From 0 to submitted – #lastmonthofPhD

I submitted my thesis at the end of February, a week after starting my new job as a Lecturer at Northumbria University. I then defended my PhD exactly a month ago and passed with no corrections. Before I completely forget how that last month or so of writing my thesis felt, I wanted to share some thoughts and tips that hopefully can come in handy to others in a similar position.

Back in January 2017, during a moment of utter panic, I sat down and made a timeline of what needed to be done in my last year. You can find that timeline below, but be aware: 90% of it didn’t get as I had planned. Compared to my original plan, I submitted 5 weeks late(r). By the time of submission, I technically still had seven months before a very hard university deadline (which was September 2018), but I wanted to have handed in a month before I started my new job to have some well deserved holiday and sleep. However, life is messy and doesn’t always go according to plan!  Continue reading “From 0 to submitted – #lastmonthofPhD”

Becoming a research leader

Several weeks ago I attended a great workshop on mentorship, led by Natacha Wilson. I was so impressed with the delivery and the quality of content, that when I heard she’d be coming to UCL to run a workshop on becoming a research leader, I didn’t want to miss it. I maybe attend one too many of these workshops/seminars, but I generally find them very reassuring and useful. In a world of competition and politics, it seems that being strategic is key, and I’ll take any form of advice I can get. These events are also a great opportunity for self-reflection, which we far too often don’t find time for, but can help identify areas of improvement before it’s too late. Continue reading “Becoming a research leader”

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.

Continue reading “PhD life 101”

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”

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:

Continue reading “Recruiting Participants via Social Media”

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.

Continue reading “Reflecting on my physical activity”

Why you should do a Doctoral Consortium

In May my supervisor tweeted me the link to the MobileHCI Doctoral Consortium (chaired by Stephen Brewster and Keith Cheverst) and at that point I had no idea what a DC was. But, being as curious as I am and always trying to push myself out of my comfort zone, I decided to apply. I wrote the paper in a couple of hours, got some quick feedback and submitted it. A few months later I received my acceptance email. 
By then I learnt that a DC is an opportunity to
  1. talk about your research,
  2. get feedback from experts who are not directly involved in your research, but have a good understanding of the broader area, and
  3. network with peers (but not only). All this in a supportive but critical environment.
This is what you find out when you search for Doctoral Conosortium and gather information from the various websites. What I didn’t realise is how useful this actually is.

Continue reading “Why you should do a Doctoral Consortium”

Visiting Microsoft Research, Cambridge

This week I visited Microsoft Research in Cambridge for a 2.5 day workshop on how to build a successful career in research and get to know more about the work that goes on in these labs.

It has been a fantastic opportunity to learn hands on about Azure, but also find out for example how computing can be used to cure cancer, capture medical imaging and predict bio-models. I had no idea Microsoft Research covered so many different topics related to computer science! We also got very good tips and tools to on how to write a paper, think strategically, present data and do interdisciplinary research.  Continue reading “Visiting Microsoft Research, Cambridge”

Timeline

So, clearly I never did a PhD in Italy, but I know several friends who did or are still in the process of.  After being here for 6 weeks one thing is clear: a PhD is totally different from here to there. 
But is it, really?
Or does it just depend on the people you work with, the project, and whether it’s funded (and have a more strict deadline) or not?
What I noticed is that none of my friends and colleagues abroad seem to have a clear timeline and milestones to cover over the years. Yes, it’s an ongoing process, always shifting towards more detailed and specific topics, but what is common to all of them is that the first year you kind of struggle through figuring out what to do and how to do it. Most of the time you might just be reading papers and maybe doing some side project, such as helping some post-doc run an experiment. 
Not me though. British PhD are structured so you have to be examined after a year through a Viva Voce examination (aka Viva) where a committee decides whether you are fit for research, or to say it formally, you get upgraded from MPhil to PhD. Specifically, my department requires an other more informal Viva examination before the official one. The latter will be in approximately 6 months. By then I need to write 2 or 3 chapters of my thesis (the introduction, the literature review and possibly my first study), which means I have to read, write, think of an experiment, recruit participants, collect data, analyze it and wrap all of this with nice paper and a bow by May.

No time to procrastinate, oversleep or daydream. 

 
The timeline I created will hopefully help me stay on track.
 
Schermata 2013-11-23 a 01.55.40