Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Poll about working from home

Some time ago, I ran a poll on Twitter about how often academics work from home. Slightly more than half of all have a designated work-from-home day, I learned from this poll.

Some parents work a split shift (myself included): adding a few hours of work after the kid(s) are asleep at night. During baby's first year, I was working 6 hours daily in the office, and then tried to add an hour at home in the evening (with mixed results, I often feel rather tired in the evening).

Here's the wake of this poll:

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Does the funding of our projects cover the time it takes to finish a PhD project?

I recently ran three combined polls trying to understand if we are applying for enough funding for our PhD students to actually do their PhD research. I've heard a number of stories about professors relying on unemployment benefits for their PhD students for their last year in almost every case, and I don't agree with such practices. I think we should hire PhD students with enough funding to pay them to do their research work within a reasonable amount of time.

What I learned from this poll is that not all students are actually hired on projects. This different funding scheme for the PhD seems to be more common in the humanities.

The three elements that I evaluated for this poll were:
- How much time it took to finish the PhD
- If you finished within the allotted time
- If you finished before funding ran out, and if not, how you survived financially after funding ran dry.

I learned that the majority of voters needed more than 5 years for their PhD project, a number that is in stark contrast to policies in various countries where there is a push towards projects of only 3 years in length. Luckily, I also learned that for the majority of the voters (note: not everybody voted in the three polls, so there may be some discrepancies) the funding provided sufficient time to finish the PhD project, and, therefore, that the majority of the voters were funded throughout.

Here's the wake of this poll and the following discussion:

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Dealing with rejection when applying for a PhD position

Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming Iván Carrera as a guest author. Ivan is a professor at the Department of Informatics and Computer Science of Escuela Politécnica Nacional in Quito, Ecuador. His research interests are Performance Evaluation, Distributed Systems and Bioinformatics. Check out his webpage: http://fis.epn.edu.ec/sistemasdistribuidos/. You can follow him on Twitter.

I majored in engineering in Ecuador, my homeland. When I finished, I wanted to do grad-school in Brazil. I had studied Portuguese, and for me it was a dream to have the opportunity to do research. I applied to several universities, got a few yes's and a lot of no's. In engineering they say that you shouldn't worry about communication skills, but it was very difficult for me to write. I had to learn how to write formally. I got accepted in University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, and went to do a Master's in Computer Science.

During my Master's I felt that my research wouldn't have much impact in the market and the public. I graduated in 2014 and immediately got the offer to continue my research with a PhD position. I rejected the offer because I felt lost and I didn't want to continue to do research in a topic that doesn't have, in my opinion, much impact.

In 2014, I got a teaching position and began to do some research. Doing research by yourself without proper experience (which you can get in a PhD) and without a supervisor (because mine was in Brazil) was almost impossible. In my department there wasn't any colleagues with similar research interests. I started supervising a few graduation projects involving software development and bioinformatics applications to begin my research.

Working with Bioinformatics was the opportunity for me to make research with very visible impact. But again, I was alone in my department, I lacked a research group. I began to look for Bioinformatics research groups. In 2015, I contacted the Bio and Cheminformatics Research Group in Universidad de las Américas. They gave me the opportunity to work and join their research. Now I lacked a PhD.

I started looking for PhD programs. The most direct decision was to do it in Brazil. I already lived there, so the adaptation phase shouldn't be hard. The problem was they didn't want my research topic. I was working on a topic called 'drug discovery and repurposing'. My research was about how to discover new interactions of drugs using computers so we can understand undesired effects of drugs. Interesting, just not for everyone.

I contacted several universities and programs in Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. They always said something like "I like your research, but I couldn't supervise it". And they were right. No one should accept students who couldn't closely supervise. This was my biggest problem. I participated in several courses about Bioinformatics, because I had to learn the basics. In 2017, at University of São Paulo I spoke to almost 20 professors from research lines similar to mine, and every time they said they liked my project but couldn't supervise it. I felt alone, and felt that maybe I shouldn't have changed my research topic.

Then, my supervisor in Universidad de las Américas contacted some researchers from Universidad de la Coruña in Spain. They offered me a position in a PhD program in Information Technology. I made the paperwork, wrote a proposal and got accepted. I was very excited. I worked in Ecuador during my first semester of my PhD, setting up some databases and writing a lot of code.

In July, 3 months after I started my PhD, I received an email saying that I couldn't get accepted as a PhD student. Turns out that my Master's degree in Brazil was 'too short'. According to Spanish regulations (as far as I understand), Master's programs should have a duration of 60 ECTS, but my Master's in Brazil was just about 45 credits because they don't account for the dissertation. There was nothing to do. I got (sort of) expelled.

Once again, I had to knock on doors.

I knew some colleagues who went to do a PhD in Portugal. Maybe they could help me with my problem. I wrote them, and they presented me a different view: studying in Portugal.

Again, I had to write to several professors in Portugal. One of them, in University of Porto, accepted me, and wanted us to write a joint proposal. We wrote it, and last month I got accepted in the PhD program of Computer Science. After all these trial-error rejections, I finally got accepted in an excellent PhD program. Now I feel all this was worth the effort.

I acknowledge that changing research topics is hard and it makes you lose your credentials and expertise on your field; but it also makes you a richer researcher, since you can contribute with knowledge from your previous field. You have to learn from the basics, so it's like beginning from scratch. But if you want to do it, if you want your research to be better and to make an impact, you will have to work harder.

Being rejected is part of working in an academic environment, it's hard on your self esteem, but it's something you'll have to deal with. Science teaches us to doubt and overcome our biases, but rejection makes you doubt about your own abilities, your knowledge and your decisions about your career.

Having a support net that includes family, friends, and colleagues is important because sometimes you just want to give up. When you get rejected so many times, you start to think that everyone got it easier than you. You never know other people's struggles, you just know your own.

Pursuing a research position, in a master's or PhD, requires a set of skills that you don't know you'll need. Learning to communicate is key, and believing in yourself is crucial.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

I am Philip Shields, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Dr. Philip Shields. Dr. Shields is a scholar-practitioner in the field of Executive Leadership. He currently works as a manager for a General Electric Company and as an Adjunct Professor at two universities. His undergraduate degree was in Chemistry and he holds a Master's degree in Management with a focus in Integrated Logistics. His passions include faith, family, flying, friends, and bridging the gap between public and private organizations so that both may benefit through strategic alliances.

Current Job: Manager at FieldCore, a General Electric Company. Adjunct Faculty at the University of Charleston and at Liberty University
Current Location: Unites States and Virtual
Current mobile device: iphones
Current computer: Dell PC and MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
My research focuses on Executive Leader perceptions of their involvement with forming and sustaining Cross-Sector Strategic Alliances. Public-Private Partnerships are a type of Cross-Sector Strategic Alliances. I am exploring avenues for continuing the research that I started while in my doctorate program. I am also looking for other publication opportunities for excerpts from my dissertation research.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I do not work in an office with my teammates and other managers of FieldCore and so I depend heavily on my virtual communication tools. I use WebEx and Skype for Business daily. My iphone is the link that keeps me connected to my team and direct reports. During my research I found Skype Recorder to be a very good tool for recording virtual interviews and it was compatible with TranscribeMe, the transcription service that I use for qualitative research. In research I use Nvivo as a tool for analyzing multiple (hundreds) of articles for themes. It proves itself to be worth the cost each time that I use it.

What does your workspace setup look like?

I use two desks for my home office. One desk is a large table with a two monitor VariDesk setup on it, and the other desk is a vintage wood desk with my macbook and an extra monitor. I use my VeriDesk for my full-time work computer or for long writing sessions on papers (I found during my doctorate work that using the standing desk reduced my total completion time for a 18-20 page paper by four hours. I do go to work in the home office sometimes and when I travel to our Tampa, FL home office I take my work laptop and an ASUS usb monitor (game changer for those who travel a lot...you gotta have 2 monitors).

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Get buy-in from those close to you. Your significant other needs to be supportive, because this gives you the opportunity to write without/with less guilt. Don't try to separate your work from your family...face the challenges together so that you grow together (or you will grow apart...50% of doctorate students get divorced during or immediately following the program).

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I use a bound planner that I get from Michael Hyatt's company. It is his Full Focus Planner. I find it to be the best planner that I have ever used (previously I used a Franklin-Covey planner system)

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I also have a nook that has a digital reader function. There are times when listening to a book or an article is the most efficient way for me, like when driving, so I let my nook read the article out loud to me. I then go back and highlight as needed.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
Confidence and Collaboration. I enjoy collaboration and feel that my willing to face rejection (confidence to hear a No) helps me to meet people and partner in research.

What do you listen to when you work?
The genre of music varies but I try to listen to music that I don't mind being on repeat. I use music that I like and that I don't have to concentrate on the lyrics. Recently I have been listening to Rend Collective and NeedToBreathe.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
Jocko Willink's "Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual", and various faith based books and articles. I wake-up each morning at 4:55am and use the time before 8am for self-development. Including exercise in the morning makes me more productive throughout the day.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Extrovert. I am not a fan of working alone at my house (when my wife and kids are around I am actually more productive), but I do like the flexibility of working remotely. I enjoy working in environments that I can collaborate with and draw energy from others around me. When I am working alone and see myself becoming distracted I make my phone calls or conference calls that I need to make that day.

What's your sleep routine like?
This is where I fail most often. My goal is 10:30pm bedtime with a 4:55am wake-up. Most often it is a 11:30pm bedtime.

What's your work routine like?
First, update my planner by checking my calendar and transferring my to-do list to this day's page. Next, I check my phone and email inbox for urgent messages. Then I start with my to-do list. During the day when I feel sluggish (mentally or physically) I take a break and step out of my office. As I wrap up my workday I review my progress and plan for my next day or few days.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Never give in, Never, Never, Never... Winston Churchill's 1941 speech. Don't quit, that is the quickest way to fail.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

PhD Defenses around the world: A defense in medieval history at The Catholic University of America

Vanessa Corcoran earned her Ph.D. in medieval history in 2017 at The Catholic University of America and wrote her dissertation, "The Voice of Mary: Later Medieval Representations of Marian Communication," under the direction of Dr. Katherine Jansen. Her research interests include the medieval cult of the Virgin Mary, the intersection of gender and popular religious practices, and the textual representations of medieval women's voices. Vanessa was the Assistant Director of Tutoring Services at The Catholic University of America. Currently, Vanessa is an Academic Counselor in the Office of the College Dean at Georgetown University. She's working on a forthcoming memoir of her experiences in graduate school, entitled "It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint: Lessons Learned on the Road to the Marathon and Ph.D." Follow her on Twitter @VRCinDC.

My dissertation, "The Voice of Mary: Later Medieval Representations of Marian Communication," investigated the emergence of Mary's powerful persona through an examination of her speech as reported in narrative sources from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, including miracle collections, passion narratives, and mystery plays. I found it fascinating to explore some of the unconventional aspects of Mary's medieval persona. For example, in her capacity as "Empress of Hell," one twelfth-century source described Mary attacking the devil, "redoubling her blows and making them sharper with words, 'Take that, and go away. I warn you and order you not to harass my monk any more. If you dare to do so, you will suffer worse.'" The provocative nature of the topic kept me engaged in the project, which took almost four years from proposal to defense.

My advisor framed the defense as a victory lap: an endurance challenge and celebration after years of hard work. Dr. Jansen described the defense (a two-hour oral examination with six professors) as an opportunity for a fascinating conversation. She also encouraged me to enjoy the fact that six people had carefully read my 315 page dissertation. I never quite believed professors when they said it would be enjoyable - how could a two-hour test be pleasant? Maybe had forgotten how their own defenses panned out.

In the weeks leading up to the defense, I felt relaxed. My mom heard me rehearse my twenty-minute opening statement 4 times during that final week. Over coffee, my friend Micalena grilled me a set of questions that I thought were fair game. I was focused, excited, and I was ready.

As if someone flipped a switch, that confidence vanished the night before the exam. The surge of adrenaline made for a rough night. The morning of my defense, I set out for a 5 mile run, hoping that hitting the pavement would eliminate my pent-up nerves. Usually, I can shake out those worries a few minutes into a run, but not on Defense Day. It wasn't until I was a few blocks away from home, that the knot in my stomach disappeared. I tapped into my motivational music as I got ready for the day, trying to both calm myself and get psyched for the defense.

I arrived early, seeking a few final moments of quiet. I headed to the exam, and was greeted by Dr. Jansen.
"Breathe. Relax," she encouraged. I smiled and tried to not say anything that would betray the confidence I was trying to project. The other professors trickled in, and as I suspected, once it was show time, my nerves faded away.

The defense began with my 20 minute overview of my project, which I had practiced every day for the past week. As I laid out the parameters of my project, it felt as routine as a regular run - the muscle memory was there. While I spoke, I tried to make eye contact with each professor, and as I caught the eye of Dr. Jansen, I expected her to have a somber expression on her face, as was her usual expression in class. Instead, she was smiling.

I nearly melted. This is going to be okay. This wasn't a quick smile of encouragement, but one of pride. Dr. Jansen had known me since I was a brand-new, wide-eyed, and optimistic graduate student when I arrived to CUA at 22 years old. My defense was as much a reflection on her as it was on me. I continued to speak until I received my cue to wrap up.

The second part of the defense consisted of each professor asking a series of questions, beginning with the advisor, and then going around the room. Before Dr. Jansen launched into her first question, she opened by saying, "First of all, Vanessa, I want to commend you on this project. In your exploration of Mary's voice, you introduced us to this fascinating topic..." This is going to be okay. Everyone is on board. This is actually going to happen.

Then the Q&A session ensued. I went up to the maximum time limit with each question, meaning that I gave substantive answers (I was really worried about being too short with responses), and as a result, it went by really fast. While it was an exercise in mental gymnastics, there were no questions out of left field. After the last professor got his question in, I was sent in the hall for the deliberation.

The rational part of my head knew that the committee wouldn't have scheduled the defense if they thought I would fail. But until the door opened, I wouldn't believe it.

Finally, Dr. Jansen walked out with a big smile, uttering the words I'd been longing to hear: "Congratulations, Dr. Corcoran."
Just like that, it was all over. All of those years of reading, writing, worrying, and hoping that it would happen finally transformed into the greatest achievement of my (young) career.

Prior to the defense, I was told that on defense day, professors often hand the student a series of edits that must be addressed before the official dissertation deposit. It wasn't until later that day that I remembered that my professors hadn't given me any feedback. Realizing that there was nothing left to change, a sense of relief flooded through me.

I had never worked so long or so hard for something. Throughout the writing process, one of my motivational songs was "They Just Keep Moving The Line," from the TV show "Smash." The lyrics perfectly described my quest to achieve approval from my professors:
So I made friends with rejection
I've straightened up my spine!
I'll change each imperfection
Till it's time to drink the wine!
I'd toast to resurrection
But they just keep moving the line!
Please give me some direction,
'Cause they just keep moving the line!
At last, I had crossed the finish line, and the victory was sweeter than I could've ever imagined.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Manage your energy, not your time

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!

Here is Auntie Eva again with a post about planning or time management, I can hear you say with a sigh. But today, I'll focus on one specific element of time management: you need to learn how to manage your energy (essentially, yourself - your raw material) if you want to be able to manage your time.

Why is this so important, you ask me. Because knowing yourself and being able to figure out what works for you is an incredibly important skill to learn. And you need to do the work yourself - nobody can come and tell you what your optimal way of managing your time and energy looks like.

If you've read some of the interviews on my "How I Work" series, you will find that there are no two academics with a similar way of working and managing their time. Of course, there are similarities between the answers. Some people work similar hours. Some people focus on the same priority (such as writing) first thing in the morning. But finding our optimal way of working depends on ourselves and our boundary conditions.

To explore how you can better manage your energy, I invite you to reflect on the following questions:

At what time during the day do I find it more difficult to concentrate?

Schedule lighter activities for the times of the day when your energy levels plummet. If your schedule allows, don't work during those hours, but run errands or exercise instead. You'll be able to return to work with a fresh mind. Try this method to see if it works for you. If your boundary conditions (for example, daycare hours) do not allow such experimentation, then schedule easy tasks for the time of the day when you are low on energy.

If you find it difficult to tell when your energy levels drop during the day, write down when you get distracted more easily, when you feel like reaching for coffee or something sweet, or when you simply are progressing more slowly.

Which amount of time is optimal for you to work on a task?
Some people prefer to dedicate the entire workday to one specific task, others like to use time slots during the day to juggle different tasks. See what works best for you. Try out different methods to evaluate these, and try them out for long enough time to have a fair comparison. If chunks of time work for you, figure out the ideal amount of time. For me, around 2 hours of time blocked in my planning, which often results in effectively 1,5 hours of time on the task, is what works best for writing. For other tasks, the length of the ideal time slot is different.

Do you prefer early mornings or late nights?

If your institution allows you to set your own schedule, see which schedule suits you and your energy best. Does getting up early and making a head start to the day work for you? Do you prefer to work late into the night if necessary? Of course, here you need to consider your boundary conditions again. If it isn't safe for you to return from the lab in the middle of the night, then don't do this. If you want to work late at night, arrange your tasks so that you can perhaps work from home.

When are you forcing yourself?

I like the idea of working a split shift (adding a few hours in the evening after my baby is sleeping). However, I'm often too tired to do any useful work at night. I've spent a lot of time with my laptop on my lap, not achieving much at all. If this sounds familiar to you, then admit that what you are trying to do is not working for you, that you are forcing yourself, and that you should find another solution.

What energizes you?
If you hit a difficult moment during the day, what works for you to recharge? Do you feel better and refreshed after a chat with your colleagues, or just the opposite? Have you tried going out for 15 minutes to walk around to a juice bar for some fresh green juice (Instagram-worthy, but not something I do)? Have you tried doing a few exercises (say, a few pushups or squats) to get your blood flowing?

What drains your energy?
Which activities distract you and drain your energy even more? How do you feel after scrolling through your social media accounts on your phone - with a head full of chatter or ready to return to your task? Is there a time during the year or day when the working conditions in your office are not ideal (noise levels, heat/cold...), and can you arrange your activities around this limiting boundary? Can you concentrate after a long meeting and return to your task, or do you need to "air" out your brain first?

Once you've been able to reflect on these questions and try out some different approaches to your day, you'll have a better understanding of what works for you, and ultimately of yourself. Remember that what works for you changes as you change and as your boundary conditions change. Never stop making course corrections and adjust your way of working as you find it necessary. Consider this skill similar to learning how to find your voice in your writing - find your voice and what makes you unique in the way you work best and manage your time.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

PhD Defenses around the world: a defense in chemistry at the University of Edinburgh

Today, I have invited Dr. Karin Bodewits to share her defense story. Karin Bodewits is a PhD graduate from the University of Edinburgh and is the author of the humorous but tragic campus novel ‘You Must Be Very Intelligent — The PhD Delusion’ (Springer Nature, 2017). She founded the career platform NaturalScience.Careers. She works as an author, speaker and seminar leader for a range of communication topics, and regularly writes short stories about the peculiarities of academic life. This post is adapted from You Must Be Very Intelligent - The PhD Delusion.

I follow Prof. Gilton through the chemistry building on auto pilot. Is my PhD defence really finally happening?... I have postponed this exam as much as anyone can. Under my arm I carry a copy of my thesis, full of dubiously scribbled notes, while my legs move forward unprompted and my hands all but squelch with sweat.

For two months I have revised. Felix, a lab friend, had explained me every bit of chemistry in my thesis right down to the last dull detail. He has instructed me better than any Russian spy might be briefed before infiltrating the CIA. Just yesterday, it seemed I knew everything, but now my head feels empty.

We enter a small room at the back of the chemistry building. Prof. Gilton tapes a note to the door: “Viva in progress.”
A grey-haired guy, springs up to introduce himself.
“Professor Green, pleasure to meet you.”
He speaks with a soft voice and offers me a cold, limp-fish hand. Oh dear, he looks vulnerable. I get the impression he is somehow more afraid of this exam than I am.

I sit on a chair on the other side of the table. Despite Prof. Green being much less scary than I had nervously envisaged, my anxiety levels remain stratospheric. This man will decide if I pass or not. Very soon...
“Who do we have here?” Prof. Green asks in a friendly voice.
“Eh... I am Karin...”
“I know your name. But I would like to learn a bit about you before we start. What drives you?” WTF dude! I am here to be grilled about my thesis. Since when was I ever asked what drives me, the person carrying around four limbs, two of which can hold a pipette?
I stare at Prof. Green, not knowing what to say. In the past, love of science drove me, but today I have no clue what motivates me or why I am here.
“I am not sure...,” my voice is trembling.
Prof. Green is peering at me. I realise he honestly wants to know about the girl who wrote the thesis in front of him.
“What kind of job do you want to do next?” Four years ago, I had dreamt of becoming an excellent scientist. Now I don’t even have the confidence to be sure I would make a good toilet cleaner.
“I don’t know.” I only know for sure I don’t want this one.
“Do you feel you learned enough during your PhD to prepare you for the next stage in your career?”
Profs. Gilton and Green are scrutinising me, awaiting a reaction. How can I tell the truth? That I have “learned” as much as a penguin learns when he eats yet another fish? That I had “learned” that I am grossly imperfect, nay downright deficient, and oh-so hopelessly weak?
“I guess there is always more to learn,” I manage to say as if the question hadn’t nearly made me weep.

Both men open a copy of my thesis. Prof. Green’s is scribbled full with notes, and we are only on the acknowledgement page.
“Let’s go through it page by page,” says Prof Green.
I look at the 250 pages in front of me, and then at all the notes he has made in the margins of his copy. I look despairingly at Prof. Gilton. He avoids my eye, but he too looks alarmed by this barking mad suggestion.
“Eh... sure,” I say.
He patiently flicks through the first thirty pages of the introduction. “It’s very good,” he mumbles.
He doesn’t look up from the pages and he doesn’t ask me any questions. Oh, if we’re going through every single page by looking at it without comment, just checking it exists... great! I should pass no problem because I’m a dab hand when it comes to staring at pages in silence.
At length he points at a chemical formula, and redraws it for himself. In all seriousness, he informs me that one of the dozens of hydrogen atoms is pointing in the wrong direction. A-ha! You’re a member of the hydrogen atom mafia! You’re one of those many chemists who get their knickers in a knot about the direction of every single atom.
He continues silently flicking through and arrives at page sixty, whereupon he asks me to draw four different types of sugar molecule. I could do so blindfolded. Prof. Gilton dutifully checks the piece of paper I drew the first two on, and that is as much interest as he can fake in this bewilderingly pointless exercise.
“Keep on, I’ll be right back,” he says and leaves the room, carefully closing the door behind him lest any noise distract from the dull delineation of a dull sugar molecule.
Prof. Green looks worried and confused about Prof. Gilton leaving the exam.
“You and Prof. Gilton do not know each other, do you?” I ask quickly. “No, we don’t.”“He’ll be back. He probably just went for a smoke.” Prof. Green looks at me as if I just told him that Gilton has gone to collect his weekly supply of Rohypnol.
Half an hour into the exam, Prof. Gilton returns. Prof. Green asks me questions about the techniques I used and how I came to certain conclusions. All the questions I am asked – none of which are about me as a person – I am able to answer. Shortly afterwards the question-answer scenario gives way to a normal grown-up conversation between adults about research. I am not nervous anymore. The sweat in my palms has evaporated. I am confident I will pass.

Almost two hours in, Prof. Green is approaching the end of the thesis.
Prof. Green does not enquire further and indicates to Prof. Gilton that he has now finished his part of the exam.
“Please leave the room and wait outside for five minutes or so,” Gilton says.
I stand and notice that I have left a most undignified sweat stain on the plastic chair.
I lean against the wall in the corridor and my head starts to throb painfully. I close my eyes for a moment and take a few deep breaths. I have an out-of-body moment and see myself standing in front of the door where the PhD defence had taken place. I see a disillusioned and defeated doctor-to-be, without any future plans, to whom a degree from a famous university means nothing anymore. It is the same girl who started her PhD almost four years ago feeling ambitious and energetic, manically driven with the desire to become a scientist.

I open my eyes. Prof. Gilton’s fingers are patting my shoulder.
“You can come back inside.”
“Congratulations,” Prof. Green says, with an excitement I do not feel, and shakes my hand.“You passed, very well done!” Prof. Gilton adds. I am not sure if I should be proud or, weirdly, feel humiliated.