Tuesday, February 20, 2018

I am Olga Degtyareva and This is How I Work

Today, I am welcoming Olga Degtyareva to the "How I Work" series. Olga is Productivity Mentor for Scientists and president and founder of the Productivity for Scientists Ltd. She helps scientists around the world to overcome overwhelm, become more productive, get in charge of their day while feeling happier in their life. Olga teaches through workshops, lectures, online courses as well as private and group coaching programs. Over the past 7 years she worked with 100's of scientists personally and 1000's benefited from her online lectures and resources. Prior to this Olga has had a successful research career in science, having studied and worked for 15 years in the area of high-pressure physics and crystallography. She is a recipient of an international prize for her high-pressure physics research and an author and co-author of 38 scientific papers. She is also a mother of three children whom she unschools together with her husband. Olga shares her experience on "how to manage it all" in her Productivity for Scientists blog (http://olgadegtyareva.com). Start your journey to peaceful productivity with Olga's 5 tops tips to overcome overwhelm and her 126 ways to become more productive which you can find at the top of her website.

General
: I had 15 years successful career as a scientist in the area of high pressure physics and crystallography, going through the Masters, PhD, two postdocs and a personal Fellowship from the Royal Society. Since then I've transitioned to being a productivity coach for scientists and founded my own company Productivity for Scientists Ltd. I am also a mom of three.
Current Job: Productivity Coach at the Productivity for Scientists Ltd
Current Location: Scottish Borders (near Edinburgh), Scotland, UK
Current mobile device: Samsung smartphone
Current computer: ASUS laptop

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I've been a scientist in the area of high-pressure physics and crystallography, for about 15 years in total. I went through Masters degree, PhD degree, two consecutive postdocs and I also held a personal Fellowship from the Royal Society. I studied phase transitions and crystal structure of pure elements from the Periodic Table. We would order an element from a Chemical company, to make sure it is absolutely pure, and then we would put it in a special device that would generate very high pressures by squeezing the sample between two parallel diamonds. We would also change the temperature to very high and very low temperatures. We would then study the change in crystal structure of the element due to phase transitions which would then allow us to understand the change in properties of the material. In particular, I studied the crystal structures of Bi, Sb, As, Ga, S, Se and Na under high pressure.

It was exciting to work in this field, as every other experiment yielded new phase transitions and new crystal structures to solve. It was due to a revolution in technology and equipment that happened just before I started my PhD, so as the result of using new synchrotrons and detectors in combination with high pressure we could solve many enigmas and also study the elements at the conditions where no one else looked before. My career was full of new findings, great collaborations, high-profile papers, and many presentations at the conference. As the result, I am the author and co-author on 38 research papers and I am a recipient of an international prize for my contributions into the high-pressure physics.

The career, although exciting, was not without challenges. I often felt overwhelmed and tired, and cried myself to sleep asking myself "Why does it need to be so hard?" It was during my first postdoc when my career seemed to be going well, that I hit the rock bottom hard nearly giving up on everything. At that point I reached out for help and started to work with a therapist, then a coach, and got into self-help books and seminars. I focused on finding an answer to the question: "How to be successful AND happy at the same time?" In a few years time this led me to starting my own blog where I began to share productivity techniques, and how I manage to combine my family (by then I had 2 children), doing cutting-edge research and feeling fulfilled in my life. This grew into a coaching practice and my own company Productivity for Scientists Ltd. I have now fully transitioned from doing research to being a coach full time, and now work from home coaching scientists around the world via skype, and also publishing lots of free productivity resources online. I now have 3 children whom we home-educate. My primary focus is helping scientists and researchers to overcome procrastination and get their long-overdue papers and thesis written. I am also passionate about working with women scientists to help them become more confident, create their own work/life balance that works for them, become more productive and feel more in charge of their day.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
Skype is the most essential, as this is how I talk with my private clients; I also do my group coaching calls via skype using the "group call". If someone is interested in my services and would like to share their situation to see if I can help them, we would arrange a free Getting Acquainted Conversation, also via skype. I use a private membership platform called JigSawBox, for my clients to track their progress, to study the lessons and Modules and to write their notes. TimeTrade is what I use for people to book appointments with me. Facebook is also pretty central, as I use it to create groups for my courses and programs for the participants to communicate with each other.

What does your workspace setup look like?


As I work from home, I have a home office set up. Here is the picture of my office with the book shelf that got recently decluttered, and the two new paintings that I got from a friend. I love this new look of my office! My office and the whole house (with 3 children being at home a lot of the time) constantly gets cluttered and messy, so decluttering and tidying is an ongoing process. This year I took it more seriously and started 1 year long project to declutter and simplify my whole household and the office, with a help of a friend: we've been doing a lot of sorting, putting into charity, putting into recycling or trash and even burning old papers in a fire, once a month for the whole weekend. As the result, there are less things around, more space, easier to tidy, and easier to manage. It feels like I can breathe easier, it was definitely worth the effort so far!

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Well, since this is the topic that I mainly teach through my coaching, I allow myself to go here into more details and share some powerful and concrete strategies.

One of the huge challenges for the PhD students as well as for the postdocs and staff is the procrastination with academic papers and writing their thesis. Our work days as scientists are so busy, we find ourselves running around from the lab to the office to the meeting and to another meeting, and at the end of the day when we were hoping to get some writing done, we need to deal with the administrative stuff or reply to urgent e-mails. Then it is time to catch a plane to do the data collection, and then it is time for a conference. Week after week goes by, and sometimes months and years, and even if we want to sit down to write, for some reason it just does not happen: we are too busy!

Even when we manage to clear time and we do sit down to write, it is difficult to start writing. We sit in front of the computer and we don't know where to start, we get distracted by reading up on it, by checking for "useful information", or get sucked into the black whole of internet, checking the news and the social media... We start to doubt ourselves, whether our writing is going to be good enough, whether the supervisor is going to like it, whether we'll have enough time, or whether we are too slow and won't manage to meet the deadline at this speed anyway. As a result we stay distracted and don't write as much as we could or we find ourselves deleting more than we write. Then the time is up, and we get up from our desk frustrated realising that it would probably be another week or two before we can sit down to write again...

Now this picture may sound familiar. This is because many scientists struggle with it, so if you recognise yourself in it, you are not alone! Writing a paper is so challenging because papers often do not have deadlines, so everything else seems more urgent. Also a paper and especially the thesis can seem so overwhelmingly huge that you don't really know where to start and how to make a substantial progress in that one hour or one day that you carved out for writing. It seems like anything you would write would not be enough to make a visible progress. On top of that there are 100's of distractions that conspire to deflect our attention from writing: there is Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, there is skype, e-mail and smartphone, there are news websites and there are colleagues and students who come in the office with a question precisely in the moment when you sat down to write.

So here is how to deal with this.

You need to define clearly WHAT are you going to be working on: one particular paper, or one concrete thesis chapter. Then you need to start breaking it down into smaller manageable tasks, those that you can do in 15 min, 30 min and one hour chunks. For example, create the figures, write figure captions, write one paragraph in the Introduction about this and that, type up references etc. Once you have this list you can start tackling your paper or thesis chapter in small focused chunks of time.

About those "small focused chunks of time"... we call them a "writing ritual" or a "writing session". And you need to start developing a routine for doing those sessions regularly. You've heard this advice before for sure, now it is time to start implementing it! It could be as little as one hour per week for busy postdocs and staff, or 2 hours daily for PhD students who need to write a lot but have been procrastinating. Start with two hours first thing in the morning, then add another 2 hours later in the day. For some of my clients we come up with the writing schedule that consists of 1 hour every day first thing in the morning. It is fairly individual, but it has to be a well defined FINITE time, and it needs to be regular, even if it is short. There is a saying: "You can write a book in 15 min a day". So start shifting how you feel about your writing from avoidance and resentment to befriending your writing and checking in with it on a regular basis, adding a bit of writing every time.

There is one particular aspect of this writing ritual, or writing session, that we need to discuss. You need to remove all the distractions for this hour. Close e-mail, Twitter and Facebook, put the smartphone into flight mode, change the status on skype to unavailable: it is just for one hour, you will survive and the world will survive without you, and for that you'll get to do one hour of focused work. During this hour you can type up as many as 300 to 500 words, produce a few figures or write figure captions for all your figures in the paper. Our brain has not evolved to deal with all the amount of information and all the technological distractions that we have now going through our head on a daily basis, so if you are struggling with it, it is not your fault, and it is not because you are not good enough, it is because... it's too much for our brain. Switch off everything for one hour and get your writing done.

The other plague for an academic is being constantly distracted by other people, be that your colleagues or students who come to your office to ask a question or ask for help, or someone talking loudly in your shared office. Again, if you are struggling with it, you are not alone, this problem exists for many academics, in different Universities, countries and continents. And you can deal with it by hiding from everything and everyone just for this one hour you are going to work on your paper. This could mean going to an empty class room, library, or a café, or writing at home first thing in the morning before coming to work. We even joke with my clients, that to be able to write your paper you need to become a master at hiding from everyone and everything!

There are a few other things that we discuss often with scientists regarding procrastination and writing: allowing yourself to write imperfectly, becoming aware of your negative thoughts and how they are getting in your way, challenging your limiting believes that are slowing you down, and finally the importance of measuring your progress and staying accountable. Check out my blog posts for more strategies in those aspects.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

I use two simple tools that might sound old fashioned but they work great for me! It's a year planner (a laminated paper version that you can stick to a wall in your office) and a week-to-view year calendar (also the paper version and it's A5 format).

The week-to-view format really helps to be more focused and productive, as it gives you an overview over the whole week, and still gives you enough space to write down your daily appointments (including your writing!!) Some of us only do the daily to-do lists, missing out on the advantages provided by the weekly planning. Here is the tool I use in addition to the week-to-view calendar, I call it Weekly Summit, and you can read about it here and download it here.

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

No I don't.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

  • The ability to break down a big goal into small doable tasks.
  • Being imperfectionist, allowing myself to take small steps imperfectly and also to write an imperfect draft or create imperfect figures for discussion with colleagues or supervisor.
  • Ability to use small windows of time to get a few tasks done, being it writing a paper or any other priority that usually gets pushed to the back burner because we are "so busy and don't have time".
  • Having a victor mindset, and constantly working on my confidence and challenging limiting believes and rules that I've created for myself that are no longer serving me.
These skills helped me in my research career and made the last years of my career super productive allowing me to juggle it while looking after 2 young children: those years were marked by an award of an international prize for my contributions into the area of my research, publication of an extensive review article as a single author, and publication of several high profile papers with me as a co-author.

The same skills are now at the core of my career as a coach and help me balance working in my business, helping 1000's of people around the world and also remaining an involved mom for my three children.

What do you listen to when you work?
Nothing. I like to practice a complete focus.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I am into self-help books! So I just finished reading The dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner. A great insight into unhealthy patterns we get stuck in with our colleagues and parents. A very recommended book for all women in science! I've just picked the book called The big Leap by Gay Hendricks, I've read it a while ago, and I feel it is now time to re-read it.

I read for a bit every day when I get a quiet moment, for example when children play in the living room, they like me to be there, so I sit on the sofa and read and watch them play from time to time. Sometimes I get the time to lay in bed in quiet and read too. I also make sure I take the current book with me on my journeys, I'd read on the train or plane, and I get to read much more during holidays.

What's your sleep routine like?

12am to 7:30am most of the days, in addition most of the days I get to have a half an hour to an hour nap in the afternoon. I feel that 7-7.5 hours of sleep at night are just not enough. Ideally I'd like to sleep for 8 to 9 hours at night but with my current work arrangement (I do my client calls at 8am and 9am most mornings) and my children staying up late until nearly midnight, I only get 7-7.5 hours of sleep. So I need to be a bit more creative with catching up on sleep because of the work and the children's arrangements. I manage to clear time most of the days to have half an hour to an hour nap in the afternoon, which is a bit easier to do while working from home. Also once a week I'd sleep in in the morning until about 10am. Also once every week or two I'd go to bed early (8 or 9pm) asking my husband to look after the children and I'd sleep until morning. I take sleep seriously and it feels like these arrangements allow me to get the sleep I need.

I feel that many scientists have a sleep deprivation, and when you are a parent the situation can get even worth. The productivity and performance can really drop from the lack of sleep and there are also long term negative effects. The importance of sleep and how to make time for it is something we discuss often in my coaching calls with scientists.

What's your work routine like?

I value my morning hours and use them to get my creative work done. This is usually 8-11am. During this time I have 1 or 2 coaching calls with the clients and I also work on my writing and other creative projects. The rest of the day is less structured, and I schedule my work around my children's rhythms and activities. I'd usually get another 2 hours of work done, inserting a few focused sessions between spending time with the children at home, strolling by the sea, or driving them to their activities. My own physical activities such as a yoga session and running with my local running club are also non-negotiable.

The number of total hours is less than full time work, but I feel that by focusing on my work during short periods of time I can get more work done than in a full working day. Also, this is how I define my own work-life balance: spending 4-5 hours a day to work, and spending the rest of the time with my family, or doing other things I love. I know that the children will grown up soon, and I want to spend more time with them now when they are little. I believe that each person can define their own work/life balance and focus on what is important to them, and this is something I help scientists do as well.

What's the best advice you ever received?

Have a vision of what is that you want to create, have a dream and go for your dream! Even if right now you don't know all the details, or you can's see all the steps you'll need to take, start taking the steps before everything is aligned, and the resources and the opportunities will appear as you move along. It is important to know you WHAT, get clear on you WHY, and start taking steps without worrying too much about the HOW, the HOW will reveal itself as you progress.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

PhD Defenses around the world: a Defense in Northern Ireland

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Dr Carole Trueman to share the story of her PhD Defense, Dr. Trueman is a recent PhD graduate from Northern Ireland. She has started an educational consultancy business called Clarity Consultancy NI. Carole’s business offers bespoke training, accredited courses, and business / educational research and consultancy services. As well as this, Carole offers advice and support to students on their university assignments and career options. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook

I never thought I would be able to say that I enjoyed my PhD defence (or viva as we call it in Northern Ireland). I had been told horror stories, from the viva that lasted six hours, to the student that was so nervous they couldn't say a word! Now, I know these were extreme cases but I didn't hear too many stories that were pleasant.

I knew that I was going to have a hard time, my supervisors were openly honest that my thesis was not perfect. As my viva approached I did considerable preparation. This is an important part of the process. I re-read my thesis highlighting key points / buzz words and also wrote a paragraph on the general argument from each chapter. I ordered viva cards and prepared answers to each question and practiced them orally to be confident in my answers. I asked my supervisor to point out the weakest parts of my thesis so I could practice justifications for them. I searched many websites for additional questions that could be asked and I read viva preparation books such as Nathan Ryders book "Fail your Viva". I was prepared, I had always been told "to fail to prepare, is to prepare to fail". I even had a mock viva with my supervisors a couple of weeks before the viva, which helped as it highlighted the areas that I was uncomfortable with, which I worked on improving my answers for. As suggested to me, the night before my viva I did not study. Instead I relaxed, pampered myself and tried not to think about what was ahead of me.

The morning of my viva I was very glad that I allowed my supervisor to attend, as I wasn't alone, it was a comfort. My panel consisted of my external examiner, internal examiner from my university, and a member of staff who chaired the viva. Although it was formal, I was extremely lucky as both examiners were lovely and put me at ease straightaway. There are a few general questions to start with for example summarising my thesis, what motivated me to carry out this research and which theories and research most influenced my work. I expected the process to be intimidating but it was instead more like a professional conversation with people who were genuinely interested in my work. It was lovely to share ideas, thoughts, future plans, and I even asked their opinions on aspects of the research. Yes, I was asked difficult questions, but nothing that I could not answer. There were some I paused for a minute to think about, and some I had to ask the examiners to repeat but that was ok, it's better to take time than rush an answer! I did justify my research and the routes I took but I was open to their ideas and changes that I could make. I was questioned about my conclusions in particular and the panel came up with very interesting ideas on some improvements I could make. My viva lasted 1 hour 30 minutes approximately. It was quite short and I didn't know if that was good or bad. I had to wait in an office next door to the viva room and await my fate. I had to wait 20 minutes which trust me felt like a lifetime. Eventually I was called back into the room and told that I had passed with minor corrections. I was that shocked I asked the chair to repeat what she said! Everything after that is a bit of a blur (which is another reason it was nice to have my supervisor with me)! I just couldn't believe it was over.

I had a lovely defence, but one key thing that got me through and gave me confidence in my work was this advice I kept telling myself - "No one knows your research better than you do, you are the expert of your PhD".

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

PhD Defenses around the world: a defense in neuroscience from Australia

Today, Kirsten Coupland is sharing her experiences of the PhD defense with us. Kirsten completed her Bachelor of Science with first class Honours at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. She then worked for a year as a research assistant under Dr. Carol Dobson-Stone at Neuroscience Research Australia investigating the role of copy number variations and miRNAs in frontotemporal dementia. She was fortunate enough to be offered a PhD position in the same lab under the co-supervision of Assoc. Prof. John Kwok to investigate the interaction between lifestyle and epigenetics in non-inherited forms of neurodegenerative disease. She is currently employed as a postdoctoral researcher at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden and am working with Assoc. Prof. Helena Karlström to develop diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for the identification and treatment of a familial form of vascular dementia. When she's not in the lab, she likes to get moving. Stockholm is a beautiful city to explore by bike, kayak and foot! Twitter @KirstenCoupland

Unless you’ve visited Australia, it is pretty difficult to comprehend how far away it really is. When I tell colleagues in Europe that an 11-hour flight to southeast Asia only gets me half way to Sydney, they are shocked. ‘Half way?! I thought Australia was much closer!’ is what I usually hear. The distance isn’t the only thing that shocks. In Australia, we have a very different PhD format to the Bologna system. For starters, you don’t need to complete a master’s degree to do a PhD. It means you finish with a couple of extra years under your belt, but a smaller research track record. In addition, government funding for PhD positions is capped at 3.5 years. Your supervisors can fund some additional time (as mine did), but the University starts to get a bit nervous if you don’t look close to finishing at around the 4-year mark. Finally, to complete your PhD you need to submit your thesis. This is done with minimal fanfare. You literally deposit your thesis at the graduate research school, or whichever department manages the souls doing a research degree, and it is sent out to two external reviewers who then review your thesis as though it is a massive journal article. This is usually done anonymously. There is no oral defence, there is no grilling by your thesis committee. Instead you receive an email some time after depositing your thesis with a score ranging from ‘Accepted as-is’ to ‘Significant further work required for thesis to satisfy requirements of PhD’. You then have the opportunity to respond to the reviewers and, in the most dreaded of scenarios, perform further lab work. The system varies a bit University to University (some require publications, others don’t), and I want to share with you exactly how my thesis defence went down.

I handled my PhD defence in a bit of an odd manner. Before I even started writing my thesis I set about securing a postdoc for myself. Having a job to go to before finishing my thesis was possibly the smartest and dumbest move I made during my PhD. On the plus side it set an absolute deadline; I had to move to Sweden to start my work at Karolinska by February 2015, and it took some of the pressure off writing a ‘perfect’ thesis. I had a job; that’s the goal after PhD right? On the downside, I probably could have used an extra couple of months to more carefully put my thesis together. It was a bit sloppy, as evidenced by the comments I received from my reviewers. In the end I deposited my thesis at the graduate research office two weeks before flying to Sweden. This meant that I received my reviewers comments while in my new position. This was a bit of a nightmare to be honest. I was rebutting my thesis while trying to get to grips with a new role and new project. The rushed submission meant that I had totally botched one of the chapters (wrong figures referenced in the text) and I spent many weekends in the office writing my rebuttal. Tears were shed on more than one occasion. In the end my revisions were accepted and my PhD was conferred without fanfare; I received an email whilst at my desk here in Sweden.

The rebuttal process, while time-consuming, was fantastic practice for journal article rebuttal. I had the time to carefully examine my reviewers comments, incorporate them where I felt it was warranted or find literature to reinforce my stance. Furthermore by having external reviewers rather than local or internal reviewers, my thesis was reviewed by global experts in the field who provided valuable feedback that was incorporated into more than one subsequent paper.

Having experienced the far more ceremonial PhD defence system here in Sweden, involving months of administrative deadlines and an oral defence in which you are grilled by an external opponent, I can definitely see the pros and cons of the Australian system. I loved (read: hated but learned from) the written rebuttal, and had access to the minds of two prominent researchers in neuroscience and epigenetics. Time and financial constraints are perhaps less tight in other countries and would have made for a less stressful submission. Overall, no matter the PhD defence format, you will learn, and you will be glad when it is over.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Research and maternity leave: My story (part 3)

In previous posts in this short series of entering motherhood as a research, I described the challenges I faced during my pregnancy. Even though I had a textbook-perfect pregnancy, and quick and painless labor and delivery, I had my share of struggles: I was so tired during my pregnancy, and it took me some effort to accept that I would not be seen lifting heavy barbells while being very pregnant - which had always been what I expected from myself.

Just like I had some misconceptions about pregnancy, I did not know what to expect for my maternity leave. I had 12 weeks of maternity leave, and they flew by. The first weeks I spent in my home country, arranging my daughter's paperwork, before returning to Ecuador for the remainder of my leave. My expectation was that, since I wouldn't be that tired anymore, I'd be able to resume workouts right when my gyn/ob gave me the green light. I did not expect that I'd be planning (well, planning is not a good word here, as there was little to plan) my entire day around the feeding times of my baby (sometimes just 20 minutes apart), that I'd still be very tired, and that leaving the house without the baby would be a logistic nightmare, involving sitters and figuring out where and when to pump.

Returning to the box did not happen - and it still has not happened. I joined a 30 day yoga challenge during my maternity leave, and managed to find some time for yoga (with the baby) while I was on leave. As I returned to work and my days got even busier, that time for myself went through the window. My maternity days was filled with growth spurts and cluster feeds and nappy changes and accidents and endless laundry. I thought I'd have time for leisurely strolls with the baby and coffee dates with friends, but very little of that came into existence. I thought I'd have time for pampering myself in the spa.

Clearly, I had no idea of what to expect of life with a newborn. I've nominated myself for the title of the world's most clueless mom. To my defense, I did not have younger siblings, my sister does not have children, and babies were always a very abstract thing to me. I had never changed a diaper until my baby's first diaper change in the hospital. I positively know nothing about parenting. I thought newborn babies were boring because all they do is eat and sleep - never did I imagine I'd have so much fun with my baby. But here I am, momming around as best as I can.

As I didn't know what to expect for life with a child, I had informed all my students and coworkers about my maternity leave, and told them I coudn't promise I would work on anything during my leave. That was a smart move, since somewhere between weeks 3 and 10, Adeline did not sleep and would nurse up to every 45 minutes at night, so my brain was very foggy. I had to do some work though - journal editors can't wait a few weeks when they send you the print proofs of your article.

My first work-related activity after my maternity leave was a conference in the USA, so I had to prepare my presentations and revised version of my paper during my maternity leave. It was nearly impossible to get anything done with my baby around, so at some point I had to ship her off to my sister-in-law to get any work done. I also had to make sure there was enough food for the baby for the days I'd be gone, so I spent a few weeks trying to get the hang of pumping and building a stockpile of frozen milk for my absence. Double electric pumps are extremely hard to find in Ecuador, so I struggled with a single electric of poor quality until somebody could bring me a better pump from the USA. I found that pumping at 4 or 5 am ("stupid o'clock") was the only thing that worked for building the stockpile, and it was exhausting.

Since I also wanted my maternity leave to be a special time to spend with my little human, I enrolled in a baby massage class and took some postnatal mommy-and-me yoga classes. I'm glad I did so, as I wouldn't have had the time for these when returning to work. I tried to enjoy spending time with my cloud of love as much as I could, but sometimes I felt the pressure of all the work accumulating in my mailbox. Some people were kind enough to reply to my out of office reply notifying them about my maternity leave that that is very nice and everything, but that they have something really urgent that I need to take care of right now. I never deactivated the notifications of my mailbox on my phone, and in hindsight I probably should have done so.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Research and pregnancy: My story (Part 2)

This post starts where my previous post about my academic work throughout my pregnancy ends. For your reference, I also wrote a post with some advice related to doing academic work while being pregnant, and here you can read my reply to a reader who worried when would be the right time to have a child if you want an academic career.

As I am writing this post, my wonderful little baby is already four months old - and I finally manage to write about the third trimester of my pregnancy. I was planning to write this post towards the end of my pregnancy, and since everybody told me that a first child usually comes past his/her expected date, I thought I still had plenty of time.

When I went for my checkup at 39 weeks of pregnancy (on a Thursday), and she was still in breech, the doctor said I would have to go in for a scheduled c-section next Wednesday. He told me to confirm on Sunday, as my husband would be arriving from Ecuador on Saturday. Breech delivery is forbidden for a first child in the hospital where I go. I was worried, especially because of the amount of paperwork we'd need to take care of before returning to Ecuador with the baby. I couldn't imagine running around government offices while trying to recover from major abdominal surgery, and then dragging 10 suitcases to the airport while not being allowed to lift anything.

But my little rebel decided otherwise. With a speedy labor and delivery of less than 2 hours, she was born less than half an hour after I arrived to the emergencies of the hospital. Originally, they planned to do an emergency c-section, but things moved along so fast that there simply was no time to get started before Adeline arrived. Sorry hospital policies! Looking back on that day, there were some signs that something was happening, but since I didn't really experience pain or discomfort, I didn't pay much attention to it. In fact, I wrote a conference paper while I (apparently) was in labor *___* By the time I got settled into my hospital room with my newborn, I had the proofs of a paper in my mailbox and the notification that another paper had been published. So far for combining academia and pregnancy/childbirth.

Most of the third trimester of pregnancy was uneventful. I went to a conference in April, and while I thought I had a red face and was wearing maternity dresses, nobody made any comment about it - they must not have noticed. Then, in May, I returned to Delft. By then, I had become a bit 9OK, a lot) clumsy in my movements. We had to furnish my studio in Delft, and let me tell you: assembling IKEA furniture when you have a rugby ball sitting in your abdomen is not very practical. But somehow it all worked out.

From mid May to mid July, I worked on my research in Delft. I was more tired than the other years, and didn't work out at all, besides biking my commute (10 km in total) every day. I couldn't do lab work or field work, but there was some nice desk research that I could do. I also had to take the long train ride to Belgium frequently for medical checkups. Towards the end of my annual research stay, I was extremely tired though. I remember that the last 3 weeks were tough. At some point, I went home at 4:20 pm. And even though I had been at work since 7:30 am, and thus had a regular workday behind me, it felt like slacking. During those weeks, I took a nap of about an hour right after coming home from work. I literally walked in the door, dropped my backpack, and crashed into my bed. The tiredness of pregnancy, combined with the discomfort at night, had exhausted me.

During the third trimester, I didn't worry about reactions of colleagues anymore. The last conference I attended was when I was 34 weeks pregnant, and it was nice to have many international colleagues come to congratulate me on the pregnancy. It also turned out to be a conversation starter - people telling me about the maternity leave rules (or lack thereof) in the country where they work, or tell me about the adventures of their kids. It was heartwarming.

What I did worry about during those last weeks was my baby's position. I must have read every website that mentions "breech baby". The doctor told me to be on hands and knees as much as possible, so I spent my entire evening on hands and knees. I kept trying to feel where her head was positioned. More than anything, I wondered if I had done something wrong: Did I not exercise enough? Or did I exhaust myself too much on the bike? Was it my personality (there's a theory that claims some moms have a "breechy" personality)? Is it just because I, too, was a breech baby and it runs in my family? I tried everything possible to make her turn, and everything my gyn/ob said there was no medical reason for her to be breech and that she would turn, but at every appointment she was still sitting happily with her head close to my heart. Admittedly, I was so obsessed with her position, that sometimes at work I had difficulties concentrating.

In the end, all went well, and on July 22nd 4:28 am Adeline was born with perfect (10/10) Apgar scores. She's been the light of my eyes ever since she was born, and the love that I feel for her, since that first moment when the midwife passed her on to me, is beyond words. In a next post in this series, I will write about my maternity leave, and after that, I'll chronicle my adventures as a working academic mom to a newborn.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to use LinkedIn as an academic

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!


LinkedIn. The website may sound to you like a place for consultants and other folks in the industry. You may consider ResearchGate and your blog as your online venues of choice. Perhaps you prefer to interact on Twitter. Maybe you once made a profile on LinkedIn when you were an undergraduate student, and then never updated it. Wherever you are, I'd recommend you to build and maintain a profile on LinkedIn. For academics, LinkedIn can serve the following purposes:

1. Become findable
Sometimes, your profile page on your institution or your blog can become more difficult to find. Your LinkedIn profile can be a good tool to monitor and manage your personal online brand. It can be a source of consistency as you switch institutions. Use it to have your most important information and specialty online, and keep it updated.

2. Have your elevator pitch online
Your summary on LinkedIn is your online elevator pitch. Use a paragraph to summarize where you studied and worked in the past, your current position, and your service appointments if these are important in your field. Keep this summary updated in the same way you keep the summary of your resume updated. Whenever you are invited somewhere as a speaker, you can simply copy and paste this summary for your introduction.

3. Use it to keep in touch with contacts
E-mail addresses are unreliable, especially for early career researchers. If you move from short-term post-doc project at one institution to another place, it can be difficult to keep in touch with your contacts. I use LinkedIn as my digital address book - and one that updates itself all the time. The only drawback of this approach is that it may be harder to get a response from a colleague when he/she has a profile, but actually doesn't use LinkedIn at all. Whenever I receive a business card, I search for the name in LinkedIn, and add this person as a contact - business cards get lost easily, but a LinkedIn profile connection can stay (provided that a contact doesn't block you or deletes his/her profile). An added plus is that you will get notified when a contact has a birthday, changes jobs, or has a job anniversary. These occasions are always good to touch base.

4. Digital CV
Consider LinkedIn your online CV. Update it regularly, and add the information that you have on your CV: educational background, work experience, honors and awards, language proficiency, skills and publications. Moreover, you can link LinkedIn to other services such as Slideshare to showcase your presentations, and to Publons to have your verified peer review record visible. If your graduation is approaching, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date, does not have spelling errors, and gives a good overview of your contributions to the profession.

5. Participate in groups
Just as with other social media, you can join groups on LinkedIn, and participate in these groups. You can ask questions, and/or answer questions. If you are getting towards graduation and consider a job in the industry, interaction in professional groups can be an excellent way of getting noticed.

6. Follow institutions and companies

You can follow business pages on LinkedIn (institutions and companies) to keep up-to-date with some important players in your field. These pages can notify you of open positions, and give you a general idea of the culture of a certain institution beyond what is available on their webpage. The same holds true for other social media platforms, which are all less static in nature than a website.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Q&A: What does my job look like?

A reader recently asked me the following question:

Some of the language we use here (South Africa) is a little different. Could you clarify what you mean with 3:3 or 4:4?. If you are teaching 3-5 courses, is that full semester (half a year) courses? Or 'just' involved in some way with the course? Is it repeat classes? Or 3 - 5 completely different modules?
Particular relevant is then what else is on your plate. Do you also supervise thesis work of other students, work on your own credentialing, research and publish, admin etc?

My answer was as follows. You can also have an insight into my days here:

Dear Kerry, thanks for asking! In Ecuador we have 3 semesters: Fall, Spring, Summer (short semester). I used to teach 3 courses in Fall (mid august - mid december) and 3 in the Spring (January - May). Each course is 3 hours of class a week (2 times 1,5 hours), and we don't have TAs (unless the course has more than 40 students - I never qualify for this). So I do all the teaching, grading, and course material development. There are courses that I teach each semester, but it can also be that I have to set up a new course. Once, I had two modules of the lab class, but generally these are 3 different courses. In addition to that, we all teach in the final course (a preparation for the comprehensive graduation exam or thesis course - students can chose the thesis option or final exam option here). We also tutor first-year students, and I am the academic supervisor of the student chapters of the ASCE and ACI. Besides that, I do research and publish. I have limited administration duties - I try to avoid admin as much as I can, but there are always department forms and reports that need to be prepared. I hope this gives you an idea of what my work is composed of.
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