My goals for 2017: progress report 4 of 4

It’s already the end of December – time flies! It’s time for another quarterly review of my goals for 2017. You can find the three reviews here, here and here.

Start my new job

It’s almost a year ago now that I started my tenure track, which I am still sometimes finding hard to believe. Although not all things went as I planned, it’s been a year that I’m proud of. I’m not quite ready for a “one year on the tenure track” post (see a great one here though) but my main take-aways would be:

Submit. All. The. Papers.

No progress here. I was feeling overwhelmed in the previous quarter and decided to drop a few projects, then concentrate on finishing up other important/urgent ones (grant writing and teaching) first. This was important and effective so I don’t regret it, but I will need to approach this better in 2018 – writing is the main focus!

My writing should probably take lessons from my blogging (see below). I am thinking about adapting the idea of weekly targets that I’m accountable for to writing – perhaps weekly reports with digests of papers I’ve read, and how much I’ve written?

Write a blog post every week

Going strong for over a year now! If only I could also do this with my other writing…

 

Read at least 1 book per month

Yes! Here are the latest additions:

I recommend all of them, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would be The Productive Researcher, because I imagine I would read it again in a few months.

I recently got a Kindle which increased my reading frequency… so in 2018 I might go for 2 books per month.

Bonus goal 1: Running

This is a goal I revealed only in part 2 of this series because I didn’t dare to write about it before. In part 3 signed up for 10K. Now I am happy to report I finished two 10K races, in 1 hour 8 minutes and 1 hour 5 minutes. It was a bit tough, but definitely something I plan to do again – perhaps under an hour in 2018.

 

Bonus goal 2: Finances

Another goal that I only revealed later – reducing my mortgage from six to five figures. I was successful in doing so without too much effort, so although it’s a big milestone, it’s somehow less satisfying. What I did find satisfying was tracking my savings rate (explanation by Mr Money Mustache), which is now 50% on average.  This calculator tells me that with this savings rate I could retire in 17 years, but if I get it to say, 75%, this time is shortened to 7 years. Not really something I’m planning to do since I’m enjoying academia a lot right now, but it’s good to have options.

Bonus goal 3: Headspace

Following up on the tradition, here is another goal I had – and achieved – finishing ten packs on Headspace. I would have laughed if you told me a year ago I would be meditating regularly. Not that I don’t believe in its benefits, I just didn’t think it was for me. And it’s pretty hard. But despite being quite terrible at it (my mind has a hard time staying quiet), I do think it has been quite helpful.  This is definitely one to continue in 2018.

 

***

Thank you all for reading along this year! Perhaps this would surprise people, but I have never set such goals before, or at least never written them down. This has been a helpful exercise, even though I didn’t achieve everything I wanted. I hope to improve my process in 2018 and hope you keep reading to keep me accountable 🙂

Year of blogging

It’s been a little over a year that I’ve been blogging every single week. I want to thank all the readers for the comments and tweets, as this helped me with staying motivated. Blogging has really contributed a lot to my life in the past year, such that I regret not doing it earlier. In this post I summarize a few things that helped me stay on track.

 

1. Make it a habit

I think I started using Habitica a bit more than a year ago as well. I added a “Publish blog post” daily that would occur only on Saturdays, and my goal was that the post would be up by 18:00 Amsterdam time. I have done this every week since then (except the one time where I wrote the post but forgot to click “publish”).

Since the post had to be public by a specific time, I couldn’t risk actually doing all of the writing on Saturday, so I began drafting a few days in advance. I also had various habits, such as “Write 200 words in Evernote”, to help with this.

 

2. Do a series of posts

Earlier in 2016, but before the blogging habit, I did already blog a bit more than in previous years – in particular about my CV of failures, general tips and, interestingly, my relationship with blogging. I think these posts were infrequent because I was waiting until I would have the time and inspiration to write a whole post, which didn’t happen often.

Then came the first post after which I started posting weekly: defending propositions, a tradition in many Dutch universities. This was the start of a series of posts. None of these were popular by any measure, but they gave me a couple of very clear topics I wanted to discuss. Together with the blogging habit, this made the “what should I write about” and “when should I do it” very simple.

 

3. Share and learn from others

It has been very helpful to actually HAVE to publish the posts, which I then also shared on Twitter (really scary!). I even received some comments, which was very motivating! I also met a few people on Twitter, who were on their own blogging quests, who helped with the motivation:

 

I studied the blogs that I liked, such as PhDTalk, which originally inspired me to do this. And finally, I started listening to several podcasts about blogging – in particular I would recommend ProBlogger. It focuses on having a blog for your business, but since you can treat your career as a start-up, it fits!

 

4. Write first, cluster later

I used to struggle with not having a theme, which restricted me in terms of topics, because some topics didn’t fit to what I thought I *should* write about. This is unproductive – any writing is better than no writing! But during the “writing because it’s a habit” process, I noticed that I enjoyed writing some posts more than others, which influenced my following posts.

The topics are now more or less starting to converge. At the time of drafting this post, I had 16 How I Fail posts, 11 on habits and productivity, 7 “research hacks”, 5 progress reports, 5 posts about my shadow CV, 3 “firsts” and 2 uncategorized posts. Looking at these categories, I’ve come to the following realizations:

  •  I really like How I Fail and the habits/productivity things, so I’ll keep doing that!
  •  I really like the hacks (printing posters on fabric, travelling for conferences), but I think “research hacks” is not a good category title
  • Progress reports overlap a bit with Shadow CV, and not everything in Shadow CV actually fits under that title
  • One of the popular posts, Gift ideas, is uncategorized! It’s not a “research hack”, where should it go?

I hope to answer these questions in the coming year but appreciate any suggestions you might have ?

 

5. Look at the statistics

I really enjoy looking at the statistics provided by Jetpack. I like seeing which pages people visit more, and how I’m doing overall (visitors per month). The more posts there are, the more interesting the statistics, so increasing the sample size is rewarding too! Here is the progress throughout the year:

It’s great that the overall numbers are growing – from barely 1K visitors per month last year, to an average of 3K now. And here are the most popular posts:

How I Fail and reflections on my own CV and failures are clearly popular – alongside with the poster skirt and gifts for academics! The habits & productivity posts are lagging behind, but since they help me write, it’s not a habit I want to give up yet ?

 

Thank you all for contributing to all of this – it’s been a great year of blogging, and I look forward to what will happen in the next 12 months!

My goals for 2017 – progress report 3 of 4

It’s the end of September, so it’s time for another quarterly review of my goals for 2017. You can find the first two reviews here and here.

Start my new job

Last time I said a better name for this goal was “develop a system for working in my new job”. The “getting things done” system I described last time is still doing its job and I have even written more detailed posts about it, here and here.

But maybe the name of the goal is not so bad after all, because I realized that every time I’m still introduced to new parts of my job. Although I started in February, it was only a few weeks ago that I also started teaching, so everything feels a bit more real now. Against all the new faculty advice, we (each course is taught by two people) did setup the course almost from scratch instead of following the plans from previous years. I don’t regret this for a second. Although there is an initial time investment, it’s more motivating and I’m excited to see how we will improve the course for next year.

There were a few other “first times” that happened this quarter, all having to do with getting invited to speak or review. That feels pretty awesome! I think that next to my job title, this website and Twitter have been very helpful with that, so next to feeling valued for my work it’s nice to see that the time I invest into my online presence is also paying off.

Submit. All. The. Papers.

As probably happens to most new faculty, this didn’t happen. The counter is still on 2 out of 5. In my defense, I did actually write, but it was related to revising the 2 previously submitted papers. I have another revision due in the next quarter, so just like 2014, this year is a year of revisions.

I will be happy if next to the revisions, I can move one of the other projects along, but more realistically, I will only get to these in 2018.

 

Write a blog post every week

Still going strong! The past weeks it’s been a been difficult with travelling to a conference and teaching, but I’m glad I’ve still been able to keep it up. Although it feels like a part-time job, I’m realizing more and more that it’s meaningful for me to do this (and that I should have done it a lot earlier!), so I prioritize blogging even if I don’t feel like it.

 

Read at least 1 book per month

I finished reading “Reamde” which I started last time and am now reading “How Learning Works“. I really like reading it while I’m teaching, because I notice ways in which I could implement the advice in the book.

I guess I didn’t manage the “1 book per month” thing since Reamde took me quite a long time to finish, but overall for the whole year I’m still on track. Next on my reading list I have “Tools of Titans” by Tim Ferriss – very excited about that one!

Running

Last time I cautiously shared a goal I didn’t dare to discuss before (fear of failure?) in the beginning of the year – running.  A few months ago I had started with short and relaxed, but frequent runs. Since then, the frequency has suffered a bit, but the distances have increased. I even signed up for a 10K, which is happening this weekend – fingers crossed! (Also, shout-out to Married without Children podcast for the motivation!)

Bonus goal: Finances

I’m continuing the trend of sharing goals I had, but didn’t dare to discuss before – money. This year I set out to lower my mortgage from six to five figures. It wasn’t an impossible goal to begin with, but after reading the Mr Money Mustache blog, I got some extra motivation and completed the goal this summer. That was quite satisfying, so I decided to go bigger with the goal of being mortgage-free within five years.

If you a wondering how any of this is possible at all for junior faculty, this is in large part due to being an employee as a PhD student. I didn’t want to share this goal before because it feels weird to write about being in this privileged position, when there are so many researchers with financial problems. But at the same time I feel like I have to share my experiences to show that it’s possible. If you are interested in more details, I’d be happy to share – just leave a comment or get in touch.

My goals for 2017: progress report 2 of 4

I just realized it’s the middle of June, so it’s almost the end of the second quarter of 2017. This means it’s time for another quarterly review of my goals for 2017. You can find the first quarter review here.

Start my new job

Perhaps a better way to name this goal would be “develop a system for working in my new job”. The system I wrote about last time, with Current/Incubator and Snoozed projects, is definitely staying. Here’s how my Todoist list of project now looks like:

Incubator lists are “later” lists, with new projects that I have not started yet (but am going to once I finish something else). Current lists are projects I should be working on every week, so I’m not allowed to have too many projects here. Snoozed projects are projects are started but don’t need action at the moment, such as papers under review, or administrative tasks that I have to do periodically.

I have a Work and Personal in each category. When I’m in the office or my home office, I have the work list open. I also now actively schedule tasks from the current list ahead, so they show up as items on my agenda. When it’s evening/weekend, I only have the personal list open. This is helping to get things like blogging done 🙂

 

Submit. All. The. Papers.

Last time I submitted two nearly-done our of the six total papers I wanted to submit, and had four not-done papers left.  I had also forgotten which exact papers are these four papers I wanted to submit. I remembered it briefly, but since I didn’t write it down in the blog post, I forgot again.

To remember it this time, I count three more papers: a survey I’ve been thinking about for a while, a journal paper to follow-up on a paper from my PhD, and a journal paper to follow up on a recent crowdsourcing paper. I think given that only half a year is left of 2017, I will keep it at these three. I didn’t submit any of these remaining papers, but am finally making some progress on one of them!

Progress has been slower because I already had to resubmit one of the two initial papers, as well as do a bit of revisions for other (not first author) papers which I wasn’t counting here.

 

I give myself a 6/10 for this one.

 

Write a blog post every week

Still going well, which is motivating me only further to keep it up!

I still am struggling with what the main topics are that are best for me to write about. So for this, I set up a 5 minute survey for the blog readers! Please help me make this blog better by filling it out here.

 

Organize how I read papers

The system I described with using Evernote (each paper has its own note) is helping a lot. I have an inbox with papers I want to read. From here papers go into a physical inbox when I print them out. I read the papers when I’m on the train, and enter a summary into Evernote. I then move the Evernote note to a Reference folder.

I still would like to set a goal of how many papers I read a week, because although I’m reading papers, the inboxes are getting fuller rather than emptier. Maybe a 7/10?

 

Read at least 1 book per month

Done! I read “On writing well”, “Writing down the bones” and “What the best college teachers do”.  After all this productive reading I’m now reading some fiction, “Reamde” by Neal Stephenson.

More goals

Last time I already felt like I was playing in “Easy” mode by only sharing a few goals. Inspired by Raghav’s post about habits and running, (with what to me are very impressive 5K times) I decided to share another personal goal and how it developed over the year.

I like the idea of running and am always impressed by people who are really into it (i.e. do it regularly and/or maybe even enjoy it). I’ve had some brief periods of running in the past but these were a bit like my previous blogging attempts, so, not very effective. Since I was more confident about my blogging than about my running, I didn’t have any goal that this year I will start running “for real”. Instead, I just decided to walk 10K steps a day.

This wasn’t a major challenge, but just something I had to remember to do, so I started tracking my steps in Habitica. If I wasn’t yet at 10K, I would sometimes go outside for half an hour and listen to a podcast episode. Of course I’ve had a few days when I wasn’t anywhere near 10K, but my weekly average is always above this number.

Since this walking goal was going quite well, a few months into 2017 I thought about running again. But this time I had to have a quantifiable goal – I would go for a round around the park (maybe 3 km, so nothing impressive) 3 times a week. No time, no distance  – just showing up. For the first time ever I also made a spreadsheet where I log my runs, and added “Go for a run” to my agenda.

It’s been 7 weeks since then and although I don’t always go on the days that I plan to, I did complete the goal every week. Running feels less terrible and now my plan is to do an extra lap when I run during the weekend. Maybe I’ll even sign up for a 10K later this year? Find out in the next progress report 🙂

My goals for 2017: progress report 1 of 4

It’s almost the end of March, so we’re a quarter into 2017! Inspired by several productivity podcasts I’ve been listening to, I thought I’d spend this blog post doing a quarterly review of my goals for 2017.

Start my new job

As I said before, “start my new job” isn’t a very quantifiable goal, but I think I did it 🙂 Now that the “logistics” (email account, office, laptop etc) are mostly done, I’m focusing on developing a system with a lot more planning, goal-setting and evaluating than I’ve ever done.

One part of the system is to have three types of projects, similar to the Kanban system (Wikipedia).

  • Current, with current projects. There cannot be too many projects here at the same time. Every day I try to move along one or more of these projects.
  • Incubator, with projects that are coming up. These are concrete projects I know I will do, not “maybe” ideas – I keep those off my todo list to avoid getting distracted. To “hatch” an incubator project, I first need to finish a current project.
  • Snoozed, with projects that are started, but I don’t need to take action on right now, such as a paper under review.

I’m still optimizing this process, but I hope to blog about it at some point.

Submit. All. The. Papers.

My goal was to submit six papers – two which were almost done and four which I started. I’m happy to report that I’ve submitted the two nearly-done ones! They are now also on arXiV, here and here.
I expect that I will need to revise these after review, but for now, they are in my “Snoozed” project folder and I can work on the other papers.

The bad news is that, I spent two months (January was officially a month off for me) submitting two nearly-done papers. This means I have a bit over two months for each of the not-nearly-done papers, so this goal is looking too ambitious at the moment.

A complicating factor is that of the not-nearly-done papers, I’m having trouble deciding which one I will work on next. Ironically, when I sat down to write this post, I could not remember which four not-nearly-done papers I meant – meaning there are a few other “maybe” papers in the back of my mind.

I AM aware of the problem and I have my Current/Incubator/Snoozed folders to remind me what I should be focusing on. It doesn’t always work, so it’s something to keep track of in the rest of 2017 as well.

 

Write a blog post every week

This is going well! Given my relationship with blogging, I have to say I’m proud of sticking to this goal. The accountability of setting that goal publicly and the responses I get via Twitter have definitely been very motivating for me. And it’s been helpful to see it as a non-negotiable habit and to have a list/schedule of future blog posts.

I do have to confess it’s been a bit easier since I started the How I Fail series, and I haven’t actually been writing my own posts every week. But given how well the How I Fail posts are doing, maybe that’s not a bad thing 🙂

 

Organize how I read papers

Not a lot of progress on this one. I did create a system, which I hope will prove to be useful. Given how helpful Evernote has been, I decided to try it organize reading papers in Evernote as well.

Each paper is a note, which has the PDF and my own text notes in one place. I have two notebooks: Literature Inbox and Literature Reference. I spent several hours getting all the papers that I’ve saved somewhere on my hard drive, or printed out, into the inbox.

I’m only allowed to move a paper to Literature Reference once I’ve processed it. This means making notes (in the same Evernote note), tagging the note with “cite in paper X”,  adding the bibtex to Jabref, where I keep the bibliographic information, and renaming the note to its bibtex key. It’s not a 100% automatic process, but I’m getting more out of this system than out of Mendeley or Zotero.

I haven’t made a lot of progress actually going through the Inbox and moving the papers to Reference, so making this a habit is something to work on in the other three quarters of 2017.

 

Read at least 1 book per month

Done! I read “Flow”, “The No Asshole Rule”, “Advice for New Faculty Members” and “At the Helm”

Advice for New Faculty Members (can’t get the image to work?)

The last two books are both for new assistant professors. I wanted to read these ASAP, to make the most of the advice. Although I’m not 100% happy with either of these, they are both helpful and the advice in them is complementary. But I probably would not recommend reading the books cover-to-cover, and using a more selective, as-needed approach.

 

Conclusion

Based on this review, things are looking pretty good! I think this is in part due to posting my goals online, both because of the accountability, and the fact that I shared only a few of my own goals, which I felt reasonably confident (and not embarrassed) about. Next year I might increase the level of difficulty.

In any case, I am enjoying this process and writing about it, so I’m looking forward to writing more progress reports to reflect on my goals for 2017!

My blog in 2017: “first times”, failure and more

I already wrote in my goals for 2017 that I plan to blog every week in 2017. I’m building up quite a list of blog post ideas, and am feeling a bit overwhelmed by how much I “have” to write. However, I AM starting to feel that all these ideas are slowly falling into place, into different broad categories that I like to write about. This was very difficult for me at first, as I felt that I needed to decide what my categories were before I started publishing posts. But I’m beginning to accept it’s a more evolutionary process. In this post I’m sharing what I – at this point in time – think I will be blogging about in 2017.

Creating an academic website

This idea came up just recently, when somebody asked me (and others who have their own website) about this. As at the time I was registering domain number 7 to setup a website for a workshop, I realized I’ve been doing this for a while. Hell, I even had a job as a web developer at some point! All in all, I hope my experience with this will be useful to others.

I already wrote the first post about setting up your own website, but I’m planning to write more about what type of pages/content to add, examples of websites that I think are done well, which WordPress plugins I use, security tips and so forth.

Firsts

This is one of the older ideas on this blog, were I share my experiences of doing something for the first time, like preparing for a lecture or reviewing a paper. I still would like to cover responding to reviewers and organizing a workshop, and perhaps more things that I can’t think of right now. Please leave a comment if you think there’s something obvious I’m missing here!

Tips, tools, hacks?

I must have renamed this category about five times already, and still I’m not really happy with the name. In any case, this is where I post little bits of advice about all sorts of things, like printing a poster on fabric and my favorite productivity apps. Alternative category name suggestions are always appreciated.

Advice to myself

This is just something I’m getting started with. Recently I’ve been extracting advice – in particular about building habits, productivity and starting a tenure track job – from blogs, books and podcasts. I want to do better than just “favorite” the resource and forget it, so my goal is to summarize the advice that I am planning to take, while crediting the resource. Then the summary can be both a reminder to myself, and a (hopefully useful) collection of resources for others.

CV of Failures

I’ve shared some thoughts on the CV of Failures (or ShadowCV) before. The idea is to talk about the hidden side of the CV, which includes rejections from jobs, funding, papers… you name it. I like the idea of the Shadow CV a bit more because it’s broader, and allows to talk about other hidden things. For example, personal circumstances that have affected the choices I made in my career.

Since my experience is limited, it isn’t enough to share my shadow CV only, so I decided to involve other people as well. This quickly turned into an idea for a blog series called…

Drumroll please…

“How I Fail”

Inspired by How I Work on PhDTalk, I will be interviewing current and former academics about their views on failure and shadow CVs. I will publish these posts every two weeks, with the first starting on Saturday 4th of February. So far I have personally contacted the people I’d like to interview, but if you are interested, please drop me a line.

I’d love to hear from you which posts you are especially looking forward to or if I’m missing something. Please leave a comment below or message me on Twitter!

My goals for 2017

As I was reading other people’s year-in-reviews, I realized that most combine the review with their goals for 2017 (like this awesome post by Noeska). So, now that my review of 2016 is out of the way, I’m excited to share some of my own goals for 2017.

Start my new job

In a few weeks, I will start my position as assistant professor, which I have many feelings about. “Starting a job” isn’t really a goal because it’s not quantifiable, but I feel like it’s a catalyst for many other plans I (will) have, so it had to be the first item on the list.

Submit. All. The. Papers.

New job doesn’t mean only new research, as I have quite a few overdue papers in the pipeline. Two are near submission, and there are four (!) others which I started which I would ideally like to turn into publications. I doubt that submitting all six is a realistic goal while starting a new job with new responsibilities, but I will give it a try.

What I will do differently about writing this year, is that I will write every day. I even made a resolution about this on Habitica, my habit tracking app:

Write a blog post every week

I actually started with this 2 months ago and it’s been going well, so I plan to continue this throughout 2017. I’ve made similar goals in the past, without success. I think the things that are different this time are:

  • A project called “Blog” on my to do list – I foolishly used to think that projects were only reserved for things involving code and publications.
  • A list of blog post ideas in Evernote, so that I’m never confronted with the “oh no, I “need” to write a post, what should it be about?” question. This would frequently end up in posts like “It’s been so busy lately, I’m not sure what to write about” which are not interesting to write or to read.
  • Summoning up the strength to share my posts on Twitter, so that people get a chance to read them. I’ve received some really wonderful comments from a few readers recently (thank you!), which is a powerful motivator to continue writing.

Again, this is where the Habitica habit I posted above comes in. On weekdays I will write for papers, and on weekends for the blog (as I’m doing now!).

Organize how I read papers

Instead of reading papers in bursts and (possibly) forgetting about them, I want to streamline this process to reading X papers per week and writing summaries that I will be able to use in my writing later. This goal is inspired by Raul Pacheco-Vega’s post on processing papers and Eva Lantsoght’s post on reading habits. The plan is that this will help me with the goal of submitting papers as well.

Read at least 1 book per month

There was a time when I used to read a lot, but lately this habit has really deteriorate, so this year I want to pick it up again. Rather than adding things to a “want to read” list, I actually bought the books I intend to read in one go. Here is a selection:

See what I did there? Reading these will hopefully help me with the other goals as well. This is another habit I will be tracking with Habitica.

There’s a pattern!

I suppose the pattern that is emerging, is that all these goals have to do with being productive and building habits. I see building habits both as the implementation part of other goals, but also as a goal in itself. For example, I think it will be more valuable to me to learn to write every day, rather than reach the threshold of submitting X papers. So perhaps an overarching goal for 2017 is: build habits that will help me reach my goals in 2017 and other years.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on setting and achieving goals, and if you have any goals of your own, so please leave a comment below!

Year in review: second year as a postdoc

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!

Year in review: first year as a postdoc

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.

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