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.
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!
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:
- 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.
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!
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 🙂
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.
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.
Sometimes academia is not so great, and now and then I run into periods of lots of failure. Impostor syndrome doesn’t help either and hits me straight away when things are not going my way: “Do I really belong?”
This past week I got five papers rejected in 48 hours. Gah!! This was really tough! A personal record indeed. I thought that the papers were really OK, and some of them well written – but reviewers (completely) disagreed.
So far, I haven’t really had the energy to read the reviews either so I can’t really proudly say that I failed and learned lots of things through the failures. So far I have just failed and felt like a failure.
Last week I was invited to discuss Anna Haufmann’s half-time seminar in Caring Science at Uppsala University. A half-way seminar at Uppsala University has the purpose of giving feedback and input on the work done, but more importantly on the plans forward. It is not an occasion with a formal examination. PhD education is a wildling road forward, and most of all this occasion is a possibility to get some input on possible ways forward.
Anna Haufmann did an interesting and professional presentation of her work so far. This work has included one published paper, and one paper that is in progress. The published paper describes the experiences from developing of an internet based intervention for adult cancer patients that are diagnosed with depression. The intervention was planned with patients and different health care professionals. I especially liked the fact that they had included patients in the design process, and that their team was multidisciplinary! The paper that has not been submitted yet shows great potential to be a very good journal publication, or even two journal publications. It is an interview study with rather open questions to patients related to their experiences from the intervention. I will not write more about it here due to the future review process, but the paper(s) will be worth reading 😃.
Anna Haufmann also presented the planned work ahead that includes two more journal publications. They will include studies on the effects of the intervention, and statistical methods will be used.
The seminar was very nice, and the other examiners were from very different dicsiplines. This made the discussions lively and also more interesting! Anna Haufmann acted very professionally, and I am confident that her PhD thesis will be an interesting read!
I hope that Anna Haufmann felt that she got good feedback, and that she also got the energy to write up the last parts of her PhD!
I often review scientific papers for journals and conferences in computer science. Sometimes when I am asked to do a review I ask my PhD students if they would like to read the paper and discuss reviewing it with me. If they want to join we set a date for discussing the paper, and what to write in a review. The PhD students get course credits from doing these reviews, and I also get a good chance to improve my reviewing skills.
Sometimes the papers we read are very poor, and need very much more work. Those papers are the trickiest ones to review. Often I still write quite a detailed review explaining what can be improved by the paper. In these situations I imagine that the paper is written by a colleague that I really respect, and I am careful with my phrasing of the critique so that it is clear what I mean but put in a way that it sounds polite and nice.
However, once I got such a poor paper that I simply did not write more than:
The ideas in the paper are interesting, but the paper need much more work before it can be published.
One can wonder if this was the correct thing to do???
The paper lacked most parts of a readable paper and it was not possible to understand even what they aimed at doing. A review of such a paper would have meant writing a “How to write a scientific paper for dummies” review. The advise would have been on what to include in an introduction, how to write an abstract etc.
I recommend all seniors to do reviews with their PhD students. It is an interesting way of learning more about papers, and getting a common groups of the area you are doing research in.