How I Fail S01E03: Eric Joy Denise (PhD’13, Sociology)

For this post of How I Fail I’m profiling Eric Joy Denise, who is a Black queer feminist intellectual activist and sociology professor at University of Richmond. They are the editor of – a weekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed.

1. Thanks for joining the How I Fail series! Please introduce yourself and if you already have any “failure statistics” you would like to share.

I am an Assistant Professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia. I am a scholar, broadly defined, placing importance on research, teaching, and service, as well as the connections among these domains of the academy.

I am currently on a yearlong research leave following a successful mid-course review. While remaining productive, submitting 4 papers to journals, I felt set back by the rejection of every manuscript by 1 if not 2 journals. Rejection after rejection set the stage for me to feel as though I was failing all around, and that I would have nothing to show for a year’s leave.

Though so much rejection at once is new for me, I am no stranger to journal rejections. One article was rejected five times before receiving a favorable revise and resubmit decisions from the journal in which it is now published. One of my forthcoming articles was previously rejected after an R&R at one journal, and desk-rejected from two other journals. I’d say I have an equal number of articles that were published in the first journals to which I sent them and that were rejected from multiple journals before they were finally accepted. Overall, it still feels like a crapshoot, not knowing whether a manuscript fits in an article, will be liked by reviewers, will pique the interest of the editor, will overlap too much with a recently accepted piece or fill a gap in the journal, and so forth.

2. Do you keep track of your failures?

I’m no different than the average academic here, at least until recently. That is, I try to avoid dwelling on my failures – because they feel exactly like that, rather than minor setbacks or growing pains or lessons in living. It’s much easier to see how failure fits into the larger narrative in hindsight. I do believe I differ from others, however, in intentionally celebrating my successes. Specifically, at each year’s end, I make a list of all that I have accomplished in both the personal and professional domains. For, just as I tend to numb myself to by losses, I also tend to overlook or downplay my wins. So, this end-of-year reflection helps to remind myself that I accomplish quite a bit – and probably can stand to recognize that more so I stop pursuing project after project and service opportunity after service opportunity to prove to myself that I am worthy.

This past year’s end, I experimented with reflecting on failures alongside my successes. I even shared it publicly, though I acknowledge I was more generous with my wins that my losses. (I’m only human, and an imperfect one at that.) I doubt this will occur outside of new year’s resolution and old year’s reflection activities, as reflecting on how I’ve failed isn’t something I’d like to do often. But, there is an overall sense of growth, overcoming, and hope that comes from directly engaging with lessons I’ve had to learn by screwing up.

3. What do you think about sharing failures online?

I appreciate the failure-CV idea – it’s a rather brave and noble act. It helps to normalize failure in academia. The reality is rejection is the norm. If a journal touts a 8% acceptance rate, that means the overwhelming majority of papers will be rejected immediately, after the first review, or even after subsequent reviews. Grants, jobs, positions, and other milestones in academia likely carry similar odds of success. Being the best, beating out your competitors, is a bizarre feature of our profession. So, sharing those wounds publicly is pretty courageous.

But… I think it’s cute when privileged folks do something to prove a point, but ignore that the stakes are much higher and the rewards are much lower for those who are disadvantaged. I actually never read the failure-CV that went viral because I (correctly) assumed its author was a white man, probably senior level faculty at an ivy league school. (Well, apparently he’s an assistant professor, but even a tenure-track position is a pretty cushy gig considering the majority of PhDs are in exploited contingent faculty positions.) After it was first published, I began seeing critiques of his efforts as nothing more than an exercise of privilege, or that he’d only be able to get away with airing his failures because he was incredibly successful. So, that confirmed that I didn’t need to bother reading it. And, I didn’t until recently.

I have a reputation for being outspoken and sharing potentially professionally damaging information online. But, I would probably never make a concise list of all of the ways in which I have failed in my career. In a year, I will be applying for tenure; as an assistant professor, I do not want to make it easier for my colleagues to pinpoint my failures. Academics are hypercritical people; while airing my failures would be a noble act, it opens me up to be further judged and criticized. “Oh, they only published that in that journal because it was rejected from four other journals.” “Wow, they applied for that three times before they got it? I got it on the first try.” I suffer from playing the same comparison game. So, as someone who currently lacks job security, and is additionally vulnerable by virtue of being Black, queer, and outspoken, I’d rather not play with fire (or failure) anymore than I need to. Sharing my failures won’t help me professionally (and actually could hurt me) and it does nothing to liberate fellow marginalized people.

4. What do you do when you receive a rejection?

When I receive rejections from journals, I read the reviews immediately. I curse the reviewers for being idiots, for not realizing I couldn’t do the things they wanted to see in the paper. I curse the editor(s) for not giving the paper a second chance with a perhaps harsh R&R. I make an impulsive plan to submit the paper elsewhere without changing a thing, because those reviewers didn’t know what they were talking about. Then, I put the reviews away for at least a week, or perhaps more if I was in the middle of working on another manuscript. Rejection stings, but over time I have come to see them as just part of the long process of peer-review and publishing.

While it is never my plan to get rejected, reviewers typically offer advice that will increase the likelihood of success at the next journal. It still frustrates me that over half of the comments are useless (anger may be exaggerating my estimate here…), but I recognize that the reviewers have identified one or more fatal flaws – at least for publishing in that journal. And even that sentiment – it’s just a rejection from this journal – reflects an evolving, more balanced reaction to failure; often they have nothing to do with the content or quality of my paper and, instead, may be any number of other factors that I cannot control.

5. What about when you receive good news?

Good news is immediately shared online, with my partner, and with anyone who supported me in achieving that win. Successful outcomes require a lot of work and patience, so they indeed warrant celebration when they happen. And, then I update my CV – personal copy, on my website, and on And, I stare at the new line on my vita for a minute or two to let it sink in. Then, the critical voice in my head gets louder and I go on to do something else.

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

As I reflect, no specific rejection comes to mind as particularly hurtful. Some have temporarily made me mad because they felt unfair, and rejection closes the line of communication so I am unable to defend or explain myself. But, I just improve what I can and submit elsewhere. One journal’s rejection is another journal’s acceptance.

But, thinking of failure on a broader sense, not simply as concrete outcomes, failing myself by not being authentic has hurt the most. In getting swept up in the elitist, competitive, impact-factor-obsessed game of academia, I am embarrassed to admit that I have made many decisions to excel that went against my sense of self, my identities, my politics, my values, and my goals as a scholar-activist. I have failed myself (and my communities) by conforming or “souling out” because the normative or mainstream path in academia demands it. This has left me doubting every decision that I have made (like working at a liberal arts college) and feeling disconnected from my work. I am making strides toward getting back on the path of authenticity in my career, but only after years of struggling and distress. Conforming was the worst thing I’ve done in my career.

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

Breaking ties with my grad school mentors was a hard, yet inevitable step in pursuing a self-defined career as a scholar-activist. I was literally traumatized by my graduate training. The constant microaggressions, efforts to “beat the activist out” of me, and the questioning of my career choices left me weepy and filled with doubt in my first year on the tenure-track. I had to suck the poison out of my life in order to define this new chapter of my life for myself. This was a huge success for me; but, of course, I’d never list “broke up with my grad school advisors” on my CV!

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

Given that failure is as common, if not more so, in academia, it should be normalized. A positive first step would be to openly share the ways in which we fail, and not only when we are successful enough to “compensate” for those failures or when we are privileged enough to weather the risks of such vulnerability. Rather than regularly celebrating our long lists of achievements, we could talk about our careers as journeys with wins and losses. We only fuel perfectionism-induced anxiety in others when we introduce invited speakers by reading an obnoxiously long bio that is just their CV disguised as prose. (Though, I’m sure that is the point.) Sharing failures tells others how you overcame them and finally became successful; failures are a part of the story of success. It is much more inspiring, in my opinion, to hear how you got knocked down over and over but kept getting back up. I can learn something from the person who had to cope with and overcome failure, not much from those who (supposedly) succeeded on the first try.

But, we can’t ask academics to become vulnerable if the risks of doing so remain high. We can’t ask others to share how they screwed up if we’re only going to judge them and, worse, allow those judgments to influence formal evaluations of them. I suppose one way to change the hypercritical, competitive, judgmental climate would be to celebrate scholars’ journeys rather than just their wins. Maybe we could celebrate that it took 5 years to publish an article because it kept getting desk-rejected and not just the impact factor of the journal in which it is published. Or, celebrate the personal backstory of an article, like persevering despite a neglectful, abusive former co-author, and not just that it was published and will be widely cited. What I’m suggesting here is a fundamental shift from celebrating our journeys, perhaps in a qualitative sense, and not just quantifying success, contribution, and impact. Indeed, these quantitative assessments fail to acknowledge stark disparities in academia.

9. What is the best piece of advice you could give to your past self?

To my past self, I think that one piece of advice would have spared me a lot of stress and heartache: live your truth, tell your truth. Success by someone else’s terms is not nearly as satisfying as failure on my own terms.


If you have any suggestions regarding this series, please leave a comment below. You can also join the weekly newsletter if you want to make sure you won’t miss any posts!

Firsts: organizing a workshop (part 1)

Last week I heard that our workshop, LABELS, was accepted as one of the satellite events at MICCAI 2017. This is not the first time I organize a workshop, but I remember that as a PhD student, I had many questions about workshops. In this post I summarize some things I learnt so far that might help if you want to organize a workshop as well.

What is a satellite workshop?

In my field there are two types of workshops: stand-alone workshops or satellite events.
The stand-alone workshops are more flexible and are basically mini-conferences, but are also more work for the organizers. The workshops I co-organized (FEAST 2014, FEAST 2015 and now LABELS) were all satellite workshops.

Usually, a large conference will have several workshops associated with it. The conference organizers will send out a “call for workshops” or “call for satellite events”, inviting others to submit proposals. The proposal contains information about the workshop topic, the organizers, the invited speakers, how you plan to structure the day (talks, posters) etc.

After the deadline of the call, you wait for a decision. If accepted, the conference typically takes care of the logistics: location, registration, coffee breaks etc. The workshop organizers are responsible for the workshop website, inviting speakers, selecting papers, leading the day itself and publishing proceedings (if applicable).

Who organizes workshops?

Anybody who wants to! Perhaps explaining this is a bit of an overkill, but I do remember thinking that workshop organizers were very well-established scientists, who received special invitations from the conference organizers. When a researcher I was working with suggested we could organize a workshop together, I think I wondered whether we would be “allowed to”.

Of course, the “call for workshops” is already one hint that you don’t need a special invitation. As for being very established scientists, I don’t think that is a requirement. Of course, it’s good to have somebody more senior/experienced on the organizing committee. But it’s not a prerequisite for getting the workshop accepted.

For example, in 2015 as organizers we were one postdoc (me) and two junior faculty, and the workshop was accepted at an important conference in machine learning. In 2016, we submitted a similar proposal (to another important conference), but it was rejected* even though we all had more experience by that point.

*Here I should mention that the acceptance rate for workshops is a bit higher than for papers or grants. You don’t always get to hear the statistics, but in 2014 or 2015 we were among the 90% or so of accepted workshops. The time that our proposal was rejected, the overall success rate was about 50%: much less than 90%, but still not bad.

How to get started?

If you haven’t organized a satellite workshop before but would like to, here are some ideas to get started:

  • Think about which conferences you will probably attend, and study the workshops already organized there to get some ideas.
  • Are any topics missing? Do you know any people who you could team up with, and organize a workshop around that topic?
  • Are there any workshops which have different organizers each year, or perhaps haven’t been organized each year? Contact a past organizer to find out if there are plans for a new edition and offer to help.
  • Ask your supervisor or other researchers (not necessarily at your institution) if they have plans to organize a workshop, and if you can help out.

In the next post I will talk a bit more about some specific tasks related to organizing a workshop, like deciding on the content, inviting speakers, etc. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences with organizing workshops, and if you have any other tips you can share with others!

How I Fail S01E02: Steven Shaw (PhD’91, Psychology)

How I Fail: Steven Shaw (PhD'91, Psychology)
How I Fail: Steven Shaw (PhD'91, Psychology)
For this post of How I Fail I’m profiling Steven Shaw, an associate professor who blogs at ResearchToPractice and tweets at @Shawpsych.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. What are you doing now, what did you before to get here?

I’m an associate professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at McGill University in Montreal, director of the Connections Lab and Graduate Program Director of the School/Applied Child Psychology program.I got my Ph.D. in School Psychology from the University of Florida in 1991. Before entering academia, I had 17 years of experience as a school psychologist in school, university, hospital, medical school, and independent practice. My research interests include pediatric school psychology, improving education of children with rare genetic disorders and autism, advancing concepts in evidence-based practice, and development of resilience skills in children at risk for academic failure.

The picture is pretty much what I look like most days. In my basement, at a standing desk, looking grouchy, and editing.

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

I started to do it, but have recently stopped. I’m now to the point where I don’t really think of these things as failures. Rejections and unfunded grant proposals are simply part of the progress that moves toward success.

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

I think it can be instructive for many people. It can be an effective tool. Like most of these sorts of activities, if it is useful for you and your students, then it is worthwhile. If not, then I do not think this is a requirement. We certainly need to get rid of the idea that rejections and unfunded proposals are embarrassing or a sign of failure. I have no difficulty with any of my rejections being made public.

4. What do you do when you receive a rejection?

I don’t really think of most rejections as failures. It is just a method of improving the quality of my work. Given that the majority of submissions are rejected or unfunded, a rejection should not come as a surprise. The hardest part is to help students understand this. I usually read reviews and decision letters immediately. And then I let it sit for at least two days. I estimate how much time it will take to address the concerns of reviewers and either put that in my schedule or delegate those tasks to co-authors. The only part of the process that has changed is that I don’t really get upset and there is not an emotional component to the process. Sometimes rejection used to make me upset.

5. What about when you receive good news?

Nothing really changes. I just move on to the next project. However, if the paper is in large part due to student work, then I make sure that the lab celebrates their collective success. I am much more excited about the development of new ideas and data support for new findings. That is when we celebrate. Whether a paper is accepted or a grant funded is not something that we have full control of.

6. If you would have a CV of failures, how would it compare to others in your field?

I have no idea. I really don’t think about what other people in my field do. I really just focus on my work and making it better. If the activities that I engage in are valued, then I will have a job. If not, then I will find something else to do with my time and energy.

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

There is some frustration when I have tried my hardest and done the best work of which I’m capable and that is still not good enough. That is usually the time that I know I need to develop a new skill set, seek out mentoring, or make changes in my process. The failures that hurt me the most are when students do not have success. When students fail or receive an unsatisfactory evaluation from me, then that is a failure on my part and a failure that hurts very much.

8. Are there any opportunities you didn’t take that you wish you had (so you could add them to either your normal or your regular CV)?

I am sure that there are, but I can’t think of anything specific. Things generally work out as they should. My success as a scholar and value I provide to my field are only minimally related to my CV.

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

Probably media interviews. I’m frequently asked to be on television and radio for interviews and been interviewed by newspapers related to parenting and education. Those activities probably reach more people and have made more of a positive difference than anything I’ve published in a refereed publication.

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

I like to use neutral language when writing editorial decision letters. For example, I never
write the word “reject.” I will say that “the paper is not currently ready for publication.” Take the emotion out of failure experiences and use productive feedback to continuously improve.

11. What is the best piece of advice you could give to your past self?

There are a few things. First, smile and laugh a lot more. Second, I have learned that the work is not about me, the process is about the work and how it can affect others.


If you have any feedback regarding this series, please leave a comment below. You can also join the weekly newsletter if you want to make sure you won’t miss any posts!

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 page by changing it to, say,, 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 For the name, try your first name (like Felienne at, or your whole name, if it is easy to remember (like Noeska at 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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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
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