Category Archives: Research work

Several Rejects This Week – again :-(

Working in academia is not always fun, and there are lots of opportunities where you are valued in a competition about getting published, or getting funded. Often you have put down lots of time on the thing that you are submitting. Often the submission is the result of many discussions, and creative ideas to present what you want to say. The writing process can really be inspiring and fun!

However, when submitting to the top conferences the reject rate is often around 85% and with funding organisations it is around the same. This means that it is very likely that you are not accepted, and that you are not successful in getting funded even though you did you best.

I know that grit and perseverance are the two most important success factors for anyone in computer science. And most probably in academia also. I even wrote a paper on that with Roger McDermott and Mats Daniels, you find the paper here: https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2742625.

I know that you need to keep fighting and not fall into imposter syndrome if you fail, but it is still tough. Even in teaching I run into this feeling of being a failure. I work a lot with teaching development, and that is not always a success either. Student centred learning is for example not at all valued by all students. I wrote a paper about one of our more recent failures there where we tried an idea with a presentation for a real client in a course based on a gaming idea. You can read the paper here if you are interested: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/8190466.

I remember thinking that I will leave academia around five years ago when it was fail, fail, fail and fail all the time and I didn’t get any funders to believe in any of my ideas. My feeling was that obviously I am not the right person for this job, and it is not worth it! I also had quite a stressful situation at work generally with lots of conflicts and lack of support from important people.

We need to be better at supporting each other in academia, and to find ways where positive feedback is at the core of our work and not the negative and critical feedback. I am lucky to have a few of those very supportive people in my live, and I really appreciate them being there. I know some of them are reading this blog and they give me good and positive feedback:

  • Thank you for being such a support for me and always believing in me even when I fail, fail and fail!

To Tell or Not to Tell and the Title “Excellent Teacher”

I participated in the Uppsala University’s Academic Senate retreat the other week. Several very important areas were discussed related to teaching and research. One are that was discussed was the “Excellent Teacher” reform launched in Uppsala in 2011. First Maja Elmgren presented the background to the reform, and this was followed by Jan Lindwall who talked about his experiences being an Excellent Teacher.

Maja Elmgren described that Uppsala University has around 80 Excellent Teachers, most of whom come from the faculty of Science and Technology. I also know that a large part of those teachers are from my department, and that I am one out of many colleagues who have the title.

Maja Elmgren also described this faculty’s work with creating a community of practice with the people who has the title Excellent Teacher, and there were lots of discussions about possible future directions related to the title. Two of the questions that were discussed were:

  1. How can we take advantage of the excellent teachers to strengthen the link between research and education?
    2. If we think that the excellent teacher reform has passed its first phase, how can the excellent teacher role be designed in the future – in phase 2.0 – to strengthen the university as a whole?

Jan Lindwall presented his experience from being promoted to excellent teacher, which was really interesting and his talk resulted in a discussion around telling or not telling people that you have the title Excellent Teacher. It became obvious from the discussion that many of the people in the room who had the title seldom told anyone about it. Their experience was that:

  1. saying that you are an excellent teacher would raise people’s expectations of you as a teacher and they don’t want that
  2. It is not worth anything to say that you have the title since people are unaware that it exists
  3. It feels awkward for many to use the word “EXCELLENT” about themselves.
  4. Perhaps it should be possible to nominate others to become Excellent Teachers. There are too few who dare to apply.

I have a very different feeling about this and I have Excellent Teacher in the footer of my mail for example. I also celebrated being awarded this title in the same way as when I was awarded my more research oriented titles. My feeling about this is that of course we should tell that we have been awarded the title Excellent Teacher:

  1. I think that the Excellent Teacher reform is super important, and one step in the right direction for universities to focus on creating good learning environments for students.
  2. We should be promoting the fact that we have the title at our university, and help colleagues to be awarded the title too.
  3. We should aim at having many Excellent Teachers, and we should be proud of them.

 

 

Aiming at NO Academic Guilt

Academic guilt is something that haunts many in academia. Academic guilt makes it difficult to be off work, as there is a fear that you might miss things. One such fear is sometimes called FOMO syndrome: the fear of missing out things when others have a great time.

My guess is that it is stronger in young academics and in PhD students. There are hilarious PhD comic strips about this found at for example http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive_print.php?comicid=732

For me academic guilt is connected to this feeling:

  • I should be working….
  • I should be working….
  • I should be working….
  • I should be working….
  • I should be working….
  • ….

Academia is a tough place in a number of different aspects. It is a kind of competition with other people related to number of publications, H-index or receiving grants. There is always someone who will be more successful than I am. Someone who has read more, knows more and overall have a better career.

Academia is also a place where lots of people suffer from stress symtoms, and more serious conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders. I have decided to take up the fight against Academic guilt, and this summer I chose to be more off work than any previous year.

Of course this has its down sides – such as the fact that I did not give feedback on a few papers, I did not prepare blog posts for the fall and I did not finish one of the ten papers I should be writing. Instead I took long walks every day, sometimes went jogging, read around 10 non work books, spent a lot of time with my family and also met one of my childhood friends a couple of times (this hasn’t happened in ages).

After a few weeks of being really off I felt very related, had energy to cope with conflicts with my kids and overall it is a very satisfying feeling. I strongly recommend fighting academic guilt and to be off work sometimes!

Interviews with Academic Leaders

I’m attending a leadership programme at the university this spring. This is the 10th leadership course I attend. I really like reflecting on leadership and change management, and I think that I learn new things in every course since life is constantly changing. One day I will be as wise as the owl in the blog post illustration, and those I interviewed are truly my role models and inspiration.

As a part of this course I was given the opportunity to interview three good leaders that I could think of. I chose three that I have as role models in different ways.

A common theme in the interviews I did was feeling safe and leadership. The first person emphasised that we are each other’s work environment linked to feeling safe and secure. It is important to positively give feedback to each other, to create a team feeling and encourage people in everyday life. You need to create a safe environment where people dare to be creative and make mistakes. I think that if people feel insecure, they do not dare to be brave and try to solve challenges or take on new tasks.

Feeling safe is also linked to how mistakes are received, the person I interviewed pointed out, and how to act as a leader when someone makes a mistake. If you see it as an opportunity for learning, you create a safe environment, but if you see mistakes as something consistently negative, you create uncertainty.
Person number two had a different perspective on security and talked a lot about safe relationships, mutual trust and trust. This person told me that you do not always need to be right, but that you should be safe enough to let others be the most knowledgeable and work independently.

In addition, this person pointed out that if you have mutual trust, it means that you do not have detailed control, but trust that people do their best and you hear from them if they need support in any way. In this interview, we also talked about the situation that there is no mutual trust and trust. The interviewee believe that leaders need to accept that it does not always work with mutual trust and trust in all situations. Sometimes the best thing to do is to invest in having a long distance according to the interviewee.

Person number three talked about feeling safe linked to listening, and believes that a consistent theme in successful leadership is to try to understand what the other really mean. This includes trying to be permissive and curious when listening and accepting people as they are through active listening. As leaders, we need to be aware of listening strategies and use methods such as mirroring, follow-up questions and other parts of active listening. In all difficult conversations you need to have a polite tone and be interested in understanding other people’s experiences and perspectives.

You also need to create a feeling of security through participation and equal conditions and not run people over with new decisions – you need to have a culture of participation. This person stressed that you should aim at not seeing the opinions and thoughts of other people as threats, but let things take time in change management.
I think my three leadership interviews were really interesting and educational. And I love management and leadership courses. I have signed up for yet another course this fall. That one is about being the formal leader and has different parts about economy, legal issues etc.

Reflections on Learning and Supervision of PhD students

Sometimes I get the feeling that I should know everything about a research area when I supervise PhD students. For example: If I supervise someone who is in the “Design of the Moon Area”, I should be the expert of designing the moon. This idea of course also includes lots of imposter syndrome feelings, ie. I am a fake, I am not doing a good job, everyone will soon realize that I don’t know everying of the moon etc.

One of my post docs listened to me telling about this feeling – and he commented that if I would know everything it would instead be a great problem.

  • The first problem he pointed to is that if I would know everything there is to know no more research would be needed about the moon. Hmm. He has a point.
  • The second thing he pointed to was the core idea of independence and PhD work. As a PhD student you need to work independently of you supervisor. How would that be possible if the supervisor knew everything there is to know about the area?

Of course he has good points. I need to let go of the idea that I need to know everything because clearly I don’t. And it is not even a good idea to know everything due to the above.

However it is still a question how little you can know about an area and still be a good supervisor in that area?

Being the supervisor of PhD students is indeed a learning experience for me. All my PhD students move in different directions in the field of human computer interaction. At the same time the field is expanding enormously due to digitalization of every field of society. On some level my knowledge about methods, the writing process, publication processes and academia is still relevant. But I do not have the same time to reflect and think as they do. They spend a lot of time reading, going to seminars and reflecting. I feel like my calender is mostly full of meetings instead of reflections. Sigh.

Often I learn many interesting things through listening to their discussions and from reading what they write. I try to understand what they have learned, and often my role is to say: Explain more, tell me more, that is interesting – explore that a bit. But I still often have the feeling that me knowing more would be so much better. Hmmm.

To sum up: Dealing with imposture syndrom requires grit and perseverance. And also colleagues to discuss it with. And for me imposter syndrome never seems to end.

Participating in the Panel of Experts for Academy of Finland

I must say that participating in the panel of experts for the Academy of Finland has been a very positive experience. First the call for funding was super interesting, and so relevant for my research area.  The call that we were reviewing drafts for was in the Strategic Research area and addressed culture and technology. Also, the discussions have been very inspiring and such a learning experience for me. The people on the panel came from industry and different sections in academia which gave many different perspectives and experiences to base the discussions on.

If you are ever asked to be on panels – grab the opportunity to participate! 

Work life balance

How do you balance important deadlines with family life including kids who need support and are sick? This is something I have struggled with the past months. The plan with this blog post is as much about reminding myself of how to find the balance as it is to contribute to the discussion around this. We need to help each other cope without burning out.

This weekend I had to spend the whole days working. I had one deadline on Tuesday and one on Thursday. It it very seldom I end up in this situation. That is good. And I had made a New Years’ resolution NOT to end up in this situation at all. Four weeks later I am completely swamped with work and all kinds of things have happened at home with the kids. And of course that means I need to prioritise my fours kids. But it stresses me out completely.

So what can you (I) do in this situation:

  • Prioritise the things in your calendar into the grid of important and urgent. I found this blog post that really describes the method well:
    https://jamalahmed.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/understanding-prioritization/
  • Set asked time to prioritize and reflect on what you do on a regular basis to keep track of how you prioritize.
  • Ask people for help when possible. Both with family things and at work.
  • Set asked time to exercise to get rid of stress.
  • Use the pomodoro technique when you focus on the important things. This means set an alarm Clock and do nothing but the things you planned to do.
  • See to it that you get enough sleep.

Taking a New Course: To Lead and Develop in Academia

It’s been a few years since I last took a leadership course. I’ve taken a few in my life, and often they are a great source for inspiration. For me courses are an opportunity to reflect, and to develop as an individual and also to learn from other people. I am quite convinced that mental stability and mental health for me is dependant on constant reflection, And on taking the time to make choices that are good for me. I do not consider myself being in desperate need of new skills in leadership, but see this as an opportunity to deepen my understandings and practice the existing skills. Life is also in constant movement and things that were discussed in a course that I took five years ago might not have rung a bell at that time – but might do it this time.

So this spring I signed up for a leadership course again. This course is called “To Lead and Develop in Academia” and is an internal Uppsala University course. In the course description it says:

“The training aims to strengthen you in your current or future role as a leader. The goal is sustainable leadership and good research and education environments.”

The course consists of six full-day lectures and participation in the a mentoring group on four occasions . The purpose of the mentoring is to reflect with colleagues on our everyday lives and thereby develop in our roles.

  • I’m really looking forward to this! 

Kevin Doherty Viva and PhD

In the beginning of December I had the opportunity do discuss Kevin Doherty’s PhD at his Viva voce. Kevin Doherty defended his Ph.D. thesis in Computer Science at the School of Computer Science and Statistics at University of Dublin, Trinity College. The PhD thesis has with the title “Designing the Self Report of Wellbeing in Pregnancy”. The PhD was an impressive piece of work indeed, and Kevin Doherty defended his work in the best possible way!

In the thesis Kevin Doherty presents a contribution to knowledge in the area of design of a mobile application named BrightSelf for self-reporting of psychological wellbeing during pregnancy. The research themes addressed are related to how technology shapes the self-report of wellbeing, how users are engaged in the disclosure of health concerns and how healthcare professionals might act upon reports of psychological well-being.

Many parts of the thesis are worth reading, and I especially liked the work on engagement as a theoretical concept, and also the definitions of the concept wellbeing. My guess is that Kevin Doherty would have a brilliant career in academia if he wants that 🙂

 

Attending Conferences and Bringing Kids Along

I have four kids, and I have frequently attended conferences when they have come along. Perhaps it is not always optional to bring them, but the alternative would be to stay at home – and I don’t want that. Then I think it is better for me to go and try to balance work-life as good as I can and I adapt the trip to the kid so that they get a nice experience too.

When my youngest son was one years old he had been to many countries (nine?), and one result from us travelling so much with him is that he speaks OK English at the age of six. This is many years before he starts English at school.

The picture below is from Gothenburg and ICSE 2018 where I did a key note, and my husband attended one of the workshops on computer science education. We also met our very good colleague Tony Clear who helped Sixten try the conference T-shirt.

Tony and Sixten

Some tips for making it work to bring kids: 

  • Perhaps grand-parents have the possibility to travel with you to the conference with you? It could be a nice experience for them and for the kid
  • If it doesn’t work 100% as expected that is quite normal. Having kids is often a bit like leaving the planning to someone else… 🙂
  • If you go to the conference as a couple you can share responsibility for the kid. We often try to share the responsibility
  • Plan something that the kid likes to do so that the trio becomes a positive experience for everyone
  • Be prepared to replan things, and make up a plan B if plan A fails.