5 pages to add to your academic website

Previously I wrote about getting your setting up your own academic website in WordPress and installing some helpful plugins. But once you have all that, what content do you actually add to your new website? Of course, you are probably going to have pages for your CV (possibly split into different pages for research, teaching etc) and your publications. In this post I cover a few other pages I like to see on people’s professional websites. I admit I do not have all of these yet myself – but I’ve provided a few nice examples of those who do.

1. People

A “people” or “team” page is a list of people you collaborate with or have collaborated with in the past. See this example on the website of Peter Gehler. I like this for several reasons. First of all, it is a sign of your appreciation of the people you work with. Another advantage is (if you are more senior) that this provides useful information for potential new hires, as they can see what previous people you have worked with went on to do.

You might argue that you need to have your own group first before you start such a page, but I beg to differ. Even if you are a PhD student, chances are you are working with others – so you could just list them as collaborators! There are no rules as to who you are “allowed” to add, as long as you ask the person.

2. Contact

A contact page might seem superfluous if you have your contact details on the front page, but there is more to it than just your email address. In particular, you can let people know how you prefer to be contacted (or not?). For example, if you want to keep your inbox sane, you might give a few tips for for people contacting you, like Philip Guo and Michael Ekstrand.

3. Highlight a project

Next to listing all your projects/publications, you might want to highlight a particular project of yours – a publication, book, or a category of your blog entries – by giving it its own place in the menu. For example, Philip Guo has a link to his memoir “Ph.D. Grind” , Lauren Drogos links to entries in her “Women in STEM profiles” category and Noeska Smit has a page featuring her thesis.

4. Resources

Resources pages collect, well… resources, like books, blog posts (whether written by yourself or not), software, etc, that are helpful to you and may be helpful to others. For example, Raul Pacheco-Vega has a page with his most read blog posts on organization and academic writing, Tim van der Zee has a list of tools for skeptical scientists and Natalie Matosin has tips for PhD students and postdocs.

5. Interests

Don’t be afraid to show a little bit of your personality, and make a page for something outside of your research. You could go for a collection of photos, like Hal Daume III (who has a pretty awesome website in general!), or a page for a specific interest or hobby, like Sebastiaan Breedveld’s page about tea or Sarah Nadi’s page about baking.

I hope these examples give you some inspiration to start adding pages to your academic website! If you have any other websites you’d like to share, please leave a comment below.

How I Fail S01E01: Eva Lantsoght (PhD’13, Civil Engineering)

How I Fail: Eva Lantsoght (PhD'13, Civil Engineering)
How I Fail: Eva Lantsoght (PhD'13, Civil Engineering)
For the first post of How I Fail I’m profiling Eva Lantsoght, who inspired me to do this series with the “How I Work” series on her blog.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. What are you doing now, what did you before to get here? What do you like to do in your free time?

I’m a Full Professor and Researcher in Civil Engineering at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador, and a part-time postdoctoral researcher at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. I’m originally from Belgium, and did my M.Sc. in Civil Engineering at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium. Then I went to the United States for a M.S. in Structural Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. I returned to Europe for my PhD in the Concrete Structures research group of Delft University of Technology. In my free time I run a blog for PhD students and academics, PhD Talk, I play music (cello and vocals), and I do crossfit and yoga.

2. Do you keep track of your failures (rejected papers, grants, job applications…)? Why/why not?

I keep track of my rejected journal papers. I have a Google spreadsheet that I use to have a quick overview of the status of my different papers (in progress, in review, …) and ideas for future papers, and in that spreadsheet I use a color code. One of the colors is for “rejected paper but submitted elsewhere”, and another color is for “rejected paper, need to take action.” Since I’m never deleting any paper from this list, I simply keep the “failures” in there. I don’t do the same for rejected abstracts for conferences, perhaps because an abstract feels much smaller than a complete paper.

For grants and job applications, I don’t keep track of failures, but I must admit that I haven’t had rejections in those yet (but I’ve only applied to very small research grants at my university).

3. What do you think about sharing failures online? Are there disadvantages for researchers who do it?

The first time I tweeted that I received a paper rejection, I had a discussion with my husband. He thought it made me look bad. I think it is just part of life in academia, and that if I only write and tweet about the things that go well, I am not authentic. I can see both sides of the discussion though, so I think that, given the incredibly high expectations and standards in academia, it is uncommon to talk about failure or share these online. It shouldn’t be – we should be more open about how hard some steps in an academic career can be, but at this moment, we aren’t; and the odd ducks that speak up may be eyed with suspicion by some.

4. What do you do when you receive a rejection? Do you have some process/ritual of dealing with failure?

Not really. If it’s a rejection of a journal paper, I look at the comments of the reviewers, make changes to the paper, and submit it elsewhere.

5. Did you know about the amount of rejection in academia before you started your PhD or your current job? Did this knowledge influence your career decisions?

I learned about it when I applied for universities in the United States for my second Master’s and for scholarships. That was the first time I became aware of the small chance of me getting funding, and getting into a university. It didn’t influence my subsequent career decision though – I guess the research virus had already taken a good grip of my body by then.

6. Do you think there is such a thing as a “fair” amount of rejection? Do you think you have been rejected more or less than others in your field? What factors do you think influence this?

In my field, the rejection rate for journal articles is about 66%, and for graduate school applications, the number sits between 66% – 85%. I’m not sure if 66% is a fair number, but that’s what I have as a reference. I’ve been rejected less than the average for my journal papers – just calculated it as 23%. Part of it must have been a stroke of luck with the reviewers, and part of it is that I’ve worked very hard on my writing over the past few years.

One important element for this relative success, I think, is that we have been doing unique experimental research in Delft over the past few years, and that it is “attractive” work to publish. I’ve noticed that it is harder to publish about my new research topic (field testing), as the majority of the reviewers need to be convinced that what we are doing is not “standard industry practice”. Similarly, it has been more difficult for me to publish from smaller research projects that I carry out at USFQ; the results simply are not that spectacular and we lack resources to bring experimental support to desk research or theoretical studies.

7. Can you share some examples of failures which hurt the most, and why that was?

The first two times a journal paper got rejected! For the first rejection, one of the reviewers was really sour, and I guessed between the lines he/she had some conflict with my supervisor. The second rejection came from an additional reviewer after I had resubmitted a fully revised a manuscript. I thought I had made the reviewers happy, but then the additional reviewer came in and completely broke down my work – by misinterpreting my results. I really wanted to shout at my screen: “Noooo, my paper is not about Failure Mode X but about Failure Mode Y!!”

8. Can you share some failures which, in retrospect, were useful learning experiences?

I guess you learn from each failure? Ever paper rejection is an opportunity to submit an improved version elsewhere.

9. Are there any opportunities that you regret not taking because you were afraid of failure?

No, I’ve never been held back by failure. I’ve always tried, and had a plan B in case plan A does not work. But to my surprise. Plan A has worked in a good number of occasions.

10. Can you think of something you accomplished that felt like a success, but you wouldn’t normally add to a CV?

When one of the BSc students who graduated under my supervision gets admitted to graduate school, I feel so proud. I feel proud of the student, of course, but also a bit of myself, as I’m actively helping our students to continue their studies abroad. Similarly, I sometimes receive mails from readers of my blog that a certain post I wrote really helped them get through a difficult time in their PhD – something like that makes my day/week/month.

11. Is there something we can all do to improve how failure affects others in academia?

Ease up a bit and be more supportive of each other. Be more open about failure rates. Stop thinking everybody else is out there to come and compete against you, and that you need to stop them in their tracks before they get “better” than you.

12. If you could time travel, what is the best piece of advice you could give to your past self?

My past self that just started in academia? To worry less (and imposter-syndrome less, if that’s a verb). To my much younger self: spend more time with your family and friends – you’ll miss them sorely when you start living all over the world.

***

I’m very happy that Eva agreed to be interviewed for How I Fail, as well as a few others I have contacted so far. If you don’t want to miss any posts, please sign up for my weekly newsletter in the menu on the left!

5 useful WordPress plugins for your academic website

Last time I wrote about setting up your own academic website with WordPress. In this post, I would like to share a few plugins that will improve your website experience from day 1. For me, these plugins simplify my blog-related tasks, and help me focus on the content.

1. Jetpack

Jetpack is a very versatile plugin with awesome features that improves the responsiveness of your blog. One of the features I really like is its understandable statistics. I have Google Analytics, and have done a few tutorials for it, but I don’t find it very user-friendly. Jetpack shows me what I’m most interested in: how many people go to my blog, where they come from, and where they go next.

Most popular pages of the month, by Jetpack.
Most popular pages of the month, by Jetpack.


Other options I’m using are different widgets which make finding and sharing content easier, like the “related posts” below, and the social media buttons.

2. iThemes security

WordPress has a few security problems, so what I like about iThemes security is that it pretty much eliminates these worries. The options I particularly like are:

  • Sends me an email with a back-up of my WordPress database
  • Sends me a summary of security events, for example if somebody trying to gain access
  • Allows hiding the veronikach.com/wp-admin page by changing it to, say, veronikach.com/goawayhackers, so that the login page cannot be misused

iThemes has a free and a paid version. I have the free version, which includes all the options above.

3. Akismet

Akismet is excellent for filtering out spam comments. I have several WordPress websites, and on the websites where I don’t have Akismet, the amount of spam is annoying, plus it increases the risk of you accidentally deleting a real comment!

For personal websites, Akismet has a “name your price” plan – I think the minimum amount is $5 per year, which is nothing compared to the time it saves.

4. Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO is a search engine optimization plugin. SEO is not something to be worried about when you are starting out with a website, but the plugin has a feature I absolutely love for writing blog posts. It gives you an immediate assessment of the readibility of your post. It looks at characteristics like sentence length, paragraph length and so forth, and gives a grade: – Needs Improvement, OK and Good.

I typically write my posts in Evernote, and do only the editing in WordPress, trying to get at least an “OK” grade for each post. Like all plugins, Yoast SEO has a free and a paid version, the readibility feature is free.

Yoast SEO readbility feature
Yoast SEO readbility feature. I often use too long sentences.

5. Nimble Portfolio

Nimble Portfolio is what I use on my publications page (update 2020: I’ve switched to using a plain page for this one, the plugin was still great though!). Rather than using a separate page or post for each publication, it uses portfolio items, which is a different content type. Because of this, it’s easy to display all the publications together, all the publications with a particular tag, and so forth. I’m using the free version of this plugin.

Some of my publications as portfolio items
Some of my publications as portfolio items

If you liked this post, you might be also interested in:

If you are looking for some inspiration, you might like my other pages about academic websites:

How to quickly setup your own academic website

In this post I share how to quickly setup your own academic website, by buying hosting, a domain name, and installing WordPress. As there are many tutorials already on how to do these steps from the technical side (and things might differ between providers), this is more of an overview if you are considering this approach. 

This post does not cover why you should have your own academic website, or why you should pay money for it. Yes, this is not a “how to quickly setup your own website for free” post, but don’t worry, all of this can be done for less than 10 EUR per month. Also, this is not THE only way to setup a website, but this is the way I have done it for several websites in the past, including this one. So, I’m assuming you already decided already you want your own professional website, and you think the website I have is decent 😉

Step 1: Decide on a domain name

Since you are going for a professional website, the best bet is probably some-variation-of-your-name.com. For the name, try your first name (like Felienne at felienne.com), or your whole name, if it is easy to remember (like Noeska at noeskasmit.com). If neither option is possible, you have to be a bit more creative. Whenever I say my last name out loud, I add that “it starts with C-H” in an attempt to remove some confusion. So, that’s why you are now on veronikach.com.

Why .com, you ask, if you are not a company? Yes, .nl is cheaper, and .net is prettier, and you can even get lots of cool alternatives, like .science. But the people who will want to go to your website, will probably type “.com” anyway, so just help them out. You can always register additional domains later 🙂

Step 2: Buy domain name and hosting

Since I’m assuming this is your first own website, you will want to buy both a domain name (around EUR 10 per year) and some hosting. Most hosting providers offer both – I’m currently quite happy with Siteground, where the StartUp package will cost you from 6 EUR per month, Bluehost has some cheaper alternatives. 

When buying a domain name, most hosts will offer you the option to anonymize yourself as the owner of the domain. I did not do this, since it is clear that the website is about myself. However, the data you enter will be visible to people who look up your domain. So I would recommend using your work address/phone number. 

Now, go ahead and proceed with the checkout. After a few steps, you should be the owner of your very own website. Congratulations!

Step 3: Find the administration panel

Once you get an email with all your hosting details, there should be instructions on how to access different options of your hosting package, through a tool like cPanel or DirectAdmin. 

With SiteGround, I just log in with my customer details on their website, and go to the “Websites” tab. Each website has a “cPanel” button next to it. 

Step 4: Install WordPress

CPanel has lots of interesting tools to improve your website, but now we want the WordPress autoinstaller. 

 

 

 

 

 

Here a number of defaults will already be filled in. Most importantly, don’t forget to enter a valid email address, and to store your username (this should NOT be equal to “admin”) and your password in your password manager. 

You can leave the other settings at their defaults and click “ïnstall”!

Step 5: Add some content!

Now your WordPress website should be ready! Login with the username/password you just created and explore the WordPress dashboard. Edit the pages/posts that are already created by default, and you have just setup your very own academic website!

Maybe your website is a bit basic now, but that can change very soon, as WordPress is easy to customize and there are a lot of themes and plugins available that you can install with a few clicks. If you are looking for some inspiration, you might like my other pages about academic websites:

Year in review: 2016 – postdoc year 2

A review of 2016 already, you might wonder? Yes, although I usually write these reviews way too late (see 2015, 2014, 2013…). But Twitter made me want to write about my plans for 2017, so I felt that I first had to get the 2016 review over and done with!

2016 was not a very good year for me. This is mainly for personal reasons, which I prefer not to get into. But thanks to the support of several people, both offline and online, things have been getting better. And despite impaired productivity during the year, some awesome things happened, so I share these below.

Job search

Around the start of the year I received a rejection for the first ever faculty job I applied for. So, 2016 was going to a year of job applications. On paper, I did not apply to many jobs until getting a position, but this issue was on my mind often and I spent a lot of time on it. I was aware that I might not find an academic position, and didn’t have a problem with that. As I was searching online, I also looked at alternatives. But, I gave myself a deadline – 3 months before finishing the postdoc – to start applying for those positions, and concentrated on the academic positions first.

I applied for three faculty positions after that – one in Netherlands and two in the UK. Although I wasn’t offered either of the UK jobs, I was invited for interviews, which already felt like a success. Because of this I think I quite enjoyed the interview process, it was just a new experience that I was learning something from. I also applied for two postdoc fellowships and one travel grant to go to Germany, but was rejected for all three. And as my personal deadline of widening my job search came close, I was offered the position in the Netherlands.

Papers

I had no papers accepted in 2016 related to my postdoc project, which is a bit painful. I submitted two papers to MICCAI, but both were rejected. The idea was to turn them into journal papers, but due to various delays those still have not been submitted yet.

But there were also good news in terms of papers. I had my first paper on crowdsourcing accepted at a MICCAI workshop. I have already collected data for extending this paper, and I can’t wait to get started on the analysis.

Collaborations

I have been collaborating with two PhD students during the year. They both submitted their journal papers about our work, which I think will be accepted in 2017. I very much enjoyed these collaborations and hopefully one of these will continue in 2017 as well.

I was also very lucky to supervise Dylan, a student of game design. He turned the crowdsourcing application I was working on into a game – he tells me a blog post on about this is coming soon 🙂 This project was also very exciting and I really hope it will be possible to continue developing the game in the future.

These collaborations were definitely one of the best parts of the year, and I’m very excited that I got a job where I will get to do this more.

Events

This year I organized two meetings of the Dutch society of Pattern Recognition, with a great turnout each time. I didn’t really attend any conferences. In April I was planning to go to ISBI to present a paper (accepted in 2015), but unfortunately I had to cancel the trip. In October I wanted to go to MICCAI, but I only had funding to go to one of the workshop days. Although I wasn’t there for the conference and spent a lot of time travelling, it was definitely worth it.

I also had the pleasure of visiting amazing people and giving talks in Heidelberg, Copenhagen and Paris.

Little things

Finally, I’d like to mention a few other things that made my year more positive:

  • advice I’ve received regarding my future job
  • the community I found on Twitter
  • thank you messages from people who appreciate this blog

Thank you all – I’m looking forward to more research, conversations and blogging in 2017!

5 apps that improved my productivity in 2016

Less than a year ago, my “How I work” setup only included Gmail, Google Calendar and Wunderlist. After reading Getting Things Done, I started listening to podcasts that focus on productivity, like The 5 AM Miracle and Beyond the To Do List. In the process, I started discovering apps and trying them out. In this post I present the 5 apps that improved my productivity and that are staying in my “How I work” process.

1. Podcast Addict

Of course I used Podcast Addict to listen to the podcasts above. This helped me not only by teaching me things about productivity, but by motivating me to walk more (so that I could listen to the podcasts). Although I was spending more time on getting to places, the exercise + fresh air helped me to focus afterwards.

2. Evernote

OK, I had Evernote before listening to the podcasts, but I didn’t know how to organize it and therefore didn’t use it. One example of how I use it now is for writing these blog posts! I have a stack of five notebooks for this:

My Evernote notebooks for writing blog posts

In “Online: pin or tweet” and “Online: write about” I keep all the articles, threads on Twitter etc that I saved with the Evernote web clipper, and I think might be interesting to share with others. Once I pin, tweet or write, I move the note to “Online: done”. In “Writing: drafts” I keep blog posts ideas, which eventually grow into blog posts. Then I move these to the “Writing: done” notebook.

Given my difficult relationship with blogging and weekly posts for the last two months – a personal record – I’d say it’s working!

3. Streak

Streak is an app that integrates seamlessly with Gmail and has lots of awesome functionality. I use it to (1) achieve inbox zero (2) keep track of your contacts.

For (1), I use Streak to “snooze” emails. This means that I archive the email, but it’s moved to the inbox again at a later date. For example, I snooze emails to register for events. If it’s December, but the event is March, and the deadline to register is in February, I will snooze the email to late January.

For (2), I use Streak to keep track of people I have contacted, or might want to contact at some point. Currently I do this for people who have emailed me with questions about my papers. If I have an important update on the project (for example an error in my code), I can simply send an email to the whole group.

4. Focus @ Will

Focus @ will is a radio you can listen to, but with music (or sounds) that are supposed to help you focus. There are a few channels with different types of music/sound, and you can just press play and pause, or set a timer so that it stops playing after X minutes. I usually use it with the timer, Pomodoro-style. I can’t say if it’s really doing something to my brain or if it’s the placebo effect, but it’s been pretty effective so far!

5. Habitica

Habitica is a habit-tracking app, a bit like a todo list for things you’d like to do regularly, like exercising every day. I tried to create daily tasks for these activities in Wunderlist, but I didn’t like this approach. The main reason was that I didn’t know how to deal with doing the activity more, or less than I am supposed to.

For example, if I missed a day or two of exercising, I had two choices. The first is leaving the tasks unchecked, i.e. doing doubling/tripling the amount of exercise on another day, which is not very realistic. The second is checking the skipped tasks off, which is incorrect. The same goes for doing extra exercise: did that mean I could skip exercise the day after? Not great if you are trying to develop an “exercise every day” habit.

In Habitica, instead of done/not done, you have a character with overall statistics like health. Here’s mine:

And here are some of the habits I’m tracking:

They are all green, because I did them today! By doing habits, the character gains experience and coins. If you don’t do a habit for too long, the character’s health goes down. To be honest I don’t know the details of how this works yet, but I like the layout and the habit-tracking part!

Any other apps?

I like trying out apps, so if you have some that have helped you out, please let me know!

Year in review: 2015 – postdoc year 1

It seems to be a tradition already for me to write my “year in review” posts a year or more after the reviewed year (see the reviews of my first, second, third and fourth years as a PhD student). Today, although 2016 is drawing to a close, I will be reviewing the year 2015, or my first year as a postdoc.

PhD student to postdoc

In January 2015 I started my postdoc at the Biomedical Imaging Group Rotterdam at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands. I already knew the group a little bit, and the location was close to where I lived, so it did not feel like a major transition. I also was continuing a project related to my PhD, and my PhD defense was still six months away. So at first, being a postdoc was not all that different from being a PhD student.

What was different, is the fact that I was on a two year contract. I was aware I would need to find my own funding. Besides travel grants, I haven’t obtained any funding (in the Netherlands, PhD positions are fully-funded 4-year contracts), so I wanted to learn more about this. Luckily, my supervisor asked me to help out a colleague from a different department, who was applying for an internal 1-year grant. Unfortunately the grant wasn’t funded, but it gave me useful insights into the grant writing process.

Independence?

Although at the start of 2015 things didn’t feel very different, there were two events in 2015 that made me feel more independent (or perhaps, more like a real grown up).

In March, I moved to Rotterdam, into an apartment which I bought all by myself. By that I mean that I was the only owner, I of course needed to get a mortgage. But the fact that I was “allowed to” buy an apartment, and that a financial institution trusted me with a mortgage, felt pretty awesome.

In June, I defended my PhD thesis! The defense day was amazing and I’m thankful to everybody who joined that day. I first gave a short presentation, featuring my cat Buffy:

After this, I was joined by the committee and answered questions for an hour, which is a tradition in the Netherlands. The first question was actually about cats! Answering it helped me find my confidence and the rest of the hour went well too. After a short deliberation of the committee, I got my diploma and became a Dr!

Grants

While 2013 was a year of writing papers and 2014 a year of revising them, 2015 definitely became a year of writing grants.

In August, I applied for the first “big” grant I applied for as the main applicant. The grant was called “Open Mind” and called for original ideas. I spent a lot of time brainstorming, and made it to the finals. I did not get the grant, but the idea really felt mine, and formed the basis for several other proposals I would write later.

After this, I felt that I might really have a shot at getting my own funding eventually. So I applied for the internal 1-year grant, and for a tenure track fellowship at Delft University of Technology. These were both rejected, and Delft even managed to reject me twice.

Now that I think about it, perhaps applying for all these grants, even without getting them, also contributed to me feeling like a “real researcher”.

What about papers?

In the middle of all the grant writing, I did work a bit on the project I was hired for, although not as much as I should have. From the start I wanted to work on two applications. I submitted a paper on the first application only 2 months into my postdoc, but it was rejected at MICCAI, then rejected at a MICCAI workshop, and then finally accepted at ISBI.

The paper on the second application faced a lot of delays, the first being my attempt to implement a part of the method by myself, rather than use an existing implementation. So, in 2015 I didn’t have anything to submit yet.

There were also good news regarding papers. When my thesis was approved, three papers in it were under review, and these were all accepted before my defense. One of these was a MICCAI paper, which I presented (as a poster) in October in Munich, Germany. I also had a workshop paper on a PhD-related topic accepted, and presented it in Copenhagen, Denmark just a week later.

What else?

There are a few other things on my 2015 list that don’t fit into the categories above. I gave talks about my research and about my career, organized a workshop at ICML, joined the board of the Dutch society of pattern recognition and reviewed a lot papers.

I also went on vacation, which I’ve been doing throughout my PhD as well. According to my 2015 overview, I was away from the office for 4 weeks. Of these, I spent 2 weeks working from time to time (but never full days), and 2 weeks 100% in vacation mode.

Take-aways

I did a lot of things, but too little research. I didn’t follow the 20/80 rule. In other words, I didn’t concentrate on the 20% of tasks, that will bring me 80% of the results in the future: writing papers. But the other 80% were useful in other ways, like contributing to my feeling of independence, so I don’t really have regrets. The three pieces of advice I can extract from this year are:

  • Don’t do too many projects at the same time
  • Fail as fast as possible
  • All (even “unproductive”) experiences are useful

On getting a tenure track position

As I announced a few weeks ago, I am starting as an assistant professor in the Medical Image Analysis group at the Eindhoven University of Technology.

The tweet is a bit of a technical announcement, but it encodes much more than “I have a new job”. Since I’m not good with threads on Twitter, I decided to share a few more feelings about this over here.

1. Excitement

I get to do research and teach and learn from others for the next 5 years! How amazing is that? I have so many ideas, I can’t wait!

2. Relief

I get to have a job for 5 years and don’t have to apply for positions for like, a very long time! I started looking for my next position halfway through my postdoc, which was a job in itself, and did not reflect well on my postdoc project. A few things were not really going well for me in 2016, so the news about the position couldn’t have come at a better time.

3. Fear

I worry they will discover I’m an impostor and they should have hired somebody else. I try to reassure myself by thinking that if I’m an impostor and they are the the real deal, they should have figured out that I was one already. But I also worry about just being able to handle it all.

4. Guilt

As many other researchers are forced out of academia, I feel guilty for “surviving” while having a “good, but not excellent CV” (citing reviews on some of my rejected grant applications). I didn’t have to deal with hundreds of rejections – I applied to four jobs, interviewed for three, and was offered one. Sure, I worked hard, but I think luck and privilege played a big role.

5. Hope

I get to be one step closer to maybe one day being able to change things, just a little bit.

Join me?

Over the past few months I came across profiles of people who recently started, or are starting their new jobs as assistant professors in 2017. I wonder if they are feeling the same things. So I thought, maybe we can start this thing where we meet online once a month or so, and share our experiences as we go? Please get in touch (email me, reply on Twitter or send a direct message) if you want to join.

 

Update 19th December: 

All fields are welcome and you can also join if you like this idea but started before 2017. I imagine we will a structured meeting once a month via Google Hangouts or Skype, and a private group (Google+, Slack?) for discussion in between meetings. I will gather names/emails for 1-2 weeks until we are with 5-10 people, and then I will send out an email with more details.

Defending propositions: where to find inspiration

Colorful trees in autumn in Japan.

This is the fifth post in the propositions series. If you don’t know what I mean by “defending propositions”, you can read the introduction here.

Now that I’ve discussed a few of my propositions (here, here and here), I thought I’d share a bit more about the process of generating ideas for propositions, and give some advice on how to make this process a bit less painful.

Write ALL your ideas down in ONE place

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s very important piece of advice that will make your life easier. I say ALL ideas because the moment you think “could this be something for a proposition?”, you need to capture it. Even if you seconds later realize that probably it’s not, it might give you ideas later in the future. I say ONE place because I kept my ideas in a LateX document, which meant that the writing down only happened when I was using my computer. Of course I made occasional notes on my phone, on a paper I was reading, on beer mats… In many cases I probably forgot that the idea was there. If I had to do it all over again, I would use an app like Evernote.

Find examples

Learning is easier with labelled training data. Find examples of propositions that have been already defended. Unfortunately, like PhD theses, the propositions do not get uploaded to the university library, so they are a bit more difficult to find. A few places to start are:

  • Offices of more senior academics. They accumulate a lot of PhD theses, which, if you are lucky, still contain the loose piece of paper with propositions on them.
  • Blog posts. The best way to start is to look at Project #TweetProp, started by Felienne Hermans. This was continued by a few others, who Eva Langsoght writes about in in this post.
  • Collections of propositions. There are two books (both in Dutch) that I know of: Beste stellingen zijn van hout Paard van Damocles. Although the first book appears to be in stock, I wasn’t able to order it back in 2014, so my guess is that it will be even more difficult now. I did manage to find a copy at the university library though.

Join Twitter

I regret not doing this during my PhD, as Twitter now daily gives me lots of ideas, but it’s never too late to start. You don’t even need to post anything. Just get an account, see who is talking about, for example, #PhDChat, #AcademicSelfcare, #AcademicKindness and follow accounts which shared something you strongly agreed or disagreed with. Soon your timeline will be filled with lots of articles, opinions, memes… you name it!

Think back

Think about advice you received from others, whether it’s in a conversation, email, or maybe a talk you listened to or a book you read (and yes, write it all down). One way to start is to think of a book you liked (it doesn’t need to be advice books, any fiction or non-fiction book will do) and to search for quotes from it on Goodreads. I was really inspired by quotes from Anathem, a fiction novel where one of the major themes is philosophy of science. Since I’m giving advice here anyway, I think reading Anathem might belong to my top 10 “things to do during your PhD” advice.

Get frustrated

Find an (academic) friend, get a coffee or a beer, and talk about all the things that frustrate you. People who only treat you well if they want something from you? Researchers that don’t share their data or code? Reviewers that reject your paper because you reported, you know, ALL the results and not only the best ones? Write them down. Then imagine a utopia in which you can decide how everything in academia gets done. Write that down too.

Relax

Don’t think too hard. Let your mind relax, and it will surprise you when you least expect it (or probably, in the shower).

Defending propositions: curiosity and cats



This is the fourth post in the propositions series. If you don’t know what I mean by “defending propositions”, you can read the introduction here.

The proposition

Today I want to talk a bit my last – and my favorite, proposition:

Lack of curiosity killed the cat

The timeline of my propositions shows I only came up with this one at the last moment. After revising the propositions several times, I was a bit stuck, yet I still needed fresh propositions. To get out of my local minimum, I tried changing up my sources of inspiration. Before I relied mainly on my own notes and examples of others’ propositions. My new strategy was to search for articles on topics like “qualities of a good scientist” in hopes this would trigger new ideas. And it did!

I’m sad to say I no longer can find the original article, but one of the qualities it listed was curiosity. I proceeded to have several lightbulb moments as I was attributing behaviors of different people to (lack of) curiosity. But I knew that a statement like “Curiosity is an essential part of doing research” would not cut it, so I had to dig deeper.

I then thought about the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat”, which implies that curiosity is a negative quality. Wikipedia told me that the entire saying is, in fact, “Curiosity killed the cat, but the satisfaction brought it back”. A bit better, but still not very positive. I then did a Google Scholar search on “curiosity” and “cats”, and, lo and behold, found this 1966 (still paywalled!) paper:

In this study, the researchers compared how “curious” different animal groups were. The researchers placed unknown objects in the animals’ habitats and measured how much the animals interacted with the objects, for example by sniffing them. The responses were the highest for primates and carnivores, which included wild cats. The paper then discusses how animals adapt to their environment, for example if their usual food source runs out. Curiosity – considering whether an unknown object could be an alternative food source – could then make the difference between survival or extinction of a species. It is therefore,

Lack of curiosity killed the cat.

My cat Buffy: "Is this food for me?"
My cat Buffy: “Is this food for me?”

 

Defense

To top it off, this proposition helped me have an awesome PhD defense / viva. The first question asked to me by one of my opponents was to explain the proposition. That was great, because I had prepared a slide with figures from “Curiosity in Zoo Animals” in advance. As I started talking, I felt my confidence growing, and it didn’t go away for the rest of the defense, after which I could call myself Dr. 🙂

%d bloggers like this: