Doing your first conference presentation – Tips and Tricks

By Jitske Both-Nwabuwe | reading time: 5 minutes

At one point in your PhD career you will most likely present some of your work at a conference. The first time can be scary. I know I was! It was pretty scary to fly halfway across the globe to present to people I did not know.

I had my first conference presentation at the 2nd Meaningful Work Symposium in Auckland, New-Zealand. In this blog I share my experiences and give you some tips and tricks on how to prepare and survive your first conference presentation.

Phase 1: Preparations before the conference

You got the acceptance e-mail: you are going to present at a conference!  I do not know about you, but for me – after the initial thrill – I started to worry: How am I going to pull this off? Well just follow these tips:

  • Contact your hero – fellow PhD student (if you have one)

Maybe be you have a fellow PhD student who can present very well. He or she is your hero concerning presentation skills. Well, find this fellow PhD student and ask for help.

  • Choose your key message

Usually your paper, which you are about to present, contains multiple key messages. However, you cannot tell them all! A general rule: for every key message you need 10 minutes. Try to find out how much time you will actually have and choose your key message wisely. I ended up choosing the ‘wrong’ key message. So make sure you know the reason why your article was accepted. Don’t worry if you can’t tell about everything that is important. People will ask you to share more during the round of questions. They did so after my presentation, so be prepared!

  • Use pictures

Ask yourself, what do you like to see: a picture or a sheet full of words? Right, the idiom “a picture is worth more than a thousand words” is also very true for your conference presentation. Try to use pictures instead of words. The slides are there to support your verbal message. Do not write down the whole story on your slides.

  • Make it fun

Your audience members are human beings. Human beings like to be entertained. So present your main message with some fun. This can be a story, an anecdote or a funny picture. In my case I used the anecdote of President Kennedy visiting NASA Space centre.

  • Practice for a variety of audiences

This includes practicing in front of yourself in the mirror.  Then, practice in front of your family. Most likely your family will listen and nod friendly. They will, however, not understand the message. But they can give you great feedback on the speed of your words, pronunciations, jokes etc. Also try to practice in front of your supervisors. And finally, practice in front of yourself in the mirror again. Especially when you are not a native speaker it is good to practice with pronunciations. The general rule is: practice at least three times and one time more than you think is necessary.

Phase 2: During the conference and presentation

So it is your time to present. Whether you are first or last, it does not matter. This is your moment and you should grab it. If you have practiced your presentation, you will do fine.  Here are some tips if:

  • The computer/beamer is failing.

If your presentation does not start (like mine), do not panic. Just ask for help.

  • You get difficult questions

When your presentation is finished and you get a question you cannot answer: do not panic. It is a good sign if you get questions.  People relate to your story and you made them think. Difficult questions are a good sign as well: you made them think deeply! If you do not know the answer, no problem, just ask a question in return. Can you explain?  What do you mean? And make it interactive. You are here to exchange ideas and to get feedback on your work to improve it.

Phase 3: After the presentation

Be proud (no matter how it went). You have survived and made your introduction to the scientific community! Enjoy the rest of the conference and the pub later. Connect with the people who asked questions and the other presenters. In the end this is the main purpose of presenting at conferences; getting to know colleagues in your field of expertise.

Veni, vidi, vici

So I survived my first conference presentation. Although it did not go perfectly, I had fun, got thought-provoking questions, learnt a lot, and met interesting colleagues. I hope my experiences, tips and tricks will help you to prepare and survive your first conference presentation.

For more tips on tricks on presentations you can also read the blog: ‘how to make a successful research poster‘.


Jitske Both-Nwabuwe is a PhD candidate in the Organizational Science department. Her research focuses on ‘The role of meaningful work in the sustainable employability of nurses‘.

N.B. trip was partially funded by the VU Graduate School of Social Sciences (VU-GSSS), for which I was really grateful

Dealing with the review process – The artist and the PhD

Thijs WillemsBy Thijs Willems / Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Imagine you’re an artist. You’re a painter currently carefully transforming an empty canvas into a magical landscape. No less than eight months you spent inside your musty little attic room to paint. But without complaining for a second, as you believe to be creating what will become your masterpiece. Autumn passed, as you were convinced that the colors of the leaves falling off the tree would be inspiration enough to turn the white canvas into a mosaic of playful colors. Winter was spent inside, to reflect the shadows and contrasts in the sky onto your painting in order to give it that necessary touch of drama. The summer passed and, instead of enjoying warm, long evenings in the park with your friends and a bottle of wine, you spent hour after hour to capture the right hue of color for the sunbeams behind the clouds.

Picture1

Eight months passed and, after much deliberation, you decide the time has come to show your masterpiece to the public. You invite an eclectic bunch of experts, big names and hotshots in the world of art, to give their initial thoughts and suggestions. They seem to love it! “Amazing colors, I can see you put your heart in it”, says one. “This is really interesting, it tells the Big Story of Life”, another adds.

The conversation continues for a while, and after all the compliments have been shared, the Cubist starts: “But…” As an artist you’re used to critique, so you recognize this word as the start of some, hopefully constructive, commentary.

“But… you really need to add some straight lines to make it more contemporary.” The others nod. The Minimalist: “I agree, but I also think you’ve painted way too much. Too much is happening on the sides of the painting, way too much.” Finally, the Impressionist adds: “I agree with the aforementioned comments. And yet… You haven’t captured the true essence of the sun. There’s too much detail and I’d rather see short, thick strokes of paint.” The experts leave and, slightly blown away, you start redoing your masterpiece with care. To satisfy the Minimalist, you cut off three inches from the sides of the painting; for the Impressionist to be happy, you transform the subtle colors of the sun into thick, broad patches of yellow and red; to make your painting more contemporary, as the Cubist requested, you fill the sky with random squares. You slowly step back to ponder your masterpiece and in awe you come to realize that this is not your work anymore.

This story could easily be told in a different context, where the PhD is the artist, the painting his/her paper, and the experts the reviewers of a journal. Getting your work published may be a daunting task, especially for new scholars. You spent a great deal of time, energy, and sometimes even love, in writing about your research. You are the proud artist of this text and you feel it is a worthwhile read for others in your field. You know you will have to reach this broader public by getting your paper published in one of the journals in your field. You finish the paper, submit it to a journal, wait, wait some more, wait a bit longer, and then you finally receive the review reports. It may be a desk rejection (the most common response of journals), a major or minor revision, or a straightforward acceptance (that seldom happens).

In my opinion, the major revision is the most challenging kind of review report to deal with. It often implies the editor and reviewers see, somewhere hidden between the lines of your text, the merits or contributions of your paper. The reviewers, then, often ask questions, critique your argument or provide suggestion on how to make the still implicit contribution of your paper more explicit. This may often involve serious and even impossible requests: “You position your paper in the context of Theory A, but we think it is more appropriate for Theory B, C or D. Please write a new paper”; “The theoretical point is really interesting, but the research is not convincing enough. Do the research again”; “We need much more detail in the theoretical and empirical part of the paper. Also elaborate your discussion further and include points 1 to 7. Oh… and please shorten the paper with at least 2,000 words”; “I don’t like your chosen methodology. Can you make a survey study out of your ethnographic data?”

I exaggerate a little bit, but the point I’m trying to make is that the review process is challenging, especially when you realize ‘your’ paper turns into a text that is different than you had intended. Below are some suggestions that may help you deal with this process:

  1. Even in case of a major revision, realize the reviewers and editors see considerable potential in your paper. Congratulations!
  2. In case of truly rigorous revisions you need to deal with a dilemma: re-write your paper to satisfy the reviewers with a chance on publication, re-write the paper and still end up with a rejection and a paper that only remotely looks like yours anymore, thank the journal and find another outlet (although the chances are pretty high the process at the other journal might be quite similar)
  3. When do you submit your paper? It might be easier to re-write a paper that was good enough but not yet perfect than a paper in which every word or punctuation mark has been deliberated at least three times. Maybe write a paper that is good enough to be taken in review? The perfect paper does not exist and reviewers will always have certain demands for a revision
  4. Make a careful choice about the fit between your paper and the journal you plan to submit to. Be aware of the current debates, what interests the readers of this journal, what is their writing style, etc. The reviewers need to understand why they should publish your paper instead of one of the other 50 submissions.
  5. Turn the problem around: journals have a ‘problem’ too (see Hollenbeck, 2008). They often have very limited space to publish interesting work, so the role of editors is to find the right paper to attract readers.
  6. Use footnotes. Sometimes, the reviewers want you to expand on certain concepts while you simply do not have the space to do so. You can still acknowledge their comments (and show the readers of your paper you have considered alternatives), without taking up too many valuable words.
  7. Treat the reviewers as experts, as in most cases they will be (provided you chose a respectable journal). So, their suggestions are not meant just as critique but are actually potential ways to make your paper more interesting.
  8. However, do not follow all suggestions religiously. Show some guts and refuse certain points of critique if you do not agree with them. However, always write an extensive cover letter when you submit the revision. Here you can explain choices made, how you went about revising the paper, and carefully argue why you did not follow some of the reviewers’ suggestions. In the end, this is all of help in constructing a more convincing argument.
  9. Leave the review report for a while. The moment you receive a report that contains more pages than your initial submission, it is quite difficult to digest it all at once. Read it, leave it, and then read it again after a week or so.
  10. Read the reports together with colleagues. They are a little more distanced than you are and will probably be able to distinguish the reviewers’ main points from only minor remarks.
  11. If all still does not go well, ventilate your aggression. I highly recommend the Facebook page ‘Reviewer 2 Must Be Stopped
  12. There may be many more tips… Please share your tips below!

In the end, the goal is to end up with a paper that has become better. A part of becoming a scholar is, perhaps, to learn how to deal with critique and use it to your own advantage. Even Albert Einstein’s applications have been rejected.

2

 _____________

Thijs Willems is a Phd candidate in the Organizational Science department. His research projects focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’.

References:

Hollenbeck, J. R. 2008. The role of editing in knowledge development: Consensus shifting and consensus creation. In Y. Baruch, A. M. Konrad, H. Aguinus, & W. H. Starbuck (Eds.), Journal editing: Opening the black box: 16 -26. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Comparing conferences – different crowds, different questions

testBy Tamara Bouwman / Reading Time: 5 Minutes / 

After so many years of being a PhD-candidate I’ve seen my share of conferences! In 2015 I attended three completely different conferences: one before summer, and two after (so I had time for a vacation IN summer 😉 ). ‘Different how?’ you may wonder – well, there are three main differences that I will point out in this blog: size of the conferences, topic (or field) and presentation-type.  I will briefly tell you about the three conferences and extract the best aspects of each of them. By doing so, I will be better prepared  for future conferences and make sure I get the most out of each conference visit!

phd052202s

The first conference was the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics – European Region (IAGG-ER) Congress in Dublin, Ireland (23-26 April). The theme of the conference was ‘Unlocking the Demographic Divided’.  This conference was a large gathering of scholars from all over the world. The size of the conference meant that sometimes there were up to 10 sessions parallel to each other. I was in one of these sessions and had about 10 minutes to tell the audience all about my work. A seemingly impossible task, which I somehow managed.

The second conference took place in mid-September (17 and 18 September) in Warsaw, Poland. This was the European Society for Research on Internet Interventions (esrii). The theme of this conference was:  ‘Internet Interventions for People and for Science’. At this conference, I gave a presentation of approximately 15-20 minutes. A funny thing was that I met a group of colleagues there from our own psychology department. Apparently, you have to go to the other side of Europe to meet people who actually work across campus from you.

The third conference was a Dutch conference held in Ede on October 2nd. This was the NVG-KNOWS conference – the conference of the Dutch association for gerontology- during which I presented a poster. The crowd that attended this conference was very mixed: there were fellow scholars, but also a lot of practitioners and other professionals.  It was a one-day conference, so a lot had to be done in one day and sessions were scheduled closely after another. The poster session was scheduled during the morning coffee break.

Conference Size:

I will now tell you about the differences. The first difference that I would like to discuss here is conference size. The IARR-ER conference was a large conference. Compared to this, the other two were small-scale, the internet intervention-conference (esrii) especially. It was hosted at one of Warsaw’s universities instead of the usual large-scale conference venue. Instead of 10 sessions parallel to each other, this conference consisted of only 10 presentation sessions and some additional (poster) sessions. A great advantage of this was that there was more time for the presentations. There was less hurry than at the IARR-ER, and I was allowed 15-20 minutes for my talk.

Presentation-type:

Considering presentation-type, I really enjoyed the set-up of the poster presentations at the Dutch gerontological NVG conference. Instead of leaving the participants just wander among the posters, the organization decided to make it a bit more structured. The posters were grouped into four topics so that interested participants could join one of the four topics for a pitch with each of the posters. I found this was a nice set-up, because in addition to one-on-one sessions, you also got the opportunity to talk to larger group all in once. Of course, later on there was also room for more in depth one-on-one discussions.

Topic:

And, finally, the topic (or field) of the conference. The first and the last conferences were gerontology conferences, whereas the middle one was (mainly) in the field of psychology. I did notice quite some differences between the questions I got asked by the different audiences. While at the Dutch gerontology NVG conference I got some more practical questions on the benefit of the research for people in ‘real-life’, the questions at the other two conferences focused a bit more on theory and especially on methodology.

phd082704s

In sum, I know more about my own conference preferences now.  As for size of the conference I must admit that the smaller conferences allow for more interaction with people you don’t know. At the big conferences, on the other hand, you can easily feel lost, both due to the huge amount of participants and the huge amount of content that comes flying at you (For survival tips read Marieke van Wieringen’s blog on how not to drown at conferences). All in all, I would advise (starting) PhD’s to try a bit of everything! So you should try to attend both big and small-scale conferences.

If you have the chance, I also strongly suggest you to participate in conferences in different fields, like I did by attending the very psychological focused conference on internet interventions. The different focus and questions you get asked will give you new ideas! Finally, If you haven’t done a poster presentation at a conference yet I can highly recommend it! It allows for a whole other type of interaction with interested people!

I’m very curious about you experiences – have you been to different conferences? And what differences (or maybe similarities) did you notice?

helpful tips

(If you want to know how to make a good poster read these two blogs: How to make a successful research poster? and  The aesthetics of science)

 

 

 

_________

Tamara Bouwman MSc is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Sociology. Her research project is about developing and testing a multifaceted, web-based, friendship program for adults aged 50 years

A plea for boring research (and how to make it interesting)

Thijs WillemsBy Thijs Willems / Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

A widely cited article from 1971 by Murray Davis starts as follows:

“It has long been thought that a theorist is considered great, not because his theories are true, but because they are interesting[1] (p. 309).

Although Davis’ claim might be provocative to some, I will not throw down this gauntlet here in this blog. Instead, I want to show how I discovered in my research that the interesting stuff is sometimes found in what at first sight may seem utterly boring or mundane. By means of pursue and persistence, the interesting can be found in the boring.

My research is about collaboration between the different railway organizations in the Netherlands. These organizations have had a rather turbulent history (see, for just one example out of many: http://bit.ly/1HVeJ2X) and with all the current media-attention and public opinions about the performance of NS and ProRail, it is hard to see what exactly is boring about my research. Nonetheless, not long after I started my fieldwork I took interest in the work of train dispatchers, who are responsible for the safe and efficient coordination of trains through stations. In practice, however, most of their work is automatized and dispatchers are mostly busy with the task of monitoring. Monitoring means: lean back in your chair and watch the computer systems do your work.

this3At first sight, I hardly considered to study these monitoring practices into more detail. It was difficult for me to believe that it would be of any significance for my research. However, after observing the dispatchers for quite some time and hearing them talk about their own work, I soon realized that perhaps it is exactly these apparently boring practices that may reveal  a very interesting world of railway employees. In the end, monitoring actually became one of the topics of my research*.
Instead of ‘doing nothing’, monitoring revealed how dispatchers, by means of their computer screens, ‘see and sense’ the railways. Whereas I saw dots, numbers and lines that apparently supposed to represent the actual train service, dispatchers saw an actual, concrete railway world.

This seeing and sensing is based on the fact that many dispatchers have been working for the railways for decades and gained a massive amount of practical knowledge. This may be knowledge ranging from how railway switches work to contextual details of the landscape adjacent to the tracks. John, one of the dispatchers I studied, told me how he once guided  the police (by phone) to a location very close to the tracks where one train driver saw a group of children playing with a ball. At first instance, the police could not find the exact location, but John was able to tell them that “they had to approach the area from the other side, just in front of the sawmill, as there’s a big viaduct blocking easy access”.

Claire, another dispatcher, told me stories about her previous work as a train driver,and how this helped her in being a good dispatcher. Every other day, someone in the Netherlands commits suicide by jumping in front of a train. This can have a tremendous impact on train drivers. The dispatchers are a drivers’ first point of communication after witnessing such a horrible situation. According to Claire, she is capable of having this conversation with the driver in an efficient way (to reduce the impact of this incident for other trains) because she does so emphatically. In other words, her experience as a train driver and witnessing what it means to see someone ‘jump’, is of great influence how she does her job. These stories that lay beneath the ‘boring’ practice of monitoring, taught me how collaboration between the different organizations during disruptions is much more than what I would ever read in handbooks or manuals.

Boring stuff may make you yawn in the first instance.But, there are several strategies through which you can possibly make the boring more interesting:

  • Persist! Whenever you notice something boring, don’t walk away. It may take some time before you can appreciate your observations as more than dull. Always remember the saying: ‘Ambition is the path to success, persistence is the vehicle you arrive in’.
  • Zoom in! From a distance, boring stuff is boring. Make it more interesting by getting up and close. I can guarantee you that even the 50 most boring things in the world will eventually reveal some very unexpected insights.
  • Breach! There have been numerous scholars studying the boring and mundane after Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), ranging from how people queue in supermarkets to how people greet each other on the streets. One of the ways these scholars reveal the interesting in the mundane, is by breaching the social norms and implicit rules to which these actions are organized. So, the next time someone asks you ‘How are you doing?’, do not reply with the standard ‘Great’ but try the following: ‘What do you mean, how am I doing? Do you mean mentally? Physically?’. I can assure you an interesting conversation will emerge.

Here you have it, my plea for boring research. I highly recommend Davis’ somewhat provocative article and hope that you will value the generation of ‘interesting’ new theory as much as the testing or verification of ‘uninteresting’ existing ones.

References

Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall.

Davis, M. S. (1971). That’s interesting. Philosophy of the social sciences, 1(2), 309.

[1] Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall.

* The paper I wrote about monitoring was presented at the Process Symposium on Kos, Greece. I would like to thank the Graduate Fund for the financial support to go there.

 _____________

Thijs Willems is a Phd candidate in the Organizational Science department. His research projects focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’.

 

 

 

Conducting Expert-interviews: some do’s and don’ts

Palm By Trineke Palm / Reading Time: 7 Minutes

In the spring of 2013 I stayed in Brussels for 3 weeks to interview policy-makers, military, diplomats and politicians on the development of the EU’s military operations. Interviewing is great fun, but also requires specific skills. Since there is relatively little guidance for doing interviews with elites & experts, let me share some first-hand experiences with you.

The people I spoke with, all have expert knowledge on EU military operations and the ability/opportunity to influence decision-making in this policy domain. Hence, they can be classified as both elites and experts (Littig 2009). This really sets those interviewees apart from conducting interviews with “normal” people who do not have a particular professional expertise and influential position in society. Expert interviews are all about: interest, power, control and hierarchy (Abels & Behrens 2009). How did I deal with these issues? Here are some practical tips:

Pre-interview: gaining access

Experts and elites are busy people. So, they’ll probably suggest to do it by phone or email. Don’t settle for that! Indicate that you are very flexible (make sure you really are!) and available to meet anywhere in a particular period of time (a few weeks). To make sure that your interviewees make some time for you, they have to see you as a competent scholar who is worthy to spend their valuable time with. This means that in your email you make abundantly clear that speaking to the particular interviewee is of great importance to your research. For this it helps to show that you know their CV. Also, attach two documents to your email:

  1. topic list indicating the topics you want to address in the interview. Although one could argue that you run the risk of too much transparency (e.g. you may steer the interview by explaining too well what you are after), I argue that it helps you gain access in the first place, and that this outweighs the potential disadvantages.
  2. An informed consent form. Although anonymity may be required, this way you can at least “proof” that you actually spoke with people and you were not just inventing your data. Moreover, while elites are well aware of the sensitivity of the information they provide, their influential position makes them vulnerable as well. Hence, to explicitly agree on the way the interview data is dealt with is part of a scientific and ethical approach towards conducting interviews – including expert interviews. Moreover, I had the impression that it contributed significantly to presenting myself as a competent scholar.

interThe interview itself: a balancing act

Since experts are accustomed to talk about their field of expertise and aiming at conveying a particular message (for strategic purposes), during the interviews itself some balancing acts are required.

  1.  Central to all introductions of conducting good interviews is that you have to ask open questions: You have to be open to what the interviewee is about to say and allow the interviewee to lead the conversation (Littig 2009). Take care however, that you do not end up listening for more than an hour to information that is irrelevant for you. You don’t want to leave the room without having raised the issues that are important to you!
  2. Hence, you’ll have to complement this open approach with leading questions. These induce the interviewee to go beyond the strategic message he/she aims to deliver. Of course you should make sure not to end up in a discussion with your interviewee – it’s not about what you think. Yet, by referring to other interviews, statements in newspapers/policy documents, or hypothetical situations you can confront your interviewee with competing viewpoints/explanations.
  3. Dare to drop a silence. Your interviewee may need to think for a while, and a silence subtly encourages them to further elaborate on the topic.
  4. Moreover, summarize what your interviewee has said, not only to make sure that you understand the interviewee correctly, but also as a follow-up to another question.

The avoidable risks

Abels en Behrens (in Littig 2009) distinguish some typical risks in the conversation with elites/experts. You have to know the risks to avoid them:

  1. The interviewee may take a paternalistic attitude, and not take you very seriously. Instead of answering questions about the topic of interest, this type of interviewee may want to give you some “advice” on your research design. Either allow the interviewee to make his main point in this regard, or propose to come back to this issue at the end of the interview. You may partly use this to your advantage – at least the interviewee does not see you as a threat;
  2. The interviewee may act as an iceberg, i.e. is not really willing to share information. This is a difficult, but in my experience also quite rare, situation. You can avert it by starting off with an open question about his/her position: this allows the interviewee to say a little more about him/herself, which make most icebergs melt.
  3. The interviewee may ask your opinion on the topic. This one is the most challenging, as you are indeed usually knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the topic. Yet, make sure that you don’t fall into this trick, as the interview is not about your opinion. Smile, thank the interviewee for asking and state that you are more than happy to provide him/her with the report once the research is finished.

Post-interview: stay in touch and keep control

After the interview, transcribe the interview and send it to the interviewee for a final check. This is a nice opportunity for dissemination of your data and a great way to stay in touch! Although some scholars (Dexter 1970/2006) argue that elites use “their roles as gatekeepers to information to control the conclusions the researcher may draw”. I have, however, luckily never experienced that. The informed consent form may also help in this regard because you’ve clearly discussed how you will deal with the transcription beforehand.

After having conducted a number of interviews, you’ll notice that not all interviewees have been of equal importance. While it is important to detect patterns and find a red thread, when interviewing experts and elites it is not so much about the consensus and the numbers. Rather, exceptions, deviations and unusual interpretations may be of great value to your research, particularly when provided by interviewees whose account is comprehensive, plausible and consistent.

In sum, when you are aware of the particularities of interviewing experts, they are a rich source of information. Moreover, because of their influential positions, they may turn out to be an important channel for the dissemination of your research.

Be well prepared, don’t get too much impressed and gently keep control. Good luck!

http://affiliate-101.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/top-affiliate-marketing-tip-for-beginners.jpg♦ Need to develop or refresh some fundamental interviewing-skills? Check out the summer course “Interviewing individuals and groups” offered by the VU Graduate School of Social Sciences ♦

___________

Trineke Palm MSc is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration. Her research is funded by a NWO Research Talent Grant and deals with the character of the EU’s foreign policy.

Coping with your PhD

Marloes Spekman By Marloes Spekman / Reading Time: 5 Minutes

Most PhD students will agree with me that doing a PhD project often feels like an emotional rollercoaster. For instance, you step into your office in a good mood and happy to finally start working on your data analysis or any other part of your study that you really enjoy doing. However, at the end of the day you are totally worn out by the fact that your journal/conference submission was rejected and you did not get any real work done after you received that e-mail. To make matters worse, guilt keeps you up at night, as a little voice in your head reminds you that “You should have been working on your project tonight! Your roommate is making much more progress on his/her project than you!”

As I have experienced quite a few emotional highs and lows since the start of my project, I have been looking everywhere for advice on how to cope with these PhD-related emotions. Over the years, I have talked to many people about it, participated in a variety of workshops and courses (such as the course “PhD Success and Personal Efficacy”, and workshops like “increase your confidence as a researcher[1]” and “happiness booster[2]”), and read quite a lot about it on the Internet and social media[3].

To keep you sane, here are a few points of advice that I got from these talks, courses and workshops which have helped me cope with my project thus far:

  • Ask yourself: Does obtaining a PhD degree make you a (morally) better person? Does a degree define you as a person?
    If you said yes to these questions, you either put too much pressure on yourself, or you don’t really struggle with these emotions as you are very motivated to devote your time to your PhD (which is awesome of course, as long as it makes you happy!).
    If you said no to these questions, you should probably not be working on your PhD 24/7, and you certainly should not feel guilty about mindlessly watching television at night after a day at the office, or devoting time to other activities that are important to you.
  • Stop comparing yourself to other PhD students.
    No PhD project is the same, and every PhD student is different in terms of ambitions, norms, skills, and productivity. If your office roommate often works at night and appears to eat, sleep, and breathe his/her research, that does not mean you have to do the same. Every PhD student has his/her own ways to be most productive. For example, I write best when I’m in the office with a little noise around me, while one of my roommates needs absolute silence and writes best in isolation. You can try out different things (including the things that work for PhD students around you), but try to find the way that works best for you.
  • Set small and feasible goals
    I personally find it difficult to read without getting distracted. My roommate suggested that I set a timer for 20 minutes, and stick with my reading for that 20 minutes (regardless of how much I actually read in that period). After 20 minutes, I give myself a 5-minute break and start a next cycle of 20 minutes. I have found that it’s now easier for me to accept distracting (and often unimportant) thoughts and basically say to them: “That’s okay, but I’ll get back to you in max. 20 minutes”. It has become easier to let it go, and the really important thoughts will pop back up after the 20 minutes. Since I use this method, reading has become much less of a hurdle. This also works for writing: instead of putting “finish dissertation” on your to-do list, try to break it up into little chunks (e.g., “Today, I will write the outline for my first chapter”). Achieving these smaller goals will make you feel good about yourself, and makes writing your dissertation a much more manageable task.
  • Reward yourself and celebrate your successes!
    Positive emotions are important to build resilience for coping with future periods of negative emotion and consequently for emotional well-being (according to the Broaden-and-build theory; Fredrickson, 1998; 2001). Thus, it is important to allow yourself some time to experience these positive emotions instead of rushing through them. Take some time to enjoy your achievements!
    Celebrate the big things, but do not forget to celebrate the little things as well! Did you write an awesome paragraph, or a great blog post? Reward yourself! If you do not know how to celebrate, then think about what makes you happy, and do that whenever you have something to celebrate! (It does not have to be big – 5 minutes of social media time can also be rewarding ;-)) Did you achieve something big? Then celebrate this big times!!
  • YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
    Even though a PhD project may, at times, make you feel very lonely, know that you are not the only one who experiences these emotions. Many PhD students are surprised to learn that the Imposter syndrome – the feeling that you don’t belong here because everyone else is doing better than you – is very common among PhD students. Other PhD students at times also have trouble finding their motivation or to keep themselves from procrastinating. If you talk to people about it, or search for it online, you will find a wealth of information and tools to help you through the project.

Keep-Calm-and-Write-On-true-writers-32054687-792-792

 

 

Experiencing these kinds of emotions as a PhD student is not strange. Even the most motivated PhD students (and professors as well!) have to deal with setbacks. It is part of the process. Remember, that you can do this! Just keep calm and write on (but take it one paragraph at a time ;-)).

 

 

 

Want to read more? Check out these pages:

References

Fredrickson, B.L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of general Psychology, 2(3), 300-319.

Fredrickson, B.L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The Broaden-and-Build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226.

[1] Workshop by Robert Haringsma of the IVPP (Instituut voor Positieve Psychologie; Institute for Positive Psychology), organized by the Graduate Platform of Social Sciences in January 2013.

[2] Workshop by Matthijs Steeneveld during the 2012 PhD Day organized by ProVU.

[3] Twitter follow tips: @PhD2Published, @thesiswhisperer, and @ltrprmvrn (and, if you are out for a laugh, try @YourPaperSucks, @AcademicBatgirl, @ResearchMark, or @angry_prof)

______________

Marloes Spekman works as a PhD candidate within the SELEMCA project. The SELEMCA project focuses on the use of technology, such as robots and virtual agents, in the health care domain. Within the project, Marloes specifically focuses on how people’s prior emotions affect their perceptions of healthcare robots.

Fieldwork: These tips are no tricks – Part 2

Efe Kerem SozeriBy Efe Kerem Sözeri / Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Fieldwork is sort of a dating site between the data and you. Tricking your dance partner will certainly make you fall, but knowing a few moves in advance can work well.

Previously, I wrote something about how to lose your way in the fieldwork and keep it cool; and on how your research can actually gain from such uncertainty. Despite how counter-intuitive it sounds, It takes experience to be lost, and a novice spirit to keep it cool.

Since the scientific progress is cumulative, I  offer below some fieldwork tips based on my humble experience (nanos gigantum humeris insidentes); and since it is collective, please share yours in the comments section.

  • Plan in advance, but keep your options open.

The previous post, “Field is the answer, what is the question?” is the first tip. As I said, Sometimes you find data, and sometimes data finds you. Fieldwork is sort of a dating site between the two of you. (See, you were planning to read one post, but there happens to be one more. Keep this tab open, and please come back after a brief detour.)

  • Do not work on the field, live in the field.

Before the fieldwork, we often have to choose types of informants who are expected to give the most detailed information –the key informants. We often plan the hours we work with them, schedule interviews. We organize our time and space in the field according to the expectations we had on the desk.

You shall realize, however, that unplanned encounters can be equally valuable. The doorman can know more about the networks of people in a town than the mayor. The waiter in the local restaurant can tell you more about the habits of people than the officers of the cultural planning branch. And an unemployed young man can define neoliberalism better than the books on your desk.

Having your recorder always on and your field notebook always open will not work; it can distance the daily encounters you may have. But if you keep communicating with random people in your off-work time, you may obtain new insights that you could never have planned.

  • Have your permits, but do not rely solely on them.

For a country where the state authorization is the sole source of legitimacy, be sure to have your permits with you at all times in the field. A piece of paper with a local governor’s stamp may mean nothing to you, but in a remote village when a suspicious person asks about it, that paper can win you the village.

Having said that, an official permit to research is not the best way to earn trust; the surest way to access people is to have someone from the community to introduce you.

In the Tugelaweg project, where I studied the low income families’ struggle in the housing market, knocking doors with the renovation company’s contact person turned out to be very wrong: neighbors who saw me with the company employee thought that I worked for the company, and this initially prevented my access to the people who were opposing to the project. Only after I managed to gain trust of an opposing group leader, I had an access to the rest of my sample.

In the Turkish fieldwork, where I took part in an origin-of-migration study, I noticed that the local community leaders are much more trusted than the province governors. Sweet talking with village heads opened more doors than official authorisation stamps would have. And, if I manage to convince the local Imam to announce the study in the village (from the loudspeakers of the mosque where the call for prayer -the azan- is made) then the open doors would certainly be  welcoming.

  • Mark their words: Your informants know about your results even before you think

While the results of complex logistic regression models are what counts in our papers, I actually developed the core ideas of my dissertation during my stay in a central Anatolia town for a month. It may sound surprising that the SPSS and Stata on my desk often came to the same conclusions with locals who told me about their town and its people. My analysis with thousands of respondents involved computer power, while their power in knowledge was accumulated by thousands of daily encounters.

Certainly, there are questions that a local key informant cannot answer, such as independent events that confound complex outcomes; but there are also questions that a quad-core computer cannot answer either, such as the sense-making processes of human beings with altering perceptions.

So, listen with both ears, and mark their words.

  • Enjoy the moment.

This will sound silly when you are rushing through deadlines, learning state-of-the-art statistical methods, pushing top journals and building the best CV, but…

Work to live.

Your CV may have your name on it, together with some of the good things you did, but your CV is not your whole story.

If you are best at being completely focused on collecting data in the field, and doing the best analysis possible back at your desk, you could soon be replaced with an artificial intelligence doing the best data mining possible from a remote server in China. And it will probably do it  better and cheaper than you.

But if you are not afraid to err, then do something irresistibly random, and end up reaching an unexpected conclusion; congratulations, you are human.
Carpe diem
.

________
Efe Kerem Sözeri is a Phd Candidate in the Sociology Department. His research project “Political baggage and Ideological Remittance” explores how the migration experience influences (or fails to influence) the political preferences and attitudes of Turkish labour migrants and their descendants, both in Western Europe and in Turkey. More info on his personal page

Using a cliché title or not using a cliché title: Or how to repel potential readers

camiel photoBy Camiel Beukeboom / Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Using a good title for your academic paper is very important to attract interested readers. Yet, quite often titles are uninformative and/or anything but attractive. Authors often manage to formulate a “completely ineffective title (…) that repels and puts off potential readers” apparently “to ensure that as few as possible are motivated to look beyond the title to the abstract, or the full text.” (Writing for Research, 2014). I like to focus on one excellent way to formulate a repulsive title: Namely to use the most annoying cliché title imaginable – that is, anything derived from the Shakespearean phrase “to be or not to be – that is the question”.

In order to test my disquieting suspicion how badly milked this title really is, I ran some searches in Google Scholar and Web of science. This revealed an impressive prevalence of Shakespearean titles. keep-calm-and-to-be-or-not-to-be-3 Searching Google scholar for “Or not to” in titles resulted in 12,900 hits. The same query in Web of science revealed 11,487 titles. Moreover, many titles include the “that is the question” part in the title. Google scholar gave 1,830 hits including it, and web of science gave 1,662 “that is the question” titles. I even found 1160 hits in Google scholar for titles including the whole shebang (i.e., the combination of “or not to” and “that is the question”).

Based on my rough search I will now provide you with some easy ways to also include the marvelous Shakespearean to-be-or-not-to-be phrase in your title:

1. Simply replace “be” with whatever is the topic of your paper. To give you some (recent) examples:

To date or not to date, that is the question: older single gay men’s concerns about dating. Suen, Yiu Tung (2015). Sexual And Relationship Therapy.

To reheat, or to not reheat: that is the question: The efficacy of a local reheating protocol on mechanisms of cutaneous vasodilatation. Del Pozzi, Andrew T.; Hodges, Gary J. (2015). Microvascular Research.

To pill or not to pill in GnRH antagonist cycles: that is the question! Garcia-Velasco, Juan A.; Fatemi, Human M. (2015). Reproductive Biomedicine Online.

To Drink or Not to Drink: That Is the Question. Rubin, Emanuel (2014). Alcoholism-Clinical And Experimental Research

To fractionate or not to fractionate? That is the question for the radiosurgery of hypoxic tumors. Toma-Dasu, Iuliana; Sandstrom, Helena; Barsoum, Pierre; et al. (2014) Journal Of Neurosurgery.

2. If possible you could also add your topic of investigation behind “be”:

To be or not to be… stationary? That is the question. DE Myers (1989). Mathematical Geology.

To be or not to be (challenged), that is the question: Task and ego orientations among high-ability, high-achieving adolescents. DY Dai (2000). The Journal of Experimental Education.

Optimized microphone deployment for near-field acoustic holography: To be, or not to be random, that is the question MR Bai, JH Lin, KL Liu (2010). Journal of Sound and Vibration.

To be or not to be humorous in class—That is the question. V Kothari, DS Rana, AS Khade (1993). Journal of Marketing Education.

Phytosterols: to be or not to be toxic; that is the question. G Lizard (2008). British Journal of Nutrition.

3. If the above does not fit to your topic, don’t worry. The easiest thing to do, is to just attach the to-be-or-not-to phrase to whatever is the topic of investigation. This works always, even if there is no apparent particular relevance:

The role of bone marrow biopsy in Hodgkin lymphoma staging: “To be, or not to be, that is the question”? M Hutchings (2012). Leukemia & Lymphoma.

To be, or not to be: Paradoxes in strategic public relations in Italy. C Valentini, K Sriramesh (2014). Public Relations Review.

The metabolic syndrome: To be or not to be, that is the question. PJ Grant, DK McGuire (2006). Diabetic Medicine.

To Be or Not to Be, That is the Question: Contemporary Military Operations and the Status of Captured Personnel. GS Corn, ML Smidt – Army Law (1999). HeinOnline.

To be, or not to be, that is the question: Apoptosis in human trophoblast. R Levy, DM Nelson (2000). Placenta.

To be, or not to be, that is the question: an empirical study of the WTP for an increased life expectancy at an advanced age. M Johannesson, PO Johansson (1996). Journal of Risk and Uncertainty.

And finally, if you still did not succeed. Just stick to the “to-be-or-not-to” phrase without adding anything significant. This example is particularly nice, with its frisky quotation marks around “be”.

Editorial: To “be” or not to “be”: that is the question. CT Frenette, RG Gish (2009). The American Journal of Gastroenterology

The above examples unfortunately do not cover all. The list goes on and on. For me, scrolling through the lists linked above simultaneously evoked subtle seizures of helpless laughter and a strong sense of discomfort. The lack of creativity is really disturbing. So please, please for my wellbeing, but also for your own good, take my advice and stay away from Shakespearian titles. These cliché titles do not leave a great impression about the author’s sense of creativity. Neither does it augur much about the content of the paper. I will certainly not read it and definitely not cite it. Because even before I start reading the abstract I will have turned away in aversion and vicarious shame.

Reference

Writing for Research (2014). Why do academics and PhDers carefully choose useless titles for articles and chapters?: Six ways to get it wrong, and four steps to get it right.

Camiel Beukeboom is an Assistant Professor in the department of Communication Science at VU University Amsterdam. He is also Program Director of the VU Graduate School of Social Sciences and initiator and editor of the Socializing Science PhD blog. (@camielbeukeboom)