Thursday, June 22, 2017

Q&A: Participating in roundtable discussions

I recently received the following email from a reader (edited for anonymity):

I am invited to participate in a roundtable discussion next month, and I was wondering if you have any tips for participants. I am a PhD candidate and the roundtable is focused on Some Topic which was the focus of my last degree, an MPhil. I am excited to participate, but tend to be a quieter, more reserved personality, and I want to do well on this, my first, roundtable.

I took quite some time before replying this message. Since I tend to be more quiet and reserved myself, I am not the person who is the most active participant in discussions during committee meetings. However, I think I have found what works for me, with my personality, and still being of service during such presentations:

1. Volunteer for keeping minutes

If you can, you can offer the chair of the discussion to keep the minutes for the meeting and develop the report afterwards. Your action will be valued, even though you may not have spoken much during the meeting. If you are taking notes, you can also at some point ask another researcher to expand on a point that is interesting, for your personal interest but also to complete the report of the meeting.

2. Think ahead of a few topics to discuss

Before the discussion, you can think ahead about different subtopics that can come up during the discussion. Which point would you want to get across on each of these topics? What evidence do you have to support your claims? You may want to have a short preparation with the references you may want to mention on your laptop to refer to when you speak.

3. Think ahead of questions you want to share with others

To move the discussion forward when it gets stalled, you can prepare some questions that you may want to bring up for other participants in the discussion. You may for example prepare some questions in the following style: "Author X found result X, which contradicts findings from Y. I've been thinking about this discrepancy for a while now, and I have the impression that factors A,B, and C can explain this. I'd like to elaborate a bit more on this topic in this group. What is your opinion on this topic?" By formulating a question in this way you show the thinking and the work you've done, but you also open room for discussion and participation with others instead of just voicing your opinion.

4. Summarize the results you want to show

This element is closely related to nr. 2. If you did the work on this topic a while ago, you may want to make a short summary of your most important results for yourself, and have it on your laptop to look at if you need to refresh your memory. You may want to revise again the most important publications on the topic. If you make a claim, you can refer to these publications. If the paper does not seem to ring a bell for the other members, you can propose to pass it around on a stick or project the paper to show some of the main results and discuss this. Similarly, you can have a few graphs or tables with your main results that you can show by projecting this information during the meeting.

5. Don't speak too quietly

If you tend to be a more quiet person, you may also have the tendency to speak a little more quiet. If your voice is naturally quiet, see if you can use a microphone, or try to speak up, so that your opinion and contribution does not get drowned by the others. If you feel a bit nervous, try to speak slowly and breathe with your diaphragm to calm yourself.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How I got tenure

Last November, I received the great news from Universidad San Francisco de Quito that I got tenured after a "concurso de merecimientos y oposicion". Not only did I receive my tenure, which in Ecuador can come at the Associate Professor level, Full Professor level, and Full Professor of Research level, but I was appointed as Full Professor of Research. Whereas Associate Professors and Full Professors in Ecuador still have to teach up to 4 courses per semester and 1 course over the summer, a Full Professor of Research teaches officially half a course per semester. The requirements to achieve this position are more stringent than for the other positions.

For practical reasons, I am now teaching one course per semester (not sure who ever taught the half course per semester was going to be a thing), which is quite a reduction in teaching load from the three courses per semester I was teaching earlier. I'm teaching a high-level undergraduate course (Reinforced Concrete II), carrying out my own research, working on book projects, and supervising the Bachelor thesis research of students. I am also the faculty advisor of the ACI and Civil Engineering student chapters in our department. The demands on me in terms of teaching and administration have been pleasantly reduced, and I get to spend my time pretty much the way I like it, as long as I keep publishing as I have been doing. I'm still on part-time contracts as a researcher for TU Delft, so I don't have a fixed contract there yet, but I keep my exceptional situation (working at two universities that are an two opposite sides of the world) going.

I got my tenure three years and a few months after my PhD. Certainly, the rules for obtaining in Ecuador are a bit less demanding than in western Europe or North America, but this advantage may be offset by the large teaching demands on young faculty members in Ecuador. Here, teaching four courses per semester is standard, and some areas require up to the double of that. You can imagine that this heavy teaching demand leaves very little time for other activities. For me, too, juggling teaching and research was a constant battle of priorities in my first years as a faculty member, especially since I developed five new courses in my first four semester, and had to set up three new courses in my first semester.

You may have guessed that the short answer to the question "Eva, how did you get tenure?" would be "I published a lot". Publishing and bringing in research funding are perhaps the most important factors all over the world for getting tenure. But, then again, how did I do it? I'll be giving you an honest insight in how I was working over the past years, as I've always done on this blog. I don't want to shout out loud, saying "Look at me, and all my achievements". In fact, I postponed writing this blog for a long time because I am afraid of tooting my own horn. And, admittedly, the imposter syndrome causes me to think that maybe I didn't even deserve it, or that I only got tenure because it is so much easier in Ecuador, and that I would have failed anywhere else. But, I've been sharing my experiences and thoughts on this blog for seven years now, and some people seem to find it valuable, so I have gathered my courage to write this post.

Here's what helped me move my career forward:

1. Planning

The most important aspect for me to move all projects forward while teaching three courses per semester was to have a clear planning. I use a weekly template to see how I can fit in all my different responsibilities, and fill in the specifics of what I will be working on on a weekly basis. I also use To Do lists (in for keeping track of what I need to do, for logging deadlines, and for putting reminders to myself to follow up certain things that are pending. I've blogged extensively about how I have been trying to get a grip of my time, and still have time to play music, read fiction, spend time with my husband, cat, and family, and work out on a daily basis. I turned to Twitter for advice on juggling tasks, used the weekly template, learned what worked, learned to leave more space, wrote about my struggles, learned to roll with the punches, and at the end developed a system that works for me (but is subject to change as life and work change).

2. Writing

I write every workday, except when I travel or have experimental work going on (during my research stay in Delft). I write maximum two hours per day, five days a week, and make sure to have a constant output of my work. I may be working on a new draft, implementing reviewers' comments, or reading material to improve a draft - writing is of course not limited to the production of new text. While two hours per day may be limited, I've learned to write fast once I have my thoughts ordered, and I've focused on journal publications and papers for conferences that index their proceedings in Scopus. I use a planning of my papers that I am working on (at all stages in the publication process), and with the topics of the papers that I want to write in the future (at various stages of the research being finished). Before the start of every semester, I outline which papers I want to draft that semester, and aim for drafting four to six papers per semester. Putting in the time on a daily basis to move my manuscripts forward has been one of the most productive choices to make. I never used my teaching load as an excuse for not writing, and never had a reduction in my output as a result of a teaching-heavy semester. I transitioned from publishing about my PhD research to publishing the work I've been doing after my graduation.

3. Travel a lot

Go to all the conferences! I've been attending a number of conferences; a habit that I started during my PhD. In the first years after graduating, I've been forking out some of the money for attending conferences when I could not get full funding, although in general I've received support for my travel. Attending conferences has been important for me, as I tend to feel a bit isolated in Ecuador, where I may be the only person working on existing concrete structures. I've had the chance to exchange ideas with colleagues, meet up with old friends, and get involved with the work of technical committees, which has been very inspiring for my research.

4. Volunteer for all the work

When you join technical committees, lean in to all opportunities. Don't just say yes to every single thing without knowing you'll be able to deliver what you promised. Don't hold back because the little voice in your head is telling you that you don't know enough about the topic yet. Volunteer for work that you can do, and make time to work on these tasks. When you take on a service appointment, be willing to roll up your sleeves and make yourself useful. You'll learn a lot from doing this as well, as it will help you break out of the bubble of a maybe very narrow field of research that you were working in during your PhD.

5. Push through when needed

In general, I don't work more than about 50 hours per week, so that I still have time for other things in life. However, when I need to move something forward, I am willing to go all in for a week or two. During my annual research stay in Delft, I try to push my research forward as much as possible. If that means that my life for that time will be limited to work, gym, eating, and sleeping, then I am fine with that. I set limits with myself on what I find acceptable, such as working 7:30 am - 6:30 pm, training 7pm - 8 pm, going home, eating, relaxing, sleeping, and perhaps working every other weekend while I am there, and spending the other weekend in Belgium to be with my family. For me and my work, it is important to use the short time that I am in Delft to get as much research done as possible, so that I have food for thought and data to work with for the rest of the year. I'm not advocating overwork here, but it is OK every now and then to push a bit harder if that suits your situation and if it will benefit you in the long run.

6. Always do what you promise

Some people give me a very weird look when I tell them I have never missed a deadline for a conference paper in my life. I usually submit my papers about a month in advance of the deadline. I've wanted to build a reputation in my research field on what I value most in life, which is honesty. When I tell a friend that they can count on me for something, I am dead serious about it. When I volunteer for working on something, or when I promise to deliver a piece of work by a certain date, I take it equally serious. For me, it is a matter of respect for the people I work with. As a deep introvert, I tend to hide away in concrete bunkers, which makes me not a good person for networking and interacting with peers, or for having lots and lots of friends. But at the same time, I think I've shown to the people that I work with, and the few friends that I have, that when I say something, I will do it without excuses, and that I can be trusted.

7. Reading

When you have a lot of work going on, it is easy to let reading slip away. I've taken the conscious choice to keep reading as many papers as possible. I schedule time for reading, and I usually read journals while I take exams. When preparing a new draft, I also make sure my literature review is up-to-date. Reading has been important for me to keep the quality of my manuscripts up to the standards expected for publication, and for having the required understanding of my research, which has branched out to more fields now than during my PhD days.

8. Learn to balance saying yes and no

While I think you should say "no" to opportunities that are not of benefit to you, your research, and your career, I do think you should not say "no" to every single thing and just focus on writing your journal papers. When something interesting comes up, and you are interested in it, go for it. Volunteer for all the extra tasks. Reach out to other researchers. Learn to make the right choices. If at a certain point in your career, you need to lean in as much as possible, accept all the opportunities for reviewing papers, serving on technical committees, developing documents, and serving on scientific committees. Some career advice is so focused on saying "no" to everything that is not part of the narrowest description of your job that you will be missing out on opportunities that may be crucial to move your career forward.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

I am Echo Rivera and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Dr. Echo Rivera in the "How I Work" series. Echo is the owner of Creative Research Communication (CRC) and a research associate at a nonprofit research/evaluation center in Denver, CO. Her passion is helping researchers, evaluators, academics, and nonprofits communicate their social equity work effectively and creatively. One way she does this is by helping people become more effective visual communicators, so we can end the text-heavy, ineffective presentation status quo. Plus, academics tend to lose steam at the end of a project and often settle with journal articles or academic conferences. Her dream is to add some creativity to the research communication/dissemination process through more science-based personal websites, zines, comics, and other creative outlets.

Current Job: (1) Owner, Creative Research Communication and (2) Research Associate at Center for Policy Research
Current Location: Denver, CO
Current mobile device: Samsung S6 Edge
Current computer: iMac, Acer Chromebook, and Windows Desktop

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
So far, at Creative Research Communication (CRC) I've created free resources to help academics, researchers, evaluators, and nonprofits create more effective and visual presentations. In fact, I just had a blast creating my first ever email course to teach people how to use visuals quickly, called Create Your Visual Database. And because I love comics, I also created a visual cheatsheet of my top 10 presentation tips.

I also work as an evaluator at a center in Denver. Here, I help programs and federal/state departments determine whether their social program, policy, or initiative was effective at achieving their goals. I work on a variety of topics, ranging from gender-based violence and domestic violence program services, home visiting programs, SNAP/Medicare enrollment, and prisoner re-entry programs.

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

Google Drive has been a lifesaver. I use so many devices and both Windows & Macs that it can sometimes be a nightmare to keep all the pieces together. As I use Google Drive more, this is becoming less stressful.

Adobe Illustrator is essential for my digital comics and drawings. I'm really not that great at drawing by hand, though I'm practicing every day to get better. My cheatsheet was, and all my digital comics are, created in Illustrator.

Microsoft Office is absolutely essential. I use it every (work) day to write reports, create presentations, calculate numbers, and check my (work) email.

Apple Keynote is my preferred application to make presentations. Powerpoint 2016 is significantly better than 2013, but Keynote is still my go-to.

ConvertKit - I know a lot of people think email is dead, but it's a great way for me to keep in touch with people about what's going on at Creative Research Communication, and it's how I was able to set up an email course.

Twitter! I consider engaging with people on Twitter to be a critical part of my work. If I'm not out there talking with others and learning from them about their questions, concerns, and ideas...then I am less effective at my job. Reach out @echoechoR!

What does your workspace setup look like?

In general, my workspace is pretty clean and is well-organized. I don't work well if things are cluttered around me.

I run Creative Research Communication entirely from my home office. I draw comics, create free resources, and run webinars using my iMac + external monitor for a second screen. It gets a little obnoxious because the desk isn't that big! I also use my Chromebook when I'm lounging in the basement but want to draft a new post.

Home office

What is your best advice for productive research work?
Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. When I have no motivation to do something (writing, data analysis, etc), I just convince myself to open up the program. "I'll at least just look at it," I tell myself. Then something magical happens once the program is open--I just start working!

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Paper planners & white boards! I never could get used to the digital planners on my phone or computer. I've tried Asana, Trello, Google Calendar, iCal, and so on but would never keep them up to date. There's something about writing something in my calendar by hand or having my tasks up on a whiteboard that helps me stay on track on my work.

My favorite is the at-a-glance weekly planner. I've used it for about 9 years now and haven't found anything better. I pair it with a whiteboard and large paper calendars on my wall.

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

Which skill makes you stand out?

My presentation skills, definitely! I've been working hard to tell more stories so that my presentation content is engaging. Plus, the actual design of my slides is something I care passionately about and have worked hard over the years to learn how to use information design principles on my slides.

Also, I really like to draw comics and that seems to get people excited (which is great, because comics make me excited, too!). Here's a recent one I made for my blog post:

What do you listen to when you work?
Heavy metal. Rammstein is the perfect band to help me concentrate while entering data or doing any type of repetitive task!

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?

I just finished "Behind Her Eyes" by Sarah Pinborough (Thriller, Fiction). Loved it, highly recommend if you're a fan of thrillers! I have yet to start my next book. I usually read for 30-60 minutes right before bed, and/or Sunday mornings.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Introvert, definitely. I have to space out my meetings and interviews out more than others because I get really tired and need to "recharge" more than my extroverted colleagues do.

What's your sleep routine like?
I'm usually in bed between 10-11pm and up between 7-8am.

What's your work routine like?
I work pretty standard hours at my full-time job (9-5pm), though that's a bit off because my partner has night classes this semester and we share a car. Then I usually work on Creative Research Communications on Saturday. But now that the weather is warming up (it's February right now), I'm going to have to find some time for hiking and biking during the weekend here in Colorado!

What's the best advice you ever received?
I'm torn between two bits of advice: 1. It never hurts to ask for something you want, especially funding. and 2. Don't feel like you have to react or respond to every. single. thing.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

PhD Defenses around the world: a defense in Bioinformatics in Belgium

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Paola Masuzzo to discuss her PhD Defense at the Ghent University. Paola is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Ghent University and at the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology, both in Ghent, Belgium. After a Master degree in Biomedical Engineering, she started a PhD in bioinformatics, researching tools and algorithms to better understand cell migration. Paola is currently working on MULTIMOT, an exciting inter-disciplinary EU-H2020 project, and will soon try to define what the next step in her academic (or not) life will be.
In her free time, Paola enjoys Yoga, food, and travelling. She is an Open Science fan and an advocate for Open Access. You can follow her on Twitter.

A typical PhD in Belgium takes the form of a 4 year research, which is then concluded with a written dissertation. This dissertation, mostly referred to as a PhD thesis, takes the form of a book, and the candidate can choose either to re-write or re-elaborate the entire research conducted, or to simply compile the peer-reviewed articles they have published in the course of the PhD.

The number of published articles needed in order to proceed with a PhD defense can differ very much across faculties: the UGent Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, where I graduated, demands at least one published peer-reviewed article and, depending on some impact ranking, another manuscript submitted to a relevant journal. These criteria, however, do not seem to capture well enough the complexity and the dynamics of getting the title of Doctor, and I believe this is why these requirements change very often. The University might still be figuring out what's the best way to assess scientific output and evaluate a PhD candidate.

Another aspect to keep in mind when graduating at Ghent University is that there are two distinct certificates one can aim to obtain: the certificate of successful PhD (as in most universities), and the certificate of the Doctoral Training Programme. To obtain the latter, candidates are required to complete a minimum set of activities, which consists of three specialist courses, three transferable skills seminars, three conference contributions, one publication, annual progress reports and finally the doctoral defence. This is quite a bit of extra work, but it is meant to contribute to the personal and professional growth of the candidates. I have personally obtained both certificates, and this is actually the standard procedure across candidates in my research group.

So, what happens once you think you are ready for the final stage? You start writing your thesis. I started well before the submission deadline I had in mind, and yet, it was a hell of a job! Summing up all the efforts, discoveries and objectives of four years is not easy at all. Plus, you need to make sure a proper introduction to the research problem is given, and a deep discussion on future perspective and possibilities. All in all, a very tiring time! However, the most difficult part begins afterwards: paperwork! The amount of paperwork I needed to go through was unbelievable. One deadline after the other, and all with the fear of doing something wrong or forgetting some piece of information here and there! One of the most challenging tasks was the selection of jury members. At Ghent University, once the candidate is ready for the defense, an examination committee needs to be established, usually along the supervisor's suggestions. Once again, quite some strict criteria on the composition of this committee makes the process quite complicated! This committee receives your dissertation, and will (in most of the cases) suggest you to change a few things here and there to make the thesis (even) better.

So, suppose all went well, you did re-work on your thesis, you have your book ready: what's next? That's when the real fun begins: the closed defense! This is only Part I of the entire PhD defense process. You and your examination committee gather together in a room, without the presence of your supervisor(s) or any other person. Here, after a 5 min introduction to your thesis, the committee asks you all sorts of questions, in order to judge the quality of your research and your own quality, as a PhD candidate. I cannot say that I was not nervous when this time came for me. Moreover, the multidisciplinary nature of my thesis presented one more challenge: my committee was a mix of experts in very diverse disciplines, from cell biology over microscopy imaging to engineering. I was pretty much scared to death! But just after ten minutes, I actually started to have a lot of fun. I truly enjoyed the discussion, which was more than a 'Q&A' section: it was merely an interactive and profound conversation from peers to peer. All in all, an extremely satisfying way to officially enter the PhD world!

If part I goes well, part II of the PhD defense can take place: the public defense. This is where the show happens! You invite over your family, your friends, your colleagues, and your supervisors this time get to see you defending. You again present your work, but this time in a more detailed way (normally around 40-45 min), and then the committee asks you a whole bunch of questions, but this time with a broader view/scope. The general public can ask questions too! As a matter of fact, I did receive a question from the audience, specifically from my boyfriend!

When the questions are over, the committee leaves for a few moments, and if everything is OK, they then come back for the final proclamation. This is the nicest moment, the moment when you realized: yes, I did it! This is when your supervisor gets to put the Doc Universtity hat on your head. A memory I will certainly treasure for the rest of my life!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

I am Maryse Bourgault, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Maryse Bourgault. Maryse is an Assistant Professor at Montana State University Northern Agricultural Research Center in Cropping Systems and Agronomy. Her aim is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of agricultural systems in Montana and other dry areas through diversification of cropping systems, in particular using pulse crops (field peas, lentils, chickpeas) in rotation in cereal-based cropping systems. She is a crop physiologist by training and uses these methodologies to bridge the gap between field- and farm-level productivity and genetic improvement for drought and cold tolerance. She previously conducted research on the effects of elevated CO2 in Australia at the Australian Grains Free Air CO2 Enrichment (AGFACE) and at CSIRO with the Climate Adaptation Flagship program. Maryse graduated with a Ph.D. from McGill University (Montreal, Canada) in 2009.

Current job: Assistant Professor, Cropping Systems Agronomy
Current Location: Havre, MT
Current mobile device: iPhone (but I don’t know if the next one will be)
Current computer: DELL

Please explain your current situation and research to us.
I have just started as an Assistant Professor at Montana State University Northern Agricultural Research Station. My research direction is yet to be defined, but I am particularly interested in using crop physiology to support breeding by variety/advanced lines characterization. I am also interested in testing new crops for increased diversification for benefits in soil health, reduced disease pressure, etc.

What tools, apps, or software are essential to your work flow?

For better or for worst, the Microsoft Office suite. We use the outlook calendar as a group quite a bit, and it allows us to see what everyone is up to.

For statistics and data visualization and making graphs, I use R.

I also like the software FreeMind, a mind map software, although sometimes, my white board is just as good.

What does your workspace look like?

I used to like to alternate between offices (home, lab, library even), but I am increasingly appreciative of a fixed workplace. It allows me to compartmentalize work and leisure activities/rest. I find it helps me with my work-life balance. This said, I do not get interrupted much at work, so it does not break my flow when trying to write (or I put a sign on my door saying “Trying to write; enter at your own risk” – which knowing me people know it is a joke (I won’t bite their heads off), but they also know not to bother me for too long). I would like to have my desk clean and uncluttered, but I tend to have unread papers in various piles (something I’m working on…).

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

What has helped me a lot is to have a regular schedule. I know not everyone is like this, and of course during the field season, this does not apply, but at least when I am in the office, I do an 8 to 5 day. And I focus on work and only work during this time. If I know I’ll work on the weekend, then I start doing other things (paying bills, checking things out on the net, etc.) and I don’t feel guilty, because, hey, I’ll be pulling more hours this week. However, I find that I get more distracted, and I might do more hours, but I am not convinced I achieve more in the end.

How do you keep track of projects and tasks?

Every month, I take some time to reflect on my achievements of the last month, I plan the following month, I think about what might go wrong, and I identify priorities. And I write it all down. I have a special lab book for this. I have been doing this for the last nine years, since mid-way through my PhD, and it has worked great for me. I still underestimate how long it might take for tasks, but I’m getting better at it. I will sometimes have another look at it if something crops up that I didn’t expect. At other times, especially if I feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done, I use it just to remind myself of what really needs to be done, and what can wait a bit more.

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

I do have a tablet, mostly for reading, but honestly, I still use a lot of paper and ink. My “agenda” (besides what I need to share with others which ends up on our shared calendar) consists of blank monthly calendar sheets I print off Outlook and I fill these by hand (usually in pencil, so I can erase). My lab books are all paper and ink – often I’ll print graphs off and paste them in. The paper calendar helps me count days better (for example when growing plants), and I find the paper lab books are better when trying to find something. It might take a bit longer, but I think it also allows me more time to think.

Which skills make you stand out as an academic?
I have checked with colleagues about this, and the first thing that I was told was that I was personable and friendly and that I could talk with just anyone. It’s important when dealing with farmers to be approachable, and I think it has helped me a lot to get this new job.

What do you listen to when you work?

I used to listen to Sarah McLachlan, Enya, Miss Higgins, Nora Jones… easy listening, soothing music or classical such as Chopin and Mozart when reading or writing. In the field, anything goes! In the last few years though, I found that when reading or writing, I prefer to work without music at all as I find it distracting.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?

I do read a lot both at work and at home. I have lived without a television at home for years, listening to the news on the radio and catching some programs on the internet only. So, I read a lot of fiction for entertainment, crime thrillers, sci-fi fantasy, romance, drama, etc. At work, I will sometimes book specific time slots for reading, especially as part of a literature review for a project proposal and when I start a manuscript. I also take time during lunch to read the Societies magazines and trade magazines.

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

This is a little hard to say because every test I have done is putting me either a little of one or the other, so I think I am mostly in the middle. I do tend to feel a little lonely if I am working from home for too long, but I also get a bit overwhelmed with everyone in conferences. For every day routine though, it is good. I’m happy to be around people without talking to them much during the day, but I’m also happy to have a good long (productive) chat with someone once in a while as well.

What is your sleep routine like?

I sleep a lot! I love sleeping! LOL. I like to get to bed at 10 pm and get up around 6 or 6:30 am, although I often get to bed a little later (and end up throwing myself out of bed at 7:30…). I often sleep until noon on Saturdays. It also happens on Sunday, but I try to get up earlier so I’m not turning in bed for hours on Sunday night trying to get to sleep.

What is your work routine like?
I like to follow the routine of everyone else around me. It sort of forces me to get to work in the morning – and to get home not too late at night. These days, I’m working 8 to 5 pm. During field work, we can pull long days and then it is a different story. This said, I’m not a workaholic. I really like to focus on work during office hours, and do other stuff during evenings and weekends.

What is the best advice you ever received?
It’s important to know what you want in life. Things will not always go your way, and no one ever only does what they want, but at least when the going gets tough, you don’t have to go adrift as well. There might be situations where the choice is to stay or leave, and if you know what you want, you can make that choice and not feel victimized.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

PhD Defenses around the World: a Defense in Chemistry from Canada

Today, I am inviting Dr. Monica Gill to discuss her PhD Defense for the "PhD Defenses around the World". Dr. Gill grew up in Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province. She studied chemistry at the University of Prince Edward Island and earned a BSc in 2002 and a MSc in 2005. She then worked as a research scientist at BioVectra Inc. in Charlottetown, PEI. In 2008, she moved to Ottawa to return to school and pursue a PhD in organic chemistry at Carleton University. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship, in collaboration with BASF, in the same department. She is currently applying for academic positions and hopes to establish her own research group.

Two years ago, on March 31, 2015, I defended my PhD thesis in Chemistry at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. It still seems somewhat surreal that it's all over!

My defense committee was composed of seven individuals. The first, most obvious member was my own PhD supervisor. Next, there were two more chemistry professors; the first was from Carleton University, while the second was from University of Ottawa. The two schools have a joint graduate program (the OCCI, Ottawa-Carleton Chemistry Institute) and require representation from both schools on PhD defenses. Then, there was a professor from the Engineering department at Carleton. This role is colloquially known as the "internal-external" examiner. They are far outside the candidate's specialty, but are able to evaluate the overall research approach and conclusions. The external examiner is generally viewed as the most important member of the committee. My supervisor and I had discussed potential external examiners, and a chemistry professor from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, had agreed to serve in this capacity. These six individuals were voting members of the committee; that is to say that they each had a say in the outcome of the defense. The seventh member of the committee, the Chair of the defense, assures that the defense is carried out according to the rules and regulations set forth by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, but is not a voting member. The Chair of my defense had served in this role for over 1000 PhD thesis defenses during his career! I was fortunate that my external examiner was physically present on campus. Due to financial constraints, many PhD defenses at Carleton University use teleconferencing with the external examiner. My external examiner presented a research seminar to the department earlier during the day of my defense, thereby making his visit multi-purpose.

The defense process began with me presenting a 45 minute seminar which summarized my doctoral research. This seminar was presented to the entire department. Graduate students are required to attend these seminars. Most other faculty members also attended, as well as a few close friends. There were approximately 50 people in attendance. In addition, all the members of the committee are required to attend. This was a nice experience for me. It was gratifying to present my work to the whole department. Everyone was very supportive and pleased for me to have reached this milestone.

Immediately following my seminar, we moved to a smaller conference room. The formal defense portion with the seven-membered committee began approximately 20 minutes after completion of the seminar. It began with the Chair outlining the format that the defense would follow. The questioning would take place in two rounds. During the first round, each member of the committee, beginning with the external examiner and finishing with my supervisor, would receive 20 minutes to ask anything they desired. During this round, the Chair tightly controlled who was permitted to speak. Not all of my examiners took the full 20 minutes for their questions; in particular, the member from Engineering had only brief questions and comments. None of the questions posed were unreasonable, but some were challenging and required some contemplation. I was able to provide satisfactory answers and commentary to each of the examiners. Then, a second round of questions was started. In the same order as before, each of the examiners is given additional time to address anything they would like. This round is a lot more relaxed with more conversation and debate between the candidate and the committee. We had a lot of great discussion during this time.

When each member of my committee declared that they had no further questions, the Chair asked me to leave the room while the committee deliberated. That was a very surreal part of the process. It was easily the most stressful part of the process. I could hear muffled voices in the room; I ended up pacing away from the room so that I couldn't hear anything! I remember glancing at the clock, and realizing that the defense had lasted about 2 hours. I honestly had no concept of time during the defense. After approximately 5-10 minutes (although it felt like an hour!), the Chair opened the door and invited me back into the room. He told me that the committee was unanimous in their decision that they were accepting my thesis with minor revisions. He shook my hand, congratulated me and called me Dr. Gill. I became a bit emotional at that point because my late father was a physician and was Dr. Gill; he passed away when I was a teenager. The mood in the room became jubilant and relaxed and each of my committee members was very generous with warm congratulations.

Each of the committee members provided me with comments and corrections for my thesis. I was required to address these items before deposition of my final thesis with the Faculty of Graduate Studies. In my case, the issues were minor and easily addressed. My degree was officially awarded in June 2015 at the spring convocation at Carleton University.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Using ResearchGate and for research

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!

In the past, we've discussed how you can use Twitter as a scientist, and how you can use the internet in general to curate the information others can find about you. Today, I want to focus on two academic social networks, and ResearchGate.

On and ResearchGate, you can upload your publications (provided that this does not violate the copyright transfer form you signed with the publisher) and share research with other scientists. You may be wondering why you should take the effort to develop a profile on these websites, while anyone can find your journal papers through search engines such as Scopus. Or you may think that it is enough to have your publications listed on your online CV in LinkedIn. In fact, there are a number of advantages to adding your research items to or ResearchGate. Which of these platforms you should prefer depends on your field, so look up a few colleagues on these websites first before deciding which platform you'll use. Here are some of the advantages these platforms offer:

1. You can make your research available to disadvantaged scientists

Not all scholars have the same access to journal articles through library subscriptions. Not even all scholars have access to paid academic search engines such as Scopus. For those scholars that have otherwise no access to your publications, providing your publications on ResearchGate may be a lifesaver. Publishing open access is also an option, but many open access journals charge a heavy fee to the authors. If the copyright transfer form you signed prior to publication of your article does not allow you to upload your paper, you can still create an entry on your platform of choice, and simply not add the paper. Other scholars can then request you to send them the paper privately for example. If you have created the entry without adding the paper, your paper will also show up in online searches through regular search engines, which in turn can make your research more visible in general.

2. You can organize your publications according to projects

ResearchGate allows you to create different research projects and topics, and to sort your publications accordingly. For fellow researchers who may be particularly interested in one of your projects, it can be helpful to see all documents you have generated from one project. You can also add your collaborators into projects. As such, visitors of your page will see your collaborators and can click through to their pages and perhaps fellow their work as well.

3. You can receive updates about recent publications by colleagues

If you decide to "follow" other researchers, you will receive updates in your mailbox about their recent publications. You can also follow a project in ResearchGate, and receive updates about the progress of the project and publications that have been added to this project This feature can be particularly helpful if you want to keep an eye on the recent work of colleagues that are working on a topic closely related to yours. Likewise, your colleagues will receive an update when you add a new research item (with or without uploading the actual paper), when you create a new project, or when you comment on someone else's research item.

4. You can use these platforms to build your online CV

ResearchGate and allow you to add information about yourself to your profile. You can add your work experience with regard to teaching and research, the journals you review for, the societies you are a member of, and your awards and prizes. While these platforms don't build your CV in the saem way as LinkedIn for example, they do allow for a more research-oriented version of your CV. And this overview may be perhaps just what a full professor is interested in when considering hiring a new post-doc.

5. You can discuss research topics by asking questions

ResearchGate offers a feature of discussions and questions, where you can ask your peers for input on specific topics. Yes, you can have similar discussion on Twitter and LinkedIn (in groups, for example) as well, but ResearchGate may be a more optimal way to connect to your peers.

6. You can discuss publications publicly

You can add comments to papers, recommend papers to colleagues, or start a discussion about a paper on these platforms. If the author has uploaded the paper or created the entry, you can directly interact with the author through these platforms.

7. You can interact privately with other scientists, without needing their email address

You can interact by leaving comments publicly, or you can interact by writing messages privately. The advantage of using a platform that does not require you to know the email address of the author is that you can remain in contact even after changing institutions. Especially for early career researchers, their email address may change quite often, as the researcher moves from institution to institution on short-term post-doc contracts. If you don't have their most recent email address, you can still stay in touch through these platforms.

8. You can see job openings that suit your profile

Universities can post job openings on ResearchGate and for a fee that is smaller than on most other job boards. As such, it has become a popular choice for universities to make their job openings known through these platforms. Moreover, these platforms can automatically show you jobs that could be of your interest based on your profile and skills.

9. You get an insight in your readership

These platforms give you all the stats you may want for getting insight in your audience. You can know the keywords fellow researchers use to find your publications, the institutions they work for, and their location. You may find that your research is downloaded a lot in a particular area of the world, which may open possibilities for future collaborations there.

10. You can tag your publications with keywords so that others are directed to your publications

When you upload a research item, you will be asked to add keywords to your publication. These keywords can be followed by other researchers, who will then be notified about your new research item, or in whose feed your recently published research item may appear. Again, by adding these keywords, you can increase the visibility of your research, and you may draw the attention of a reader that previously was not aware of your work.