Thursday, March 15, 2018

On writing habits

I ran a poll about the writing habits of academics on Twitter, as I was curious to see if most people write every day, or if they do a major writing effort when a deadline approaches.

The results are in, and you can find more information about the following discussion in the Storify below:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Research and breastfeeding: My story (part 4)

Before I start to tell you my story about how I combine research and breastfeeding my baby girl, I need to tell you that it is my deepest wish that all parents are respected for whatever choice they make to feed their child. Breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, donor milk, formula… if your choice is what you want, it is the right thing to do for you and your family. In my opinion, choices empower families, and there is no “one size fits all” solution. I hope that in the future policy makers will enable a wide range of choices to accommodate the different needs of different families.

With that said, my goal from the beginning was to breastfeed my baby. I had no idea what this would actually be like, and how this would work out practically as I’d return to work. I’ve been blessed to have great support in the hospital and at home with a midwife to start with breastfeeding, and I was lucky that my husband could bring me the pump I needed when he went on a trip to the USA. I fully realize that I am speaking from a privileged position.

There’s been challenges along the way. My baby wasn’t gaining enough weight in the beginning for us to get cleared to travel with her, and we supplemented with formula for a while. I had mastitis 10 days postpartum. The first two pumps I bought (a manual and electric one) didn’t work very well for me. I never managed to extract a single drop with the manual pump, and the electric one didn’t give me good results at the beginning. I read every possible website out there and watched every youtube video of pumping moms to learn how to make it work. It had to work, as right at the end of my maternity leave, after 12 weeks, I had to travel to a conference, so I had to freeze enough pumped milk to feed my baby. I ended up getting up at stupid-o-clock to pump in the middle of the night, as that was the time when I could pump the largest volume.

Besides these challenges, it has been a beautiful journey. It took me some effort, but by now I have established good routines. Here’s what has helped me to keep breastfeeding my child after returning to work and while I was separated from her for a conference:

1. A good pump and fitting (spare) parts
After struggling with pumps that didn't work well, getting a double electric pump suitable for pumping several times a day was a life-changer for me. It also came just in time before my trip abroad for a conference. I can't imagine sitting in between meetings for an hour with a single electric pump. Make sure you have spare parts with you when you travel. Get the right size of flanges. This may be a small (and cheap) detail, but it will make all the difference in terms of comfort.

2. Start pumping early
If you will need to pump at work, don't wait until your first day back at work to pump. Start pumping early to get used to it, and to start building your freezer stock. Don't panic if the first few times you pump very little at all. Just relax, and know that you have time to get used to it. It's a different sensation and your body needs to get used to it.

3. Get help when in doubt
When in doubt, consult a midwife or lactation consultant. In Ecuador, there is less support for breastfeeding working moms, so I read a lot online, asked a friend of mine for advice all the time, and went through a lot of trial and error. Inform about who you can turn to when you have questions, and also inform what your insurance can provide you with. Some insurances in some countries cover the cost of a breastpump.

4. Find out where you'll pump at work or when traveling
Find out in advance where you will be able to pump. You'll need a clean space to pump (pumping in a bathroom is uncomfortable and significantly increases the risk for mastitis - nobody should shame you into hiding in the bathroom), somewhere to clean your pump parts, and a fridge or cooler to store the pumped milk. When you travel to a conference, ask if they have a nursing room available. Don't be afraid to ask - the organizers can't think of everybody's needs.

5. Plan your breaks
How often does your baby eat at home? You will have to pump more or less with the same frequency if you are not around your baby. For me, that means pumping every 2 hours, otherwise I will get uncomfortable. Plan your schedule around your pumping breaks, and figure out if you can do something while you pump, for example: replying emails, or reading articles. I credit the fact that our breastfeeding is going well mostly to planning for pumping and pumping for the future. I also *like* being able to plan ahead and calculate how much milk she will need for when I'm away, and steadily working towards building supplies for her.

6. Eat and drink enough
It should be a no-brainer, but the lactation period is not a time for drastic diets. Feed yourself so you can feed your child. It takes 85 kcal to produce 100 ml of breastmilk, so you need your calories. You also need to drink enough fluids. Eat a variety of foods rich in micronutrients to support your body - producing and feeding for your child is hard work, and your body needs all the help it can get.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The End of Average - or how to tailor higher education to the individual student

In "The End of Average", Todd Rose explores how "averagerianism" has impacted our society. In this book, he discusses how companies do better when they look at the individual worker instead of the average worker, and he gives ideas for tailoring higher education to the individual student rather than to the average student. You can find interviews with Rose on this topic here and here. This post describes an example of personalized higher education for an accountant. You can find a good summary of the ideas on higher education here.

I've been wrestling with the idea of how to accommodate different learning styles in the classroom in the past. When I was a student, there were courses that I preferred to study on my own - I did not attend the lectures, but sat with the material, and then just showed up for the exam. In the traditional view of higher education, that would be considered as "bad" behavior - but I prefer to sit down in silence and sketch and figure out things on my own for certain subjects. As a professor, I feel it would be strange to demand class attendance from my students when I did not always attend class myself. But I'm completely at a loss on how to fit different learning styles into my teaching and into a typical semester. A solution to this, as suggested by Rose, would be to throw away the notion of "slow" and "fast" learners, and to evaluate students when they have completed the course material. To make this possible, however, we would need to break down the semester system, and the traditional lectures.

Another topic that Rose brings up is the idea of "credentials" - certifications of certain skills that are directly applicable to job seekers. To get to a certain profile for a job you want, you can stack credentials and develop a portofolio of specific skills. I'm not so sure that this may be a good idea, for three reasons. Rose argues that traditional higher education fits into Taylorism, and the idea of laborers as average workers that can be easily replaced. However, by changing higher education so that it solely suits the needs of the industry, we may not be honoring students as individuals in the end. The second problem that I see here is that some people like myself, who love studying for the sake of studying, would never leave university. If there is no final degree, then when do you know you are "done" and can move onto the next level (MSc. or Ph.D level)? A final issue with credentials is the loss of general topics in college related to communicating and critical thinking. Unless every student is required to get a basic credential in these topics, the very heart of the university as a place for debate, lingering on thoughts, and interchange, seems to get lost.

With these aforementioned elements that I like and dislike about "The End of Average" in mind, I do would like to continue the discussion about how we can fit higher education better to the needs, learning styles, and interests of every single student instead of to the average student. What should we evaluate? How should we evaluate students? How should we teach them? In short, what can we do better?

In short - if you want to read a thought-provoking book about how to change higher education, I recommend you pick up a copy of "The End of Average".

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Maternity leave in academia

I recently ran a poll on Twitter about maternity leave in academia. I can't draw a main conclusion about the length of leave, as I learned through the interactions that there are many different schemes: paid versus unpaid, no leave versus up to a year of leave, ...

Here you can find the Storify of the discussion that followed from the poll:

Thursday, March 1, 2018

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to author academic books

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!

When you finish your dissertation, you may be wondering what is next. Have you considered turning your thesis into a book, either an academic book or perhaps a non-fiction book? Or when you have taken on a large project as a post-doc, and published several papers on the topic, you may feel ready to take the next step and write a book about this topic.

Granted, after finishing your dissertation or after turning in a manuscript, writing a book may be the last thing on your mind. You'd rather not type out any word again. But writing books is part of academic life, a skill to master, and a way to share your knowledge. Depending on your field, it may be a requirement for tenure, or it may simply be a step to take to grow your reputation as an authority in your field.

There are several ways to develop ideas for books to write. Your first step is always to pitch the idea to a publisher. Inquire first about the formats they use for writing a book proposal, so that you have an idea on which information you need to present your idea. Most book proposals require you to describe what the book will be about, who the book will be useful for, which other titles on the topic already exist and how your book is different, and a short chapter-by-chapter description or table of contents.

In this post, we'll zoom in to the very first step of writing a book: how can you turn a research project or other work you did into an idea for a book? There are several categories you can consider:

1. From thesis to academic book
You may think that turning your thesis into an academic book is overdone. If somebody wants to know about your research, they can read your dissertation, right? In fact, you should consider the audience. Researchers, especially those in your field, will read your dissertation. If you turn the work of your dissertation into an academic book, it should serve a broader audience. Think about the way your work can benefit practitioners and a broader academic audience. Can you include case studies, design examples, or discuss the way forward for your field based on your work? You write a dissertation as the answer to a research question, and a book as a tool for its readers - keep that in mind when you decide which topics to include.

2. From thesis to non-fiction book
If you like writing and are willing to chew on every sentence, writing a non-fiction book for the broader public can be the way to go. Go from "answering your research question" as you did in your dissertation to "telling a story" and/or "giving insights and advice" based on your research. Did you come across interesting people or anecdotes during your research? Take a storyline as the center of your narrative and move away from purely answering your research question.

3. From research project to book
A research project other than your PhD research can become a book too. If you are in the post-doc phase or are an early career researcher on the tenure track, you will not be combining the insights of your new research into a thesis anymore. Instead, you can bundle your knowledge into a book. Again, you should write the book (and of course, the book proposal first) with your reader in mind: what can they learn and use from the work you have been carrying out? Take that as your main point, and develop your work around what serves your reader.

4. From blog to book
If you write a blog about research, you can turn your posts into an e-book. With PhD Talk and AcademicTransfer, we have done this already and made our best work available as a free e-book. You too can decide to either turn your most-read posts into a "best of" e-book, or you can decide to select a number of posts around the same topic and work these into a book focused on one element.

5. From class notes to coursebook
If you are teaching, you will develop your own classnotes. You may be using a classic textbook, and develop your notes based on the textbook. If you are in a new field, if the available textbooks are outdated, or if no textbooks are applicable to the context of your location, then you will have to develop your classnotes by bringing together information from different publications, invent examples, and synthesize the information as you prepare your lectures. The next step can be to turn the information you developed yourself into a coursebook and publish it.

6. Become editor of a technical book
Being an editor to a book written with experts in your field is a whole different beast, and I certainly could devote an entire post to this. However, in this post our focus is on getting ideas for books and book proposals. If you have a number of colleagues you often see at conferences or work together with at certain occasions, you can ask for their effort in the form of contributing a chapter to an edited volume. The advantage of an edited volume is that it can shine different lights on a hot topic.

7. Become editor of a collection of essays
Besides the nitty-gritty of the technical content that you find in an edited volume, you can also act as editor of a collection of essays. Sometimes, such books are published to honor a giant in your field, and all past students and collaborators contribute with an essay on their collaboration with this giant, on life lessons he/she gave the author, or by discussing several important elements of the work of this giant. An other option for a collection of essays is combining efforts with colleagues and sharing your points of view related to higher education, foreign policy, teaching techniques...

With this list of ideas, which book project will you tackle?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lesson Learned: Writing Peer-Reviewed Research Articles

Today, I'm hosting Dr. Rasheda Weaver, who shares with us what she learned about writing during her PhD. Rasheda L. Weaver, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Community Entrepreneurship at the University of Vermont where she teaches classes and conducts research on social enterprises, businesses that seek to combat social problems. She conducted the first large-scale study of the social, economic, and legal activities on social enterprises in the United States. You can email her at and follow her on Twitter @RLWeaverPhD.

After graduating with a PhD in Public Affairs from Rutgers University in May 2017, I wanted to take some time to reflect, discuss, and share some of the lessons that I learned about writing for peer-reviewed journals throughout my doctoral program. The lessons are organized below by the following three themes: 1) The Writing Process, 2) Organization and Interpretation, and 3) Peer-Reviewed Publications and the Job Search.

The Writing Process

* Binge vs. Incremental Writing
o Binge writing consists of writing for large amounts of time (e.g. several hours), but people tend to do this periodically. Incremental writing involves writing for short time periods (e.g. 30 minutes a day) on a regular basis, usually daily. When I entered my doctoral program, I thought that I was a binge writer. However, after taking the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity's 14-Day Writing Challenge, I realized that incremental writing helped me in various ways. It made writing a more reflective, inspirational, and stress-reducing practice for me. As an academic, writing is an essential part of my career and thus should not be a struggle. Developing a daily writing habit enables me to feel comfortable and at ease with my writing, research, and my daily life as an Assistant Professor. Writing, usually at the beginning of, every workday enables me to feel accomplished every day and to enjoy my weekends off.
* Using a Research Diary
o Using a research diary for taking methodological, theoretical, reflective, and observational notes can be useful for logging important information about a manuscript. Research diaries may be an actual notebook or an electronic notebook like those in Evernote. However, I usually use Google Docs because I can access it from everywhere and many of my files are already stored in Google Drive. I use my research diary for keeping track of reflections on my writing and research over time, which has helped me write new papers and to ask new research questions. I also use it to track information that I delete from a manuscript over time. This has helped me retrieve information that a reviewer asks me for during the review process. I learned this strategy while working on research with Rutgers University-Camden Professor Stephen Danley (Twitter @SteveDanley) and it is consistently useful.

Organization and Interpretation
* One Subject Per Paragraph
o Focusing on 1 subject per paragraph can be difficult, but it increases the clarity and flow of a manuscript, which makes it easier to understand the knowledge being disseminated to readers.
* Making Every Sentence Count and Getting Peer Feedback
o Proofreading manuscripts thoroughly and sending them to friends, colleagues, and/ or research assistants can help eliminate filler, redundant sentences. They can also provide important feedback on ideas within manuscripts. During my PhD program, I had two go-to proofreaders that were also students in my program and one outside of my program that is a friend that works outside of my field. Now, as an Assistant Professor, I ask my research assistants to proofread and critique my manuscripts before I send them to journals. If the people that know my work cannot figure something out or feel that there are grammatical errors and redundant sentences, then journal reviewers will likely feel the same way. Thus, I am a big believer in getting peer feedback, even if it is just for proofreading. However, I only send my manuscripts to people I trust in an effort to prevent plagiarism.
* Illustrations and Tables are Essential Communication Tools
o Using illustrations such as graphs, logic models/flow charts, and tables aid in communicating important concepts and results. I try not to write any manuscript without visual aids. This is extremely important for manuscripts that some may find particularly difficult to read or that discuss esoteric concepts.

Peer-Reviewed Publications and the Job Search
* The Number and Timing of Manuscripts
o Peer-reviewed publications are extremely important during the academic job search process. Many applications for assistant professorships require the submission of several articles with the application, which serves as writing samples and as proof of the applicant's productivity. Some doctoral students delay sending manuscripts to journals until their later years without realizing that:
  • Journals may take months to review your manuscript and even when they do they may still reject you.
  • There are several stages to getting a manuscript published (e.g. desk rejection, revise and resubmit with major/minor revisions, proofing). Scholars should expect that even if their manuscript gets past the desk rejection phase, it may be returned for revise and resubmits on multiple occasions, which can take months.
  • One of the main requirements to even applying for assistant professorships is a PhD and thus that only qualifies scholars to APPLY for such positions. Many, if not most, universities use publications as a key indicator of whether or not applicants will be successful at their institutions. Thus, having one or more publications will help you in the job search, but you have to make sure you set aside time to write, reflect, and revise them and to go through the publication process to increase your chances for success.
  • Having peer-reviewed articles under review or forthcoming helped the search committee assess my potential productivity and indicated that I understand the realities of the publication process (e.g. long wait times, revise and resubmits).

I hope you enjoyed reading about these lessons that I have learned about writing peer-reviewed research articles. Please feel free to share some lessons that you have learned in the comments.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

PhD Defenses around the world: a Defense from Literature at the University of New Mexico

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Dr. Karra Shimabukuro to the "Defenses around the world" series. Dr. Karra Shimabukuro recently defended her dissertation from the University of New Mexico. Her research interests include how issues of class and nationalism function in literature and popular culture, and reflect the fears, anxieties, and desires of a specific historical and cultural moment.
Her most recent work exposed the whole cloth creation of Elfego Baca as a New Mexican folk hero for Western Folklore, an examination of the folkloric forest’s impact in Twin Peaks for Cinema Journal: In Focus, Freddy Krueger’s folkloric roots as a bogeyman in Studies in Popular Culture, and the functional aesthetics in the Nightmare on Elm Street series in Style and Form in the Hollywood Slasher Film.

I started my coursework at the University of New Mexico in August 2013. I comped in Middle English literature, early modern literature, and folklore and methodology in February 2015. I defended my prospectus in March 2015. Early November 2017, I defended my dissertation.

In our English department, most dissertations are 150-200 pages, and roughly four or five chapters. We do not have a separate literature review, rather these are integrated into the chapters themselves. My dissertation, “Devilish Leaders, Demonic Parliaments, and Diabolical Rebels: Nationalistic Rhetoric in English Literature from Malmesbury to Milton” covered a variety of genres (chronicle, Middle English poem, Shakespearean tragedy and history, and epic) through the longue duree of 1125-1674. My dissertation consisted of an introduction, and then a chapter each on the genres above, and a conclusion. With this, plus the front matter, primary source list, secondary source list, it clocked in at 262 pages.

In our department we have a dissertation director, two to three other committee members (I had two), and an outside reader. The format of my defense was a 15-20 minute presentation of my work, then a round of 15 minute questions from each committee member, and then a follow up of 5 minute questions. Only two of my members were on campus, so I Skyped in my outside reader and third committee member. I enlisted friends the night before to test the tech, and made sure I emailed the committee with contingency plans. The room I defended in was designed for conferencing, so that helped, and I had defended my prospectus in it, since we’d also Skyped in my outside reader then, so I was familiar with the layout.

My defense was scheduled for 2p, and I got to campus a little after noon so I could get parking, grab lunch, and not feel rushed or panicked. I headed over to our department around 130p to check in, and be let into the room to set up. There were some minor hiccups-- wrong HDMI cable was hooked up, one member was in Google Hangouts, another in Skype, but we were able to get it all sorted, and only started a few minutes late.

I originally thought my presentation would be more about the process, and the larger takeaways, as I never understood summarizing the dissertation to people who had just read it. I also thought about mentioning some of the cool projects that had come out of the work, future plans, and digital humanities work. However, my director advised me to focus on the major arguments and I ended up giving a pretty conservative presentation that just walked through the dissertation. After my presentation, each member took their fifteen minutes to ask me various questions about the dissertation. As prep for this I had researched types of questions generally asked at vivas/defenses, and had prepared answers. I also went through emails and notes from my committee and wrote down concerns, pet peeves, issues, and also came up with answers for these as well as page numbers for reference. The weekend before, I reread the dissertation, and marked items based on these two things, that I thought might come up.

Not a single thing I prepped came up. There were no questions about how the project changed over time, or what I thought it contributed to the field, or why I defined my research question the way I did, or recent scholarship that hadn’t been included or my post dissertation plans. Instead, there were questions about how I defined the political devil, and key terms, as well as questions about why I did X over Y. For me, it felt more like a defense of ideas than I guess I was expecting. I took notes (which I used to address the revisions I was given), my friend videoed it, and at the time, I did not feel like there was anything I was asked that I didn’t respond well to. After the two rounds of questions, me, my best friend, and a graduate student who had attended were asked to leave while my committee deliberated. We were not out long, and when we returned, I was told that they had decided to pass me with minor revisions. My director then went over the list of revisions, I thanked my committee, and that was it.

In the week or so since, I have a couple of takeaways. The first is that even though much of what I prepped was never brought up, I felt better going in having done it. The second is that no matter how the defense goes, how you feel, both in the ramp up and afterwards, as long as you pass, that is what matters. Once they say “doctor” they’re not going to take it back. The rest just becomes things to check off the list. I finished my revisions, and I sent them off to my director, so I’m just waiting for those to be approved so I can submit. Maybe then it will feel real. Nothing in my life has really changed, I went back to my high school teaching job Saturday. And even though I felt good in the defense, in the week since, I have a vague, nagging feeling I disappointed my committee. I’m trying not to dwell on that. I’m trying to focus on what I’ve accomplished, and the new beginning I have.