As stated, the PhDs from VCR sent an email to HR to inquire about certain monetairy aspects of our lives. We finally got an appointment (to which I didn’t go, since there are 6 people on the committee, and all 6 of us might have been too much) but we tried not to expect too much.

That was a good idea, since we didn’t get much either. HR emphasized that this un-increase in gross salary was a one-off (but no promises for later either, or whether it would be made up since that will depend on the economic crisis). HR also mentioned that they wouldn’t tell people in the future to expect such a pay-raise (although how they want to keep it equal with the university is unclear). Furthermore there are apparently new contracts which should address this, but we’ve been unable to see them. We’ll just have to ask the next PhD student to come in whether we can see their contract, I guess. Actually, the HR people seemed somewhat pissed off that we dared to ask for our promised increase because while we got half, they didn’t get anything. Of course, they probably are on a higher pay-scale than we are anyway, so an increase might not make such a big difference for them.

HR also felt disinclined to discuss guidlines for managers, so we’ll have to see how we’re going to approach this and whether we need a different set for managers and for supervisors. The problem is that the only people we can be consistently certain of that new PhD students will see are the HR people. So we would need their cooperation to distribute these kind of papers. Maybe it’s time to find out who the real diplomats amongst us are.

by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

This book covers reserch on how to make your ideas stick. They start off with several very compelling urban legends, and then analyse several of them to see what succesful stories have in comon. And with succesful, one means ideas/lectures/stories that stick and people remember for some time. In a nutshell, these are the important ingredients for anything to stick:

1. Simplicity: get to the core, don’t forget about the curse of knowledge (commander’s intent).

2. Unexpectedness: get people’s attention, maybe through a surprise element, hold people’s attentions by creating interest. Create a gap in people’s knowledge, or at least awareness of the gap.

3. Concreteness: talk about people, instead of data (e.g. use a more journalistic style).

4. Credibility: external (who is the authority?), internal (details that can be checked), make sure the credentials in the storie can be tested.

5. Emotional: make people care, appeal to the self-interest of people, to their sense of identity

6. Stories: get people to act, to inspire them.

While you don’t need all of the above to make something stick, stories tend to be more sticky when several elements are covered. Definitely a book that reads easily, and the authors also mention that they were influenced by the style of Malcolm Gladwell. Although they don’t make it to Maeda’s ideal of a 100 pages (i.e., my copy has 257 pages without the notes), it’s very possible to chop the book in smaller pieces and read more piecemeal.

Recently, while sitting at the airport with two friends who’ve already obtained their PhD, we were discussing current research plans and opportunities for the future. While announcing that I officialy had gotten a co-lecture position for a course on cognition, one of them looked at me and said “You volunteered to teach?! But that’s the last thing a self-respecting academic should do!” Half-joking, half-serious, that remark, I could tell, but still serious enough to make me want to stand still and reflect.

Yes, I volunteered to teach (not just TA), because teaching makes up quite a big chunk of life in academia. If trying teaching now gives me chance to find out whether I like it or not, why shouldn’t I do so? So far, supervising MS students is the other experience, and that has also proved to be invaluable. Mostly, with regard to the selection and management process (I really detest micromanagement!), but also with regards to insight into the kind of questions really interested students ask.

So, spring semester of 2008 I helped out in a course on cognition, gave 3 lectures myself, came up with exam questions for said lectures, graded the exams, helped with coordinating discussions and graded posters. The only thing it did was make me hungry for more, give me ideas on how to reorganize, which other books to use, find more articles for examples to make the students as curious about the world of cognition and psychology as I am.

As a result, the lecturer in charge asked me to cooperate again with him this semester, and gave me responsibility for a group-based actions of the students. He won’t claim responsibility for it either, and I get my share of the evaluations. I think, if I survive this semester, it will have given me a good grounding in how to prepare a syllabus (how to write one up to) and hopefully I’ll still love teaching. Also, this might very well steer my decisions about post-docs. Ideally, my first post-doc would give me a couple of years experience abroad and let me test my hands more fully in the waters of academia: i.e. not only research and publications, but how to share the research with students, be the undergrad or graduate ones.

This week I was away for a conference – strictly speaking I’m still away, since I only fly back home on sunday. The conference itself was full of relevant presentations, and for once there were nearly no boring presenters either so it’s been very enjoyable. My presentation also went quite well (although I forgot half of the things I wanted to tell, but that was probably a good thing since I only had 10 minutes), and I got interesting questions.

Everything I heard though, on the first day, started me thinking about organizing a workshop. I’ve been thinking about the topic and the possibility to organize a workshop since the previous conference I visited, but hadn’t found the right venue.

A topic that’s very dear to me is research methods. Which research methods to use when, how to make sure they’re valid and reliable, and how can you incorporate research methods from other fields? It’s definitely a topic that lives, but might not be equally interesting for everybody. There’s a European project that’s looking into this as well. It also includes the possibility for industrial people to have more and easier guidance of their research choices through a framework generated by researchers with a more academic background. And all this without compromising reliability and any kind of validity, of course.

So what better way to discuss this than in a workshop? Preferably one where people have at least some experience, so we could just do one kind of overview presentation on the papers everybody sent in (although I don’t exactly know yet what kind of papers to ask for) and then dive straight into the discussion.

One of the upcoming conferences has their workshop deadline coming up, and it would be thrilling if I could submit something there. I’ve talked to the conference chair, and the workshop chair, and they are interested in the topic. After asking around the community a bit it seems more people would be interested so a small-scale workshop would be very do-able. But what kind of output to predict? A poster might not be the right format. Another person suggested short video clips, which does sound rather exciting because you could run that on a television throughout the rest of the conference and easily post it online as part of the wrap-up.

However, after putting my feet back on earth, the best thing to do would be to check my CompanySupervisor to see what she thinks (especially given the situation with CompanyManager). But it would be so exciting if I could actually pull this off!