Thursday, April 19, 2018

I am Susan Thomson, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Dr. Susan Thomson for the "How I Work" series. Susan Thomson (sthomson@colgate.edu) is Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies. Her research is dedicated to understanding how systems of power structure the lives of individuals in so-called times of peace. She also studies the practical and ethical challenges of doing field-based research in post-conflict settings. Thomson is the author of Whispering Truth to Power: Everyday Resistance to Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda (University of Wisconsin Press, 2013); and co-editor of Emotional and Ethical Challenges for Field Research in Africa: The Story Behind the Findings (Palgrave, 2013). Her latest book, Rwanda: From Genocide to Precarious Peace is forthcoming in February 2018 with Yale University Press.

General:
Current Job: Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, and director, Women's Studies Program, Colgate University
Current Location: Hamilton, NY
Current mobile device: Samsung S7
Current computer: MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am a tenured professor at a small liberal arts university in Central New York. I am trained as a lawyer and a political scientist, with an emphasis on international public law and African politics. I received my Bachelor of Laws in 1998, and my PhD in political science in 2009. My scholarship is dedicated to understanding how systems of power structure the lives of individuals, and how individuals subject to power experience it in so-called times of peace. This concern means that my research draws on a number of disciplines, including anthropology, feminist security studies, history, law and politics. My focus on how individuals live through and rebuild their lives after violence also drives my interest in studying the practical and ethical challenges of doing field-based research in post-conflict and other difficult settings. Working in such contexts is critical to producing academic knowledge about how ordinary people experience violence, and how this knowledge can inform government and UN responses to post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation.
I have a new book on Rwanda since the 1994 genocide with Yale UP (January 2018). I also have a book with Wisconsin UP (2013) on the resistance of ordinary Rwandans to the government's postgenocide reconciliation, and an edited book (with An Ansoms and Jude Murison, Palgrave 2013) on fieldwork ethics.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I use old-fashioned notebooks (moleskins mostly) to sketch ideas and sections of chapters or articles I am writing. I also use coloured pencils and markers to mind map and doodle. I am a poor speller so use the app Grammarly to double check my writing.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I work in 20-minute increments during the school week (M-F) with extended periods of writing (up to three hours) on the weekends (provided I have a deadline). I generally work at my desk at home or at the local lunch counter called Hamilton Whole Foods. The staff there have a nice set up to accommodate our campus community. I wrote about half of my new book at home and the other half at HWF. Revisions and edits also happen on airplanes and in the evening when I am doing field work (my new project is in Cape Town, South Africa).



What is your best advice for productive academic work?
My best advice is to focus on one project at a time, waiting until a draft of the text you are working on is complete. Then, while waiting for readers to return comment, move on to your next project. I also suggest writing while not connected to the internet, and away from social media.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Paper lists that structure my week into four sections during the semester (teaching, research, service and personal). Because I immerse myself my writing, I need to remind myself of personal things like paying bills, taking my kids where they need to go, etc, etc

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
No.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I think my skill is that I am able to focus over long periods of time. I also write a little bit every day rather than waiting for big chunks of time, meaning I produce a chapter or two each semester.

What do you listen to when you work?
I don't listen to anything.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
During the semester, I read student work, my own work and one or two books of my own choosing. Right now, I am reading Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life. In the summer, I read novels.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
Definitely an introvert. I think this helps as I am always planning ways to be home. I rarely attend evening events when I have a writing project so I can get up early to write for 40-60 minutes before the workday begins.

What's your sleep routine like?
Also disciplined. I tend to go to bed around 10 and get up between 530 and 630am.

What's your work routine like?
I generally work from 8am until 6 or 7pm. I prepare lectures, grade student work, attend meetings and consult with students.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Take care of your needs and those of your family above anything you might be asked to do professionally. Institutions will never love you back so don't prioritise work over family (received when I was 27 years old and working for the United Nations)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Communication with your Chair: Tips your Chair Wants you to Know

Today's guest post is written by Dr. Laura Pipoly. Laura earned a bachelor's in psychology and a master's in both school counseling and community counseling. Laura graduated from Nova Southeastern University with a doctorate in both special education and in Instructional technology and distance education (ITDE). Her dissertation focused on Counselor Education Curriculum and Online Counseling and was published in part in the Journal of Instructional Research. Laura has also published and presented at the national level. Her most recent work is Meeting the Challenge of Bipolar Disorder: Self-Help Strategies that Work. Laura is both a Licensed Professional Counselor and a certified School Counselor. Throughout the years, she has worked as a school counselor, psychotherapist, behavior specialist, mentor, dissertation chair, methodologist and clinical site supervisor. Laura currently works for University of Phoenix as a full time faculty member.

As a dissertation chair, methodologist, content expert and former doctoral student I have sat on all sides of the dissertation committee. Throughout this process communication is the most essential element to facilitate student success throughout the progression. Without communication progress stalls, motivation can wane and confusion sets in.

As a dissertation chair, I schedule communication by phone with my learners every two weeks. This timeframe is often enough that I am able to be proactive if any pressing concerns come up, but also spread out far enough so that we have sufficient content to address. If your chair does not have a set communication schedule you certainly have the right to request one. It is likely that your chair is busy and overworked, so be sure that you are being active in taking responsibility to set up a contact strategy that is a good fit for your needs. Do not hesitate to send a friendly email reminder—after all you are in charge of your dissertation. The chair and committee are there as your guides through the process. I do find that phone calls are the best way to stay in contact. An email is good for a quick question about formatting, but it does not translate well for complex design questions. The dissertation process is complex and sometimes it takes hashing it out on the phone. I find students are able to reach their “ah ha” moment with a little back and forth. With email this process slows down and sometimes is completely lost. Just the other day on the phone, I had a student share several ideas. I could hear in her voice her frustration as she discussed being unable to find the “gap” area for her research. As she shared about her thoughts on the topic, I stopped her. She had just unknowingly shared that “gap” area that was so elusive to her.

When you do have a scheduled phone call be on time (keeping in mind any potential time zone differences), be prepared and be organized. Many times I will call a student at our agreed upon time and I can hear that they are distracted. Or even worse, they are driving. This does not facilitate the best use of our time. A quiet, private place will allow for you to focus. Just as you would write an outline for an assignment, I suggest that you do the same for your phone conference. Come prepared by writing down any questions or topics you want to address beforehand and use this as your guide. Not only does this allow you to make sure that everything is covered, but it helps to cut back on emails in between phone conversations which may ultimately slow down the process. When speaking to a student I have a copy of their dissertation in front of me so I can point out specific questions or refer to it as needed. Be sure that you do too and that you are ready to take any notes you may need.

Listen, really listen. As a learner I treated this individual time with my chair as a gift. I was able to get a new perspective, flush out my questions and soak in their expertise. Listen to the suggestions your chair makes, write them down and apply the feedback. So many learners will send me their marked up paper with corrections still unmade. Most times, I have the same suggestions.

Lastly, remember your chair is your cheerleader. Your chair has been there and done that. They know that the dissertation is a journey and that your motivation will wax and wane. I truly want my learners to succeed. I want to be their motivator when things get hard –because they will. I would much rather have an email from a learner stating, “I am having a hard time with…”, than see that they withdrew. When a learner emails me that “they can’t”, I email back them about how they can. Your chair is on your side, not only can they help you with your writing but also through the process. Part of that process is maintaining your motivation and dedication. I remember my own chair referred to me as the “future Dr. Pipoly” which was sometimes the push I needed to read, reread, and dig in a little deeper.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Open access publishing

I recentlly ran a poll on Twitter to see how much or little academics publish open access. I had just learned that TU Delft wants to publish 60% of articles open access this year, and that open access publishing fees are waived for TU authors and authors based in the Netherlands by a number of publishers. As such, I decided to look a bit deeper into the topic. And the result is that the opinions and practices are divided. Here are the results of the poll:



Here's a pearltree collection of the tweets of this topic (note: now that Storify has called it quits, I'm still looking for an alternative that works well and trying out pearltree for the first time):

Open Access, by evalantsoght

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

On finding the right time to meet - poll

I recently ran a poll on which time of the day is the best for meetings. Some time ago, I wrote a post about how certain times of the day may not work for your colleagues. You may not have thought about this, but one colleague needs to leave early to pick up his kids from school, and the other colleague gets anxious when a meeting involves food... Moral of the story is that you best ask your colleagues which restraints they have. If you are a supervisor, create a climate within your research group that allows your colleagues to speak up and tell you about the restraints they face regarding a meeting time.

Out of curiosity, I ran a poll - and the opinions are divided. The most popular time slot is in the early afternoon, but there is no clear winner. You can find the Storify about the poll below:

Thursday, April 5, 2018

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Fifteen budgeting tips for graduate students

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!


In graduate school, you typically need to get buy on a small budget. If you are hired as an employee for your PhD, you will be earning a small salary and have social security and other benefits. If you are on a scholarship, your finances may be very tight. In the past, I have shared some quick fixes that I used to save money while I was in graduate school and I discussed the importance of logging and analyzing your budget

Today, we are looking at changes you can make to cut your expenses and help you save money while you are in graduate school. I'm sharing my 15 best practices with you:

1. Track your expenses
Before you can develop budgets and save money, you need to know how much money you currently are spending. Start tracking all your expenses (every cent you are spending) in a spreadsheet. Log your expenses in different categories (groceries, bills, going out, sports, books, music, ...) to see how much you currently are spending and how your expenses are distributed across different categories.

2. Set budgets for different categories
Now that you know how much you are spending on each category, see what you can eliminate, and determine how much you want to spend maximum per category. For some people, having their budgets as cash money in different envelopes can help if you tend to overspend on your bank cards. Such an approach is a quick fix, and does not address the underlying problem (the overspending itself). Try to be conscious about what you really need to survive, and what is superfluous.

3. Shop on fixed days
I used to only spend money on Tuesdays and Saturdays. On Tuesdays I'd do my food groceries and on Saturdays other pending items. If I ran out of a certain item, it simply would have to wait until the next day of shopping. The less often you enter a store, the less tempted you are to spend on things that you feel like eating or that look good, but that you don't really need.

4. Save for a rainy day
Whenever you have an income, you should save part of it. Even if you can only save 25 or 50 USD a month, make sure you save something from your salary each month so that you have some buffer for a rainy day. You want to avoid to go in debt over car repairs, home maintenance, or your health. You may also need to live off your savings after your graduation, while you are applying for jobs.

5. Plan your meals around the weekly sales
I recommend you think about the meals you will be eating (and perhaps write them down on a planning) before you enter the store. Check what is on sale this week, and plan your meals around these discounted items. Some grocery stores have recurring discounts (i.e. 15% of all fruit and vegetables on Wednesdays). If that's the case where you shop, take advantage of these extra savings.

6. Buy bulk
Buy grains and beans in bulk - they last a long time. Buy discounted vegetables in bulk, cook them all, and then freeze portions. When the laundry detergent or the soap you use is on sale, take advantage of this offer and buy ahead for a few months.

7. Thrift
Furniture, household items, and clothing - you can find everything you need in the thrift store. Most of the clothes I wore during my PhD were hand-me-downs from my mom and sister or items bought in the thrift store. I still wear a lot of thrifted clothes. Alternatively, you can look online for second-hand items when you need to buy something (a bike, a fridge, ...).

8. Invest in quality items
When it comes down to items you use frequently, then go for quality instead of for the cheapest product. Don't try to save money on a laptop, but invest in a good machine. The items that you splurge on because they are important to you are of course highly personal. For me, a quality blender, a good mattress, and a good stereo are important. Find out which of your items get a lot of usage, and make a smart choice when you replace or acquire them.

9. Cancel subscriptions
Three euros here, twelve euros there,... and before you know it you are spending over 100 euros a month in subscriptions. When you analyze your expenses, list all your subscriptions as recurring bills. What do you really need? Should you cancel Netflix and watch YouTube videos instead? Do you really need a landline and a cell phone? Sometimes, temporary discounts automatically revert to a high cost subscription after a trial period. Always be aware of when trial periods end, and cancel or revise your subscription prior to the hike in price.

10. Protect and insure your valuables
If you spent a fair amount of money on a good laptop, then protect it with a lock, a surge protector, and a good cover. Insure your most valuable items, such as your laptop and your bike. Invest in the highest-grade lock for your bike.

11. Be minimalist
Don't buy lots of nick-knacks. Especially if you are doing your PhD abroad, you probably won't be able to drag all your belongings back to your home country after graduation. Focus on the essentials, a capsule wardrobe, a pocket kitchen, and don't buy things you won't be keeping later.

12. Look for online deals
If you are planning time away from your work or time to relax, look for deals online. If you want to go away for a weekend, look for discounted deals. If you feel like getting a massage, see if you can use a group coupon or other type of deal to get a lower price. Don't get the first thing you see, but explore different options.

13. Bike or walk your commute
Save on gas or your bus fare, and walk or bike your commute (provided that you can do so safely). If you start the day on the bike, you'll get to the office with a fresh head and you get some exercise every day. I always bike my commute in the Netherlands and walk my commute in Ecuador (unless it's too late at night), and I enjoy this a lot.

14. Shop for presents online and ahead of the season
Gather presents for birthdays and Christmas throughout the year. When a good deal comes up for something you want to buy for your loved ones, take advantage of the offer and buy ahead of the holiday period. You probably will get the item at a lower price, and you avoid the craziness of malls around the holidays, which may confuse you and tempt you to buy too many things.

15. Ask yourself what is really necessary
Are certain expenses (such as getting a haircut. something I hardly every spend money on) really necessary, or are you just doing this because that's what you've always spent money on. Do you need to buy new clothes every season, or can you use what you already have? Can you cook with what's in your pantry instead of shopping for new food items?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

I am Kerry McCullough, and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing Kerry McCullough in the "How I Work" series. Kerry is a finance lecturer in the School of Accounting, Economics and Finance at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Her research interests fall into two broad areas: finance and education. Her doctoral thesis considered the manner in which information is assimilated into stock prices, and proposed a latent variable approach to determining which specific types of information are relatively more important to certain assets. The educational aspects of teaching finance, including an ongoing project aimed at helping first-time researchers manage their first full research project, are key interest of hers.

General
Current Job
: Lecturer (Finance)
Current Location: KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Current mobile device: Samsung A5
Current computer: Acer Aspire V3 i7, 17.3”, 16GB Memory, 1750GB HDD. I used real time financial trade data in my PhD and so needed the more powerful computer to manage the large data sets. I add a second screen (a 50cm Packard-Bell) to this set-up, which I would recommend to anyone using multiple programs at once.

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

I have been a Finance lecturer at UKZN for 9 years. I have recently submitted my PhD (by Publications). I am hoping to complete my Post Graduate Diploma in Higher Education in 2018, and am currently taking an edX course with the Linux Foundation (Blockchain for Business – An Introduction to Hyperledger Technologies). My finance research interests are focused on capital markets, considering market efficiency, information transmission, volatility, and performance. In education, my research interests include active learning and encouraging meaningful research and engagement in group/team-based projects.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
A statistical analysis software is essential. I have used R, EViews, Stata, JMulti, Excel and Nvivo over the course of the last few years. I do all my writing in Microsoft Word, and I reference manually as I go.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I move between my home office (L picture) and my work office (R picture). I find working at home more productive for writing, and so I try to reserve my non-teaching days for the home-office where possible.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Being part of a writing group and/or taking part in writing retreats is something I would highly recommend.

For every day advice - just get started. I find that if you can get those first 5 minutes done, hours of work usually follow.

Keep a ‘progress’ journal. I log each research day with a summary and note where I need to start next.

It is helpful to have a personal ‘reference library’ within reach. I draw on the following frequently: Prof. Carol Alexander’s series on Market Risk Analysis; Prof. Ruey S. Tsay’s Multivariate Time Series Analysis (applications in R); Prof. Chris Brooks’ Introductory Econometrics for Finance (applications in EViews) and Sean Becketti’s Introduction to Time Series Using Stata (applications in Stata).

Follow several academic blogs. I am often very grateful for a particular post arriving at just the right moment for motivation or advice. David Giles’ blog “Econometrics Beat” is great for anyone in Finance/Econometrics/Statistics, and of course there are many excellent writing and research ones, including: PhD Talk, Patter, The Professor is In, The Thesis Whisperer, Research Degree Voodoo, Explorations of Style, and Doctoral Writing.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

I keep a running to-do list in a journal style notebook, along with a small year-long calendar to track day-to-day details and deadlines in an easy to see summary of the most important things.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I often use a tablet (iPad) for convenience rather than carrying a laptop around.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

I genuinely care about my students and their achievements. I count myself lucky to be working in a job I enjoy so much, that can be so rewarding, and which offers so many opportunities for learning.

What do you listen to when you work?

At my very quiet home office, I rarely listen to anything; however, at my work office and on writing retreats I often have something playing in the background with a tempo to match my typing speed.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I have a long drive to and from campus (an hour each way to my primary campus, more to my secondary campus) and so I get a lot of ‘reading’ done using the Audible App. At the moment, I am listening to Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?

More of an introvert, which is why I find home office days more productive for writing.

What's your sleep routine like?

I try to ensure that I’ve had a solid 8 hours by the time my alarm goes off at 6am. I’m often up before that however, and so very rarely start my work day later than 7am.

What's your work routine like?
The first thing I do each day is make a cup of tea, which I take to my home office computer and deal with emails and the quick and easy items on the to-do list. I then turn to the longer tasks of the day – writing, grading, lecturing, supervision, reviewing etc.

What's the best advice you ever received?
I was due to attend a week-long writing retreat, and on the morning it started a family member fell ill. I called the retreat coordinator (our College Dean of Research at the time) from outside the Emergency Room to explain that I would be running a little late. Her support and advice was that, “Some of the balls we juggle are glass – and family are one of the glass balls that cannot be dropped. Go and look after your family. If you can join us later, do; but not to worry if you can’t.” I have since found the ‘glass ball’ advice to be a great way of getting perspective when necessary.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

On finding the right time to meet

Recently, a discussion on Twitter made me realize that finding the right time to meet is not as straightforward. I always thought lunch meetings are the favorite choice, as they provide free food. During the discussion, however, I realized that for those with digestive issues, special dietary needs, or food-related anxieties, lunch meetings can be very stressful. A few other options may also be difficult for your colleagues:
  • early morning meetings: for some colleagues, this timeslot falls before their regular childcare, so they'll have to find (and pay for) a way to attend
  • morning meetings: your night owl colleagues may feel drowsy
  • lunch meetings: as mentioned before, food may trigger problems for some of your colleauges
  • coffee meetings: not everybody likes tea or coffee
  • later afternoon meetings: your colleagues with children may not have childcare outside of those hours

Considering these constraints, I suggest you discuss with your colleagues when would be a good time to meet - not just based on when their planner is still empty, but when they have no other constraints that make the meeting difficult to attend!

You can find the Twitter discussion here:

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