financial violence in romantic relationships. In an environment where everything we do is judged (students grade our teaching, peers review our research) and we face a ton of critique and rejection, it makes productivity much easier when you believe in the work you are doing.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Lists, both handwritten and digital – I keep a bullet journal and schedule EVERYTHING in my calendar. As I go through my day, I update my calendar to reflect how long tasks actually take so I can adjust my expectations in the future. In terms of longer-term goals, I set weekly goals that build toward my semester/quarterly goals.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I use a dictaphone if the words/ideas aren’t flowing and firmly believe when typing and talking don’t work, a pen and paper will help. An external hard drive automatically backs up my work while I’m sitting at my office desk.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I would love to put “professional dot connector” on my CV! Seriously, I enjoy building quality relationships with people and believe this is a skill that allows me to work efficiently and effectively across teaching, research and service.

8. What do you listen to when you work?
Spotify’s Morning Motivation playlist gets me through admin tasks, email and teaching prep, if I’m writing then something instrumental. I do try to branch out occasionally, but quickly realise I am a creature of habit! If I’m working on something in particular, I have been known to play one song on repeat.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I have been on a personal development binge this year, and just finished Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll. I rarely read one book at a time, I have at least two on the go at any one time. In terms of finding time, I have prioritised my mental health this year and part of that is making myself read non-academic work. I listen to audio books on my walk to work (30 minutes) and read before I go to sleep.
In terms of fiction, I adore romance novels – these tend to be quick reads for me and are pure escapism.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I’m an omnivert, for sure, meaning I am 50/50 and it depends on the situation, but as I get older I am becoming more introverted. I teach on large courses, meaning in a given week 650 undergrad students have access to me, not including my teaching team and postgraduate students. To protect my energy, I either wake up early and leave the house before my kids are up and about, or sleep in and cuddle them until we all have to get moving. Whichever happens, the first two hours of my day has to have quiet!

What's your sleep routine like?
I aim for 8 hours and probably get 7.5 on average. I really like getting to sleep before 10 pm and try to wake early (before 6 am), but this is a continual work in progress…I don’t make myself get out of bed before 7 if I’ve had a rubbish sleep, unless I have an appointment early.

What's your work routine like?
Coffee (yes, this is work!), check in with my bullet journal, research if a non-teaching day, teaching prep or meetings if a teaching day – I would love to be one of these people who doesn’t check email until 12noon, but it is unrealistic for me as I have things crop up organically that can take a day in a different direction (research students are great for needing help at random times – and I have an open door policy). I also don’t try to force myself to work on a project if I simply am not feeling it, my energy is sometimes best directed at something different.
I do try to lump my meetings onto teaching days, to try and retain big chunks of time for research days that are flexible. Not always possible, but I try!

What's the best advice you ever received?
That academia is the best job in the world – use the flexibility to your advantage. I’m not sure I do this as well as I could, but it is something I am striving for.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Optimizing Finite Element Models for Concrete Bridge Assessment With Proof Load Testing

My colleagues and I recently published a paper "Optimizing Finite Element Models for Concrete Bridge Assessment With Proof Load Testing" in Frontiers in the Built Environment - Bridge Engineering for the Research Topic Diagnostic and Proof Load Testing on Bridges.

The paper is Open Access and can be accessed here.

The abstract is
Proof load testing of existing reinforced concrete bridges is becoming increasingly important as the current bridge stock is aging. In a proof load test, a load that corresponds to the factored live load is applied to a bridge structure, to directly demonstrate that a bridge fulfills the code requirements. To optimize the procedures used in proof load tests, it can be interesting to combine field testing and finite element modeling. Finite element models can for example be used to assess a tested structure after the test when the critical position could not be loaded. In this paper, the case of viaduct De Beek, a four-span reinforced concrete slab bridge, is studied. Upon assessment, it was found that the requirements for bending moment are not fulfilled for this structure. This viaduct was proof load tested in the end span. However, the middle spans are the critical spans of this structure. The initial assessment of this viaduct was carried out with increasingly refined linear finite element models. To further study the behavior of this bridge, a non-linear finite element model is used. The data from the field test (measured strains on the bottom of the concrete cross-section, as well as measured deflection profiles) are used to update the non-linear finite element model for the end span, and to improve the modeling and assessment of the critical middle spans of the structure. Similarly, an improved assessment based on a linear finite element model is carried out. The approaches shown for viaduct De Beek should be applied for other case studies before recommendations for practice can be formulated. Eventually, an optimized combination of field testing and finite element modeling will result in an approach that potentially reduces the cost of field testing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Feasibility of Collapse Test on Nieuwklap Bridge

My colleagues and I published a paper in the BEI (Bridge Engineering Institute) Conference proceedings. In the end, none of us could make the trip to the conference, even though I had originally co-organized a mini symposium in this conference about field testing. I couldn't figure out childcare, my colleague didn't receive his visa, so in the end we couldn't give our presentation.

Nevertheless, here is the abstract of our paper:

The Nieuwklap Bridge is a 7-span reinforced concrete slab bridge that is scheduled for demolition. Since a large number of reinforced concrete slab bridges in the Netherlands are found to have insufficient shear capacity upon assessment, such bridges have been studied extensively over the past decade. To better evaluate the structural behavior and ultimate capacity of slab bridges, it was suggested to test the Nieuwklap Bridge to collapse. Since collapse tests are expensive and involve large risks, an extensive feasibility study is necessary. Testing of the Nieuwklap Bridge would be interesting if the assessment shows that the bridge is representative for the shear-critical slab bridges in the Netherlands, and if the test can be carried out safely. An assessment of the bridge in an end span and middle span at two levels of approximation is carried out, and the maximum load required to cause collapse is estimated. The outcome of the feasibility study is that the required loads for collapse are large when a plasticity-based model is used. Furthermore, the Nieuwklap Bridge is not shear-critical and thus not representative of the shear-critical slab bridges in the Netherlands. As such, collapse testing is recommended against.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Interviewing and Hiring Practices in Brazilian Academia: Proposals Towards Improvement

My coauthors and I just published a paper titled "Interviewing and Hiring Practices in Brazilian Academia: Proposals Towards Improvement". It's open access, so you can read the full text here.
You can read my blog post about the preprint here.

The abstract is:
Though Brazilian academia claims equality, the sector has largely been referred to as non-meritocratic, and academic hiring is still inward-oriented. The Lattes platform, a public curricular information system, reflects elements of this protectionism. This article assesses two ‘obsessions’ in Brazilian academia: the ‘mandatory’ Lattes CV, and the assessment criteria and procedures in public tenders for faculty positions. The current situation is introduced to the reader, and the shortcomings of these methods and their effect on academia in Brazil are analyzed. The following improvements are proposed: (1) evaluations in public tenders based on a candidate’s CV, interview, and a sample lecture, (2) removing the Lattes CV as a mandatory format, and (3) using platforms such as Microsoft Academic, Google Scholar, ORCID or ResearcherID for curricular information. With these recommendations, Brazil can move towards a more open and international-oriented academic hiring system.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Advice for the PhD defense from examiners

I'm currently coauthoring a book about the PhD defense, and one of the points we are covering is advice for the PhD defense from the point of view of the examiners. The majority of testimonies in the "PhD Defenses around the World" are from former PhD candidates. Some of them have added a paragaph reflecting on how they now examine as a committee member, but the point of view of examiners is underrepresented. So, I turned to Twitter to ask for the best advice from committee members. I've collected the answers in the wake below:

Thursday, November 14, 2019

On napping

I've been thinking about the topic of napping lately. As I was reading Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, which shows that high-achievers in the past built naps into their daily schedules, and later Why we sleep by Matthew Walker, which also shows the benefits of naps, I wonder why it is not commonly accepted to get some shut-eye during the day.

My father was a brilliant surgeon, with the workload associated which such a career, and still he found the time each day to return home for lunch and then a nap. I always think of him and how he managed to arrange his time in function of what he needed to perform, and what I could learn from that. And since he become ill when I was a teenager, I need to rely on those memories to try to understand better who he was, and by extent, understand myself better.

Here are the links to the two books I mentioned

And here is a poll I recently ran on the topic. Clearly, the majority naps - mostly every now and then, which seems to strengthen my idea that it should be ok to nap at work during the day.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

I am Jack Whitter-Jones, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Jack Whitter-Jones. Jack is a PhD Student and part time lecturer at the University of South Wales, where he researches Security Operations which encompasses Cyber Security, Machine Learning and Automation. During term time you can find Jack teaching secure web programming and application security, all of which revolve around the wonderful programming language PHP. While a PhD takes up a substantial amount of time, Jack is currently one of three organisers of BSides Cymru which is the first security conference in Wales. With any remaining down time he may have, he also carries out independent security research focusing on programming, machine learning, reverse engineering and general security topics, all of which can be found at his blog.

Current Job: PhD Student/Part-Time lecturer
Current Location: University of South Wales
Current mobile device: Android
Current computer: Macbook Pro

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

I am a PhD Student in the brilliant University of South Wales, where my field of research focuses on Security Operations within Cyber Security. The overall aim of my PhD is to use automation and machine learning to improve log analysis as to help reduce stress of cyber operators in their daily operations.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
My Macbook Pro, Mendeley, Visio, Word, Emacs, a Desktop and four screens

What does your workspace setup look like?
I am provided a wonderful desk which holds all the screens that can fit under the sun. Along with two plants and a great desk lamp, that has different modes to reduce the constant white light.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
The best advice that I have been given is by my supervisor - take breaks regularly. A week long break is better than trying to force yourself out of a slump or writers block, which is going to demotivate or set you back by four weeks.
The best advice that I have learnt is, talk to your co-workers and reach out to people within your field. Everyone wants to talk about research and all the cool things that go along with it.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Regular meetings with my supervision team and also employ a project management style to your workload (they were made for this reason).

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

Looking at your phone or computer can be tiresome when reading long pdfs and can tether you to your desk. A kindle is the perfect device to go outside and do research.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
It isn’t much of a skill, more so a willingness to speak to anyone, as a PhD can be a lonely experience at times. Speaking to people in your daily life will help with motivation, happiness, building a support network and you meet lots of interesting people along the way.

What do you listen to when you work?
Metal, trance and songs from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
Currently, I am reading: A Guide to Effective Studying and Learning: Practical Strategies from the Science of Learning.

What's your sleep routine like?
I try and get as much as I can, knowing that the end of my PhD is going to be long. But I would recommend anyone that is interested in sleep to check out Matthew Walker.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or say you don’t know something.