Tenure track in the Netherlands

By popular demand, today’s post is about my tenure track position which I started 3 years ago. Although I intended to give an update of how my tenure track is going, there’s a bit of background that’s relevant to share, so this post is only about my experiences when I started. Also, recently I’ve had a few questions from future tenure trackers, so I’m sharing my answers in case it is useful to others.

Starting conditions

As I’ve also explained in my “student or employee during your PhD” post, all academic positions in the Netherlands work with fixed pay scales. You can find these here, below I also added a screenshot of some of the scales.

These numbers are all before tax and per month. Various secondary benefits also apply.

Assistant professor positions are in scale 11 or 12. Typically a starting assistant professor would be in scale 11, and in scale 12 after tenure. The Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH) reports that 50.8% of women assistant professors are in scale 11, versus 40.8% of men.  

When I started at TUe, I was initially offered scale 11.0. However, I had already been in scale 11 as a postdoc, and my institution was a medical center, with slightly higher pay scales. Due to this I was offered 11.3, which just matched my previous salary, and which I accepted.   

There was no start-up package – I think this in general isn’t a thing in the Netherlands, although I do see this being offered more frequently now.

Contract & tenure conditions

The tenure track contract is a temporary contract for 5 years. After 4 years there is an evaluation which decides whether you get tenure or not. If yes, you get permanent contract, if not, you are still employed for a year. There is also a (less formal) midway evaluation after about 2 years, to prepare for the real thing.

The criteria for evaluation are described in various documents. I received some general criteria on what is important for the university (for example “supervising students”), and a department-specific interpretation of these criteria. In the context of creating a personal development plan for the tenure track period, I did receive some quantifiable criteria too, of what you should aim for within 4 years:

  • Significant progress in obtaining the teaching qualification certificate
  • Responsible instructor for 1-2 courses
  • Good teaching evaluations
  • Supervision of at least 2 MSc and 4 BSc students
  • Co-author of at least 5 peer-reviewed publications in high impact, relevant journals
  • Written statement from chair about contribution to getting funding
  • Significant progress in increasing external visibility
  • Collaborations with other departments, hospitals or industry
  • Successful (co-) supervision of multiple PhD researchers
  • Examples of strong leadership
  • Examples of strong communication skills
  • Examples of independence and responsibility

A bit more quantifiable, but still open to interpretation. In my own personal development plan I translated these as follows:

  • Get teaching certificate
  • Setup and teach a first year course, co-teach in a third year course, later start developing course closer to my research
  • Supervise at least 2 MSc and 4 BSc students
  • Co-author of at least 5 peer-reviewed publications in high impact, relevant journals
  • Apply for 2 medium-sized (1 PhD or postdoc) grants per year
  • Apply to small grants, for example for workshops, when possible
  • Give talks at (local) conferences, or invited talks if possible
  • Setup collaborations with other departments 
  • Co-supervise a PhD researcher (if funding)
  • Outreach about academia through blog and Twitter 

Also not entirely quantifiable, but I also left out a few specific details here (examples of papers, collaborations, numbers of blog/Twitter followers etc).

The (midway) tenure evaluation moments consist of submitting an update of this plan and a recent CV, and then giving a presentation about your achievements to a committee of 3-4 professors.  

This is all I wanted to share for the first part of this topic – next time I’ll talk about how things are going so far. If you have any questions about this post, or anything I can address next time, please comment below!

Firsts: publishing a preprint before submitting the paper

Although I’ve been using preprints since 2013, recently I had a new kind of experience with preprints. Whereas before I would post the preprint upon submitting it to a journal, for the first time I decoupled the two events, and submitted the preprint several months ahead. In this post I reflect on this experience. 

Why

My choice was initially practically motivated. The idea for the paper was born in 2016, but since moving to a new position, I’ve been too overwhelmed to do any writing, so at the start of 2018 the paper – a survey of a magnitude I haven’t attempted before – was far from finished. I wanted a deadline, but I still wanted to be able to update the paper if needed. So a preprint seemed exactly what I needed! 

Timeline

I set the deadline to April 2018 and for the next weeks, worked towards getting the draft to a readable shape.  In April I submitted the preprint to arXiV. Differently from submitting journal-ready preprints, this time I put a piece of text inside the preprint, saying it is not the final version and I was happy to receive suggestions. At the same time, I emailed a few people with the URL asking for comments, and I asked for feedback on Twitter. This felt scary to do – I don’t think I felt as nervous with any of my other papers.

Response

Despite my fears, the experience was positive – I got a lot of constructive feedback which helped me to improve the paper. So in September 2018, I submitted the updated preprint to a journal. In the cover letter, I mentioned the Altmetric statistics of the preprint (I later discovered this is sometimes frowned upon).

Next to the traditional list of suggested reviewers, I also provided several names of people who I had no conflict of interest with, but who had commented on the preprint on their own. I figured that, since they had already read the preprint, they might be willing reviewers. Of course I disclosed this in the letter. 

Publication

The reviews came in about 8 weeks later – an absolute record for me, as during my PhD, regularly waited 6 to 9 months for reviews. The reviewers were constructive, and suggested a coufple of revisions. After revising, the paper was accepted in January 2019 – by that time already gathering a few citations and benefitting from the preprint bump

Verdict

Given this experience, I would definitely post a preprint online without submitting it to a journal first, and not necessarily because of more citations. I realized that me feeling worried about it is a good thing. I could be sure the paper would be seen by a larger group of people, who had an incentive to comment, since they could still influence the paper. This is different from convincing a few reviewers, and then maybe not having the paper noticed afterwards.

Since this paper, I have also been part of another paper that used the same strategy (and is currently under review), and I noticed other preprints putting similar “please email us” messages on the front page. It seems there is a need for interacting with preprints differently – I’m looking forward to what different initiatives like overlay journals will bring.

CV of Failures vs Shadow CV

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that the “CV of Failures” or “Shadow CV” are a recurrent theme on my blog and on my Twitter timeline. In this post I discuss why I think the two concepts are actually quite different, and why this difference is important. 

CV of Failures

The CV of Failures, originally proposed by Dr. Melanie Stefan, is mostly that – a list of things that didn’t work out. Most often I see failures interpreted as “things I tried to do but didn’t succeed”. This category includes rejections of jobs, grants and papers. Although these failures are hard, I think they are not very personal because they depend on both everybody else who applies, as well as everybody who evaluates you. 

Much less common is to include things that are more personal – something you just didn’t do (but should have). It’s often not your fault, because of how academia is structured – but in retrospect, you would have done these differently. This category includes focusing on the quantity over quality, not taking opportunities out of fear and being a bad mentor to others. Even more personal, it’s neglecting your health or people around you – although I haven’t seen many examples of people sharing this. 

Shadow CV

What is a shadow CV then? To me it is larger than the CV of Failures. While the CV of Failures focuses on things you have done (or didn’t do), there are many more things that influence where your CV or CV of Failures are today. It’s all the additional challenges faced by one person, and all the privilege enjoyed by another. 

There are efforts to take parts of the shadow CV when evaluating people. For example, in the Netherlands time off due to parental leave or illness can be listed on a grant application. But this is limited in scope and does not include, for example, chronic illness, financial insecurity or family problems. Even if you are lucky to work in a place where people are supportive – and I have been – these things are invisible to somebody deciding whether you belong to the top 10% of researchers who deserve funding.  

But the shadow CV is not only the challenges. It is also all the things you are proud of but that are not on any CV, like finishing a paper despite having a difficult year or a thank you email from somebody who’s read it. Regardless of what your reviewers say, don’t forget that these are the true successes.

 

My biggest mistake and what it taught me about the academy

One of the most read posts on this blog is “7 things I wish I would have done during my PhD“. Although none of the advice there is surprising, it seems important to hear stories about mistakes, without “how to” one-size-fits-all rules attached to it. So when Times Higher Education invited me to write about “My biggest mistake & what it taught me about the academy”, I didn’t have to think twice.

In this piece I talk about not realising the importance of mentors early on in my academic career. I can view this mistake as something that led to a CV that is suboptimal, at least in the eyes of my reviewers. But now I also realize it’s made my journey much more interesting, and I wouldn’t trade what I was able to learn in this process for a few more high impact factor publications.

I haven’t yet decided on what the best trade-off is, but would love to hear from you! Should your mentors prepare you for everything? Or do you need to experience some mistakes yourself? Let me know after you read the article, in a comment here or on Twitter!

My tenure track job search

This topic has come up several times on Twitter, in particular with #TotalToTT. I always participate in these conversations because I remember finding it so important to read stories of others when I was applying for a job. This is a more detailed summary of what I usually try to say regarding my search for a tenure track position. Note that since I was applying in Europe, positions are advertised continuously, so there is not really a “job season” like in the US.

Summary

I applied to a total of four jobs, interviewed for three, and got offered one – the position I have now. This sounds easy especially if you see the stories of people applying to 50, sometimes more than 100 positions.

It didn’t feel easy at the time. I already had problems with my mental health and spent some time on sick leave because of this. At the same time, I was also (unsuccessfully) applying for grants. Although I was not too worried about job security in general, academia already felt as an important part of my identity and I dreaded leaving.

Applying

The first tenure track job I applied for was the Delft Technology fellowship, a fellowship only for women I would compete with other women from all disciplines. I realized this application was a long shot, but since the fellowship only was given every two years, I thought I had to try. I discussed my applications with several full professors in Delft, who encouraged my to apply. But long story short, I quickly got rejected.

I then applied to two jobs in the UK. Although in my field there are quite a few jobs, I was quite selective with where I tried to apply. For example, I chose only universities that were neither too low nor too high on university rankings, only cities where I could see myself living, and only groups where I was getting a good impression about the lab culture. For both jobs, I emailed ahead to ask if it made sense for me to apply, since I wasn’t sure about the fit of my research. The responses were enthusiastic! These lead to informal Skype calls, and then invitations to interviews. This was so important for my self esteem since I felt like I was on the right track.

Interviews

I did a lot of research on each place before the interview – next to general “how to interview for academic positions in the UK” advice, I researched what other people in the lab did, looked at course syllabi and even read the strategic visions of the universities. What I felt was helpful for me, was to write down some answers to questions I was expecting. I felt that overall the interviews went well, however, since Brexit happened, I was myself unsure about willing to move to the UK. I wasn’t offered either job, but I received good feedback so overall I was happy with the process.

My deadline to start applying for non-academic positions was getting closer, when I somewhat by a combination of lucky circumstances heard about my current job. To prepare I did similar things as for the other interviews, but since the position was in the Netherlands I felt like I had an advantage. A day before my deadline I got the phone call that I had the job!

Verdict

I felt excited and relieved, but also scared and guilty about getting the offer. It’s strange for me to think that this is already almost two years ago, because I still do largely feel the same way. I am aware that luck and privilege played a big part in this process.

On the other hand, I do think that the way I prepared my CV and contacted the groups in advance were also helpful. In the end, perhaps having only a few applications was an advantage. I do think this is individual and will vary a lot per field and country. If I could give any advice, I would still encourage people to apply, but talk to others more about how much time and energy you should invest.

Reader Q&A: choosing your advisor and topic

In today’s post I’m answering some questions from readers of this blog, on choosing an advisor and research topics. As a caveat, for me both things just “happened” so I am not the best person to give advice, but I did think of some tips that could be useful.

1. How to choose your advisor?

I think the lab where you will do your PhD is the most important factor for choosing a particular position. A large part of this is the advisor, but also the general atmosphere in the lab. That being said, it can be difficult to figure these things out in advance, if you are not already familiar with the lab. Nevertheless, there are a couple of things you can do:

  • Do people in the lab have social media accounts? The absense of social media probably doesn’t tell you much, but if one or more people have accounts perhaps you can learn a bit about the lab culture.
  • Look at publications lists – do the students get a chance to publish? Are there publications with multiple students, indicating more collaborations in the lab? Do students publish on their own topics, or only extend the work of the advisor?
  • Look at videos or slides from the advisor’s talks, if you can find any – do they credit their trainees for the work?
  • Get in touch with current or former trainees of the advisor – how is/was their experience in the lab?
  • Ask questions during the interview – what are the expectations of students in the lab? Are there any group meetings (such as a journal club) or other lab activities?

2. How to choose a research topic?

In the Netherlands (and several other countries in Europe) the topic will already be somewhat defined when you start a project. However, within that topic you should still have freedom to explore different questions. Here are some things that worked for me:

  • Just start somewhere. Read papers and implement them, and be critical about what you see. Are there some limitations, for example datasets that would not be suitable for the method?
  • Start writing as soon as possible, for example your thoughts about the papers you read. Are there any trends you start noticing?
  • Talk to others, both within and outside your field. Explaining research to others can often bring you to new thoughts
  • Ask yourself, “Am I building another hammer instead of investigating whether the problem is a nail?”
  • Ask yourself, “If my work was going to change a sentence in a textbook, what would that textbook/sentence be?” (Paraphrased from talk by Robert Williamson)

As with everything on this blog, my final piece of advice is – don’t stop here, but search for more different people giving different types of advice. If you know of a great blog post, or have your own advice to share, please comment below!

Quick and easy posters in LateX

Going to a conference and have to print a poster? Here is my tip for doing this as efficiently as possible.

Since my first conference, I have made quite a lot of posters (and printed them all on fabric) The first time this was very time-consuming, but the time I spend per poster has decreased over time. My new record is from the last conference. I had scheduled the task of creating the poster on my calendar – by default all events are one hour long. But by the end of the hour, I had not only made the poster, I had also already ordered it from my favorite vendor. All I had to do was wait for the poster to arrive.

As a disclaimer, I do not have the best posters, so if you want to win the best poster award, this is probably not the advice for you. But my posters do the job. So far my experience is that it’s more important how I talk about my research while I’m at the poster. That’s 20% of the work that achieves 80% of the result. The poster can fill up the 80% of work that achieves the other 20% – with all the other things we need to be doing (writing?) the decision on not spending too much time on it is not so difficult.

My “secret” is to use the same LaTeX template and the same structure for every poster. The template takes care of the layout and doesn’t let the poster get too crowded, and the structure guides me in what content I need to add.

I’m sharing two zip files with source files for my posters – one with a TU Delft, one with a TU Eindhoven template. When I was at Erasmus Medical Center, I could not find a LateX template, so I modified the TU Delft one to use different logos and colors. These templates were not originally made by me but allow modifying/sharing as long as the copyright notice is included. Please do the same if using the templates.

Cheplygina et al – Characterizing Multiple Instance Datasets (Poster, TU Delft template)
Cheplygina et al – Exploring Similarity of Medical Image Datasets (Poster, TU Eindhoven template)

The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Dr. Eva Lantsoght’s book, The A-Z of the PhD Trajectory. The title is definitely fitting – I cannot think of any topic that was not covered.

I remember that at the start of my PhD, I got a book about “how to do a PhD”. Sure, it covered the main things like long-term planning, but I remember thinking I couldn’t really do anything with the advice.  Dr. Lantsoght’s book does not only that, but provides actionable hints on everyday habits that will help you successfully finish the PhD.

The chapters are quite modular – although there is a progression from starting to finishing a PhD, some chapters can be valuable as stand-alone reference, for example writing a literature review. In fact, many of the chapters are relevant not only to those pursuing a PhD! Although Dr. Lantsoght identifies supervisors as part of the audience, I think postdocs and new PIs who do not yet supervise PhDs (such as myself) could also greatly benefit from the book.

Perhaps the most important message I’d like to highlight is that of self-care, such as getting enough exercise and sleep. It is easy to fall into the trap of ditching these in favor of a few extra hours of experiments or writing. But in the long run, you will be more productive if you are happy and healthy. Thumbs up for voicing this message!

Multiple Overleaf projects with a single .bib file

I recently discovered that one of my biggest dreams – being able to link all my online LateX projects to a single .bib file (but without using Mendeley) – is possible!

Previously I had “solved” this problem with ShareLateX projects, by writing a script that copies my main .bib file to several project folders every hour. However, this requires Dropbox sync for ShareLateX, which is a premium feature for new users. Not to mention, it’s not ideal to do it every hour, and to have to update the script when you want the .bib file to be copied with an additional project.

Now a much simpler solution is possible with Overleaf. It’s probably been there for a long time, but I only realized this now. When you add a new file to an Overleaf project, there is an option “Upload from URL”. I thought this option would do just that – get the file from the URL and upload it. But what it actually does, is remotely link to the file. That’s the solution right there! (Thanks to Overleaf’s Dr. LianTze Lim for pointing this out!)

Here are the steps to get this to work:

1. Put your .bib file in Dropbox, set the sharing settings so that it’s accessible by anyone with the link. Copy the link

2. In your Overleaf project, Go to “Files”, then “Upload from URL” and paste the link here. With Dropbox, this link will end in “dl=0”. Change this to “dl=1”

If this works correctly, you should now see your .bib file in your project, but with a “linked” icon next to it

3. Proceed as you usually would with a bibliography file

If you are collaborating with others, the best way is probably to have two .bib files – the linked one (not writeable from Overleaf) and another one that is local to the project, for any new references. This way at the end of the project, you could move all the new references to your main .bib file.

I also tried to do this in ShareLatex, but couldn’t find this type of option. Although ShareLateX has free Dropbox sync because I’m an early user, this feature of Overleaf could have convinced me to switch (even if losing the sync). But Overleaf and ShareLateX are merging, so I’m hoping I might get to enjoy the benefits of both.

How to find medical imaging companies (in the Netherlands)

A slightly different type of post today! Inspired by Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega, who writes many of his amazing blog posts for his students, I decided to write about a question that has already come up a few times, and will probably come up again. The question is – where can I find companies who do (medical) image analysis (in the Netherlands)? This is important for students looking for internships, graduation projects, and jobs.

In this post I outline my search strategies to find such companies – especially small ones, which are difficult to find otherwise. These strategies might be useful to you even if you are searching for companies in other fields or countries.  The strategies are based on searching online, so they don’t assume you already have a network of people to rely on.

1. Who is advertising for jobs

The most straightforward way is to search for keywords on LinkedIn. If I search for “medical imaging” in the Netherlands, I get a lot of vacancies at Philips and a few at research institutions. There are also several vacancies which do not have a connection to medical imaging.

My intuition is that this type of search would overlook companies that do not have a specific vacancy, but would welcome open applications from people with the right qualifications. The same holds for internships – often these are not advertised on any website, but there might be opportunities if you contact a company directly.

2. Where are alumni working

The next place I’m going to look, is where alumni of biomedical engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) are working. Here is a LinkedIn page with alumni of TU/e.  I cannot filter by faculty here, but I can enter search terms related to the names of the programs offered, for example, “biomedical”. I can also filter for alumni living in the Netherlands, and filter by date to filter out any current students.

Now I just click on a lot of profiles, if the description suggests the person is working in a company, and screening the companies for doing (medical) imaging. This is quite a time-intensive process. There are many companies that hire biomedical engineering graduates, but that do not focus on imaging. But I did find many more examples than with the first strategy:

3. Who is sponsoring the conferences

Moving away from LinkedIn, a way that helped me discover several companies, is through sponsoring at academic conferences. The first step is to find out what the main conferences are, either from reading papers or searching online. For medical imaging I’m going to look at MICCAI, which has been running for 21 years, but also a a new conference MIDL, which is held this year in Amsterdam.

Now simply search for a “Sponsors” page and you are good to go! Some conferences (or rather, professional societies that organize the conference) also have a dedicated job page, for example the MICCAI job board. Here are the results from the sponsor pages (not limited to the Netherlands):

 

4. Who tweets about it

Of course this post would not be complete without Twitter! First I’m going to try searching for keywords, starting with “medical imaging”. If I then click on the tab “People”, I see accounts who have “medical imaging” in their bio. This list already includes several companies, for example:

Another strategy would be to look at the who follows medical imaging researchers and companies. The trick is to find an account with not too few, but also not too many followers. In this example I will look at who follows Quantib, a company based in the Netherlands. From the list of followers, I find the following:

These accounts should also give you some ideas of what other keywords or hashtags to search for.

I hope this was useful! Happy internship / job searching, and please comment below if you have other tips!

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