PhD life 101

I was recently asked to think about what I wish I had known on day 1 of my PhD. As a few friends, a flatmate, team members are about to embark on a PhD, I thought of sharing my thoughts and lessons learnt so far. Overall, I think the one thing I’d go back and tell myself is: make mistakes, make them early, learn from them and move on because a PhD is about choices, changes, and challenges.

On a more practical level… When I first started my PhD I did a lot ‘training’ and one thing that stuck with me was that doing a PhD is becoming a project manager: so learning how to mange resources, time, and people.

DISCLAIMER:

I’m at the end of my 3rd year so I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more between now and submission, What I’ve included here is stuff I’ve learnt from my own experience, from talking to other PhD students and by listening to my supervisor. Not everything came easy, some things I had to learn the hard way and others I’m still trying to master.

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Why I use mind maps when interviewing

When running a qualitative study, several people by now have pointed out the format of my interview questions and asked me why I use mind maps instead of a list of questions. They all seemed generally curious and intrigued by my choice, and some have even recommended them to their students. So I thought of sharing what led me to this choice and how I use mind maps for interview questions.  Continue reading “Why I use mind maps when interviewing”

What ICT can do for work-life balance

Last week the Balance Network organised a one-day conference, Beyond Balance, to bring together researchers, practitioners and industry parties that work in the area of work-life balance and digital technologies. You can find the full program here. The event was organised as an opportunity to showcase and present findings from funded projects on the topic. Because there were two tracks going on, couched by morning and evening keynotes, I was able to attend only half of the sessions, two of which I was involved in. Thoughts and reflections shared below are intended to be a summary of the three themes that emerged across all sessions (I attended, that is) and I took home that day. Together, the three points offer an answer to the question:

What can ICT do for work-life balance?

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Busyness vs. Productivity

Last week, at the Beyond Balance conference, in his closing keynote Oliver Burkeman argued Against Productivity.

He started off framing his views around the popular idea of limitless in time and positive thinking, according to which we can do anything. And as a result, we worship busyness (quoting Tim Kreider’s busy trap), which we can only keep up with if we fail at it. How? Take that email you received last week, and still have not replied to. You know it’s there, you know you should have done something about it, but actually, realistically speaking, your colleague has already emailed someone else to ask for their help, so, yes you failed at replying, but actually you can cross it off the list. Done.

And why are we so busy? Continue reading “Busyness vs. Productivity”

Leadership: the importance of talking about failure

There was a CV going around social media and the press posted by a tired academic who wanted to expose just how much our culture is based on success and competition. It was eye opening… As a fairly young academic myself, it was encouraging to read and know that others have bad days too. About a month ago, I was talking to a colleague I look up to and found out that behind her successes there were rejected papers. I had no idea. In academia, it is common to celebrate successes, and perhaps brag about them too, but it is also common to complain about reviewer 2, the biased editor, or the tardiness with which a paper is handled. There’s a good summary of typical academics and how to handle them here. Being a woman in STEM it can be considered even more important to just show off the best results and just how successful one is, to compete against gender bias. So when I attended the event “Women in Leadership” organised by UCL PALS Athena Swan I was expecting an empowering talk on how to stand up against men and show off our best traits. I have never been so wrong. Continue reading “Leadership: the importance of talking about failure”

Recruiting Participants via Social Media

Doing users studies is fascinating, once you get to the point of actually talking to the participants. But the step before, on recruiting them, can be a pain!
This (long) post is in response to Danny’s experience on recruiting using Facebook and Twitter ads. A couple of weeks after he did his recruitment ads, I asked him advice on how to reach a broader sample when snowball sampling and traditional word or mouth (i.e. posting for free on any social media and sending out emails) was not enough, and he recommended trying out Facebook and Twitter ads.

For my study I had to recruit English-speaking participants for an interview study on the use smartwatches, which could take place in person or on Skype. Users could therefore live anywhere in the UK. Because the Twitter ad did not lead to any participant signing up, I will focus this post on my experience with Facebook ads and at the end of the post there are some useful take-home considerations.

So I created a Facebook ad (you can see Danny’s post for a step-by-step process on how to). The ad linked to a website, where people had to complete a recruitment survey, before they were contacted to take part in the interview. Here you can see a summary of my recruitment criteria and some overall results:

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Reflecting on my physical activity

A story about technology, built environment, and social media

Ever since I started my PhD I got into the Quantified Self (QS) movement and having my boyfriend doing his PhD on understanding how physical activity is impacted by the use of activity trackers has made ever so more interested. I started off tracking my steps, then my productivity (using RescueTime), my sleep, my emails, and my food.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 22.41.26Most of these things I’ve tracked only for a short while (from a few weeks to a few months), enough to gain some sort of epiphany, or ‘digital epiphany’, which usually was something like “right, now I know more about how I behave, and this is no longer so interesting”. While I might start tracking my emails or productivity again in the future, just to touch base again on my way of working, I have been sort of consistent in tracking my physical activity so I thought it would be interesting to think about it a bit more in depth.

When studying behaviour change, I realised how important reflection was particularly in the initial stages of change, but also in later stages, given that behaviour change is not a linear process. So here is me being reflexive on my physical activity, around the QS movement.

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