Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I am Jennifer Polk, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Dr. Jennifer Polk. Jen helps PhDs launch meaningful careers, during and after graduate school. She speaks and writes on issues related to graduate education and career outcomes for doctoral-degree holders. Find her online at FromPhDtoLife.com, and at her award-winning University Affairs blog. Jen earned her PhD from the University of Toronto.

Current Job: Coach and Entrepreneur
Current Location: Toronto, ON, Canada
Current mobile device: Nexus 7 (tablet), Moto G 3rd Gen (phone)
Current computer: Asus Zenbook (2013)

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?

I work primarily as an academic, career, and life coach for graduate students and PhDs; this business is called From PhD to Life. That means I speak 1-on-1 with clients who are navigating a variety of different situations. They are feeling stuck in some way and want to move forward, and so we make sure that happens, in whatever way is right for their priorities, interests, values, and strengths. I have clients from around the world, but mostly across North America.

I just launched a new online community called Self-Employed PhD. It's in beta mode through January 2017, and I'm really excited to see where this project goes in future.

My other existing business is a partnership with another PhD, Maren Wood. This is Beyond the Professoriate. It started as an annual online conference -- think series of webinars over two days -- and we've now branched out to offer an online Job Search Course for PhDs (beginning again in January 2017). The 4th annual conference is happening 6 & 13 May, and we're also planning a year-long subscription series so we can offer more programming.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I use Gmail to manage all my email accounts, Google Calendar to schedule everything I need to do, and Workflowy to keep track off all the tasks I need to get to, now or later. I track my time using Toggl. It's been eye-opening to learn how much productive work I do vs how long I'm "at the office."
My clients book appointments with me via ScheduleOnce, which syncs with my Google Calendar. I love it. When I send invoices, I use Freshbooks. I've used PayPal, too. Both work well for bookkeeping and accounting.

I use social media in my personal and professional life, and especially value Twitter. When I'm at my laptop I access Twitter via Tweetdeck (and this is how I run my #withaPhD chats). I also use a scheduler for Twitter, namely MeetEdgar. If you see me posting at 3am, it's probably coming from Edgar! My RSS reader of choice is Feedly. When I come across an article or blog post I want to save, I add it to an Evernote notebook. I also use Google Drive to save .pdfs, especially ones that I want to share with Maren. She and I collaborate on docs and spreadsheets together, too. Other collaboration tools I've used productively include Slack, a great way to communicate with team members (and students enrolled in an online course, or virtual conference attendees) without sending a bunch of emails back and forth.

For keeping in touch with potential clients, I use Mailchimp. To help me manage ongoing networking, I've recently started using Contactually. It's expensive but I think worth it for me. A free tool that I've used more and more over the past few months is mail merge. These days I use Yet Another Mail Merge, which is a Google add-on. It's incredibly useful.

Most of my Canadian clients phone me directly; my other clients connect with me via Skype or Zoom. I'm using the latter to host group events and interviews for Self-Employed PhD, and it works great.

All my websites use Wordpress (both .com and .org), and University Affairs -- a bigger site that I blog for -- is also run on WP.

Phew! I suspect I'm forgetting some things. The ones I listed are all tools I use on a weekly or daily basis. My business mostly lives in the cloud! But when I'm taking notes while speaking with clients, I do it the old fashioned way: with pen and paper. I file those notes in a physical filing cabinet.

What does your workspace setup look like?

I work from home, and my "office" is one corner of my living/dining room. I have a desk, two filing cabinets, bookshelves, and an office chair, as well as a laser printer (it gets occasional use), a separate webcam, bluetooth devices, external keyboard and mouse, and other gadgets. I can sit at my desk or set up a makeshift standing desk using some boxes and milkcrates I rescued from the garbage a couple years ago. Right now I'm sitting at my desk and my laptop is propped up on boxes as well as my MA thesis and PhD dissertation. My cat Izzy is sleeping on the desk to my left. If I don't leave room for her, she'll sit on the printer, which I don't want!



What is your best advice for productive academic work?
I wouldn't get anything done without Google Calendar. Scheduling both meetings & tasks is absolutely crucial for me. I never accomplish as much as I plan, which is something I'd say to others: everything takes longer than you think it will, or should. Leave lots of white space and remember that 25 to 30 hours of actual, purposeful work a week is plenty.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

I don't have a perfect system for this, but Workflowy is what I currently use as a task manager. I'm loathe to upgrade to something more complex but I'll probably need to in future.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?

I have a tablet that I can check email on, read Feedly, etc. I recently removed Facebook and Twitter from this device, which has helped me relax! I use my tablet primarily as an e-reader.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

I don't work as an academic according to standard definitions, but I do work with a lot of them as clients! I'd like to think that my positivity, honesty, inclusiveness, and commitment to sharing great information, resources, and inspiring stories is what draws potential clients and collaborators to me. I really love the #withaPhD chats -- I think they showcase what I'm all about: bringing us all together, from graduate students to tenured professors and PhDs working in all sorts of different jobs, to talk about what's important to us as people and professionals. We share resources, support each other, reflect back and plan for the future together. That's the idea, anyway!

What do you listen to when you work?

Nothing. I need complete silence (and put up with noise from garbage trucks, construction, and leaf-blowers from the city outside).

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
Always! I read everyday, even if just for a few minutes before bed. Novels. All sorts. I recently started reading Octavia Butler's Dawn on my tablet. The Toronto Public Library is my best friend.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?

Introvert! I love working from home. I speak w clients and collaborators almost every day but I need time not to talk to anyone.

What's your sleep routine like?

On an average day I'll wake up around 8am and aim to be in bed for midnight.

What's your work routine like?
I get to work pretty soon after getting up, most days. I generally work 9-5 hours but I can take breaks or run errands during the day as necessary. I try not to work in the evenings, but I do sometimes have clients or other work to do later on, and that's fine. I almost never work on weekends.
I sometimes think I should start a bit earlier and take a regular mid-day break. We'll see.

What's the best advice you ever received?
When people ask me this question, the line that always comes to mind is, "Never explain, never apologize." This comes from a very wise history professor I had during my MA, and it was something I really needed to hear. It's advice I find myself coming back to again and again over the years since.

There are of course many excellent reasons why you would want to explain or apologize, for sure, but I do think in general it's something to keep in mind, depending on what sort of person you are!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The adventures of a concrete researcher - or how I ended up breaking bridges for a living

I recently gave a presentation to the ACI Student Chapter of Universidad San Francisco de Quito. They asked me to tell something accessible about doing experiments, so I decided to chronicle my journey to the work that I am currently carrying out.

Here are the slides of the presentation:


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I am Vincent Peters, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Vincent Peters. Vincent is a 25-year-old PhD student at the department of Management at Tilburg University. He has started his PhD in May 2016 and is specialized in the area of healthcare chains. He has both a MSc (with honor) as well as a BSc in Organisation Science from Tilburg University and completed an Exchange Program at Hanken Svenska Handelshogskolan, Helsinki. Also, he participates in Tranzo, the Tilburg interfaculty research program on health care, to investigate integrated care.


Current Job: PhD Student
Current Location: Tilburg, The Netherlands
Current mobile device: iPhone 5S
Current computer: Macbook Air 13 inch

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?

I am full time employed at the department of Management of Tilburg School of Economics and Management at Tilburg University. My research focuses on improving collaboration and coordination between service providers in a healthcare chain for people with a complex disease (e.g. down syndrome, oncology, dementia). I make use of the lens of service modularity in order to tackle this problem.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
Outlook, Excel & Word are essential. Skype also comes in quite handy.

What does your workspace setup look like? Do you have a fixed workspace, or do you alternate between a home office, university office and lab?
I do have a fixed workspace at my university and a home office, however I prefer to work at my university office. It’s a great office with a lovely view, since I am located at the 11th floor of our building. I have a computer with double screen and a desk + cabin. I share my office with 1 colleague, however she is not always present at the office.



What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Make sure to block certain timeslots in your calendar for academic work. Turn of your phone and what else can distract you and just focus. Also, your brain tends to focus best on the things you do first, so plan academic work before answering your email.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Everything I do is marked in my Outlook calendar, so that’s what keeps an overview for me. I also have a whiteboard on which I mark all deadline dates.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I do have an Apple Watch which I both use for work and daily life in order to get into shape and make sure I burn enough calories during the day for example. Furthermore, I have an Apple TV for streaming Netflix etc. Sometimes it also comes in handy to stream my Macbook Air on a bigger screen to understand a model better and take a step back.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

My perseverance and the fact that I can switch fairly quickly between subjects (In Dutch we call this competence ‘Snel kunnen schakelen’ however I cannot find the right translation). I have a good sense of balance between practical and theoretical subjects.

What do you listen to when you work?
Depends on my mood, but mostly classical music (e.g. Ludovico Einaudi) or Techno livesets from Soundcloud.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?

Currently I’m reading the book of Max Verstappen (MAX), the world’s youngest Formula 1 race winner. Most of the times I read books from authors like David Baldacci, Dan Brown. I am mostly interested in American politics, advocacy, law and regulations and organizations like CIA, NASA.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?

I’m more of an introvert, I hardly talk about my inner emotions with someone else. I have a strong feeling I should do this more often but I find it hard to find the right people to share these emotions with. It does not really influence my working habits, I think. Feelings with regard to work I almost immediately share, sometimes to quick even.

What's your sleep routine like?
I try to sleep around 23.30 and wake up most of the time around 07.15. I aim to have at least 8 hours of sleep but it seems like I function better with 7 hours of sleep. I always feel sleepy when I sleep 8 or more hours.

What's your work routine like?
I try to start work at 08.00 and finish somewhere around 17.00’ish, depending on how the day goes. I feel lucky with the fact that academic work does not have the usual 09.00-17.00 working days.

What's the best advice you ever received?

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you land among the stars. I think this was one of the best advices I ever get. Always aim high and see where you end up. If you aim for the low hanging fruit, it was probably too easy in the end.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Transverse load redistribution and effective shear width in reinforced concrete slabs

We recently published a paper titled "Transverse load redistribution and effective shear width in reinforced concrete slabs" in the journal Heron. Heron is a free, open access journal, managed and organized by volunteers of Delft University of Technology and TNO.

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

In slabs subjected to concentrated loads close to the support, shear is verified for two limit states: beam shear over an effective width, and punching shear on a perimeter around the concentrated load. In current practice, the beam shear strength of slabs is calculated as for beams, and thus the beneficial effects of transverse load redistribution in slabs are not considered. An experimental program was conducted at Delft University of Technology to determine the shear capacity of slabs under concentrated loads close to the support. This paper presents the results of the tests conducted on continuous slabs and slab strips. The influence of the loading sequence, size of the loaded area, moment distribution at the support and distance between the load and the support is studied and discussed with regard to the behaviour in slabs and slab strips. It is recommended to use the effective width based on a load spreading method as used in French practice. This recommendation is based on the experimental results, a statistical analysis and non-linear finite element models. The parameter analyses show an increased capacity in slabs as compared to beams as the result of transverse load distribution. The shear capacity of slabs under concentrated loads close to supports can be calculated based on the Eurocode provisions for shear over the recommended effective width.

You can access the full text of the paper here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I'm Alayna Cole and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Alayna Cole to the "How I Work" series. Alayna is a doctoral candidate in Creative Arts (Creative Writing) and a lecturer in Serious Games at the University of the Sunshine Coast. She has broad research interests, but she is primarily focused on creating and analysing narratives that improve diverse representation, particularly of gender and sexuality. Her doctoral thesis—entitled Queerly Ever After—comprises a collection of reimagined fairy tales that seek to incorporate plurisexual perspectives.

Current Job: Games writer and academic (among others)
Current Location: Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Current mobile device: iPhone SE smart phone
Current computer: Toshiba Satellite laptop

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am (technically) 18 months into my Doctorate of Creative Arts (Creative Writing), and I am researching representations of sexuality and gender in fairy tales. My research output comprises a creative artefact and an accompanying exegesis. While my doctoral work is in the field of creative writing, I lecture in serious game design, and my publications and conference presentations at this stage have been in both the creative writing and game studies disciplines.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?

My system is fairly stripped back. I use Microsoft Word for writing and EndNote for keeping track of my citations, as well as a notebook and pen for jotting down ideas. I’m the sort of person who structures her thesis by moving post-it notes around on the floor. I occasionally use Pomodoro apps or websites to assist with focus on days that are all about my doctorate; one I have recently found helpful is called ‘Forest’.

What does your workspace setup look like? Do you have a fixed workspace, or do you alternate between a home office, university office and lab?
I generally work from home. My desk is organised chaos most of the time, but all of my books and research are in one place here. When I’m not working at home, I work at the Engage Lab at the University of the Sunshine Coast. It’s definitely not a ‘typical’ lab and I love its creative atmosphere. Depending on where I’m up to with my creative artefact or research, I might take my notebook or readings out to the park, on public transport, or to some other random location; a change of pace can shake things up.

Here you can see my home workspace and lab. The photo of my lab was taken during a Women in Games afternoon that I helped organise, so the place is bustling!

home office

Engage lab

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

This is a tricky one! It’s about figuring out how you work best. I edit better in the morning and when it’s quiet, but I write better at night with some background noise. I also work best when I have small, realistic goals and I’ve written them down in a clear to-do list; it can be easy to get overwhelmed with a research project the size of a doctorate if you don’t break it up.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

I used to have my doctoral thesis spread across a lot of different Word documents, but I’ve recently compiled them into one file and have it very clearly marked with comments and headings. I use a handwritten diary to keep track of other research, deadlines, conferences, meetings, and so on. I also use Trello sometimes, particularly for collaborative projects.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?

That’s basically it, to be honest! I was also using a digital tablet earlier on in my process to read and highlight research papers and books, as I was starting to go cross-eyed staring at so many pdfs on my computer screen.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

Probably my organisation. It helps me prioritise, and ensures I am working efficiently and strategically. It is helping immensely with my doctorate, as well as the other research and publications I am working on, and I think it will continue to aid me throughout my academic career.

What do you listen to when you work?
If anything, I tend to rely on instrumental music from videogame soundtracks. The OSTs of Bastion, Transistor, Journey, The Witcher 3, and Undertale are some personal favourites.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I’m currently reading novels that are contributing to my doctorate’s literature review or my other creative writing publications. It helps me find time to read when I know it’s actually work! I haven’t read anything that isn’t directly related to my research for a while, partially because I am trying to hold onto a particular creative voice that I don’t want muddied by the different styles of other authors. I’m looking forward to getting back into reading for pleasure.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?

I am fairly introverted. I guess it means that I’m rarely distracted by social influences, but also means I can have a pretty negative work/life balance. Still, I make sure I visit friends sometimes, and I limit my work while they’re around. I also have regular videogame nights on Thursdays to keep myself sane.

What's your sleep routine like?

It varies depending on what I’m working on. Late nights while I’m writing, early mornings while I’m editing, and often my teaching schedule dictates when I have to sleep. I like working late into the night though, when I can, as I often seem to be more productive then.

What's your work routine like?
It changes depending on what I have on my to-do list and the deadlines that are coming up. I don’t keep any sort of 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday working-hour system. I work nights and weekends a lot, but it means I can take time off to rest and think when I need it during the week. It also depends on my teaching schedule, which changes each semester.

What's the best advice you ever received?
An academic career is all about strategy. There are a lot of different ways to approach all aspects of it—doctorate, publications, conferences, teaching, etc.—but some methods make your research work for you more effectively and efficiently than others. As for what those methods are? It takes talking to people and experimenting to figure that out.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Papers at SEMC 2016

This year, I was author and co-author of three papers at SEMC 2016, the conference on Structural Engineering, Mechanics and Computation in Cape Town, South Africa. While I did not have the chance to travel, my students Mr. Valdivieso and Mr. Mejia traveled to present their thesis work, and Dr. van der Veen traveled to present our co-authored paper.

The abstract of mr. Mejia's paper is:

Throughout history invasive methods for analyzing deflections and deformations have been used in concrete structures at the laboratory, but the advancement of technology has allowed the development of new non-invasive alternative methods such as digital image correlation (DIC). With this technique, it is possible to obtain information about the deflections, strains and strain fields in a structure. The current study consists of performing a flexural test on plain concrete beams and concrete arches reinforced with FRP rein-forcement. All tests were recorded with a cheap, small camera, then transferred into a series of images in or-der to apply the digital image correlation technique. The analysis with DIC results in the displacements, strains and strain fields of the surface under analysis. Finally, the percentage of error between the displace-ment derived from the DIC technique and the displacement measured by Linear Variable Differential Trans-formers (LVDTs) is calculated. In conclusion, the study shows that it was not possible to reach accuracy on the values of deflections and strains by the applied method and that a higher-speed camera is necessary to capture the moment of failure.

The abstract of mr. Valdivieso's paper is:

A large number of existing bridges in Europe and North-America are reaching the end of their devised service life. Therefore, it is necessary to improve the methods of assessment for existing bridges. One method, suitable for existing reinforced concrete slab bridges, is the Modified Bond Model. This method, however, currently only takes the effect of torsion for loads close to the edge into account in a simplified manner. In this study, finite element models are created of a slabs with two supports, three concentrated (pre-stressing) loads and a distributed load, representing a truck wheel print. The load is varied along the longitu-dinal and transverse directions of the slab to find the bending moments (mx and my) and torsional moments (mxy). The results is an expression for the effect of torsion in slabs, which can be used with the Modified Bond Model for assessment and design of slab bridges.

The abstract of the paper of which I am first author is:

For the assessment of existing structures and the design of new structures, it is important to have a good understanding of the flow of forces, here applied to reinforced concrete solid slabs. Two analyti-cal methods are used: finite element models with 3D solid elements and a plasticity-based model that is suita-ble for hand calculations, the Modified Bond Model. The slabs that are modeled are half-scale models of rein-forced concrete solid slab bridges. As the Eurocode live load model prescribes more heavily loaded trucks in the first lane, the load model is asymmetric. For the finite element models, limited use is made of the redistri-bution capacity of the slab. For the Modified Bond Model, the influence of torsion and the edge effect need to be taken into account. The results of these studies improve the current state-of-the-art for analysis and design of reinforced concrete slabs.

Here are the slides of my paper:


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Q&A: Where should I do my PhD?

I recently received the following question (edited for anonimity):

Hi Eva
Hope u r doing well..?
Recently got 2 offers for Ph.D program, one from University Nr 1 in Australia and the other from University Nr 2 in New Zealand with Full Funding.
In march 2016, i had sent an email to the professor from University Nr 3 in the USA requesting him to take me as a Ph.D student in the department of SomeKindOf Sciences. After 5 months he replied to me asking to submit application as soon as possible for Spring 2017 bcoz he is fully ready to take me as a Ph.D student in his department. I have submitted my application for Ph.D program under his Supervision.
Now, my question is which country i should select among these 3 countries, i am in confusion right now..?? Please do suggest. Thank u so much..!!


Here's my answer:

Dear Reader,

Thank you for reaching out to me through my blog.

As I understand it, you have the choice between 3 universities for your PhD, and one of them is fully funded? In that case, I’d say, go for the fully funded option. If all of them are funded, I’d recommend you to pick the project that you feel most excited about – 3 or 4 years can be a long time. The university itself does not matter that much – as long as you publish and get the chance to travel to a few conferences, the ranking of your university is not that important.

Another element to consider: if you are planning to move to the USA long-term, the school in the USA might be your best pick.
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