When Karina announced the september call for posts I wasn’t quite sure what to write about. After all, I was still working on writing up my thesis (although a whole first version, with a table of contents, has made its way to my promoter and supervisors) and trying to get through as much comments as I could.

Along the way though, it’s become pretty clear which tools have been indispensable and which computer programs have made my life easier every day. For one thing, I couldn’t live without music to write too, so a good music program is a must. I also love the fact that I have a widescreen, although having an extra screen would be even more awesome. A water-cooker, for making tea, which is always comforting when I’m stuck again. Word probably counts as well, since I seriously didn’t want to learn Latex (or any other word processing program). My external hard-drive to back up everything so I could just as easily work from home. Endnote, to manage all those references!

Then there are PhotoShop, because the latest version of SPSS is capable of giving my pretty figures and graphs, but it just doesn’t do everything yet. So, obviously, SPSS has been a necessity for some analysis. Matlab hasn’t figured heavily in the last month, but it has over the last years, so there you go. Then there were some university-specific programs which use Thurstone’s Fifth law, so thank you Mr. Thurstone for coming up with that law! Last but very much not least though, M-plus. If I go on a lyrical description of all the ways M-plus has made my life easier, people will probably think I have shares, but I don’t. Seriously though, if you ever need to run a factor analysis, do structural equation modelling or linear regression? Run and get M-plus. M-plus has made my day a lot over the last month.

Currently, happiness is having a participant show up on time for my experiment. A participant who doesn’t mind that things might run a little longer sometimes, or not as expected. Also somebody who can see well, and isn’t colourblind, so I don’t have to send them away.

Happiness is a boyfriend who has dinner ready by the time I make it home when I’m tired from sitting in the lab a whole day, switching between 3 screens to make sure everything is going alright.

Happiness is finding a new connection, a potential new friend, among the participants. Somebody who’s also working on their PhD, and could probably use some support and has funny experiences to exchange.

Happiness is having friends who can make you laugh, despite the fact that you’re nervous and tired and cranky and worried. Who can give you a new outlook on things, and remind you that, at the end of the day, this is also something you will get through.

Happiness is knowing that there’s an opportunity for sleeping in on the weekend!

In the spirit of ScienceWoman’s call for June Scientiae, I’ve been thinking about what keeps me moving these days.
One of the things that I’m aware of is that I have a comfort acitivity: I read books when I’m feeling down, uncomfortable or don’t know how to go on from where I’m standing or how I’m feeling. While reading, I try to figure out what’s really bothering me and how I’m going to solve it (books reread are often from Tamora Pierce, Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne MacCaffrey, Jane Austen, Diana Duane, … anybody noticing a trend?).

Sometimes what is bothering me means I have to be ok with not being liked by everybody. Or, yes, I did look stupid, but other people say and do stupid things too. And if I didn’t make mistakes, I would be unable to learn from them. So it’s not so much about trying to achieve perfection, but about moving on, learning from mistakes and others’ mistakes. There are also a couple of slogans hanging around on post-it, for those reasons (from the last lecture, Randy Pausch):

Brick walls are there for a reason.
They let us prove how badly we want things.

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

There’s also some serious thinking going on about the future. My PhD contract/funding runs out, and I need to find another job. So, what do I want to do with my life? I would like to see whether I can make it in academia, instead of on the cusp of academia and industry (as I am now). I want influence on educational programs (or program, to start with), especially in psychology and/or human-technology interaction. I want to be able to teach in those fields as well, and preferably on a college/university level. Last but not least, I would also like to be able to do some research in the field. As a child, I wanted to make a real difference in how education was organized and done, not only on a high-level, but also on a low-level, standing before the class, interacting with students kind of thing. I wanted to be a minister of education. I still do, come to think of it.

Since post-doc grants are usually given out for research, it would be logical to start from there, and see what I can get done. Preferably a post-doc away from the country I’m in now, to learn How Things Are Done at other universities. So, while my slogan reminds me that the experience I will get is probably not what I wanted, it will still be experience, and I will come out as a (probably) different person. Getting a grant or a post-doc is my second brick wall at the moment. The first brick wall is getting the last experiments set up, and this PhD thesis all written out. For now, that’s what’s keeping me moving.

The scientiae theme of this month is your hero, and while pondering who would be the most influential in my professional life, it still turns out to be my mother.

My mother never had ambitions for her children beyond that we would be happy, but she did as much as possible to reassure that we could reach for the moon if that would make us happy. For example, there never was a lot of money in our house, but she still made it possible for me to study at the university I insisted on (because of the teaching system, you see). This included room and board, obviously, since it was too far to go up and down each day. In return, all she asked was that I cook on saturdays, since she worked saturdays. Through her effort, I never had to take out a student loan, either.

It’s probably my grandmother’s insistence that her children would be allowed to study if they wanted to. My grandmothers (both of them) were not allowed to continue their education after they turned 14. They should learn a trade, and preferably a useful one such that when they got married, they could support their husbands and be a good housewife. While I like sewing and knitting, and am glad for the connection this gives me to my grandmother, I am also very happy that I am able to pursue other activities to earn professional regard.

It’s weird how, say 10 years ago, scoffing at the maxims now regularly coming from my mouth was fun. For example, one of the things my mom used to say (still says, too) is “Do what you need to do before going of on a pleasure bent, you’ll enjoy the pleasure bent much more”. Although this was mostly quoted at us when we hadn’t done the laundry yet, or dishes, today it probably refers to weekends I would enjoy more if I had managed to prepare that lecture for monday earlier.
While I quite enjoy spending a weekend working on a lecture, my family might not appreciate me traveling to see them and then disappearing behind my laptop because there’s this lecture, you see. On the other hand, it’s also possible that my mom is quite proud of me giving lectures, so maybe together they cancel each other out.
Either way, my mom is still in inspiration to me, through the way she has lived her life, is living her life. Mostly right now through the support for her children: enough to know that we can always fall back if necessary but very able to kick us out of the blues and to make us fly on our own. Hopefully I can do the same for students (and future children)!

When people ask about my PhD project, they sometimes get a puzzled look in their eyes when they hear where I want to go to. Other people immediately perceive possibilities and applications everywhere. Proof Positive? Marketing students wanna work with me (and not just because I work for Company)!

A couple days ago, a marketing student came for an interview concerning an internship within Project3. There was much rejoicing on his side when it turned out that Company Research indeed is somewhat marketing oriented (or at least tries to be user oriented rather than technology). There was much rejoicing on my side that Project3Leader is quite impressed with his people-oriented skills, since Student M interviewed with me before on an internship which didn’t happen after all. And made an impression too, since he came in a very nice suit, a light pink shirt and a pink tie. Did I mention he’s a marketing student? Plus, he shows sufficient analytic insight and managed to explain a somewhat vague project to our heart’s content.

Actually Project3 is hot, especially because it promises to connect people in a less-PC oriented way, while retaining as much as possible the features which make it appealing to connect through the PC. I’m not sure this makes it more hot than Dr. Isis’ Naughty Monkeys, but my influence will definitely bring more opportunity for sparkles and glitter to shine through.

More news from the conquering department: 2 experiments which needed replication are finally being replicated. It’s costing several t-shirts, umbrellas and USB sticks, and a present for the volunteer, but come january the data will be available, and should be able to tell me more. Now, what do I want this data to give me? Well, Experiment 1 was carried out  by a student and produced good results. Based upon these results another student carried out Experiment 2 to see if the results were stable enough to use for her follow-up experiment. Unfortunately, Experiment 2 produced opposite results from Experiment 1. Yes, not just a wee bit skewed, but freekin’ opposite. Obviously, a replication is clearly in order, if only to make sure that the data don’t follow me in the night, like ghosts intend to make sure they are heard and understood.

When I started working on my PhD at Company, my work was embedded in Project1. After about 1,5 years, Project1 finished and I started transferring my work to another related Project2. Still good, no problem. Until, about half a year ago, Project2 was finished too and no other projects in that direction were going on. So far, it was all a treat. I’ve attended 3 big international overseas conferences, because the Company’s directions are that if you have a presentation (or a poster) somewhere, you’re allowed to attend. There weren’t any big money issues, and if there were snatches and problems in the PhD, it was all content-related (okay, I confess, there were plenty and the biggest one was to decide on the final direction!).

Unfortunately, the finishing of Project2 coordinated with the reorganization of where the money for PhDs is supposed to come from within Company. And the new rule is: you have to belong to a project and actively collaborate! (A.k.a.: you’ve been tricked!). This isn’t a problem as long as there’s a subject that pertains to your PhD. Not so for me… there’s one project (henceforth known as Project3) which is sideways related, and through various tricks we could combine some stuff.

Problem nr. 1: my manager thinks I’m acting unCompany a lot, so I have to change this impression gradually

Problem nr. 2: Project3leader had the impression that I could take over everything related to user/fieldtests.

Problem nr. 2 is relatively easy solved. CompanySupervisor and Project3leader and I had fruitful discussion, and it has now been decided that I will set up researchquestions in coordination with Project3leader. This should lead to the hiring of several master students who then will do design / user / field studies. Overall, it’s not a bad things. The topic is interesting, and it shouldn’t prevent me from finishing my PhD within the given time. However, problem nr.1 remains and that is making me feel somewhat tricked. Especially since he didn’t come talk to me, it came out in a rant to CompanySupervisor.

The jury is still out whether the idea of doing a PhD in both Company and Univerisity was a treat or a trick, but right now it’s feeling a lot more like the latter.