Thursday, February 14, 2019

I am Signe Asberg, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Dr. Signe Asberg for the "How I Work" series. Signe is a MSc in Cell- and Molecular Biology and soon-to-be PhD in Molecular Medicine. She work at the Center of Molecular and Inflammation Research, a Center of Excellence at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. She did parts of my PhD research at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She's interested in everything biology, but antibiotic resistance and global health are her true passions. Her research focus on the interplay between the immune system, pathogenic bacteria and antibiotics. She's also a guest blogger for LifeOMICs where she writes about the immune system and how it is affected by life style choices. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Note: I interviewed Signe in August 2018.

Current Job: I submitted my PhD thesis and will defend in November*.
Current Location: I’m based in Trondheim, Norway
Current mobile device: iPhone 6S
Current computer: MacBook Air from 2012 (that I’ve cared for like a baby, so it looks and feels almost new)

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I’m in that weird place between having submitted my PhD in June and preparing the dissertation in November. So I do everything from finishing papers to applying for grants and post doc positions. My PhD research was focused on the interplay between macrophages (innate immune cells), mycobacteria and antibiotics. Mycobacteria cause severe chronic infections, like tuberculosis, by setting up camp inside macrophages or other immune cells. Mycobacterial infections kill millions of people each year and most of them require months to years of antibiotic treatment. I’ve been investigating the interactions between single macrophages and single bacteria, also during treatment. There is so much we still don’t understand about these infections, especially why they survive antibiotic treatment so well.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
My phone, my Macbook and the PC at work. In addition I do a lot of reading and searching on my iPad.

I do all my writing in Google Docs and use Paperpile to handle the references. I’ve previously used Scrivener and Papers and like them a lot, but when combining Mac and Windows it’s easier to use Google Docs. Paperpile is great with references and for reading papers.

I do literature searches on all my devices because weird hidden gems tend to pop up on the phone or the iPad.

Previously I lived my life in Evernote, but now I use an «everything» notebook, that was suggested on Raul Pacheco-Vega's blog.

I also rely heavily on Twitter to interact with other scientists and it’s incredibly helpful. I’ve recently started to use Instagram for science outreach and inspiration too and there are so many awesome science ladies out there.

What does your workspace setup look like?
All my experimental work is done in a lab with only shared space. In addition I have an office at work that I share with 7 other PhD students. My office is «organized chaos» but it works out. I have a big collection of books and mascots that cheer me on. I also work a lot from home, but ever since my desk became the dumping ground for papers and random stuff I mostly work at the dinner table. We have a huge table with one half designated as work/gaming space and the other half is for eating.

University office
University office
Home office

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Plan! Planning is everything! You need to know all your goals and the tasks required to reach them. Then you need to know the deadline for each and their priority. Then get to work! The most important first and so on. The list and the plan needs to be revised often. Plans are not holy and should be changed regularly. At some point you learn to make realistic plans, and then life gets a lot easier.

I repeatedly ask myself: is what I’m doing now the right task to do now?
Very often the answer is no. It’s what I want to do now, but not the most important or urgent task. Then switch to the right task.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

By the advice of Raul Pacheco-Vega I keep an «everything notebook» where I write everything down, including overviews of projects and lists of tasks.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I use a confocal microscope and iPad for work. I use an electric bike to get to work in the summer.

At home we have Google home and Homey. My partner is really into home automation and I try to keep up, or I’ll soon don’t know how to open the front door. It’s so weird that my toddler thinks it’s normal for her parents to talk to a device and a window opens, music turns on or a movie starts. Occasionally she will stand below it and yell at it!

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I guess my planning, organizing and writing skills. Also the fact that I enjoy them, which is probably not so common (judging by the comments I get).

What do you listen to when you work?
My partner created a playlist in Google music with all kinds of songs he thinks I should listen to. That playlist definitely got me through the last month of writing my thesis. Other than that I prefer silence when I work or else I mess up my pipetting. When I do image analysis I listen to podcasts, mostly science or parenting content.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I didn’t do any reading outside work for years. But I discovered during the most stressful months of my PhD that reading helps me sleep, so lack of sleep is my main reason for reading. My brain needs to be shut down in the evenings and reading an actual, physical book (just about 10 minutes) is the best way to do it. That’s also why I go for positive books, or books where «nothing» happens. I just read Hans Rosling latest book «Factfullness» and it’s probably the best book I’ve ever read, at least the most positive. I strongly encourage everyone to read it to get a thorough walkthrough of the state of the world. It’s a LOT better than you’d think. Now I alternate between parenting books, «No is not enough» by Naomi Klein and «Radiation: what it is and what you need to know» by Robert Peter Gale.
> 10. Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
> I’m very much an introvert and need quiet time to focus. I need at least 10 minutes a day for no talk, quiet alone time or else I’m completely overloaded. That is surprisingly hard to get if you dont make an effort. But I also need friends and colleagues. I have regular coffee with a friend, or escape the lab with a colleague to go for a walk. I also enjoy to collaborate on projects, especially when we combine different expertise and methods. It’s a great way to learn.
> 11. What's your sleep routine like?
> I haven’t slept much for the past two years, but the toddler just started sleeping around 11 hours a night, mostly quiet. I should go to bed around 9 pm, but usually it’s around 11 pm and I get up at 6 am. I sleep very lightly, dream and wakes up a lot. This is especially difficult in the summer when it never gets dark in Norway.
> 12. What's your work routine like?
> Since daycare opens at 7.15 and close at 4.30 (most) work has to fit within those hours. The first goal is getting the toddler to daycare around 7.30, and my partner picks up at 4-ish. I plan out my week on Sunday evening or Monday morning. I try to get lab work done as early as possible because it always takes longer than expected. I also designate time for writing and reading, but I don’t do whole days for each anymore. When you have kids and/or can’t work all the time (like everyone else seems to do) you need to fit reading and writing into the lab intensive days too. I no longer believe it when people claim they can’t shift their focus from an experiment to writing on the same day. You can when you have to.

> We have meetings almost every day and they really break up the workflow, so I don’t always attend all of them. Wednesday is my «long day» where I work until I feel done, while my partner has his long day on Mondays. I occasionally work in the evenings, but that is not the norm.
> 13. What's the best advice you ever received?
> «It’s your PhD, own it. You make the decisions».
> I struggled a lot during my PhD, and I mean a lot, with work and life related problems. Whatever I did at work would fail. Eventually I burned out and got depressed, followed by a pregnancy with non-stop nausea that ended abruptly in week 32 due to preeclampsia. We’re all fine today, but my point is that is was incredibly though. After coming back from maternity leave I had only one year to finish. My mentor had been pushing for a while that I could in fact make the decisions about my PhD. Finally I «got it» and took charge of things. In stead of asking I made the decisions: I set the deadlines, I informed my supervisors when they would receive my drafts and together we scheduled when they would read them and give me feedback. Looking back, the final year of my PhD was definitely the best and I wish I had learnt this sooner.

* Note that this interview was done in August 2018.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

I am Brian Sigmon, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Dr. Brian Sigmon for the "How I Work" series. Brian O. Sigmon is acquisitions editor at The United Methodist Publishing House, where he edits books, Bible studies, and official resources for The United Methodist Church. In this role, Brian is editor of the Daily Christian Advocate and managing editor of the Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. He has a Ph.D. in Old Testament Studies from Marquette University, where he taught courses in the Bible and theology. Brian finds great joy in thinking deeply about the Christian faith and helping people of all backgrounds deepen their understanding of Scripture. He blogs about the Bible, theology, and the universe at Starstruck Christian. Brian lives in Kingston Springs, Tennessee with his wife Amy and their two children.

Current Job: Acquisitions Editor at The United Methodist Publishing House
Current Location: Nashville, TN

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

I currently work outside academia as a book editor at The United Methodist Publishing House, a Christian publishing company based in Nashville, Tennessee. My Ph.D. is in biblical studies, with a focus on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. I became an editor out of a desire to reach and teach people in churches rather than in college and university classrooms. In my current role, I edit books and Bible studies that help people grow in faith. That includes working with videos, which I’ve had to learn entirely on the job. I also edit our official denominational resources for The United Methodist Church, a role I didn’t anticipate when I began working here, but which I very much enjoy. The United Methodist Church is a worldwide Christian denomination of 12 million members, as well as the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States. I oversee the production of materials that support our General Conference, the denomination’s legislative body that meets once every four years to shape official teaching, policies, and practices. I am currently involved in a project that will move these support materials (about 3,000 printed pages in 2016) into an all-digital publication. So I’m having to learn about web design and user interface in addition to my work in books and videos. My work involves a little bit of everything, from writing and editing to theology and project management.

I have also recently started a side project, totally unrelated to work, where I’m writing about the intersection of theology and space exploration, to understand the theological implications of space exploration and what it means for human life and faith. This is just getting off the ground in the form of a blog, but I hope eventually to publish academic papers and start some conversations with others about these topics, which are important and timely, and which people of faith don’t seem to be talking about very much.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
Most of my day-to-day work is in Microsoft Word, which creates documents that feed into Adobe InDesign, an industry standard in terms of publication software. I also do a fair amount of proof review using PDFs in Adobe Acrobat. We have specialized software unique to our company for content management and project workflow. I also use Frame IO and Vimeo to interact with our producers on video projects. Finally, I use a proprietary legislative management program designed for The United Methodist Church in my official church work, to track delegates and legislation in our denomination’s legislative process that creates policies for our Church.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I have a small but efficient and well-organized cubicle at my company’s headquarters, together with the rest of our publishing unit. I have a laptop and 2 monitors, a small filing cabinet which mostly goes unused (we’re largely paper-free), and some shelf space for books I use frequently.
We have a beautiful patio overlooking a pond, and I usually work there for a few hours a week just to change the scenery. I do not have a dedicated home office, but do work from home about once per week at my kitchen table.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. I wasn’t the best at this during my Ph.D. program, and I probably would’ve been more efficient and productive if I’d had more of a daily and weekly routine. In my work now, I have a routine that works very well, and it helps me get a lot done and also balance my work with home life and hobbies. Routines and habits, if they are good ones, take a lot of the thought and work out of scheduling and planning your day, freeing your mental and physical energy for the work you truly care about and need to get done.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Old-fashioned paper and pen! I keep a running to-do list for today and the next 2-3 days, which I update as new projects and tasks arise, tasks are completed, and priorities shift. This has always worked well for me—I’ve been able to adapt some version of this for my work throughout college, my master’s program, my Ph.D. program, and now my work. We also have a weekly production meeting with my team, where we talk about current and upcoming projects. That weekly get-together is critical to assure that we’re all up to date and know the most urgent tasks.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
Not really, unless you count a television and DVD player to review videos.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I a high-level thinker who prefers to address the big picture rather than get bogged down in minutiae. That helps me set ambitious goals and develop projects with end results in mind. I am also drawn to ideas and positions that differ from those of others—I like to “zig” when everybody else “zags.” That often leads me to creative interpretations or deeper insight that I wouldn’t have come to otherwise.

What do you listen to when you work?

I usually work in silence, which I find very relaxing and centering—it’s really hard for me to focus when there’s any sound other than background noise. When I was writing my dissertation, I used to listen to classical music some, but even then I worked in silence as often as not.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I am always reading! Lately I’ve been reading a lot about physics and space exploration, popular books as well as textbooks, all of which is deeply fascinating. I love the way these fields stretch my mind and force me to think in different ways from how I typically do.

I also continue to read theology, though at a much lower rate than I did when I was completing my Ph.D. And, of course, I read the books I edit! My coworkers laugh at me because I’ll edit books all morning, then read for fun during my lunch hour, then back to book editing in the afternoon. I just love learning, and books are a great way to do that.

I find time to read mostly because I enjoy it. I’ve found that we are able to make time for things we enjoy and find important.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I’m most definitely an introvert, which goes well with the nature of my job because it’s a lot of time working on your own. That allows me to engage with people productively when it matters, such as in meetings and interacting with my authors. So it’s a balance that works well with my personality.

What's your sleep routine like?
I usually get around 6.5-7 hours—lights out around 10 or 10:30 and awake at 5 am. Naps are extremely rare.

What's your work routine like?
Pretty much 9-5 every day, though I put in extra time at home as needed when a project is in the works. That’s almost always after 8 pm when my wife and I put our kids to bed. I start each day with a workout, because physical health is important to me and I’ve found that unless I do it first thing, it’s too easy to skip. When I’m at work, I prefer working on editing and anything that requires a high level of concentration in the morning, and I do my best to respond to emails at set times during the day. At the end of every day, I spend a few minutes planning for the next day so that I can be productive right away. I find that spending a little time addressing emails in the evening is a great way to ensure that I don’t get off track the next day, but can start right away on the work that’s most important and urgent for me.

What's the best advice you ever received?

It’s not about how little you can get by with. It’s about how much you can do.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Activism in academia

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!

Activism in academia is a hot topic. Some argue that our only responsibility is to do the research, and publish our results - and the rest will sort itself out: the right people will pick up on our conclusions and turn this into policies and actionable items. Some go even further, and say that activism is a threat to carrying out research in a neutral environment.

I beg to differ - with more and more voices trying to persuade that science is something almost like a religion (you believe in it or not), I feel compelled to roll up my sleeves and turn my work into more practical and actionable items. The wake-up call for me was the latest IPCC report and the loud and clear alarm bells our fellow scientists are ringing. I spent quite some time wondering how I can contribute. While I'm only exploring these options recently, I wanted to share these with you, and get your feedback on this!

Here are some of the ideas that I collected:

1. Develop case studies
Think about how your cause of interest is affected by your field. For example, in my case, the cement used for building concrete structures is a large contributor to the world's CO2 emissions. Since a while, I've been adding calculations of carbon footprint and driver delays (as a measure of social cost) when I want to estimate the cost of a certain decision (replacement, testing, maintenance...) of an existing bridge. Presenting the results in such a format can shine a different light on the choices we make.

Another example could be that you want to see more gender balance in your field and/or institution. A first step could be to simply gather data: which % of students are female? Which % of faculty members, deans, etc?

2. Use speaking opportunities
When you are invited to give a presentation, and depending on the audience, take the chance to talk about how your cause of interest is related to your field. In the past, I've been taking the opportunity to talk about maintenance of existing structures when invited to speak to a general audience of the construction industry in Ecuador, since I feel that all attention here goes to building new structures, after which we just turn our back to this structure and never give it the maintenance it needs to thrive. At a next opportunity, I would like to talk about steps the construction industry can take to be more climate-conscious and eventually CO2-neutral.

3. Volunteer your free time
If you feel that in your professional life, it is difficult to link your cause of interest and your work, then you can consider volunteering some of your time to contribute to your cause. You can also pledge to give a certain percentage of your income every month to a charity that fights for your cause.

I must say that, even though I would love to go out and do volunteering work in the Amazon, my current family situation is not very compatible with this (my toddler would probably run off into the jungle or eat a poisonous bug). I've been thinking about this option, but haven't been able to realize it yet - nor have I been able to pledge part of my income constantly to a cause; I chip in when I can for now.

4. Take on a side research project that is related to your cause of interest
Sometimes, I feel like I am not doing research in the field that matters most for the future of humanity. I wonder if I could do more if I had been a researcher studying, for example, infectious diseases or climate change directly. For now though, I want to see if I can volunteer some of my research time to developing recommendations for the local construction industry, so that they can reduce their carbon footprint and fresh water use. Once I have these recommendations ready, I need to see how I can communicate these effectively - not with a boring report, but perhaps through infographics and lots of visuals.

5. Lead by example
I once read (and unfortunately forgot where) that as university professors, we have a responsibility to lead by example. Driving to work in a SUV and then talking about carbon footprints sends conflicting messages to our students. In our daily choices, we should show to way forward. I try to set an example by walking my commute (for now, I still live close to campus), eating no animal products, and trying as much as possible to sort out my trash and recycle. I'm also much more conscious about my conference travel, and reducing this as much as possible to limit my CO2 emissions related to air travel (and also because my daughter doesn't do well when I'm away from home).

6. Teach students how to read science
If we want people to make informed decisions, they need to learn how to interpret and analyze information. In the era of fake news, there are sadly predatory journals that have been publishing bogus science (for example, studies supporting antivaxxer claims), which gives even more fuel to those who say that "scientists are in disagreement" on topics such as vaccinations and global warming. It's important we teach our students where to find peer-reviewed articles (and certainly, post-publication peer review and "endorsements" of researchers for published articles can be an extra confirmation of quality), and teach them the basics of the scientific methods, so that they can check if the presented methods are valid. I am even leaning towards saying that this skill should be part of the high school curriculum.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Q&A: Going into scientific publishing after the PhD

Q&A time! Some time ago, I received the following question from a reader (edited for Anonimity):

Dear Eva,

I really like your blog. As a PhD student who doesn't want to stay in Academia, some of your articles are really helpful for me.

I'm currently finishing up my PhD, I have about 3-4 months left and for the last couple of years I've been considering into going scientific editing and/or publishing after my PhD. People always ask me to check their papers and thesis, I have an eye for detail and good at getting the message across, but I also actually really enjoy it.

Since I was born and raised in City X, I always considered going back and working for Publisher Y. However, I've started to realise that to become an editor, I have to stay in academia, and on the other hand as a publisher I'm not sure if I'll like the managing part of it. I'm also worried about career development and pay. I'm not sure if people in this field earn good money.

My other option is to go into R&D in industry. I'm still thinking about both options.

Do you have any advice or information about this for me? I would really appreciate it. I'm a little at lost here as you can imagine, about life after the PhD.

I hope to hear from you.

Best Regards

Here's my answer:

Dear Reader,

Thank you for reaching out to me through my blog and sending me your question.

I must say that I don't have experience with scientific editing and publishing. I volunteer as an academic editor for a journal, but I don't really know what work looks like "on the other side" - the professional part of publishing. If you are interested in this option though, I would recommend you to look in your network for somebody who can introduce you to an editor/publisher. You can also ask your advisor for help with this. You can also look on Twitter for the #altac hashtag and chat for people who've taken this career path.

With regard to industry and R&D, that certainly is a valid option after the PhD, and quite a popular choice.

If you find it hard to make a choice, you can ask for help in the career center of your university. Through an appointment with a career counselor you can get insight in your strengths, and how your different possible career options are more or less suited to your personality and strengths.

For what it's worth, I also recommed you to do a search on the "after the PhD" tag on PhD Talk, to read the posts from guest authors and myself about their careers after the PhD.

I hope this helps!


Thursday, January 31, 2019

I am Matthew Reid Krell, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Reid Krell. Matthew is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alabama. His dissertation research focuses on federal trial courts and the relationships among litigants and judges. He's currently on the market - feel free to look him up at! He temporarily lives in Jerusalem, where he's clerking for the Hon. Hanan Melcer of the Supreme Court of Israel. When he's home, he's bossed around by the three cats Titus, Vinnie, and Albie. Follow him on Twitter @ReidKrell.

Current Job: I currently have three jobs. I'm writing my dissertation in political science at the University of Alabama; I practice law in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas; and I am currently a volunteer foreign law clerk for the Hon. Hanan Melcer of the Supreme Court of Israel.
Current Location: Jerusalem, Israel
Current mobile device: Google Nexus 6X
Current computer: Lenovo X1 Carbon Thinkpad

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I'm a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alabama. I've also continued my law practice since starting the Ph.D., and currently have about 8 open files that I share with co-counsel. I was fortunate enough this academic year to be awarded a dissertation completion fellowship, so I was able to spend three months clerking for a justice of the Supreme Court of Israel. My dissertation research focuses on information exchange in trial litigation - basically, how do litigants evaluate their case as they learn more about what the other side and the court thinks? My research for the Court is confidential, I'm afraid.

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

So I am a pretty "default" kind of guy. I write in Word, use Google Chrome for online research, and Stata for my statistics package. I have been working on trying to make more use of a citation manager (I use Zotero), and I've experimented with Scrivener. I liked Scrivener, but found it not great when I was putting the final package together. For research development, I use a lot of the techniques that Raul Pacheco-Vega uses, most especially the Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump.

What does your workspace setup look like?
Unfortunately, being in Jerusalem, I don't really have a set workspace at the moment. I'm actually writing this from a coffee shop on Emek Refaim near my apartment because my heat isn't working. At the Court, the foreign law clerks have a dedicated space in the back of the law library. At home, I have a home office that is currently being used strictly for storage because I discovered one of my cats had been using a corner of it as an unauthorized litter box, and I haven't had a chance to shampoo the carpet.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Don't let days go by where you do nothing. You don't have to do much; reading one article, jotting down a paragraph's worth of notes, or even just a few bullet points of "here's something I want to do with this." Sitting and vegetating is part of how our brains develop new ideas, but doing nothing but vegetating breaks good habits.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Oh man, I should probably start doing that? I used to have a whiteboard, but when I switched from a teaching assistantship to a fellowship, I lost my office on campus. Google Calendar keeps me from screwing up my appointments, and I deadline everything. Marking conferences and submission deadlines on the calendar helps as well. But if something isn't ready to be calendared, I'm not sure that I have a way to keep track of it other than in my head.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I used to use a tablet, but I couldn't get myself in the habit of carrying it or using it, and I didn't have any markup tools that would make it a paper-equivalent. So no, right now I don't use other technology.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Not really convinced that I do stand out? To the extent that I do, I think it's the way I straddle the humanities and social sciences. Even if lawyers, judges, and legal academics don't like to admit it, law is a humanities discipline, and our epistemologies have more in common with literary studies than physics. And there's nothing wrong with that! But I think it might mean that using the scientific method to try and analyze legal systems leaves us with a lot of things that we think we know that we actually don't.

That said, there's definitely things we can do to employ scientific epistemologies in the study of law and legal systems, and I think that my great strength is that I don't pick a particular approach. I use the right tools for the problem, whether that's a doctrinal approach that uses more literary methods or a stats-heavy quantitative approach. While I would never claim that I'm as brilliant as Gary King and Lee Epstein, my approach to research is heavily informed by their 2000 Chicago Law Review piece, "On the Rules of Inference," where they basically say, "look, legal academics, you don't have to do statistics to do empirical research!" I've taken that same approach.

What do you listen to when you work?
I have been a Pandora subscriber since 2005, and I have about 35 stations. Some of them I cycle through fairly quickly. The ones that I tend to linger on are based on Myla Smith (a local Memphis artist I got to know in law school and then saw again when I was living in Memphis, as she's based there), Great Big Sea (a now-defunct Canadian sea shanty/rock band), half a dozen stations that tend toward EDM and trance. I find that genre really helpful for writing as it has a strong beat that lets my heart follow along and I can fall into a flow state.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
Jerusalem's been a godsend for reading, frankly. I have a half-hour commute each way to and from work, and sometimes I have to wait an hour or more for my bus to arrive. Reading on the Kindle app on my phone kills that time (and my phone battery, but whatever). I went to Eilat for a weekend recently, which was a four-hour bus ride each way. I read about half of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Labyrinth of Spirits on that trip. It's a Gothic romance set in Barcelona during the Francoist dictatorship, and it's utterly fascinating. It's the last in a series.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I think I'm probably a misanthropic extrovert? Which means that I'm probably best off in terms of working habits with people around me, but not having to interact with them. It's why I like cafes. If I try and work without people around, I just sit around and watch Youtube videos, but if the people are people I need to interact with, I find myself not buckling down and working.

What's your sleep routine like?

"Routine" is a bit laughable as a descriptor of my sleep. Still trying to figure out why I sometimes sleep 16 hours and why I sometimes stay up for 30 hours, sleep 2, then work a full day.

What's your work routine like?

Identify today's goal, work toward it, Twitter, work, Twitter, get a phone call, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, um....

What's the best advice you ever received?
"Life is too short to be cautious." Not going to say I follow it, but it's definitely good advice.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Are we teaching lectures at the ideal length?

I recently ran a poll on Twitter about the length of the lectures we are teaching, and what we find the ideal length. Of course, the ideal length for a lecture depends a lot on the topic - I wouldn't be able to teach a laboratory class in a 50 min lecture. The classes I teach are 1h20 min, and it seems to be a good length of time for lectures. For exercises, however, it often feels short. On the other side of the spectrum sits Vrije Universiteit Brussel, where classes with exercises used to take 4 hours when I was a student. And of course, sometimes four hours would feel very long.

Here are the results of the poll and its wake:

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Two papers from IABMAS 2018

My colleagues and I have published two papers in IABMAS 2018. I was supposed to travel to Melbourne to present these papers, but it was very shortly after my return from my annual research stay in Delft, and my baby girl did not take well to my absence and return, so I was adviced to invest time in restoring our bond. I was warned against not traveling after such a short time again, as it may leave her confused. So I canceled the conference (only second time ever I had to cancel a conference, and I did feel bad about it, but I also felt bad about my baby not being well because of my long absence...).

The two papers we published were part of a Special Session that we organized at the conference (it's a pity I couldn't travel and chair the session I spent so much time preparing on, but such is life...).

The first paper is "Monitoring crack width and strain during proof load testing" and the abstract is:
In a proof load test, the applied load is representative of the factored live load, to demonstrate experimentally that the bridge fulfils the code requirements. Signs of distress must be caught with the instrumentation by defining stop criteria. In the literature, several stop criteria for flexure are available. The German guidelines describe, amongst others, a limiting crack width and strain. However, the background of these limiting values is not clear. Therefore, a theoretical approach based on flexural theory is followed. The theoretically derived values are then compared to experimental results obtained from beam experiments. The result of this research work is a limiting value of crack widths and strains that can be used during proof load testing of concrete bridges. The arbitrary stop criteria that were used in the past can now be replaced by stop criteria that are based on the theory of concrete beams in flexure.

The second paper is "Twenty years monitoring of a high strength concrete cantilever bridge" and the abstract is:
In 1997 the Second Stichtse Bridge, a high strength concrete box girder bridge was built in the Netherlands using the balanced cantilever method. At that time, the long-term behaviour of this material (with a cube compressive strength of 75 MPa) was not known. Therefore, it was proposed to monitor the material behaviour and the deflections of the bridge for ten years, and a few properties have been monitored for twenty years. To evaluate the concrete material properties over time, concrete cubes were cast with the segments, and stored inside the bridge at the section locations. These samples have been tested periodically. Also shrinkage measurements were carried out on a concrete sample stored inside the bridge. The deflections of the bridge superstructure have been measured periodically along both edges of the bridge. Based on the available data, it is found that the concrete compressive and splitting tensile strength, as well as the shrinkage deformations, remain constant. The deflections are stabilizing as well.