Thursday, January 16, 2020

I am Felienne Hermans, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Felienne Hermans. Felienne is associate professor at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science at Leiden University, where she heads the PERL research group, focused on programming education. 
On Saturdays she teaches children programming in a local community centre. She is one of the organizers of the CurryOn conference, which aims to bridge the gap between industry and academia. 
Felienne was also one of the founders of the Joy of Coding conference, with a similar goal, which she organized for 6 years. Since 2016, she has been a host at SE radio, one of the most popular software engineering podcasts on the web. 
When she is not coding, blogging or teaching, she is probably knitting, running or playing a (board)game.

Felienne is a member of a number of boards:
Scientific council of Netwerk mediawijzer
Kivi IT board
I&I board

Felienne blogs at

Current Job: Associate Professor
Current Location: Leiden University
Current mobile device: iPhone 7
Current computer: Macbook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am associate professor at Leiden university where I head a research group called PERL. Together with one other professor, 2 postdocs and 6 PhD students, I research how to teach programming.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
My iPad with iPad pencil surely is the most important thing that I use for making slides, reading papers and keeping notes. I use Goodnotes that let me search though my digital handwriting which helps me to find everything I need to find. All the rest, I care a lot less about!

What does your workspace setup look like?

Since I have moved close to the university (5 mins by bike), I always work from there. Here's a picture of my view. If I have to do a bit of email at home, I do it at the kitchen table.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Prioritize important deep cognitive work, and embrace the chaos. Initially in my tenure track I failed at both these hard. I was constantly putting out small fires leaving me no time to work on a plan, a story of my research. And like I was used to in my PhD, I wanted to get everything on my todo list done. That (unsurprisingly) did not work that well.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

For planning I use Trello & my calendar: In Trello I have a list of things to do, and for real important big tasks like grant proposals, or prepping for lectures I block time in my Google Calendar. To time track I use Timeular.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
Timeular comes which a dicelike thingie (see below) you can flip when timetracking that I use when in the office, although I often also use the app nowadays.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
What a great question! It is hard to say these things about yourself, but one of the things that make me stand out, I think, it my presenting skills. People usually love my talks with lots of humor and hand drawn slides. And giving talks is not just important to spread knowledge (although my best cited paper has 161 citations while my best viewed talk online had 20.000 views so surely public speaking is great for that too!) but I found it has also helped me to shape my research agenda. It is hard, esp. when you are on a tenure-track with teaching and service and all sorts of things to do, to really schedule time to reflect back and make new plans. Giving a talk is a great opportunity to think about where you want to go and how previous papers tie into each other.

What do you listen to when you work?
Usually Dutch Radio 2, a mix of classics from the 60s on and modern pop music. If I really have to concentrate, esp. when I write papers, I listen to the Dire Straits or to Bob Dylan. Deep male voices sooth my writing angst :D

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
Sand by Hugh Howey. I am not a big sci-fi fan (I am more into thrillers) but I just love all of Howey’s books and this is the only one I had not read before.

I cheat by reading audiobooks that I read while exercising :) That is an easy way to read lots of books. For 2019 I set the aim to read 40 books, and usually if I set a goal for myself, I will simply stick to it (I do not know how but my brain works like that)

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

I am definitely an introvert, even though I am very outgoing and people might think I am not, but being with people costs me energy. I do not like unexpected meetings because I have to ‘get in the mood’ for meetings and talking to people. If I have a meeting scheduled, I can already get a bit cranky, and I will typically think “blergh, I will have a meeting later”. One of the great things I have do to cope with that is to have all meetings with students in one afternoon. That is very tiring of course, but then I will know up front this day is filled with meetings, and I only have to get ready for it once. Also, this afternoon is always preceded by our weekly group meeting and lunch which do give me lots of energy so that balanced it out nicely.

What's your sleep routine like?
I am one of those lucky/annoying people that need little sleep. I almost always go to bed around 11 and I wake up at 6.

What's your work routine like?
I usually get up around 6:30, and then I have breakfast and coffee at home while I read some email or news or do other work-related things, while I watch my tortoise eat his breakfast :) Then I do a 7-minute workout, shower and leave for the office around 8am. It is just a 5 min bike ride so that is easy and nice, except for on Wednesday morning, then I go to Rotterdam by train to teach programming in a high school there. On Friday morning I do a run with one of my graduate students, so I skip the shower, but the rest of the routine is the same. I leave work around 5pm most days, sometimes earlier to go on a run too (often on Mondays and Wednesdays)

What's the best advice you ever received?
Your students will not be like you. Initially I supervised my students like I wanted to be supervised myself (and like I was supervised), lots of freedom, no fixed meetings because if they need anything, they will ask for it. That worked for some students but clearly not for others.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

My goals for 2020

As you may have read from my previous post, I tend to plan per semester and per year.

For 2020, I hope to do the following things from my list o dreams:
1. Build our house
2. Visit the Amazon jungle
3. Go on a yoga retreat
4. As a researcher, work on sustainability
5. Drink green juice daily for 40 days
6. Practice the cello regularly
7. Spend more time with my husband
8. Take an NLP course
9. Do a project cooking food from every country

And others:
10. Run a half marathon
11. Visit Banos

Besides these goals for the year, I have the following goals for this semester:

1. Finish a research project
2. Finish another research project
3. Submit 5 papers
4. Prepare experiments
5. Send out a questionnaire on defense formats
6. Work with my visiting PhD student
7. Start my new PhD student in Delft
8. Work on a proposal
9. Rework my Reinforced Concrete II class
10. Start preparing material for the master's course I'll teach later this year

1. Keep an exercise routine
2. Play the cello
3. Meditation practice
4. Sleep more
5. Spend more time in nature

1. Start construction of our house
2. Plan 4 trips outside the city
3. Plan 5 date nights
4. Go do something fun with my husband, without the baby

I also added some focus projects for the 12 months of the year, starting with an intention for January 2020 to play with my daughter every day. I'll need to step up my game here - I tend to do a lot side by side with her (cook while she plays close to me etc), but during the week time is so limited that I don't get to actually play with her.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Evaluation of my 2019 goals

I've been planning most of my goals per semester, with some goals from my list of 100 dreams for my goals per year.

Here's a list of my goals from 2019:

1. Visit the Quilotoa loop
Yes! We went in the spring and we enjoyed it very much.

2. Get tenure in Delft

Finally! Got it in May 2019.

3. Build our house
Not yet. Still working on getting all permissions.

4. Give up sugar for 40 days

I did. Then I noticed I actually eat only small amounts of added sugar, and that I enjoy baking and sharing what I bake with friends and family. And I like drinking my kombucha/water kefir, which have some sugar for the fermentation process.

5. Implement a digital sabbath at home
I did, the noticed it isn't all too practical to have your phone off when you want to drive somewhere or when you need to arrange stuff (having a kid means so much arranging always). I still want to reduce my screentime and time on my phone further. Not sure how to do it exactly.

6. Have and keep a completely organized home
Well - with a toddler one can't remain organized. I did rearrange two rooms completely, got additional furniture, and in general our house is more organized by now.

7. Declutter my belongings
I organized and cleaned up a fair amount of stuff at home. I still have stuff at my mother's house - and since she is moving somewhere else and barely talking to me these days, I'm not sure if she'll keep my things or just throw them out. Hope my piano and wedding dress will survive somehow.

8. Study yoga philosophy
I read Yogananda's memoir and started reading essays of Feuerstein on yoga. I didn't take a formal course yet.

9. Supervise a PhD student
Yes! Two as main supervisor by now and a few more as cosupervisor/ committee member.

10. Donate the clothes I don't wear
Mostly done! I am still holding on to my nursing bras, I don't really know why.

11. Work on curating my closet
I worked my way through the book and still haven't found what works for me. I've at least gotten rid of clothes that don't fit me anymore - either gave them to someone else or put as keepsakes for my daughter some day, but I still have clothes I've had since my teens and I know I'm not a teenager anymore but can't find a reason to get rid of them.

12. Go to the opera
Yes! We saw La Serva Padrona.

Not from my list of dreams:

13. Walk the entire Chaquinan
Yes, I did it! With the toddler in a carrier!

14. Run a 10k

I got well into 7 weeks of 8 weeks of training and then got sick. Hope to run 10k soon.

15. Go to Maquipucuna

We went in November and loved it!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

How I spent my time in 2019 at work

I've been tracking my time constantly at work since mid 2018, so 2019 is the first year I can analyze my data of an entire year.

Here's how I spent my time:
service: 269 hours
Teaching: 252 hours
Papers: 203 hours
email + admin: 197 hours
Research project 1: 166 hours
Research project 2: 149 hours
planning: 123 hours
ACI Avances: 110 hours
viva book: 102 hours
Research project 3: 100 hours
Research project 4: 90 hours
Meetings: 75 hours
events: 50 hours
Load testing book: 47 hours
PhD student 1: 45 hours
PhD student 2: 33 hours
Blog: 30 hours
Teaching TU: 28 hours
Research proposals: 27 hours
Side hustle: 16 hours
PhD student 3: 13 hours
PhD student 4: 12 hours
Adstren work: 10 hours
and then a few smaller categories as well as some untracked time.

Here's what I learn from this:
- I can't say no, so I end up spending a lot of time on service.
- As a main category, research is still my biggest time commitment, which is good.
- Email and admin takes so much time, but it is what it is.
- I've worked a lot in 2019. I'm comfortable with my time commitment at the moment (45-50 hours a week, including the time spent blogging) - I feel like I'm finally caught up after maternity leave. I would like to scale back to 40 hours a week, eventually though.
- Maybe I don't spend enough time with my PhD students?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to find your planning and project management tools

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!

January is all about sharpening our saw and getting ready for the action of the year ahead. And if we want to get in on the action, we need to make sure we have the right tools for the action.

Everybody is different in the tools that work best for them. Some people prefer to have everything digital or everything analog. Most people, however do best with a mix of tools for different purposes. I've gone from all digital back to parts analog (I prefer physically ticking off things and I prefer reflection based on longhand writing).

With so many software applications out there and planners in all forms and shapes possible, how do we select the right tools? Of course, there's no direct solution to this. My own project management and planning tools change as my needs change, or as I learn how to work better - and yours will change as well.

To get started with the basic parts, however, let's have a look at your needs in different categories and the possible solutions.

1. Day planning
What are the most important things you need to get done on a day? And what are all the small things you need to get done on a day? How much time will this take? How will you lay out your day?

Your tools here are: lists (digital or analog) and calendar (digital or analog).

What I use is: a planning in my Google Calendar for the day, a list of my most important tasks for the day in my notebook, and a list with all small things I need to do (which I process together during a timeslot at the end of the day) in a cloud-based service (I use ToDoist).

2. Week planning
How do you like laying out your week? Do you have a weekly template that you use and that may be easy to repeat? Do people put meetings last-minute on your calendar or do you have more freedom over your time?

Your tools here are: lists (digital or analog) and calendar (digital or analog).

What I use is: a planning in my Google Calendar based on my weekly template for the semester to fit in the major tasks in all categories, as well as a list with my priorities for the week in the categories Work (subdivided into Writing, Research, Teaching, Service, Admin), Self, and Relationships.

3. Monthly planning
What needs to get done this month? Which major events do you have? Which work from last month did you not finish? Do you have holidays coming up, or smaller things such as trips outside the city?

Your tools here are: lists (digital or analog) and calendar (digital or analog).

What I use is: my notebook and calendar: I have a look at the month ahead and note down on one page the days of the month and any major events associated with these dates, and on the other side, I write down what I should be working on in the categories Work, Self, and Relationships.

4. Semester planning
If you teach in a semester system, your schedule may change depending on your teaching load per semester. Therefore, I tend to plan per semester rather than per year. So what teaching responsibilities do you have? Which other major deadlines (milestones or deliverables) are coming up? Do you have other responsibilities that need to be taken care of?

Your tools here are: lists (digital or analog) and calendar (digital or analog).

What I use is: my notebook and calendar: I list down all projects that I have in a semester. I use the following categories of what I need to be working on in a given semester: projects, papers to write, service tasks, teaching, conferences. Then, I make a separate list of priorities in the categories Work, Self, and Relationships. After identifying things I want to do with my family (such as four trips outside the city), I put them on the calendar. I also make seasonal fun lists with activities to do with my daughter according to the season.

5. Year planning
What do you need to do this year, and what do you want to do? Do you have a list with dreams? If so, select a number of items from your list of dreams and list them as your goals for the year. Are there habits you want to improve? If so, make a list, and then plan the order in which you will work on these.

Your tools here are: lists (digital or analog) and calendar (digital or analog).

What I use is: my notebook and calendar: I take a number of things from my list of 100 dreams and see when I can put them on my calendar. I also identify themes for the months in terms of habits or things I want to focus on.

6. Time tracking

Do you find planning difficult? Do you have a hard time figuring out where your time goes? Then track your time. I have found time tracking one of the most helpful tools in being able to realistically plan: when you know how much time something takes you, you can plan for the next time accordingly and not take on tasks when you don't have the time for them.

Your tools here are: time tracking software or a notebook

What I use is: time tracking software. I track my work time. I've also done some time tracking experiments in the past where I track everything (168 hours), and I use such experiments every now and then to learn how my priorities shift in life, but I am not motivated to do this constantly.

7. Reminders
How do you remind yourself to follow up with somebody after you sent them an email? How do you remember deadlines? How do you remember to make a dentist appointment six months into the future? You need a system of automatic reminders.

Your tools here are: agenda or digital reminder system

What I use is: the same cloud-based ToDoist app as what I use for my daily lists. I put everything I need to remember in ToDoist and it will pop up on my daily list on the right day. Very nice is the feature of repeat tasks, so that you can tick of reminders every day, or -say- every Thursday.

8. Reflection
Do you make time to reflect on your progress? Do you make time to reflect on your tools? How do you identify what works for you and what not?

Your tools here are: notetaking sofware or a notebook

What I use is: a "month in review" page in my notebook. I review every month (and at the end of every year) what I've done, what I didn't do, what went well and what didn't go well. Based on my insights, I correct my course for the next month.

9. Storing information
How do you find information back quickly? Where do you store insights you came across on the internet? Where do you store the papers you read?

Your tools here are: software to store information or a system of binders

What I use is: I use Evernote for storing meeting notes, and random things from the internet. I use Endnote for my papers. I use a notebook per project that holds all my hand calculations and meeting notes.

What do you use? If you need some further information, you can read some of my planning and project management posts, or the How I Work series.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Quantification of digital image correlation applicability related to in-situ proof load testing of bridges

I've been working closely together with my colleagues at the Danish University of Technology for quite a while, and am cosupervisor of Christian Christensen. The first paper of this collaboration and the PhD research of Christian was presented at SMAR 2019, the 5th international Conference on Smart Monitoring, Assessment and Rehabilitation of Civil Structures. The title of the paper is: "Quantification of digital image correlation applicability related to in-situ proof load testing of bridges".

The abstract of the paper is:
Advanced crack monitoring is crucial for high precision response- and threshold evaluation when performing proof- and diagnostic load tests on existing concrete structures. Mostly, crack monitoring techniques involve one monitoring method, which provide thresholds with regard to stop criteria and characterization information. Such thresholds and related precision uncertainties are expected to be of significant importance in identifying stop criteria as well as deliver input for probabilistic models. In the ongoing Danish bridge testing research program, it is hypothesized that several independent monitoring techniques are needed to reduce uncertainties related to crack detection and categorization. A number of novel monitoring methods are used in the research project. A special focus is however dedicated to two promising crack-monitoring techniques suited for combined use: a) Two-dimensional digital image correlation (2D-DIC) and b) Acoustic emission (AE). The output is expected to provide a unique crack evaluation, for which limitations and uncertainties of the techniques should be quantified individually as well as in combination. This paper presents initial research concerning evaluations related to digital image correlation based on sub-component beam tests performed in the DTU CasMat laboratory facility. The tested beams were prefabricated as TT-elements with a length of 6.4 m and cut into two T-beam elements. The test matrix consisted of ten beams strengthened with carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) in different configurations with and without post-tensioning of the CFRP, thus resulting in different crack initiation behavior. The investigations in this paper include: (1) time of crack detection compared to visual detection, (2) time of crack detection compared to time of crack width threshold values, and (3) crack width evaluation using 2D-DIC strain correction for out-of-plane deflection. The results show that cracks can be detected prior to both visual detection and significant stiffness change. After detection, crack development can be monitored for crack width stop criteria. Crack widths can also be successfully monitored for surfaces subjected to out-of-plane movement using a geometric correction method. The methodology is hypothesized to be of significant importance in future testing of full-scale concrete slab bridges in the Danish bridge testing project.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Ten best albums of 2019

As every year, here's my list of 10 favorite albums of the year!

This year, I've created a Spotify playlist with all albums I enjoyed this year (many many many!):

But if I have to choose, here's my top 10:

10. Avatarium - The Fire I Long for

9. Rammstein (untitled)

8. Avantasia - Moonglow

7. Hexvessel - All Tree

6. Rome - Le Ceneri di Heliodore

5. Gold - Why aren't you laughing

4. Jess by the lake - Under the red light shine

3. Ex libris - Ann

2. Cellar darling - The Spell

1. Aephanemer - Prokopton