Finding of the week #317

Patience Needed

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the constant requirement to be patient while pursuing a Ph.D.

Achieving a Ph.D. not only opens up the possibility to work in different positions in academia, it also means to complete the highest educational degree. In this way, the pursuit of a Ph.D not necessarily has to be simple or doable for everyone. It requires a lot of dedication and hard work.

One has to research the theoretical background and develop new theories that base on the literature. Subsequently, those theories have to be tested and to be evaluated in experiments. The results obtained during the experiments then need to be discussed and to be published in a journal or presented at a conference. This approach takes a lot of energy and often requires some detours.

However, the road to Ph.D also features many events one cannot control nor influence as they depend on others. A paper has to be accepted by reviewers before it can be published. During this review process, the paper cannot really be touched as one has to wait for the final decision of the review. This, unfortunately, can take several months of time. If one got the right reviewers, the paper is accepted and needs only a few changes. If the reviewers are not agreeing with the paper’s contribution, the paper gets rejected. In this way, the several month-long waiting period can also be a loss of time as one has to go through the waiting period again when resubmitting the paper to a different conference.

While this is the normal process of publishing scientific results, other elements that take patience are mostly related to receiving feedback that is important for moving on to a next step. Here, a Ph.D student is mostly dependent on the time of their advisors who are involved in other tasks and thus have to prioritize. While this is fully understandable, a meeting that would only take 5 minutes often results in a delay of several months. As a result, a Ph.D candidate frequently experiences a high degree of frustration.

In those moments, it is helpful to talk to other Ph.D while attending scientific events. It seems that everyone experiences the same problems during the career and thus can fully relate to this frustration. Unfortunately, as long as one does not decide to move to a next step with the risk to make a huge mistake, there is no way around the waiting game.

Patience is needed …

Finding of the week #313

Ideas for (Mentally) Surviving the Time as a PhD Student

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about some recommendations for new PhD students that most likely will help to overcome the stress experienced.

The pursuit of a PhD is a very difficult and stressful time when simultaneously working in academia. The challenge even increases when the assigned research projects are only connected to a small degree to the PhD topic as well as when teaching has to be done. In such a scenario, the PhD always comes last and can often be continued after work only.

In such a situation, it is critical to organize one’s day carefully and to work as efficiently as possible. One approach is to either use existing guidelines for certain work processes or to try to define own protocols that support reoccurring events such as grading students at the end of the lecture period. Here, it is very practical to define strict goals that can easily be checked during an exam. Also, using a similar approach to conduct the exams simultaneously allows for an easy repetition as well as for a fair grading process.

The same rules apply to research projects. It is very helpful to create guidelines and protocols that support the planning of future experiments. By using these protocols, one merely has to go through the individual steps to prepare a new experiment and to avoid mistakes that could even negatively affect the experimental results.

However, for these methods to be effective, it is also important to reflect on the outcomes of a repeated application and to update the protocols based on the results of the analysis. In this way, the own workflow not only is streamlined, but also improved over time.

Still, even with a perfectly streamlined workflow, things frequently turn out to be different and result in additional tasks that were not expected. As a result of this, one often experiences a high degree of frustration as the progress of the PhD once again gets delayed. In addition, when finally being able to work towards it, the work has a high mental demand that can result in a quick exhaustion.

Therefore, aside from improving the own workflow, it is even more important to find activities that help to reduce the experienced frustration and to regain energy to stay focussed during stressful times. Personally, I can recommend activities that do not include the use of digital media, e.g., doing sport, as most of the time at work is already spent in front of a computer screen. The probably best approach is to set up a fixed schedule. Adhering to such a schedule results in the requirement to take a break and thus to regain energy before the degree of frustration becomes too high.

In summary, pursuing a PhD is a very stressful goal that requires a high degree of self-organization and, more importantly, activities to counteract the stress that is experienced.

Finding of the week #311

Putting the Pieces Together

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the process of writing a cumulative PhD thesis.

This week, I worked for incredible two hours on my PhD thesis. The rest of the week was just filled with exams, marking projects and meetings. Despite the lack of time, I clearly saw one thing I was working on over the last years: the red thread that connects all my different papers. It was a great feeling to see that all my thoughts I put into writing the papers payed off and seem to result in a comprehensive analysis of my research topic. My advisors might think differently when they will read the thesis, but for me it all makes sense!

Overall, I am very fortunate as last year in December the regulations got adjusted and finally allow for a cumulative thesis. In this way, I „merely“ need to write a short text that provides an overview of my field of research and connects all the individual papers to one comprehensive thesis.

Thus far, I completed most of the overview – only one small segment is missing – and started to introduce and to connect the papers. Until this week, I was considering to put the papers into the appendix and to reference them in the main text that provides a summary of each paper. At the end of this week’s first hour of writing the thesis, a friend suggested that I might just embed the papers at the positions where I would normally summarize their contributions.

This sparked a lot of new ideas and resulted in me putting together the core part of the thesis within this week’s second hour. Of course, the introductions for each paper are not detailed enough, but it has reached a level that is easy to extend. Now, my thesis mainly lacks this one specific theoretical part and a comprehensive discussion of my results.

Personally, seeing my thoughts of how the individual research projects are connected to take shape in my text processing software was a very rewarding feeling. Suddenly, finishing the PhD seems doable and is only a few steps away. If I can free up enough time, my personal goal of completing the thesis by the end of the month of March is still feasible. Once the thesis is complete, I only have to go through the lengthy process of receiving feedback from my advisors to finally submit it…

It feels good to finally put the pieces together and I cannot wait to say farewell to this project!

Finding of the week #230

The Waiting Game

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the hard time between submitting a paper and receiving feedback about the acceptance.

Finally, after more than a year of reading, writing, improving and disscussing, I managed to submit a central and comprehensive paper of my research to a reputable journal last Thursday. Although this is a huge step forward towards finishing my Ph.D, it currently does not feel as if I have accomplished anything. Naturally, I am happy that the last stressful weeks of polishing the paper’s contents are over thus allowing me to fully focus on other important tasks again. But, despite having finished this important step, I am still in some kind of limbo as I now face the long period of uncertainty.

The reason for this uncertainty is the way how scientific writing and publishing works. For the purpose of ensuring a high and good scientific quality, articles are not automatically published after being submitted. Instead, they are read and checked by at least two independent reviewers who ultimately provide the journal’s editor with a recommendation if the paper should be accepted or rejected. In other words, despite having put a lot of effort into writing my paper, I only know that I have accomplished something when my paper gets accepted.

Although I fully agree with this approach of ensuring a high scientific quality and normally do not think too much about it after submitting a paper, it really annoys me this time as I do have such a deep personal connection with this paper and its contents. It basically describes the essence of my work and when this work is not regarded as a significant scientific contribution then it will probably feel like a huge setback. In addition, as mentioned above, after this long period of writing this paper, I just want to finish this chapter and continue on with further projects supporting my Ph.D thesis.

Lastly, due to this long waiting time between the moment of submitting the paper and receiving a reply from the journal, getting a positive answer might not feel as amazing as it would in the case of an immediate feedback. The good feeling of finally having finished the paper might already have vanished at the time when I get an answer thus reducing the rewarding feeling of having accomplished something, again.

In the end, I can only wait and hope that what I have done is deemed worthy by the reviewers. (So please, keep your fingers crossed!)

Finding of the week #126

The importance of a quiet and comfortable workplace

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the importance of a good workplace in order to be productive.

Writing is a very demanding task as the author has to be fully focussed on the writing process in order to convert the own thoughts into written passages. Structuring and experessing the own knowledge is very demanding for the human brain as it has to extract the meaning and finally to express it in an understandable way. Furthermore, the demand for brain power increases when the topic becomes more complex and/or abstract as it is mostly the case in scientific writing. For the purpose of productive writing, it is absolutely necessary that the brain can fully focus on the task and does not get distracted by other events taking place around the writer. Moreover, the writer himself should feel comfortable as feeling not well can result in a reduced concentration.

In this case, it is very important to have a quiet and comfortable workplace in order to be productive. In general, a good workplace will increase the productivity as the author will not be distracted by other events and thus can fully concentrate on the writing without being in danger of losing focus. In such a productive environment, the writer can dive into the work and potentially get into some kind of flow that will keep him motivated to continue the writing process.

However, it is very easy to lose focus while writing as even the smallest distraction can reduce the required amount of brain power and disturb the process. In other words, a phone call, a playing radio or even a loud noise can disturb the writing process as the brain will automatically allocate some brain power to analyze the event. In this case, it is necessary to eliminate all potential distractions at the workplace in order to be productive.

Unfortunately, I had some issues with my workplace during the last weeks and thus all my scientific writing came to an abrupt hold. Normally, I can keep my workplace quiet and I feel very comfortable sitting at my desk. However, both conditions were no longer met during the last weeks as my region experienced a very hot summer period and thus my workplace was everything but comfortable. Aside from the heat, the silence of my workplace was disturbed by two large excavators that were demolishing the building on the other side of the street.

A noisy workplace

A noisy workplace

It might be true that science will never sleep, but science can be disturbed by unforeseen events …

Finding of the week #92

Winter solstice

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the winter solstice and the fact that the data gathering phase of one of my research projects is over.

Half a year ago, I wrote about Midsummer–the longest day in the northern hemisphere of our Earth[1]. At the summer solstice, the northern part of our Earth experiences the longest exposure to the sunlight during a whole year. At the exact same date, the southern part of our Earth experiences the shortest day of a year–the winter solstice. The reason behind this phenomen lies in the tilt of the rotation axis of the Earth relative to its orbital plane around the Sun. During one year–or an orbit around the Sun–the tilted rotation axis is causing the difference in the exposure to the sunlight.

Now, half a year after the first article, everything is flipped around. The Earth completed half of an orbit around the Sun and the northern hemisphere will experience the winter solstice tomorrow. In other words, the northern hemisphere has the longest night and the shortest day on December 21st. Regions north of the Arctic Circle will not have sunlight at all. These regions are now experiencing the polar night, because the Sun will not raise above the horizon. Moreover, it is the beginning of winter and this is hopefully resulting in freezing temperatures and a lot of snow!

Happy winter solstice everyone!

Schneeberg

Schneeberg

Apart from the announcement of this special day during a year, I do have also other great news to share: the data gathering phase of one of my research projects is over. This week, I conducted a final test in order to determine possible positive effects of playing a particular computer game. Of course, the research project itself is not over yet. Now, I have to analyze the data and to write a paper about the results. Although this will result in a lot of work, it is still a nice feeling of having finished the most essential part of a research project.

My very first paper

It was during the first half of April as my professor gave me a link to a call for papers for a workshop at the 43rd annual German conference on informatics[1]. At this time, the deadline was already very short. If I remember correctly, only one or two weeks were left. Altough it seemed very unlikely to finish until the end of the deadline, I started to write a paper just for training purposes. I finished the first version about a week later and mailed it to my professor to get some feedback.

It turned out that it was already more than just a training and it could have enough potential to be submitted to the conference. Fortunately, the deadline for the submission was postponed and we had enough time to improve my paper. Finally, it was good enough to give it a try and I submitted it. Unfortunately, I’ve done a terrible mistake in the process.

Several weeks later, the reviews were finished and I recieved the news that my paper was accepted. However, it needed a huge overhaul until the final print version could be submitted.

Writing my very first paper was an interesting experience and I’ve learnt a lot during this time. The majority of the gained experience however came from the mistakes I’ve done. Most of them were caused by the small amount of time (for me as a paper-writing-beginner) to write the paper. The other ones were caused by the fact that this was my very first paper and I haven’t done anything like this before. On the other side, I’m now prepared for future papers and have an idea how I’ll approach them.

However, my very first paper procedure isn’t fully completed yet. It was a paper for a workshop at the conference on informatics and thus the results have to be presented. That’s it, what I’m going to do tomorrow! I’ll head off to Koblenz today and finally have a short presentation tomorrow morning. When I’m finished with it, I’ll have survived my very first paper procedure from the beginning until the very end.

Veröffentlicht unter Ph.D

Working while traveling

As already mentioned in the previous blog post I was traveling to Northern Norway. But the stay on the Lofoten was not only vacation: I’ve also managed to work on my literature review for my Ph.D. At first I was not sure if I can manage to do both things the same time: enjoying the stay on the Lofoten and doing serious work. In retrospective I can now say it worked perfectly!

I managed to work on my computer while waiting for the next flight, during a flight and of course every evening. All in all it was a nice mix between relaxing in the amazing landscape and doing serious stuff: Being out in the nature helps me a lot to order my thoughts. I was mostly energized after we returned from an excursion to continue my work.

Due to the internet I even was able to search for some new papers and to do some additional internet research. I really enjoyed the concept of being able to work without having a lot of restrictions because I was abroad. Actually I managed to write the first version of my exposé.

Although I would define my work as „glocal“ it is nice being at my own desk again. On the other hand I miss the awesome landscape …

Veröffentlicht unter Ph.D

Master of Arts and a Ph.D advisor!

My master certificate arrived last week. I can now officially call myself master of arts! What an achievement! Wohoo!

Ok, back to serious business (and of course even more great news!): I found my Ph.D advisor! After a short meeting last year just before christmas, he told me the great news during a long phone call on january 18th. He told me also about the long and complicated path to the Ph.D again.
So, if I start to worry about my Ph.D and all the work I have to do, I need to remind myself of only one thing and only one date: It was my own decision on january 18th. No complaints!

Right now I’m trying to get a clear structure into my Ph.D research project so I can make a short run-through with my doctoral advisor and finally begin with my research.

Today, like Sheldon in the great Big Bang Theory episode „The vacation solution“ I took some hours off and had some interesting insight in biological work. I even pestled some dried lichen. Fortunately nothing was broken afterwards …

Chemistry

Soxhlet extractor (or as I would call it, the „Giant Lichen Coffee Maker“)