Finding of the week #327

The End of the Thesis

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 last few days I spent with my thesis.

Last Sunday afternoon, I was working on my thesis. As usual, I was not planning to do other things that afternoon. However, after having implemented all the remaining changes, I sat in front of my laptop and no further idea popped into my mind. More or less confused, I was asking myself: „Am I done?

I decided to just take a break and play some Diablo 3, but still no potentials for improvement evolved in my head. So I ate dinner, watched some TV and finally went to bed. Even in the next morning, no further ideas developed and so I was quite certain that I did all I could. Of course, if I would have read the entire thesis again, I might have found a few things here and there, but since I already read it three times, I hoped that no major issue remained undiscovered.

Later that day, I got the thesis printed. On Wednesday morning, I finally submitted the thesis. Unfortunately, my submission put my thesis into some kind of limbo. I still lack two signatures (I even asked for them to be send via email) and this ultimately resulted in my thesis not being fully submitted. Thus, I have to wait once again …

The only good thing is: I completed the thesis and it is over!

The thesis!

Finding of the week #326

The (Hopefully) Last Weekend

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 my last few lessons learned while writing my PhD thesis.

It seems as if I have finally reached the end of the thesis writing process. After one and a half months of polishing the text, there are not many things left to be done. Just a few hours ago, I finished the third proofreading cycle during which I only found minor issues and minor potentials for improvement. I even received nice feedback from a friend who stated that my conclusion is great and that I finally should submit it. Yet, there were still a few lessons learned.

Stay true to yourself. As I gave a couple of colleagues access to my manusscript, I also received some critical feedback this week. In particular, my colleague’s feedback addressed two points of my thesis where I was not sure how to add the needed information at best. After long considerations, I decided for an option that seemed to provide the best compromise. However, after having received some feedback – he was the only one who complained about it – I was thinking about my approach again. After evaluating the pros and cons, I decided to stick with my approach. In the end, it is my thesis and feedback often is a subjective opinion. It can give some inspirations for improvement, but it can also achieve the opposite. Sometimes, it is good to evaluate the implementation of feedback and to deliberately decide against it.

Be the one who makes the final call. As the PhD thesis will be graded by two to three independent reviewers, it is very hard to write an ideal thesis. There is always room for improvement, but the potential improvements depend on the individual perspectives. As discussed above, asking several other people can result in various kinds of feedback. In this way, it is better to simply follow the rules of scientific writing, carefully evaluate feedback and subsequently polish the thesis until a state of satisfaction is reached. The only one who really has to be happy with the thesis is the author.

Be bold? This actually is one of my last few issues with my thesis. How bold can I am? Currently, I think about how far I can go with giving my thesis a bit of a personal touch. Adding a personal note can be interpreted as taking research not serious. However, it is also my work and thus it can reflect a bit of my personality as long as this does not interfere with a clear scientific presentation of the results. Sometimes, it is good to distinguish oneself from the rest by doing something unique (?).

If all goes well and I do not receive any critical feedback until the start of next week, this will be my last entry before submitting the thesis. Keep your fingers crossed!

Finding of the week #325

Returning to an Old 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 my return to Diablo 3. Playing such a fast-paced action game can help players to completely forget about stressful tasks, thus allowing for a quick regeneration of some energy.

Recently, caused by the stressful last phase of my thesis writing process, I experienced the strong desire to play Diablo 3, again. Several years ago, as I was writing my master’s thesis, I also played this game to distract me for a few minutes and to help me to regain some energy. Since then, I occasionally played it during the initial stages of my research process, but my interest eventually stopped after I exhausted most of its challenges.

Now, as I just need something quick and fun to play, again, Diablo 3 exactly fulfills my needs. Furthermore, an expansion pack got released some years ago which I have not bought until this week. As a result, I now even have new content to explore and new character levels to reach!

The gameplay is very simple as it mainly requires me to run through open terrain or dungeons to find the next quest item or to slay a specific enemy. Running and attacking is done using the left mouse button and additional skills can be triggered using the right mouse button or pressing the 1-4 keys. In this way, Diablo 3 causes only a very limited mental load. A perfect game for relaxing between or after demanding writing phases.

Aside from providing me with an easy access to some challenging and entertaining gameplay moments, it also feels very rewarding. The game implements several game mechanics that constantly provide me with feedback about my progress. For instance, with each monster killed, my experience bar rises just a little bit and each stronger foe, i.e., bosses or champion versions of regular monsters, drops some potentially valuable loot. Of course, seeing my PhD thesis evolve is also rewarding, but it takes a lot of more effort and is less entertaining to look at a polished section than just to charge into a horde of monsters with my barbarian. As a result, the game is highly flow inducing and thus ideal for forgetting the thesis for a few minutes.

Naturally, playing other games is great, too. I very much enjoy to escape into the virtual worlds of Minecraft or of Astroneer. However, in contrast to the segmented gameplay of Diablo 3, these games often keep me immersed for a very long time. By experiencing the gameplay in short units, I find it easier to set myself a particular goal for my quick break, e.g., reaching the next waypoint or solving a quest.

In conclusion, computer games that provide a simplistic or creative gameplay are ideal for achieving a quick break from very demanding tasks to regain some energy. However, to have an efficient break, it is important that the game provides the gameplay in short units. This could be a future research direction: design an ideal game that supports a thesis writing process.

Finding of the week #324

A Long Weekend with my PhD Thesis

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 even more about the final push towards finishing the PhD thesis.

This Thursday was a bank holiday and so I took Friday off to gain four consecutive days at home. As I am currently doing the final push towards finishing the thesis, these four days are great as they allow me to focus on my thesis uninteruptedly. Today is already the third day of this long and intimate weekend with my thesis. Thus far, my plan worked out well as I could make some great progress: most of my primary goals are already completed!

Also, I received feedback from two friends at work which I already implemented in my thesis. Asking others to proofread such an important text is always helpful. Over time, one simply overlooks typos and other minor things. I am super thankful for every comment I receive despite causing even more work that needs to be done.

While this might sound great to an outstander, it does not feel like this right now. Friends who already got their PhDs fully agree with me and confirm that it is a very stressful but good approach to finally get it done for once and for all. As already stated in last week’s entry, it requires a lot of discipline continue working on the thesis while simultaneously facing the usual chores.

By now, I read this text so many times that I just do not want to see it again, but there are still a lot of things left to be checked, unfortunately. Despite giving me a lot of time to focus on the thesis, this long weekend makes me feel as if I am stuck in some kind of hamster wheel or working on a Sysiphean task.

Thus, I cannot stress enough the importance of having an activity that completely distracts one from the thesis. This might be counterintuitive at first, but it really helps to regain some energy which, in return, is beneficial for the writing process. In my very case, it is endurance sports, i.e., running, cycling or swimming. During these acitivities, I can forget the thesis for a few moments and sometimes even find new inspirations to solve some leftover problems.

In contrast to most other articles I wrote in this blog, the last two entries are not related gaming. Instead, they are about the process of working on a PhD thesis which is a very demanding task. I mostly write them to document my finals steps before submitting my thesis, but I also hope that it will give some other researchers some inspiration and the energy to continue on working on their projects.

Finding of the week #323

The Final Push

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 final push towards finishing the PhD thesis.

Finally, after a very long time of hard work, I am in the process of polishing the text of my PhD thesis. In the second half of the month of January 2019, I changed to a cumulative approach, i.e., a thesis that consists of all my papers and a short text describing the theoretical background, the connection between the individual papers, and my overall contribution to my field of research. Since then, I was continuously adding new contents to my thesis to finally reach the status of „content complete“ on March 15th. After reaching this important status, I started to polish the thesis by carefully reading through it, re-writing major parts, and adding further contents to some other sections to eventually compile the final version.

More than two month have passed since I began with this final push. Overall, it is a quite an exhilarating feeling to work on this last big manuscript. I notice a strong motivation to carry on to finally reach the end of the long road to PhD. After having chosen my personal deadline to submit the thesis by the mid of June, the work on it feels like the crazy last week before the end of a deadline for a conference submission. It is all about finding potential issues or inaccuracies that could compromise the thesis and removing them by finding more precise explanations or arguments. It is the time of completely being absorbed by science. A state of flow and strong stress at the same time that results in a very rewarding moment of silence once the deadline is over.

While working on this project is fun, it simultaneously is a very demanding task. It feels like an endless stream of new things that need to be done before I can finally submit it. This stream as well as the fact that I work on the text on the daily basis in addition to my regular work slowly exhausts me. It requires a lot of discipline to ignore the ever growing attractiveness of other activities and to continue working on this thesis. Sometimes, it is just the knowledge about the last final push that motivates me to put some more hours into it.

However, there are also some great moments that cause a very rewarding feeling. For instance, I was super excited as I finally finished the theoretical background section and realized that everything really starts to come together. Additionally, just scrolling through the thesis and seeing all the papers that I crafted during my time as a PhD student is an overwhelming feeling. It shows me how far I have come and that the last final push should be doable if I just keep on working.

In the end, the last sprint to the finish line is a weird situation. It is a time of simultaneously experiencing a strong motivation and an increasing exhaustion at the same time. It is a very special „first time“ experience.

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 …