This Wednesday

A service in memory of

Jean Helen Collopy Gault

Wednesday, February 2, 2011
2:00 p.m.

Faith Episcopal Church
2200 Country Club Drive
Cameron Park, California 95682

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing,
but life everlasting.

~Book of Common Prayer~

Building a Successful Career in Scientific Research by Phil Dee - Book review

It's been more than half a year since I read this book,  but the main plus of this book is that it is written in such an entertaining and funny way. The material from this book just stayed better in the book of my head because the writing style of this book made me smile continuously.

You can read the first pages of the book on Google books, so you can check out and see if you like the writing style as much as I did.Oh, did I mention it has funny cartoons too?

Although the book is small (130 pages and large print), it packs a lot of information, and touches everything a PhD student needs to know from the very beginning (chapter 1: choosing and handling your PhD adviser) to way down your future career (chapter 18: do you have principal investigator (PI) potential). Most of it is written from the perspective of the UK system of a PhD study.

It is not my aim here to discuss every single section in the book, but I would like to highlight some sections which gave me great insights.

The first chapter (Choosing and handling your PhD adviser), gives some rules how to getting the best from you supervisor. These rules are:
1. communicate with your boss
2. keep your boss informed
3. discover what makes your boss tick
4. earn your boss's respect
5. assert yourself
6. the golden rule: write for your boss
I should go over these rules and their explanation more often, as I tend to work by myself and only set appointments whenever I really need some input (as in, when I need a paper to be reviewed). Just keeping my supervisors posted on my progress has not really been my priority, since I feel that I would take too much of their precious time. It looks like it wouldn't hurt me to put my hard work and myself a bit more into the picture for them.

Chapter 2 (motivation, time management and multitasking) has a great example of a Gantt chart as a tool for planning your project. Then Chapter 3 (handling the literature) gives some food for thought on literature review (great chapter for me these days, since I'm finally trying to get my literature review done). It gives some strategies for ruthless reading: slaying the literature dragon before the pile on your desk becomes an invincible stash which might have a gem in it. Chapters 4 and 5 deal with writing reports and giving presentations.

After part I of the book (the first couple of years), the book continues with part II (the end of the beginning).
Chapter 6 (writing papers and abstracts) gives some great guidelines for making rapid writing-up possible. These are:
1. focus on success
2. prepare your figues
3. get up to speed with the literature
4. remind yourself of your purpose
5.get out of the lab
6. set a deadline
Point 4 says: "Constantly remind yourself that the reason you get up in the morning is to write scientific papers." I don't fully agree (there's much more in life than publishing myself to death), I do recognize the importance of getting all the hard work from the lab outside the walls of my university.

Chapter 7 gives some thoughts on conferences and poster presentations. It shows a very clear example of a good and a bad poster, which inspired me significantly last time I was making a poster.

Chapter 8 deals with writing and defending the thesis and consequently chapter 9 deals with coping with pressure and stress.

Parts III (the transition to post-doctoral research) and IV (making it in science) were nice to read and keep in the back of my head, but of little practical value for me to put into practice right away.

Rest in peace, Mama

Jean Helen Collopy Gault
1-15-27 to 1-29-11

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;
In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;
In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;
In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.
May your rest be this day in peace,
and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Jean.  Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.  Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.

7 ways to motivate yourself

Do you find it hard to meet your self-imposed deadlines and work on your personal goals? Well then, this post is for you and covers my way of meeting my own deadlines and goals.

I've become really good at meeting my own deadlines: my papers are always submitted on time and usually a few weeks before the deadline, I haven't had to study the night before an exam since my very first year at university and I developed the habit to start a homework right after the assignment was given in class.

As a result, I feel much more confident and I avoid last minute hasty and sloppy work.

Here's an overview of the 7 key points to increase your inner motivation

1. Take yourself seriously

I used to find it very hard to meet my self-imposed deadlines, as I felt as if they were not real. Deadlines imposted by school or others were the ones I used to never fail, but my own deadlines were rather optional, just in case I don't have anything better to do.
However, at a certain moment, I realized that it is important to take myself, my goals and my deadlines serious. Many of these deadlines help me work towards goals which are important, but not urgent. Those are the tasks which really move my life, studies or research forward, but they just are not urgently burning in my mailbox or on my doorstep.

2. Plan towards it

In my case, I usually try to draft a conference paper relatively soon after the notice of acceptance of the abstract is sent to me. Typically, I will work on the draft 2 or 3 months before the deadline. I won't lock myself down in my office and work on it, but I will schedule a week or two in which that paper is my most important project, while keeping the labwork and educational tasks running at their normal pace. I've figured out that I need to work on the draft that early, since my supervisors are very busy and it can take some time between my finishing the draft and having an appointment to discuss it.
If you have a completely different goal, say training for a 10k run, then too, you need to start planning months ahead and build up your routine bit by bit. And, of course, this is only possible if you take yourself serious and will take the time to go training on the days and times you've scheduled with yourself.

3. Schedule time 

As I wrote in the previous point, I for example make writing the conference paper my most important task for the week. I'll try to either reserve blocks of time in my planner to work on it (block of about 1,5 hour work best for me), or just make sure that I can focus on it. Most of the time my planner isn't really fully booked with meetings, as in the end I mostly work on my own research project, but I tend to work around on scattered little projects and administrative tasks. Having my own time management system helps me to schedule time to work on my most important task.
The same holds for the running example. As I wrote before, you can only run 10k after training for it, and scheduling these trainings.

4. Log your process

Visualizing my process is a great way to motivate myself. One of my new year's resolutions is to get enough sleep so I can concentrate better during the day and think more clearly. I've started to keep a little log in which I track my bedtimes. The first two weeks were quite sad, with only one day a week in which I got to bed in time, but the past week I've been having 4 successes and this week it will probably be even better. Just keeping this little log makes me keep this resolution serious.
I've also seen people keeping track of their weight loss by visualizing it on a graph or by keeping it in a log.

5. Talk about it

By making your goal public, you will have some external pressure or additional motivation to work towards a success. Regardless of what I am working towards (drafting a paper, training for running or trying to get enough sleep), I always tell someone about it. That person then will every now and then ask me how my progress is. And of course, it's always nice to share good progress.

6. Track your results

Unlike logging progress, tracking the results is more oriented towards the results. Of all new year's resolutions I started off with, which ones did I keep? Now that I am getting more sleep, how is this affecting my creativity? 

7. Celebrate your success

Last but not least, celebrate your successes! I used to skip this point, and rush off to the next task on my list, but now I've started to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Reaching a goal that I wanted for myself, such as drafting a paper by the time of my self-imposed deadline, is a success in two ways: I've done something that I wanted to do and of course, the result itself is something to be proud of too.
Ending with this positive feeling serves as a motivation to fulfill more of  your own goals, as it drags you into a circle of personal wins.

To summarize, the main idea behind this is that you become your own mom, boss, coach and teacher.

Glimpses of beauty

Sometimes my random thoughts take me right where I need to be. 
Donna posted this today, a quote from a favorite book:
The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure.”

—A Wrinkle in Time

which reminded me of this quote from Return of the King:

"The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or of foot. Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach."

which I found on my own blog here.  And there I read my own words, coming back to minister to my heart this morning:

My friends, may you know that these days of shadow are only fleeting. May you have a glimpse of the beauty that is far beyond the reach of any shadow, and may you know the Bright Morning Star, and His never-ending love for you, amidst the dreary and the devastating.


Looking for glimpses of beauty today.  I am sure they are there.

The Friday Clive

"There are, no doubt, passages in the New Testament which may seem at first sight to promise an invariable granting of our prayers. But that cannot be what they really mean. For in the very heart of the story we meet a glaring instance to the contrary. In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not. After that the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed."

2011 Prints

''Raft of the Broken Sun'' (after Géricault)
oil on Rives BFK
55 X 76

''Volga" (after Repin)
oil on Rives BFK
76 x 165

Contemporary dance class 15-04-2011 San Juan, Puerto Rico

Photos by: Rolando J. Pérez

Frozen Retina 
drypoint on 100 lennox paper
30 x 70

''Irene & Sebastian''
lithography, silkscreen and embossing
on rives BFK
38 x 28

oil on rives BFK
55 x 76

Gifts of grace on a hard day

~ I woke with a start this morning, realizing that Mom had not been awake in the night.  That was unexpected!  Sleep was something I figured I would have to do without for a while.
~  The hospice nurse came to get us oriented to all they will do and all we will do.  As the car pulled in the driveway I realized it was the sister of a dear friend, and her kind and calm manner made all of us relax.
~  I picked up a message on the phone this afternoon, and it was Mom's friend Rosemary.  She said she was bringing food (note that she did not ask...that works for me.)  She brought not only food but good cheer and words of love for Mom.  She also reminded me that Mom's church will provide meals and support for us.  Wow.  It's good to be in the Body of Christ.
Gifts of grace on a hard day.
Thank You.

Literature review - The sequel

I previously wrote about my method of tackling the giant mountain of papers I want to read for my literature review.

As suggested in the comments, I changed my way of organizing the printed copies of the papers. Instead of having them organized by subject - which was becoming more and more complicated, I've followed the suggestion to organize them alphabetically on last name of the first author.

Since I had already worked my way through more than 300 documents, it took me about 2,5 hours to reorganize my binders full of material. But I don't think that was a waste of time, contrarily, it gave my very interesting insights.

As I was organizing the papers by author, I started to question myself. I had one small binder with my "most important" papers. Somehow, I discovered that most of the papers I read were actually fitting into the story I  am building up in my mind.

My research topic is somewhere in the middle of three different topics. I'm pulling material from papers on bridge engineering (slab bridges), papers on beam shear and papers on punching shear. I've noticed that not that many authors have published material on, for example, both beam shear and punching shear. Some authors before the 1960s explored the borders of these subject, but later on researchers started to focus on one topic in particular.

Now that had all this material going through my hands again, I started to see some links. I started to notice how a basic idea was employed in different topics, and too, felt like I now can see my topic from different angles, without thinking too much in rigid subjects.

Thanks again for the comments on my previous post! As you can see, it gave me some very good ideas.

Soundtrack for today

I am still learning about my mother. When I asked what she wanted to listen to today, she wanted to hear a Barbra Streisand duet CD.


Enter iTunes and we have Barbra and Frank Sinatra and Neil Diamond and more keeping us company at Mom's.


Music I will always remember.

Morning mercies

The view out my window this morning

You have moved my soul far from peace; 
I have forgotten prosperity. 
And I said, “My strength and my hope 
Have perished from the LORD.”         
Remember my affliction and roaming, 
The wormwood and the gall. 

My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.

They are new every morning;

Great is Your faithfulness.
“ The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“ Therefore I hope in Him!”

Lamentations 3:17-24
From Sunday at 11:45 p.m.

My bookmark is once again a napkin from the hospital cafe, and Mom is sleeping in the ICU tonight. The afternoon was spent in the ER, and the news from an ultrasound was not good. Her cancer has spread. Mom's desire is for comfort, not aggressive treatment, and tomorrow we will figure out exactly what that means.

For now I sit in a dark kitchen, no one else awake in the house. All I can do is breathe in and out, believing that courage and strength will come in the morning.

Lord have mercy.

This morning

At that point on Sunday night the phone rang. The hospital wanted me to know that my mom's heart was struggling, and they suggested I come in. It was a long night, but she pulled through. Yesterday she had a procedure that turned out to be "an aggressive measure" always has its risks, but with her heart being so weak, they thought it was a 75% chance that she would not survive anesthesia. She survived.

But the cancer has spread and has caused them to not be able to open up the duct fully. Our hope yesterday was to clear enough infection to bring her home with comfort, and for my sister's son to be able to see her.   I will find out soon if that is the case.

When Mom said yes to the procedure that the anesthesiologist thought would result in death, she looked at me (scared and showing it) and said:  Jesus is Lord.  Now, this is not normal Mom verbage.  She has deep faith, and she keeps her deep faith pretty deep most of the time.  But I am certain that my mother was not thinking of her own mortality at that moment, but about ME and how that mortality would effect me.  She wanted me to remember that He is Lord over my life and all that happens to me.  What my mother has taught me about loving was beautifully exhibited at that moment of life and death:  It is not about me.  It is not about circumstances.  It is not about statistics.  It is about loving others.

We're hoping for a few more weeks of loving each other, and we sure would appreciate your prayers.

How to handle a large amount of literature

These days, I am less busy in the lab (my setup needs to be changed so I won't be carrying out experiments for about a month), so I've totally dived into my literature review again. Since I am trying to get a good insight on several topics (existing bridges, load distribution, shear in beams, shear in slabs and failure criteria from fracture mechanics) I have gathered a depressingly large amount of papers which I want to work my way through.

Bit by bit I've developed a way to tackle this task.

1. Read by theme or period of time

Initially, I thought that it would help me if I'd be reading several topics parallel. Now, I've found out that it helps me much more to see the connections between different papers when I gather information on the same subject and read everything I can find on the same subject until I've finished that topic. Every now and then I do feel tempting to vary topics or required level of understanding for the considered papers. I tend to alternate papers on experimental work with papers on purely theoretical work.

2. Speed reading

As I wrote before, I've been doing some attempts to speed up my reading. I still feel tempted to savor each and every sentence, but working with a stopwatch has made me more conscious of my time.

3. The egg timer trick

I'm now using the old egg timer trick to track my time. Instead of the egg timer I am using the stopwatch of my phone (a 6-year-old fridge-shaped Nokia), to see how long I can concentrate before I drift off and go walk around the hallway for another cup of tea. I'm trying to stretch my concentration span from 20 minutes to 45 minutes. My attempts to regain focus through meditation seem to have a positive effect on this.

4. Summarize

What was special about this paper? What is the main thought I need to capture? I jot down a few words on the first or last page of the paper for further reference. I also make some notes at the sides of the columns whenever I come across an interesting thought, but I feel it is also important to get the key message and write that down for later in order to avoid having to reread the paper.

5. Archive

I use Endnote to organize my references. Most of the papers I read can be found through the online version of Endnote, so I can import all the relevant information to the data entry and attach the paper to it. Searching, as well as looking how much work of a certain author or from a certain period of time I have read, have become much easier this way.

6. Use the relevant data right away

Whatever I need for the report of my literature review goes in the right section of the document - straight away. I also keep some separate files on the influence of different parameters on shear. I don't have any written text in those files yet (the literature review needs to be done first), but I copy the most important graphs and sentences about the studied parameter, together with the reference in those files. I expect that this will speed up my writing process significantly once I start writing about these parameters. In the end, I will only have to mix all the information together, and then discuss it with regard to my own experiments, instead of looking for that information in papers again.

Admittedly, I print out all my papers (reading on the screen hurts my eyes, and I just am a paper and pencil person), so the physical papers themselves also have to be stored. That system is not as good as my Endnote library - I find myself often going through binders, trying to remember under which keyword I stored the paper I need. Any advice on this would be very much appreciated!

7. Let the ideas melt together

While reading all this information, I feel like all ideas are melting together in my head. I plan to start drafting some mindmaps rather soon, to get the links between these ideas and to point out what I will use for my own theoretical work.


1st O'race of the season - Ultra-long

My first race of the season was an ultra-long distance in Alentejo (which, by international standards, was a long distance).

Long distance, 19.900m (440m), 1h43m04s - I was afraid of blowing up so I started too slow and loosing (too much!) time in the initial controls.
Major mistakes:
4th - the best option was in front by the small path. I saw the greens and didn't checked the small path.-1m30
15th - I was careless when I left the small path. Didn't look enough time to the map. -2m40
22nd - I skirted the hill by the wrong side and attacked the wrong rock. Lack of confidence. -1m00

When I realised that the course was ending and that I was still feeling well I pushed harder with good splits in the second half of the course. There was a bad management of effort. Only now I know that I'm able to push harder in these distances. Physically, I thought that I was worse (this season there won't be twice-a-day trainings). Technically, I navigated well compared with what I was expecting, once I haven't trained regularly with a map since June2010.

Before I went to Wien, I left a fat coach in Portugal and when I returned, I found a thin coach that runs as much as I'm running. Now he's also my training partner and we split the effort of the intervals, which is nice. The bad part, is the psychological pressure of the "old fellow" that is always trying to pass me. (Graph of yesterday's long intervals at the track).

About the experience in Austria, in the 2nd largest hospital in the world, it was great! Medically, we learned a lot and had nice evaluations. About friends, we did lots of good friends and met really nice people. Orienteeringly, I learned new methods of training and developed my running in the forest. About the social differences, it's something like the video below (switch italians by portuguese):

Now I'm making an Internal medicine rotation. For the 1st time in my life, I'm being given my own patients (supervised in the end of the morning). It can be stressful at times but I'm loving it! The bad part are the late lunchs, only at 15h, that are responsible for my morning hypoglicemias (those guys don't eat anything!).

My weeks have been evaluated in km's and pages. We'll see...

Mindfulness - your thoughts as leaves on a stream

I've practiced the leaves on a stream guided mindfulness exercise today to keep up my new year's resolution.

Even though I'm far from getting completely into a mindful and focused state of mind, I found the exercise very interesting. The goal of the exercise was to actually look at my thoughts, instead of looking from my thoughts. Again, I was trying to become the observer of myself, as I already learned from a previous exercise. 

When following the exercise, I could imagine the scene the guide was describing. But when I was supposed to walk to the tree, the scene became scattered. It is as if my mind is currently able to hold only a picture, and not a video. That's definitely a point to improve, and it should improve my ability to focus as well.

Apart from the fact that in the middle of the exercise I opened my eyes because I wasn't hearing the guide's voice anymore, I was also a bit disturbed because my cat decided to come and walk over me. That also made the scene in my mind's eye shattered and much darker.

After the exercise, I felt very relaxed. My breathing is still calm and deep, and my thoughts are very clear. I can write all this without the need to rephrase much and with the overall idea in mind. I can understand why according to some, it is preferable to practice mindfulness in the morning before going to work. If you can start the day with such a clear head as I have now, you probably will have a very focused and productive day.

Look for it

Learning to Write:  A Conversation with Susan Wise Bauer 
by Diane Wheeler (yep, that's me!)

Look for it in the Winter 2011 issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.

Current reading list

It's been a long time since I have listed what books are in various stages of being read around the house.   We're loving our current piles!

Strangers and Sojourners by Michael O'Brien
Tens Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen (maybe I can actually catch up and join the book club at Cindy's place.)
The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes The Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (the current read-aloud)

New and Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz
Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art and Culture by Makoto Fujimura
Life's Living toward Dying by Vigen Guroian
Defenders of the Faith: Christianity and Islam Battle for the Soul of Europe, 1520-1536 by James Reston, Jr.

Deep Exegesis by Peter Leithart
Defending Constantine by Peter Leithart

The riddle of shear failure

Long ago, when I was an engineering student at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, I did not even realize that my research topic (of which I think I probably could spend a lifetime in researching it) was actually an unanswered question.

I remember taking Concrete Structures in Brussels. This class is the only concrete design class which is offered to civil engineering master students. No offense, I'm only pointing this out to show how different (or less design oriented and much more math and basic principles oriented) the Belgian engineering education is.
When the topic of shear in reinforced concrete beams was discussed, we quickly looked at the equation for the concrete part Vc and then immediately went into two methods of determining the necessary amount of stirrups. The superposition of the concrete part and the steel part was not questioned. The Eurocode 2 formula for the concrete contribution was explained term by term: k is the factor to take into account the size effect,.. To me, it appeared as if there was no problem at all with shear. We have a design formula for shear in beams, which is the holy grail for all shear design.

Two and a half years later, I arrived at Georgia Tech with my two volumes of lecture notes on reinforced concrete from Brussels. Together with my advisor from Georgia Tech, I looked at the material I had covered previously. He looked at the material, and every now and then he would say how "French" my material appeared to him. Even though, according to him, I had covered all topics, he advised me to take the master's course in reinforced concrete, to get used to the strange units and the ACI code.
When shear in concrete was treated, I heard about exotic mechanisms as "aggregate interlock" and "dowel action" for the very first time. I saw an equation for the concrete part Vc which did not look like the Eurocode 2 formula at all. In the lecture notes, the graphs from the ACI committee 326 from the 1960s were shown in which the ACI code formula which was proposed then was compared to a number of shear tests on beams. The scatter was still very large, and gave a coefficient of variation of (order of magnitude) 20%.
For one second the idea crossed my mind that this was because the ACI code formula was much easier and more compact than the Eurocode 2 formula, which looked more exact to me. But shortly afterwards, I started to realize that our current design methods for shear in beams are empirical methods. These methods are the result of shear tests, carried out on small, slender, highly reinforced concrete beams. Extrapolating the results of this types of beams could be questioned. It is therefore not unlogical that it became common practice to use generally conservative rules for shear, to avoid the sudden shear failure and make sure beams (and other structural concrete elements) fail in flexure, since signs of distress appear at load levels below the failure load.

After my job interview at TU Delft, I started to think about the topic for my master's research project course. In correspondence with my future advisors from TU Delft and my advisor from Georgia Tech, we decided to study punching shear in slabs. This problem is related to shear in beams, but works in two dimensions (as a slab has an extra dimensions as compared to a beam). I discovered how much we actually don't know about shear and torsion, and every paper I read just raised more questions. I found it quite exciting to discover that there are still so many questions to be researched.

A year and 5 months ago I started my research at TU Delft. I'm studying both shear in beams and punching shear in slabs and try to see how these mechanisms are interrelated and can occur in bridge decks. Every day I'm learning more, and every day I am formulating more questions to be solved.

However, when I try to explain some of my former classmates from Brussels what I am doing in Delft, I only get some blank stares. Is shear a problem? We have an equation for that in Eurocode 2! And then I tell them about the absurdly high scatter I get when I compare my test data to the calculated values from the code, after which I usually receive a very puzzled look.

* The title of this post is taken after G.N.J. Kani's famous article published in the ACI Journal Proceedings from 1964 (The riddle of shear failure and its solution)

Unlikely places

"But where shall I find courage?" asked Frodo.  "That is what I chiefly need."

"Courage is found in unlikely places," said Gildor.  "Be of good hope!"

Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 3

Courage found me this week over a cup of coffee with a good friend, 

in long hours of sleep in a cozy bed...

and in the surprise of sunlight illuminating the paperwhites.

 Just when I thought courage was out of reach, it was here.

The Friday Clive

"...The prayer preceding all prayers is 'May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.' Infinitely various are the levels from which we pray. Emotional intensity is in itself no proof of spiritual depth. If we pray in terror we shall pray earnestly; it only proves that terror is an earnest emotion. Only God Himself can let the bucket down to the depths in us. And, on the other side, He must constantly work as the iconoclast. Every idea of Him we form, He must in mercy shatter. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking 'But I never knew before, I never dreamed..." I suppose it was at such a moment that Thomas Aquinas said of all his own theology, "It reminds me of straw.'"

The silent creativity killer: lack of sleep

I was reading this article today: Silent Career Killer: Sleep and I was simply astonished to read the numbers (150 billions dollars of revenue loss per year due to the effects of sleep deprivation).

For someone like me, who's life is composed of critically analyzing literature, thinking about the mechanical model I want to develop for shear, writing papers and running around the lab and taking lab-related decisions for my project, it is incredibly important to be able to:
- think and judge clearly;
- come up with creative ideas;
- always be one step ahead of what is going on in the lab now to make sure we have a continuous stream of experimental work;
- find the missing links in what has been done up to now; and
- keep the overall picture in mind.

This list of skills I need on a day to day basis completely contradict with the results of sleep deprivation from the article:
- decreased quality and accuracy of work;
- inability to think and judge clearly;
- reduced ability to make decisions, particularly ones that require both emotional and mental thought; and
- diminished memory of important details.

This, among other signals, shows how important it is to get a decent share of sleep. But somehow, this seems to be much more difficult than it seems. I always end up in bed a bit later than planned, nibbling away my much-needed sleep. The main reasons why I never sleep enough during the week are:
- not taking into account the time it takes to pack my bag for the next day and prepare lunch and sometimes dinner to take to university;
- random clicking around the internet;
- wanting to finish some work while I'm already tired; and
- being unable to sleep right after coming home from choir practice or another social event and needing to spend some downtime first.

Another reason why I've been neglecting my need for sleep for quite some time is that I actually never took it serious. When I was 18, I read a newspaper article, claiming that if you sleep more than 8 hours you'd become lazy. Ever since then, I've regarded getting enough sleep as something for "people who have time for it" and "weak people". Slowly though, I start to realize that idea is wrong. Especially for the creative thinking I need on a day-to-day basis, a clear and rested mind are more than necessary.

Since January 4th, I've started tracking the time at which I go to bed and on that list I've highlighted the days at which I managed to go to bed before 11pm (leaving me 8 hours to sleep) with a smiley face. As for now, I have 3 smiley faces since that day for weekdays, which shows how far I am from actually sleeping enough.

And then, still, the question remains how much sleep is actually enough. For years, I've been in a pattern of sleep deprivation during the weekdays, and then sleeping in during the weekends (sometimes sleeping 12 hours per night). On Sunday night, I am not tired then, but when I need to wake up on Monday, I feel immediately that I am not fully rested.
The first thing I'm trying out now is to sleep and rise earlier during the weekend, to create a more steady sleeping pattern.

Over time, I hope to achieve that I can wake up before my alarm clock, and feeling rested and able to focus very well during the day.

Birthday flowers

I am not a fan of texting. At all.

But when I am preparing to watch my son debate...
far away in Irvine...
and it is my mother's birthday...
and I receive a text from both my husband and oldest son asking if Mom likes flowers...
and what colors?

Well, texting at that moment was perfect.

Thanks, guys. The flowers are perfect, too.

And then she turned 84

As many of you know, in June of 2009 my mother was diagnosed with bile duct cancer and given four to six months to live.

This last weekend she turned eighty-four.

Can I say that again? This last weekend she turned EIGHTY-FOUR!

Love you, Mama, and give thanks for each day of life we share together.

Why debate?

It is debate and speech season again, and we are currently recovering from our first tournament of the year.  In other words: we are exhausted, sick of eating out and wondering if the pile of stuff from the van might magically put itself away.  These are the days when it would be tempting to ask derisively, "Why bother?  It costs a lot of money, it takes so much time, you are soooo tired.  Is it worth it?"  

As someone with limited finances and much more limited energy, I can answer that with a resounding YES. It is very much worth it.

Where do I begin?  STOA is the name of the debate league, and the level of competition is high.  There are months of preparation before the first tournament, including research of the topic (this year's topic is U.S. foreign policy toward Russia), in-club practice debating and inter-club practice tournaments.  After all of the work, success is not easy.  Winning is never a guarantee.

So if you don't win, is it worth it?  Again, I say yes.  Only one team will get first place, only a few teams will be on the stage at the end.  If it was all about winning, it would only be worth it for a few people.  There were 234 team policy debaters at this recent tournament, which means there were 117 teams.  Participants were able to debate six times in the preliminary rounds, three negative rounds and three affirmative rounds.  Every negative round teaches students about different cases and methods of argumentation; every affirmative round helps teams find the holes in their case in order to tighten it up for the future.  Learning happens at every step for every team, not just the winners.  And learning is worth it.

And it is not just learning about specific cases.  I have watched my two older sons through three years of debating, and now I continue to watch Rex in his fourth year.  They have worked through beginning jitters, experienced wretched losses, worked to be good partners, lost (and found) debate bags, made new friendships, enjoyed brilliant wins, and spent hours traveling hundreds of miles up and down California.  They have learned to argue, analyze, translate and deliver arguments to judges who know far more than they do, far less than they do, and everything in between. They have won rounds they thought they lost, lost rounds they are SURE they won, and learned to manage the feelings that come with winning and losing.  


Like life, the debate world can seem unfair, biased, subjective and disappointing.  A student can work hard, deliver well, and still lose.   Judges can totally misunderstand things, or ignore what seems obvious to debaters or the audience.  But I have sat in enough basketball gyms to know that debate is not the only world with questionable calls. And I think good things happen in the character of a person who jumps in to the swirl, knowing that it is not all about how well they do.  There are things outside of their control, and they have to learn to simply do their best and live with the results.  Can we all agree that this is good preparation for life in the real world?

I was able to watch two of Rex's rounds at this last tournament.  Four years ago he was practice debating his brother on the upstairs deck, working hard to remember all the new jargon and rules.  What a difference a few years make.  It was a pleasure to hear Rex explain, argue, defend and clarify points.  I loved seeing him work with his brilliant partner, cross-examine opponents and be a gentleman through it all.  I am a very proud mother.

Debate has allowed my sons to learn much more than speaking and argumentation skills.  As I pay the dry cleaners, or go to sleep at 8:00 due to fatigue, or fill up the van with gas (again) to get to a tournament, I remind myself that this crazy life that we have chosen to participate is worth its weight in gold for the preparation it has provided.  Win or lose, it is worth it.

Photography credit:  The talented and hospitable Susan Keller who blogs at Short on Words.  Thanks for everything, Susan.

A PhD defense at TU Delft

Yesterday, I attended a PhD defense for the very first time in Delft. One of my colleagues graduated, and so I was able to see how this goes and works in the Netherlands.

The defense started at 2:30pm with a presentation. That presentation was held for the audience, in a rather light style and directed to the friends and family of the PhD candidate. At that time, the committee was not in the room yet. The presentation itself lasted about 15 to 20 minutes, after which the PhD candidate took aside the laptop and presenting material.

At 3:00 pm sharp, the beadle walked in, followed by the committee. The beadle also asked everyone to stand up before the committee walked in. Professors of the committee were dressed with their cap and gown. After the committee was seated, the beadle tapped the floor with her ceremonial stick, and left the room.
The (replacer of the) rector magnificus then opened the defense by ticking with a hammer. She then asked the PhD candidate and her two paranymphs to come up to the front. After this, the first member of the committee is allowed to ask questions. Even though the defense is held in English, the official ways of addressing the PhD candidate ("waarde promovenda") and the member of the committee are kept in Dutch. When questioning, the committee member wears his cap.
Depending on the distance the committee member has traveled, he gets a certain amount of time alloted for asking questions regarding the PhD thesis, the propositions and the background of all this. At yesterday's defense, the first professor questioning was coming from Germany, and therefore he was allowed to question for 12 minutes. This time was strictly watched by the replacer of the rector magnificus.
The last two persons to question the PhD candidate were the copromotor and promotor.

After exactly one hour, at 4:00 pm sharp. The beadle walked in again, and marked the hour with the ceremonial stick and the words "hora est". After this, the beadle led away the committee, while the audience was asked again to all stand up.

At 4:15pm, the committee members came back, holding a diploma. The replacer of the rector magnificus and the promotor then read out the ceremonial text in which the PhD candidate is given the title of Doctor, with all the rights associated to this title. Right after this, the promotor read out the Laudatio, a speech he prepared to give at the end of the ceremony.

After the official part, a reception at the university was given. During this reception, everyone had the chance to shake hands with the new Doctor (and her husband). The committee was the first to shake hands (and no one is allowed to go and shake hands before them). At 6:00 pm, the entire group of 60 people moved to a restaurant, where a dinner was arranged.

A few thoughts on the video "Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn"

I just had a relaxing time following this presentation on mindfulness.

What struck me in this presentation is at the end, during the questions, Dr. Kabat-Zinn points out that there is a part of yourself which is aware: it is that part of yourself which is aware when you are falling asleep during your meditation exercise, it is that part of yourself which knows that your mind is drifting off, which realizes that you are commenting on the fact that you are meditating.

So, in a sense, we always have this part of ourselves which is watching us. It is watching us thinking and commenting to our environment. You might ask yourself: who is watching the commentator? What is this part of our mind that is able to see what we are doing, which is, somehow, outside of ourselves. In that way, that part of our mind is infinite, and -I think- it must be very powerful.

I need to practice and set aside time to dig into my mind and nurture this neutral observer in the back.

Reflections on Lifehack's 11 things to avoid in 2011

I recently came across Lifehack's post on 11 things to avoid in 2011.

Since one of my reverb 10 prompts was about 11 things to let go of in 2011, I was quite interesting in this article... and got some ideas as well while reading it.

What especially drew my attention were the following topics on the list:

4. Assuming that you always know the entire story

You don’t. Ask more questions. Listen. Ask more questions. Give yourself an out and don’t back others into corners when you give your final answer.

Too often I interrupt, and I have the horrible habit of interrupting when someone asks me a question. I hear a key word and I start answering, and I realized it really bothers. It gives a very bad impression too, when I do this at the end of a presentation during the Q&A.
With friends and loved ones, too, I often feel the need to relate to their story to tell a similar story of something which happened to me or which I heard before. Unfortunately, that makes me sound as if I don't care and want to drag the attention towards myself.

6. Blaming anything on gender

For example: I was in an argument recently (imagine that!) and my partner in the argument forcefully uttered the remark, “typical male!” in response to something I said that was admittedly unkind (imagine that!). This created a predicament in which my subsequent apology would be not just for my comment but also for my gender. I can’t change my gender (really, not an option) so I’d be apologizing for being myself. Crazy, right? She doesn’t do that because she’s a woman. She does it because she’s an imperfect human. He doesn’t do that because he’s a man. He does it because he’s an imperfect human. Things are simpler when we approach conflict with as few stereotypes as possible.

Such an approach will change things. I promise you.

I wish gender wouldn't be so much of an issue, but it's tangibly there, all the time. I regularly feel uncomfortable just for being young and female. I shrink down when students look surprised at me, showing their disbelief that I am going to explain them something. It is as if everyone needs to have an opinion about me, before even looking at the work I actually do. It doesn't help me that I am so aware of this. I'd like to ban the idea of "what are they now thinking of me" from my head and just trust in myself and the value of my work.

10. Not asking for help

You’d be stunned if you knew just how many people are ready and willing to help you if only you’d clearly define your need and directly ask for help. Don’t ask for help like the friend who begs people to help him move but has nothing put in boxes when they show up. Ask for help like the friend who has done everything in his power to achieve and needs only that final push from a buddy to reach success. We want to be a part of your success!

One of my challenges for 2011 is to gather my courage and ask for what I need, whether that is help, input of ideas or the permission to present somewhere. We have a saying, which, translated, would be something like "No you always have, yes you can get." I'll try to live by that a bit more, and let go of my fear to disturb or upset someone.

If I had a time machine...

This post has been inspired by an idea from the daily post blog:

If you had a time machine that only let you spend one hour in a different time, what date would you go to?

I would set the time machine and "fly" (or what verb should you use for this?) back to some time in the mid 1960s to the University of Toronto to spend one hour discussing with Dr. Kani.

Just as many other researchers in the late 50s and 60s, he studied shear in reinforced concrete, which is also the topic of my research. I've read the few papers he wrote, as well as the book which was published more than a decade after his death. Most of all, though, I was impressed by the discussion and closure which resulted from his paper titled "the riddle of shear failure and its solution."

The discussion and closure were about 30 pages long, and when I was reading this, I got a glimpse of how it must have been to attend a live discussion with those pioneers in shear research. So many good ideas, so much enthusiasm sparks out of their writing. I have the impression those must have been thrilling times.

I'd love to go back in time, with the results and ideas that I have, and discuss with a researcher like Dr. Kani. I'm sure I would learn so much in that hour's worth of time.

The Friday Clive

"We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us."

Mastering your PhD by P. Gosling and B. Noordam - Book Review

Mastering your PhD was the very first book I read about the process of doing a PhD. After one month into my PhD, I went to my university's annual PhD event, and there all participants received a free copy of the book. It took me until last February to actually read it, and since I was new to this material, there were a lot of good thoughts in it for me. A fair amount of the book's content can be found here

What I like about the book, is that it is a very entertaining piece of reading. It offers short, well-structured chapters, a lot of bulleted lists (I like lists, in case you didn't notice yet), and at the end of each chapter a story about 3 PhD students is told so it's very easy to relate to the material.

Here is a list of topics which I found most useful from this book:

1. Setting goals

I especially liked the description of the action plan as you an see in the article:
1. clarify your goals and objectives
2. write down a list of actions
3. prioritize
4. organize your actions into a plan
5. monitor and measure your progress
and of course, you need to have SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-related) goals.
Further down the article they discuss the 80/20 rule: 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results.

2. The monthly progress monitor

The idea of the monthly progress monitor has been the basis for my different levels of to do lists.
The progress monitor has 4 questions:

1. Of the results I obtained last month, which are the most important?
2. Did I deviate from last month’s planning? If so, why?
3. What are my most important goals for the upcoming month?
4. How do I overcome potential hurdles?

Although I don't write out all these questions, I do reflect on it when making my monthly to do list. By now, I'm able to estimate very well how much I can get done in one month's time.

3. Celebrate your success

This concept was totally new to me. I usually just think "well that's nice" after a success and then I just keep on going. However, finding the joy of little successes has given me much more satisfaction in what I do, and it works very motivational. It gets even better when others come to celebrate your success! Last week, my lab technician brought me flowers to celebrate my large-scale experiment number 100.

4. The final year

This material is not really covered in the online series.
In the book, you can see an overview of the schedule of a last year of a PhD. Before I read this book, I didn't realize that there are so many extra things that take up a fair amount of time which need to happen before you can defend your thesis. Some of this is typical for the Netherlands, but this chapter was a good wake-up call for me to make me realize that I need to save probably the entire last year for writing.

5. Lessons learned

At the very end of the book, two phrases are highlighted:
1. Planning is essential
2. Communication creates harmony.
As for now, I've already learned to appreciate this first comment. Even though a PhD is all about unknowns, planning is indeed essential and will help you not to loose your way when you're out there in the woods.
I can as well relate to the second statement. I might have beautiful results in the lab, but in order to pass this knowledge on to the scientific community, I need to be able to write about my results, and to present them to an audience of peers.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book a lot. I hope you will take some time to look at the online series of articles, there might be some good thoughts in there for you too.

Inside Higher Ed's leaving or staying in academia

I saw two interesting articles passing by on Twitter.
A manifesto on leaving academia (I'll refer to this as the "con" manifesto)
Because No system defines me (I'll refer to this as the "pro" manifesto)

With only one year of experience in how academia functions, I was very interested in reading these statements from authors who have spent more time in academia and I thought it would be worthy to share some ideas on this. Continuously, I am asked what my future plans are, and if I'm pursuing a PhD as part of an academic career.

After one year, a year that was filled with tension because of the coming reorganization and shady political moving and gossip, I think I have seen a glimpse of what the author of the con manifesto means. Mostly, I was left outside of the discussion since I am only on a temporary contract and therefore not invited to discussions about the future of the department (we could argue about the validity of this statement too). But, I could capture the overall feeling of discontent that was wandering through the hallways.
It wasn't creating a nourishing and future-oriented vibrant atmosphere at all, only the opposite.

However, I find the following words from the pro manifesto very inspiring:

Because all the trauma of a system amounts to what makes me rise above it

Although I depend upon persons which have suffered badly from the management decisions taken last year, and my working pace in the lab has been slowed down because there are less technicians available now, I still feel that I have control over most of my project. I still feel that I am the engine itself, and can take my project to the level I dream to take it, if only I push it hard enough into that direction.
I've also encountered the feeling, during the past year, that you are never alone in academia. As part of a rather small research group, I feel sometimes isolated. Through exchanges, conferences and social networking, I discovered the possibility to share my ideas, both on the contents of my research and the process of doing a PhD.

As food for thought, I would like to quote these statements, again from the pro manifesto:

Because my acknowledgment rests mostly in the truth of knowing who I am

Because in school I am only limited by my own lack of questioning

The question whether I want to stay in academia or not, is yet to be answered. But with more than 2,5 years of PhD left, it is too early to predict what might happen in the future.

Overcoming fear

One of the main insights I gained during the past year, and especially during the PhD course which I am taking, is that many of us are held back by fear.
Fear can be the reason why you developed a certain coping mechanism, fear blocks your clear communication abilities and fear makes sure you stay in your comfort zone.

Today, I read this post, from which I am quoting the following:

There was a part of me that assumed life would be easier once i survived the grief – that i'd embrace a new life-is-short credo and let go of all my fears, gliding through life feeling the power of survival under my wings. But that didn't happen. Life still felt as difficult as ever, if not more so.

These words inspire me to actually put some energy into fighting my fear. Whenever fear peeks over my shoulder and whispers in my ear to just stay where I am and not undertake action, I should actually put a double amount of energy to fight the fear. I mention double amount, referring to the energy needed to ignore the fear on one hand and to get into action on the other hand.

The longest cold of my life

After a legendary New Year in the heart of the Tirol with amazing friends (thanks to Martin&Uschi, the organizers) and an incredible athmosphere I got a classic cold with chills, low fevers and anergy.

Monday I wanted to fight against it with a session at the gym (stupid!) and got worse in the next days. I've been spending the mornings in the O.R. with some sacrifice and the afternoons at bed drinking hot tea. Friday I went for a run with David (who also had the same) and also got worst after. So now, I've been waiting for my body to recover for a week and I hope that it decides to get better quickly!. It seems that everybody is sick in Vienna with lots of coughs and red noses on the streets and hospital. In Portugal, the O'season has started this weekend and I can't wait to joint it.

In the meanwhile, the "I Meeting de Orientação de Gouveia" is going above expectations. Thierry Gueorgiou, Olav Lundanes, Philippe Adamski, Frederic Tranchard, Vincent Coupat, Gernot Kerschbaumer and Ionut Zinca are some of the stars that already made their entries in this event.

This blog has reached the mark of 50.000 visitors. This project started as a way of forcing myself to analyze my performances and as a diary of my ups and downs across these years. It seems that got some more people interested on it (beside me!) and I'm glad about it. Thank you all! =)

Some motivational words

I read a great blog post, titled Don't Quit.

I came across this post through the daily post blog and I thought this is very valuable for anyone who is doing a PhD. Along the way, we encounter ups and downs, and sometimes months of effort turn out not to lead to results.

With only 1year and 4 months into my PhD, I haven't encountered a significant down yet. I've heard a lot about the famous second year dip. I, too, have come to the point were I realized that I won't be able to do everything I was planning to do at the beginning of my project. I initially wanted to take some classes and study a few new topics, but the lab is eating all my hours. However, I have not been feeling down about this, I just realized there are more urgent things that need to be done for my funding organization.

For those interested, a good read about dealing with setbacks can be found here.

Reflecting on Reverb10

I just went over my Reverb10 posts again, as suggested by the day 31 prompt.

One thing I've noticed is that I've started to allow myself to write about different topics. Initially I started this blog to share what I've learned so far while doing my PhD, and quite soon I started writing about how I experience the process of doing a PhD, and how this effects my life. For that reason, I needed to turn to a more personal style of writing and open up some more of my personal life into this blog.

Another thing I've noticed, is that I seemed to be writing shorter posts towards the end of the challenge. This might be because I wanted to finish up the challenge because I took a few weeks off. However, I think the most important reason is that I made the most important discoveries about the past year while writing out the first prompts. I spent a fair amount of time reflecting and thinking about the first prompts before I started writing about these, and by the time I reached the later prompts, I felt like I was mostly repeating myself.

In general I can conclude with the following observations which I made while rereading these posts:

1. I've gathered the necessary tools.

I've attended all possible trainings and workshops over the past year, and I worked myself through a massive amount of self-development and life-hacking blog posts. I've learned a lot through all of this, and I've been brewing my own success potion out of it (as for now, recipe is subject to change ;) ). With all these tools within my reach, I feel that I am now much more able to tack the difficult tasks ahead.

2. I've gained an active attitude.

2010 clearly was the year in which I started to take matters into my own hands and push my project forward. I might have been pushing with all my energy but in a random direction, but at least I've found myself bustling with energy. In the first few months of my PhD I was not sure of what was actually expected from me, and I was too passive. Now that I see my project as entirely my responsibility, with the highly appreciated input of my supervisors, I feel much more in charge and much more motivated.

3. Creativity is part of myself...

... and I need to make time for it. I have no idea about how my brain actually works, but I want to try out to see what happens if I allow more time for creativity in my life. I expect that creativity will grow on me again like a certain habit, and that I will find it easier to come up with creative ideas in my research.

4. I should trust myself.

Even though I have started to learn to right skills and know how to improve, I sometimes doubt and find myself overthinking situations and fearing all possible failures. I should just trust in what I've learned, and that I really know what I am doing since I am the expert of my very own topic. This is a point for improvement and I will work on this in 2011.

5. New year's resolutions

-> Focus and concentrate:
I need to get up from my office and go out for a walk, I should train my focus by meditation and mindfulness and I should try not to be so easily distracted anymore.

-> Communicate more clearly:
I need to learn how to convey my message in a clear and direct way, avoiding all the strange constructions I typically use in order to sound polite, while actually obscuring my key point. I also want to let go of the fear to go and ask for something. Getting a "no" is really not the end of the world.

-> Cultivate the creativity habit
By taking more time to play music and write, I want to train my mind to think out of the box more often and come up with original ideas.

Overall, I can conclude by writing that I am very grateful of participating in the Reverb1 project. Usually I never reflect on my past year, don't make resolutions and just let everything the way it was. I hope this challenge and reflection will help me work on achieving my goals.

First steps into mindfulness

To tame my ever-wandering mind and try to find focus and concentration, I've decided to try out mindfulness and meditation.

In the PhD course which I am currently attending, every session involves a mindfulness exercise. Initially I was a bit surprised to find mindfulness to be part of a course for PhD students, but now all the participants of this course agree that they look forward to the guided mindfulness sessions in the course.

Outside of this course, I have never practiced mindfulness. Today, I decided to look on-line for a guided mindfulness exercise. I came across this exercise and enjoyed it very much.

Since this is the first time I practice such an exercise with guided audio, I've noticed a few differences between this and a guided exercise in a group setting. I need to practice more, but I am inclined to think that solitary exercises suit me more. This, however, is completely my personal experience and I am sure many people benefit from mindfulness and meditation courses offered by skilled instructors.

The observations I made are the following:

- My thinking, now while I am writing this post, is much clearer. I did not navigate away from this site yet to go and click around on other websites, even though I see new Twitter and Facebook alerts.

- I have a cold, and I could clearly feel how this impairs my breathing. I'd like to think that it's just a cold and can work through like normal, but with my body doing a little bit more effort with every breath I take, I realize I should take it easy the coming weekend and focus on conquering this cold.

- The position of my head and shoulders mattered. Hanging shoulders and a hanging head made my breathing speed up and feel less free. I clearly felt how much better my body and breathing feels when I sit up straight, with straight shoulders and my head upright and proud. While I sometimes go into a position with hanging shoulders and a curved back to "relax" or show my respect/inferiority to another person, it feels as if my natural relaxed position is upright and proud of myself.

- I need to practice more to get my thoughts under control. However, I am hoping that regular practice (I am scheduling time for this in my planner), will result in a clearer mind.

My next planned session is scheduled for Sunday, and I hope I will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed this exercise.

The Friday Clive

"Take not, oh Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in Thy great,
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate."

Reverb10 - Day 31: Core story

December 31 – Core Story

What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world? (Bonus: Consider your reflections from this month. Look through them to discover a thread you may not have noticed until today.)

(Author: Molly O’Neill)

Smile, and the world will smile at you

In other words: think positive.

I try to always think positive and take the challenges which are on my way, although I am often confronted with my own thoughts of fear and doubt.

I try to share some sunshine with the people around me, knowing that if they feel warm and supported, I too will feel warm and happy.

Look at the beauty of the world, the joy of every day's little indulgences.

I remember that in secondary school, we had to stick some paper to our backs and have our class mates write what they think about you and your strengths on it. One of them wrote: "enjoying life at the fullest." I was the student who would open to windows to enjoy a little bit of sunshine during class, who would close her eyes and smile because the spring sun is shining on our faces during lunch break. And that characteristic has always been with me, but it has been pushed to the background the past few years.

I hope that, now that I realize this, I can bring this ability back and enjoy every little reason to smile.

Reverb10 - Day 30: Gift

December 30 – Gift

Prompt: Gift. This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year?

(Author: Holly Root)

Another hard prompt for me. I am inclined to immediately pick an emotional gift, since these have the largest impact on me. The continuous love and support of my boyfriend, family and friends are the ground in which I am rooted. But a gift itself should be more defined, a more precise moment or action.

I received beautiful presents on all occasions during the past year, which I all cherish very much.

Other than that, I find it very hard to pick the best gift out of all these.

Reverb10 - Day 29: Defining moment

December 29 – Defining Moment

Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year.

(Author: Kathryn Fitzmaurice)

My confidence has grown this year over a series of events.

1. I moved to a much nicer place, which makes me feel much happier and relaxed.

2. I had to opportunity to present my research a few times, and I received some encouraging feedback

3. My supervisors suggested that I start writing a journal paper.

Number 2 and 3 filled me with a mixture of fear (I hope this won't go wrong) and excitement (Awesome! I really want to do this). I've put the fear to the background and have drawn the card of the challenge, which made my confidence grow after each little success.