My goals for 2018 – progress report 2 & 3

It’s already October (!) and the fact that I’ve managed to forget writing anything in the progress reports category, probably tells you something about my progress… Nevertheless, I’m holding myself accountable, so here a few short updates.

Writing

I finished THE survey on semi-supervised, multiple instance and transfer learning I’ve been working on in April and uploaded as a preprint to arXiV, inviting feedback from readers. This was quite scary to do, but in the end also very rewarding. I now submitted the paper to a journal.

I also published a workshop paper about predicting melanoma from visual ratings of the images, which I crowdsourced from my undergraduate students last year.

Kanban board in my office | veronikach.com

Progress is slower than I would have hoped overall – to catch up with my goal I would need to finish two other papers by the end of the year.

A strategy that is helping somewhat is to aim to write 250 words a day. That’s not a lot of words, but I notice that on the days that I do it in the morning, I am probably going to write more than that, whereas on the days that I ignore it, I will not end up writing at all.  Having a Kanban board in my office where I see in which stage each paper is, also helps – thanks to Eiko Fried for the idea.

Blog

Once I’ve relaxed my blogging once a week goal, I’ve started slacking off on this… It has been good for me to not have this obligation on top of everything else, but at the same time it is a shame because in the end I feel like this is one of the most important things I’m doing. What was great is that at one point I prescheduled posts for several weeks. I’d like to do this again, but it’s difficult to get into a mindset of writing a lot upfront.

I did get a little bit of income (perhaps $25) from the blog, especially after the How I Fail post by Ian Goodfellow went a bit viral. But because my provider was so unhelpful about the problems the traffic caused, I also had to switch providers, so it’s definitely not a profitable business 🙂

Health

I am still not particularly enjoying the running itself and don’t recognize this feeling of endorphins that people talk about. I have, however, become an avid sign-upper for 10K races. Not an avid runner, but the accountability of the races at least forces me to train regularly, so that the race is not terrible. I recently did the same race, as my first ever 10K one year ago, and improved my time a little bit (though not what you would expect after a year of training).I haven’t been doing particularly well mental health wise. Although I do say no to more things (and slack off from things I “have” to do, like blogging), anxiety has been getting worse and so has depression. It’s easy to view everything I do in a negative light – I haven’t made enough progress on this, I haven’t been appreciated enough for doing that. But, I’m fortunate to live and work in a place where I can get support for these things. This is therefore the most important goal to focus on right now.

My goals for 2018 – blog, exercise and mental health

Last time I wrote about my most important goal for 2018 – writing. In this post I share a few other goals I have with regard to this blog, running and mental health.

Blogging

I’ve been blogging once a week for over a year, and I definitely want to continue this in 2018. I do have to admit it’s tough to do something every week. This year I would like to schedule more posts in advance, batching the writing, scheduling and other tasks on the blog.

But next to writing which is a process goal, I also would like to have a performance goal of some kind. Number of readers, number of comments… you get the point! Next to just “showing up” every week, I think this would motivate me to write better, and follow through with sharing my posts. For example, I am somehow scared to share posts on Facebook, even though the posts are public and I know they will be read by people who know me in real life. If I want more readers, this is something I’ll have to address.

After a discussion on the Academic Blogging group, I thought I would try AdSense income as a performance goal – hence the (hopefully not too annoying) ads you see on this page. The income is correlated to the number of readers, but with a “real life gamification” factor. So far I have earned a “grand total” of EUR 3. You could say it’s not worth it, but to me it’s an interesting metric to keep track of.

It would be great if I would get to EUR 25 or so, past the break-even point of the direct costs of this website. I feel a bit guilty about this, because I can afford it and, from what I hear on Twitter, I’m in a better financial position than many academics in a similar career stage. But at the same time I feel I shouldn’t apologize for what I find interesting to do – and spend a lot of time on.

 

Exercise

Last year I went from a cautious “just go running, anything counts” goal, to running two 10K races in reasonable time for somebody with my history of starting running and giving up again. Next year I will go for running 5-10K every week, and running 10K in under an hour. I don’t really want to run longer distances, but motivated by @Felienne I will also do the 15K Bruggenloop in December.

Maybe more importantly, I became more comfortable with talking about exercise. Similar to being scared of sharing posts on Facebook or wanting to have extra income from my blog, I have been somehow scared to share any goals related to fitness. If the topic comes up, I feel either embarrassed by my laziness (because the other person exercises every day), or embarrassed by my “first world problem” (because the other person is not able to exercise for whatever reason). I think we can agree that this is stupid and nobody should apologize for trying to be healthier.

 

Mental health

To continue on a similar theme, I would like to feel less anxious about a lot of things. Part of this is that I just need to do less things, so I should say no more often.

Another part is that I should get my brain to stay focused on one thing at a time, and not to overthink everything so much. Reading books, the Headspace app and journaling are helping with this, but there are definitely more things I could do, such as using my phone less and only checking email at fixed times of the day.

At this point these are more resolutions than goals. But I do see how most things can be turned into goals – maybe something to explore in another post?

 

Less

As I was writing, I realized there was a pattern in seemingly unrelated things like blogging and running. In her post about 2018, @DoctorPMS talked about having a theme for the year, and I kind of liked that idea, but couldn’t find a word. But now I think I’m on to something…

My theme would be “less“.

Less projects and distractions, less apologizing for what I want, less fear and trying to make everyone else (except myself) happy. To make space for more writing, blogging and being healthy.

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.

7 things I wish I had done during my PhD

Every so often there are threads on Twitter about what people wish they would have would have known before starting their PhD, or would have done differently in retrospect. Here is a thread with lots of great advice by David Schoppik and another one by Jennifer Polk. I haven’t responded to either question, because there is so much to say that I can’t fit into 140 characters. However, I have already been keeping a “wishlist” of sorts, so I thought this was a good opportunity to finally turn them into a blog post. Here they are, the things I wish I had done during my PhD.

1. Having a lab journal

I somehow managed to miss out on this concept completely. Maybe I had heard about it, but dismissed the idea because I didn’t work in a lab. I only really found out about it when I was about to start my tenure track position, and was reading “At the Helm” in preparation.

Sure, I had a notebook. I would use it to make notes in meetings, draw toy datasets, write down tasks as they came up… anything, really! But none of these things were intended for anybody else, including the future me, to read.

In retrospect, it would have been helpful to have a central place to record ideas, different (failed) experiments, and where I ended up storing my data and code.

2. Having a todo list

This might be a surprise to many, but I didn’t have really have a todo list during my PhD. I would write down tasks as they would come up – for example “prepare presentation for lab meeting” – in my notebook. If I didn’t get a task done 2-3 pages later, I would copy it over to the current page I was on.

I don’t remember forgetting to do anything important and I didn’t miss any deadlines, which probably gave others (and myself) an impression that I was an organized person. But the 2017 me is overwhelmed by the idea of this “organization system”.

3. Spending more time with other PhD students

I don’t mean with this point that I didn’t spend any time with friends or colleagues. I did my PhD in in the same city as where I got my other degrees, so there were lots of friends around. And I was in a great lab, where we would often do social activities together, and would see each other as friends. I realize that I’m very lucky to be in this situation.

But most of friends were not doing PhDs, and with my colleagues, often it was more relaxing to talk about topics outside of work. So it was great to meet other PhD students, for example during courses, and share experiences about writing, teaching… anything that might have been challenging. I should have done that a lot more! Maybe I would have learned about “lab notebooks” and “todo lists” 🙂

4. Seeking out more mentors

As I wrote above, I was in a great (though perhaps small) lab. My supervisors were both inspiring scientists, and very kind people. But even despite these favorable circumstances, I didn’t always dare to tell them what was on my mind. How was I doing with my research? Was my CV maybe good enough to apply for this scholarsip? Did I have good chances of getting an academic position? Questions I was too scared to ask, because I thought I would be laughed at, even though I logically knew that wouldn’t happen!

But things changed a bit when I did an internship, and met two very different mentors. They were closer to me in age and career step – both postdocs at the time – and were women. They saw right through my self-esteem issues, and made me a bit more confident that I wasn’t entirely delusional about my aspirations.

 

5. Applying for all the things

In the Netherlands, as a PhD researcher you are an employee, not a student. I had a salary and my travel expenses were reimbursed. Therefore I never felt the need to apply for any financial support.

As for awards, most of the time it either didn’t cross my mind I should apply, and if it did, my imposter syndrome didn’t let me. It didn’t help of course, that the one scholarship I really thought was a good fit (Anita Borg Memorial scholarship) was rejected three times in a row.

In retrospect, I think applying for more things would have made the applications I really wanted, like the Anita Borg one, a lot better. Not to mention the benefits for applying for larger grants later on.

 

6. Joining Twitter

Although I had an account for years, I didn’t start using it until half-way through my postdoc. Maybe a funny story is that this all happened because of a grant I applied for. The best submissions would be advertised via Twitter, so I thought I should at least see what people are saying about my submission (not much). But since I was now checking Twitter every day, I also started following more accounts, engaging in conversations etc – and never left.

Being part of the (academic) community on Twitter has been pretty awesome. From excellent advice about applying for jobs, to thoughtful threads about academic culture, to cat pictures (#academicswithcats), there’s always something to motivate me or cheer me up. Through Twitter I found many friends, role models, and from time to time, even people who were somehow inspired by me. I cannot stress how essential this has been in times of existential crises almost inevitably associated with being a postdoc.

 

7. Blogging

I had a blog on and off during my PhD (see My relationship with blogging), but I didn’t really dare to write anything, let alone tell other people that I have a blog. I had a blog, but I wasn’t blogging.

And that’s too bad. Because since I really started writing and sharing posts (although I still find I’m often outside my comfort zone), lots of interesting things happened. Next to improving my writing and getting me invitations to give talks, blogging has given me a bigger sense of purpose. Related to the Twitter point above, this has been essential for dealing with setbacks.

 

I hope these are useful whether you are doing a PhD or are already done – it’s not too late to start! If you have any other advice you’d like to share with others, please leave a comment below!

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!

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 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.

5 useful WordPress plugins for your professional website

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

1. Jetpack

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

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

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

2. iThemes security

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

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

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

3. Akismet

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

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

4. Yoast SEO

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

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

Yoast SEO readbility feature
Yoast SEO readbility feature. I often suffer from using too many long sentences.

5. Nimble Portfolio

Nimble Portfolio is what I use on my publications page. 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

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!

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