‘How to write a PhD’ with Hein De Haas

photo-2Hein de Haas is Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam, and the former director of the International Migration Institute at the University of Oxford. He is also a friend of mine. Almost two years ago, when I was staying in California for two months and he flew in for a conference, we sat down at Saul’s deli in Berkeley for lunch. Over chicken soup with matzo balls and latkes with apple sauce (so good!), we talked about academic writing. ‘We should do an interview!’ I said. ‘Would you?’ He would. Fast forward to present: last week we finally managed. Read Hein’s take on academic writing, success and self-care in today’s ‘How to write a PhD’.

Hein’s top tips:
1. Writing is important: invest in your academic writing skills. Approach your writing as a craft, not high art. High art is paralysing.
2. Write a little every day. I get my writing done in 90 minutes a day.
3. Stay off the Internet until lunchtime.
4. Doing research and writing are inseparable. Writing clarifies thought.
5. Be practical about writing. Develop a daily routine and ruthlessly discipline yourself.

6. Write your abstract first. Keep rewriting and revising it: use it as an anchor for your thinking.
7. Develop your original argument. Trust what you have to say. Don’t become obsessed with the literature. It is not the Holy Script!
8. Don’t forget answering the ‘So what?’ question. Why is your research relevant?
9. To stay in academia: be your own academic. Focus on getting one or two excellent single-authored publications. That is what matters.
10. Take care of yourself: yoga, meditation, music and dedicated times off help.

AD: I know you’re passionate about writing. You’re always stressing how important it is to take writing seriously, and to develop your writing skills. What are your best tips for academic writing?
HdH: Writing is about more than simply reporting your research results. Invest in learning how to write clearly, how to write lucidly. It is best to approach academic writing as a craft, not high art. Anyone can learn how to do it. Approaching writing as high art is paralysing: it assumes you need to be exceptionally talented and you need to get it right in the first go. That’s very far removed from the actual process of academic writing which involves writing, and revising, and then revising and revising once again. As an academic you need to get comfortable with ‘killing your darlings’. When I was younger I used to think I was a good writer. And it’s true that writing comes easily to me, I am a fast writer and I enjoy writing. But the actual craft of learning to write well took dedication and often humbling interactions with mentors and reviewers I was lucky to have met several mentors who told me the truth and had no qualms about showing me how mediocre my writing still was, and how much I still had to learn. I had a great tutor as a freshman anthropology student. He was ultra-critical of my essays. I first hated him for it, but now I am forever grateful, as it was an essential wake-up call. After graduating in geography I worked for a private research and consultancy firm. This was another formative experience, as my mentors there forced me to ‘cut all the crap’ in my prose and to write as clearly as possible. Unfortunately, many academics make their texts impenetrable and vague because of their eagerness to sound scientific. It was in my non-academic jobs that I really learnt to write clearly. Perhaps the most important is the following: never take critique personally, always as an opportunity to improve. But also teach yourself to read your own text with an outsiders’ eye.

photo-1AD: Do you have a writing routine?
HdH: It’s so important to write a little every day. I try to write from 9-11 a.m. every morning. In reality I don’t usually manage the full two hours, more often it is a 90-minute session. I always feel I’d like to do more, but at the same time, I get a lot done in those 90 minutes. People tend to not believe me when they see my publication record, but it is true: this is when I get my writing done. It can be challenging to fit these writing sessions in, especially when you’re travelling, but I insist on four writing sessions a week mimimum. If I don’t manage during the week for whatever reason I will fit a session in on Saturday morning. This goes against my ‘weekends off’ policy, but keeping the writing flowing is as important for my peace of mind. I try to write first thing in the morning. What is very important is to stay off email and Internet. I used to start my day, as so many people, checking email. But I figured out that this is the entire wrong way around. I now stay off the Internet until lunch time, and check my email only once or twice a day, after my most productive writing hours. It’s all about discipline. I learnt this very early on, already during my PhD, when my first daughter was born. Having children has made me much more conscious of time and much more productive during the limited working hours I have. Right now I’m trying something new: waking up very early, at 6 in the morning to do my writing. It is still an experiment…

AD: What have you learned over the course of your academic career about writing?
HdH: Doing research and writing are inseparable. Thoughts are fuzzy and forgiving, the page is not. So when you write things down it helps you solve your conceptual puzzles. To think of doing research with the ‘writing up’ phase the last phase, is an outdated idea. Much better to start writing straight away. I highly recommend reading the book: Writing for social scientists by Howard. S. Becker on how to approach this. Reading that book as a 1st year student in anthropology back in 1989 liberated me in many ways, and encouraged me to approach writing as a craft, a continuous work-in-progress.

AD: What does your writing process look like? Is there a beginning, a middle and an end-phase that differ in how you approach it?
HdH: The end phase involves a lot of editing and trying to delete passages that may be superfluous or where I’m repeating myself. I’m wordy, so I am always trying to keep the word count under control. It is also a more intense phase. I always begin a new piece of work by writing the abstract. Conceptually it is the most important step. By the time the piece is finished the abstract will have been through revision after revision. It what anchors the piece. The phase in the middle is where I grapple with the data.

AD: What would you advise PhDs who are feeling stuck, and unable to write? Do you have tips to overcome writer’s block?
HdH: Be practical about writing. Develop a daily routine and ruthlessly discipline yourself. Don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration comes often during writing. And start with the abstract. Write your abstract before moving on to anything else. It puts you on the spot; it forces you to come down to the essence of your paper. If you write a book, it can be helpful to write abstracts for each chapter. It has to be a substantive abstract, not one of those teaser abstracts that leaves you guessing, and which requires you to read the rest of the article to understand what it is about. Your abstract should state, in one or two sentences, what the ‘punch-line’, the argument and main finding of your research is. Start with this conceptual puzzle. Make clear what your aim is, which question you are going to answer, and don’t forget answering the ’So what?’ question. It is often overlooked, but it is what ensures your research has appeal beyond the narrow scope of the argument, and is relevant. I have found that paring it down like this, focusing on the research question and developing your own unique argument helps. Of course, while writing the actual paper or book, you will develop new insights, change your opinion or argument – you will adopt your abstract accordingly. Consider it as a continuous work in progress. Looking at it this way instead of seeing writing as an art can be very liberating.

AD: What would you tell PhDs who are looking for their niche, but haven’t quite found it yet?
HdH: It would be to trust what you have to say. Read, but don’t become obsessed by the literature. Instead, switch to ‘active’ thinking. There’s a big difference between trying to find a ‘gap’ in the literature and ‘filling that gap’; and developing an original argument. Filling the gap doesn’t work. There’s always the danger that once you’ve identified a gap, and ‘filled’ it, someone else will have done the same. You’ll find this out the week before finishing your own project most likely! Don’t define gaps in terms of ‘this group or topic has never been studied’, but instead in terms of how you approach that subject. Because you bring your unique perspective, through your own life experiences, your personal background, what you have read, you will always bring an original perspective. Trust your own story. Trust what you have to say – and have the audacity to present your very own take on your topic. Don’t be a slave to what previous authors have said. ‘The literature’ is not the Holy Script! There is a tendency to inflate the big names in the literature, and of course they have done important work. But they too are regular people, who had the courage to write up what they thought in as clear as possible prose. In other words: you can do this.

heinAD: Academia is becoming an increasingly competitive environment, and it isn’t at all the case that you’ll manage to secure an academic position, even when you are an excellent researcher. What would you advise PhDs with ambitions in academia?
HdH: Focus on getting one or two excellent single-authored publications, that is what counts in most disciplines. Sometimes this takes time. In my own case it took 7 years after I had finished my PhD as a monograph for my best theoretical article using the same material to be published. This is now my best cited article. In the meantime, work on articles that are easier to write and get published. Working papers are great: consider them as a first pit stop on the way to a journal publication. It allows you to ‘claim’ your idea, to gain visibility and to generate feedback early on, and they often get cited. Working papers are much better than chapters in edited volumes that often hardly get cited at all. Also: make sure to be your own academic. Don’t become someone’s sidekick, even if that person has the credentials to facilitate your career. Of course, benefit from it if you can, but don’t become too dependent on your mentor. I would also advise PhD students to challenge supervisors who assume their name should automatically be included as authors in each of their students’ papers, without contributing substantially to data analysis or writing the actual paper. It’s fine and even recommended to collaborate, but it’s very important to protect intellectual property and to be self-confident and assertive about that. It will gain you respect – and in many academic circles it is important to also have single-authored papers published. Let your star shine! Don’t be intimidated.

AD: Writing a PhD is stressful, as is working in academia. Do you have self-care routines?
HdH: Yes, absolutely. I started doing hatha yoga some six years ago, during a stressful time, which was fantastic in helping me calm my mind. More recently I have been practicing ashtanga yoga and yin yoga, at least three times a week, mostly in the early evenings. I try to make sure I don’t need to work or do anything that might burst the yoga bliss bubble afterwards! I also play the piano: no better way to wind down than playing some jazz and blues. But I’m not saying people should do yoga or play music. It does not matter what you do. Sports, dancing, acting, painting, it can be anything that makes you connect to your body and has nothing to do with your thesis. The point is to tune out from your research and find a healthy balance. Other things that help me manage the workload, and minimise stress are taking the weekends off. Two days preferably, but one and a half day at the very minimum. I also make a point of stopping on time. I generally don’t work after dinnertime, and I generally try to get all my important work done around 2pm. For me it does work much better to focus on getting my tasks done in the morning. I often don’t manage, but I do notice I feel better when I practice a short meditation in the morning and at the end of the afternoon or day. I also try not to watch television late at night and stay off-screen after working hours as much as possible.

You can find Hein’s excellent blog on migration here, and you can sign up for his free Migration 101 course in which he tackles some of the most common migration myths here. See the preview below. Did you like this post? Please share it! I appreciate it.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Power of the Mind

How do we prevent our inner critic from taking over?
How do we become more resilient in the face of criticism?
How do we not succumb to feeling stuck when the pressure rises?
How do we make it though a rough patch?
How do we allow more joy and curiosity in?

In the academic world the mind skills we develop and refine are our intellectual muscles, our critical capacity. The part that isn’t paid as much, or any attention to, is how to harness the power of the mind more broadly, on how work with our thoughts, and the feelings attached to those thoughts. Not at all linked to solving academic problems, but everything to do with the person who is trying to do so.

I have sometimes wondered what the academic world would look like if these aspects got more attention. Would levels of depression and anxiety be lower? Would drop-out rates in PhD programmes be lower? Would years spent on completing a PhD be lower? Would the number of publications be higher?

My guess is yes – I think it would make a real difference.

As you know my own PhD experience was not exactly completed in ideal circumstances…it was really, really hard. And the one thing I credit for allowing me to finish the thesis, apart from truly wanting to complete the project, was this: new mind skills. This involved learning how to relate to my thoughts differently, no longer completely identifying with thought all of the time, especially when facing difficulties. And also, something I have been rediscovering recently: knowing when to use the rational problem-focused mind to solve problems, and when to try something different.

Something that has helped me was starting to be more aware of thoughts and beliefs, and the emotions they trigger. I like the way Eckhart Tolle approaches it: he calls the conditioned beliefs ‘ego’, and the emotional/ physical component pain-body. (Tolle was a PhD at Cambridge when he had these insights, and decided to go down the spiritual instead of the academic path…in case you’re contemplating a career change!)

Say we’re talking about academic envy: a colleague gets published, yet your paper is rejected. This may set off a cascade of negative thoughts and feelings: academia is a status system, and if we feel we’re losing (ego) we get scared (pain-body) and resentful (pain-body). Especially so if you think your colleague who is ‘winning’ doesn’t especially deserve it!!

Something similar happened when a ‘friend’ of mine got a paper published, using the exact same title as my thesis working title. Despite being close colleagues he had managed to not mention he was working on the exact same topic as I was working on!! That coupled with my own frustration about my work being so slow and absolutely unpublished due to circumstances, and I nearly lost it! (This did end up as an interesting confrontation at a thesis defence where I bumped into him. I lost my Zen that day.)

Academia as a system is stressful – it is up or out. Publish or exit. Get funded or lose out. It is also often unpredictable and unfair. Being good at what you do is a necessary, but by no means a sufficient condition to do well. The uncertainty, the randomness, the stories we tell ourselves about meritocracy, the ways we rationalise our disappointments: it can take its toll.

To deal with the more stressful aspects of academia, meditation can be extremely helpful.

It helps us observe the thoughts we have and take them less personally:

“Ah – apparently I have so much fear about things not working out for me/ about being ‘not good enough’ (hello imposter syndrome!) / etc. Ah, maybe those are just thoughts, just beliefs. Maybe they aren’t true! Maybe I can just let them be, not pay them as much attention, not buy into the drama of it fully. Maybe there is another way to look at it… A more skillful way, a kinder way. A way in which I don’t put myself down. In which I don’t slip into feeling ‘less than’. A way that doesn’t turn any excitement I may feel about my work into fear. Yes…how about tuning back into curiosity instead.”

This isn’t a conscious process, somthing we can impose by will, it is more of an unfolding. A creating space for this to happen by sitting still, and allowing our mind to settle (or not).

And it helps us work through and ‘metabolise’ the intense emotions that come with these thoughts. It helps calm the pain-body. By sitting with it, by feeling the fear, the disappointment, the resentment, whatever it is, it eventually dissolves. And when it dissolves it stops feeding into the negative thought loop. Which means we are no longer stuck. We can move on.

Sometimes it is difficult to access that place by sitting still: we keep going over the same thoughts in our heads, and can’t seem to access the emotions directly. I have found exercise, yoga especially, very helpful in shifting out of negative states. Yoga seems to rearrange things so they make sense again, so you feel more integrated again. It is an active meditation.

Have you tried meditating? I highly recommend the meditations by Bodhipaksa (two of his meditations are part of the HappyPhD Course, the acceptance meditation is my favourite. Though some participants have noted they preferred the mediations I recorded myself), and the short ‘getting present’ and ’metabolising energy’ meditations by Michael Vladeck. I work with these quite a bit. They are really good in terms of getting out of the mind and into the feeling aspect of our life.

If you liked this post, could you share it? I appreciate it. Also: if you missed the first edition of ‘The Nudge’ on shortening your workday, it is now available as a free mini course. Sign up for it below to be treated to five days of encouragement to help shorten your workday but getting as much or more done!

Subscribe to the Nudge 5-day course




I Love My Yoga Practice

I have been practicing yoga for many years, for about fifteen to be precise. I got into yoga when a friend bought a series of power yoga DVDs on TellSell. (I know. Always take the classy route.) I would go over to her house weekly and we would practice together, and lounge about on her sofa, chatting and drinking tea in post-yoga bliss afterwards.

For me, bliss it is. Yoga really does bring me back to my center, my core. It makes me feel strong and clear, and soft and surrendered at the same time.

When I started my practice I had a repetitive stress injury, which was bad. Bad as in it felt like my arm, shoulder and hand were about to drop off. Bad, as in I couldn’t open a carton of milk any more because it hurt too much. Bad, as in I couldn’t work for a couple of months because I could no longer type! Physiotherapy (eight months of it) made it worse. In the end, a combination of acupuncture and yoga made it better. I even took the DVD to the physiotherapist’s office: “Look, this cured me!” And it did.

Since then I have practiced about a million different styles of yoga: power yoga, hatha yoga, yin yoga, kundalini yoga. When I studied in Leiden and was writing my Master’s thesis I would roll out my mat for 50 minutes of power yoga with Bryan Kest on DVD at the end of the day, every day. It saved my shoulder and my wrist. When I studied in London I joined the Yoga Club and we practised our headstands in seminar rooms and the LSE basement. It saved my sanity. (LSE yogis are competitive! My teachers would be showing off their poses and moves wherever they could. Trying to outdo each other in backbends and arm balances and crazy ridiculous postures. And have arguments about what constituted yoga – East vs. West. Indian teachers versus American). In Italy, I again reverted to my home practice, as I couldn’t find a studio or teacher I liked. Unfortunately so. But when I returned to Amsterdam I found a lovely yoga studio with classes that were mellow and friendly. When I was very poorly, it was my saving grace. And now, I do Bikram yoga.

If you haven’t heard of Bikram yoga: it is about the most intense type of yoga there is. You do 26 postures in a heated room. Heated as in hot! 40 degrees. You pour with sweat, for 90 minutes, while twisting and stretching and strengthening, with mirrors reflecting your inelegant attempts at yoga back at you. If this doesn’t sound appealing: it isn’t particularly appealing! But it’s addictive and it’s fantastic. I feel rubbish most of the time (OK, all of the time, in honesty) because of my Lyme disease, but when I walk out of Bikram class, no matter how difficult it was, I feel clearer, brighter, more grounded and energised. Even if I still feel horrible, I feel better.

This academic year, my boyfriend decided to join me with an experiment of his own: going to Bikram class for four to five days a week. Before work. If you know him, you know this is a bit of a revolution. In the almost-decade we have been together I have not known him to go to bed before 1 or 2 or 3 a.m. or get up before 10 a.m. Ever. Unless he had to catch a flight, or if the university administration had been particularly evil and assigned him to teach a morning course. Now he is in the hot room at 6.30 a.m. Every day. The difference it has made has been astonishing. The man is on fire (in the best possible way imaginable). More focused, more clear-headed, more grounded. (There is more, but I have to stop there, because I know he wouldn’t want me to discuss the private details of his life. He leaves all the spilling the beans to me.)

I realise this all sounds like a bad commercial and perhaps a confirmation that the Bikram aficionados truly have a few screws loose, which I am not going to deny. But the truth is the difference has been incredible. The bottom line: the yoga experiment has been more than successful. It reinforces the ideas I teach in my seminars and in the HappyPhD online course: that the cure for feeling swamped at work isn’t working longer hours in an attempt to get more done. It is making sure you have structures in place that help you stay calm, clear and focused. The physiological component is an important one: exercise in general, and yoga in particular will help you create mental space, as well as mental strength. Which is never a bad idea.

Resources:

Bikram Amsterdam
City Yoga Amsterdam
Yogaglo

PS – The Bryan Kest series I practiced for years (Energize, Tone & Sweat) is also on Youtube. I particularly like the Tone practice. The videos are beyond cheesy, which I think must be the defining characteristic of my taste in yoga!

Do you practice yoga? What do you like about it? Tell me. Also, if you enjoyed this post, could you share it? As always, much appreciated.

Write a More Inspired, Happier PhD Subscribe & Let Me Show You How

You’ll also receive a copy of ‘Finding Your Academic Voice’

* indicates required



‘How to write a PhD’ with Eva Lantsoght

Eva LantsoghtDr. Eva Lantsoght received her PhD in civil engineering at TU Delft, the Netherlands, last summer. She talks about her PhD experience, and about how PhD productivity and self-care relate to each other.

I am excited to introduce to you dr. Eva Lantsoght. Excited, because she very much lives what I like to call the ‘new’ academic lifestyle. That is, she is an academic who takes very good care of herself, her energy and her time. She practices yoga, she meditates, and if you follow her on twitter you know she is productive and prolific. Her blog PhDTalk, which she started at the beginning of the 2nd year of her PhD programme, is an excellent resource for anyone writing a PhD. Go over and have a look. I was interested to hear from Eva about her routines and practices, and how they affected her PhD experience. Let’s hear it.

Eva’s top 10 tips for writing a PhD:

    1. Your life does not depend on your PhD. It’s the other way around: the quality of your PhD depends on how much of a life you are having.
    2. Take care of yourself: a tired brain won’t move science forward.
    3. Feeling stuck? Take a break. Don’t keep working harder and harder until you hit rock bottom.
    4. Plan a weekend away from the PhD: relax, refocus and replenish.
    5. Own your work!
    6. Plan for success. Use time-management techniques to keep yourself on track.
    7. Start work early, finish early. Take breaks. (Listen to lab guys).
    8. Sleep well, eat well, journal, do yoga and meditate!
    9. Focus on the positive: add love and record gratitude.
    10. Connect, get informed and get inspired online #phdchat.

AD: Eva, what is your top tip to improve your PhD experience?
EL:
Realize that your life does not depend on your PhD. In fact, your PhD and the quality of your focus, will depend pretty much on how much of a life you are having. Simply put: a tired brain won’t come up with novel ideas that push your field of study forward. I’m a terrible perfectionist, and I wanted to do so well on my PhD. At a certain point, I was pushing myself beyond measure, trying to stay on top of my experiments
while working on cases for my funding body. I was in the lab from 8am to 4pm, and then making calculations from 4pm to 10pm. I started making mistakes… That’s when I realized that my brain is not a 24/7 machine. I started to make appointments with myself to go to the gym, and to go home on time to play with my cat, and to make sure I’d get enough hours of sleep. My productivity and number of good ideas started to increase when I made that change.

AD: And what would you advise PhD students who are feeling stuck or lost? PhDs come with rough patches.
EL: Be gentle with yourself. If you have a good relationship with your supervisor(s), let them know that you have hit a rough patch. During the final months of writing my dissertation, I’d plan “refresh and refocus” weekends every now and then: I’d go to the gym, go to read a book in a coffee place in the beautiful city center of Delft, watch a number of TED talks or online lectures, catch up on sleep, cook a big stew or big pot of chili (to freeze portions for whenever I’d need it), etc. Don’t keep working harder and harder until you hit rock bottom. Instead, take a break from your worries and try to refresh your mind.

AD: Was there anything else you wish you’d known that you know now, when you were writing your PhD?
EL:
What I learned in my first year, is that doing research is different from doing homework. Suddenly, you are the one in charge of the entire project. It took me some time to realize that I had to take ownership of my project, and determine the direction. And, as I mentioned earlier, I wish I realized from the beginning the value of enough sleep and enough time for exercise and self-care.

AD: You seem to be very prolific. What were your working habits during the PhD? Do you have any productivity tips to share?
EL: I always showed up at my office at 8am in the morning. While that might not be typical behaviour for PhD students, I followed the example of the staff members, and the schedule of the tech guys in the lab. I took a lunch break at noon to go “upstairs” with the other PhD students and lab guys. Whenever I tried to skip lunch to keep on working, they convinced me of the benefit of taking a break and sharing some good laughs. I tried to leave my office between 5pm and 6pm every day as well, and then spend the evening doing things I enjoy…

Early on during my PhD, I attended a 3-day course in which I learned all about planning. Since then, I’ve been making time monthly and weekly to go over my planning, assess my progress, and course-correct where needed. I started to use time-tracking tools (I like ManicTime a lot), to know exactly how much time certain tasks take me – information I used to improve my planning. When I was doing “boring” stuff (plug-and-chuck numbers around in spreadsheets, for example), I’d often blast some music into my earphones, and use the Pomodoro method to get the task done in 25-minute chunks.

AD: Could you tell me a bit about what I call the ‘new’ academic lifestyle. Could you tell me about your self-care practices?
EL: Sure, I really think these habits were crucial to my staying sane throughout my PhD days (and now my freshly-appointed-assistant-professor-days).

AD: Let’s start somewhere- I know you are into yoga: when did you become interested in it, what is your practice like, and how does it benefit your work?
EL:
I started practicing yoga at the end of my PhD, while I was working on the comments of my committee and revisions of my dissertation. I felt the need to take “stretching” breaks and I started practicing standing yoga sequences full of balancing poses to train my focus. I also started to follow YouTube yoga classes. As I ended my gym membership and moved away from Delft (and spent some time in the USA, Belgium and then Ecuador), I bought a subscription to a paid online yoga website, and I’ve been using it a lot since then to practice yoga first thing in the morning.

AD: What about meditation? I read your blog on mindfulness, which is the tradition that got me into meditation. What is your practice like?
EL:
I used to have a very good meditation habit, sitting on my pillow first thing in the morning, but somehow in the process of moving countries, I lost the habit. I’m trying to bring it back in my daily schedule, but so far with mixed success. So I’ve been on and off with meditation, but I know it’s essential to the well-being of my brain – I really need to strengthen that habit again.

AD: You wrote a wonderful blog on little things you can do to boost your mood. Two of your tips are ‘Love’ and ‘Gratitude’. I believe they are essential muscles that academics in particular need to train. Can you tell me a little about how that works in your own life?
EL:
It might sound idealistic, but I think our world is deprived of love, and I try to radiate a bit of love to all beings I encounter (which doesn’t mean I never lose my patience or snap at anyone, but my intentions are loving). Loving-kindness is an essential part of my meditation practice, and I try to bring some of that into my everyday life. In my journal, I keep a gratitude list, and I write down 10 positive experiences I had every single day to focus on the positive in my life. Even when I think life is horrible, I try to bring a smile to my face and count my blessings, and very often it’s the simple things in life: having been able to have dinner together with my husband, seeing my cat run around in a funny way through the house, etc.

AD: Let’s talk food. I myself have been eating an ever-healthier diet the past years. For me, now, it has to do with my health issues, and my current diet would probably be too extreme for most, even though I try and keep it delicious within the restrictions. That said, if there is one habit that I would have changed when I was working on my PhD, it would have been cutting back on sugar and carbs (though, easier said than done when you’re writing a PhD in Italy: The spaghetti! The ice cream! Italy is carb heaven). In the past I often relied on sugar highs to give me productivity highs. But I used to crash afterwards. I find eating a no-sugar low-carb diet keeps my energy levels and mood far more stable. What about you?
EL: I’ve always been rather picky about food. My mom is an excellent cook, and for that reason I turn away in horror from most food court / university cantina food. I always cooked as a student (although most often limited to veggie burgers with frozen veggies – as my friends like to recall), and during my PhD, I became more organized: I learned to cook batches of stews and chilies, used to shop for food once a week, and right after that, chop and cook a few days’ worth of vegetables. I’m not vegetarian, although I mostly eat plants – I’ve learned that these give me and my brain the best imaginable fuel. Sugar and greasy fare typically make me drowsy and sleepy (although that doesn’t mean I can always stay clear of these temptations).

AD: You sound quite busy. Are you someone who can work late? I myself am not. In the early years of writing my PhD my cut-off point would be 6 pm, or in the extreme case 7.30 pm. Any later than that and I couldn’t sleep. Now, I try to stay away from the computer after 4pm. Not that I am managing at the moment. But in an ideal world I wouldn’t be on my computer/ online in the evening.
EL:
I usually have a quiet evening routine, that leaves me time for journaling and reading in bed before I go to sleep. I can’t stay working on my computer until 10pm, then roll into bed, close my eyes and fall asleep – I need to zone out at the end of the day to enjoy a good night’s rest.

AD: Finally, completely different topic: you are very active on twitter and social media. How can PhD students use these media to their advantage?
EL:
When using the internet, there’s always a risk of getting “sucked in” and waste a lot of time. That said, however, I think PhD students can use social media platforms to their advantage: by learning from people in the same field, or by reaching out to PhD students worldwide who might be experiencing just the same feelings/struggles/joys as you (for that reason, I love the #phdchat hashtag on Twitter). There’s a ton of information on the internet, in blogs of fellow PhD students or academics, and much of that gets shared on these social media platforms – so you can browse the “headlines” and see what might be of interest to you (an article about writing, maybe, or a blog post about someone’s experiences in the lab?). In my experience, Twitter is also a great platform to reach out to the industry – by reading information that companies in your field post, and then interacting with them.

Thanks Eva!

If you are inspired to give yoga a try, following our yogi lead, but can’t find a local yoga school, or if you travel a lot, give online classes a go. Eva likes http://www.myyogaonline.com, while I have used www.yogaglo.com in the past. Two very good places to start.