After a small interruption to reflect on what the movie “Oppenheimer” can teach academics working in innovation-related fields, I am now getting back to the list of “18 things I have learned in the first half of my PhD”. Without further ado, you can find the remaining nine points below:

10. The importance of changing research environment

Even though you are enrolled in a specific University, the life of a researcher goes way beyond the boundaries of your office. Most of your community (and readers) will be outside your faculty and this is a strong incentive to plan short research visits, conferences or PhD courses abroad, in addition to your main environment change. Speaking with researchers outside your inner circle will allow you to collect more feedback on the ongoing projects, get rid of the less promising ideas and expand your network (something that could benefit also the search for your next position).
Despite these pros, there are also some challenges related to it. First, you may need to complement your funding with some additional grants. Second, finding an accomodation for you (and potentially, your partner or family) may not be straightforward. As this may take time, I would suggest to plan our research stay as much in advance as possible, in accordance with your supervisor and your loved ones.

11. The importance of being able to describe your PhD in a few words

Even though you are studying and trying to extend human knowledge on a very complex phenomenon, this does not mean that you are grandma should not be able to understand the value added through your research. This blog aims at disseminating to the general public some of the main findings of our research, but there are also competitions called ‘3 Minute Thesis Competition’, where PhDs from very different fields try to condensate their work in just 3 minutes.
In one of the Doctoral consortia that I attended, I have been told to prepare three different ways of pitching my research: the first, shorter (around 10 seconds), where you offer a more general understanding of your research. A second one, more conversational, where you provide more details on the topic, without being too technical. And a third one, longer, that you should usually share with other experts in the field. That way you should be able to communicate your research with any kind of interlocutor.

Nevertheless, even funnier ways exist:

12. Find your tribe

As said before, changing research environment can help you meet people working on similar topics and socialize your ideas outside your comfort zone. One of the most important consequences of “going outside” is that you will start reflecting on your own identity as a researcher. Accordingly, you will seek to engage with like-minded people that can either help you improve your papers or just represent a source of inspiration. This means finding your own “tribe”. As time passes by, I suspect this will become even more important, if someone wants to remain in academia: first, to maximize your impact and ensure funding for your research projects, you cannot be alone. Thus, finding co-authors or collaborators in your field may be necessary to achieve these goals. Second, I believe that the risk of feeling alone is quite high in this field; thus, feeling part of a community may help you reduce the risk of feeling lonely on an ivory tower.

13. Web3

Talking about your tribe, during my PhD I have changed ideas about the framing of my dissertation multiple times. Nevertheless, I have now understood that one pillar of my work concerns Web3. Digital Wallets, DAOs and tokens are all concepts that will most likely become even more important in the future. Even though I have so far focused on more incremental innovations that build on blockchain, I believe that being able to witness and study this (r)evolution is fascinating and is one of the main practical values added through my PhD Project. At the very least, because this is a rapidly-evolving field, where even those working in it still struggle to fully grasp its potential. If you want to know more about it, I dedicated one episode of my blog to this term.

14. AI can enhance our research:

Raise your hand if you have used ChatGPT or any other Large Language Models to boost your productivity. I believe that few people will not raise their hands. However, beyond ChatGPT (which has been already discussed by Vivian in a recent article), there are also other AI-powered tools that you may find useful. I share below a bunch of links:

      • Despite the cringe caption, I believe that this post offers some useful tips.

      • Tired of manually transcribing your interviews? If there is no sensitive information and your data protection office agrees, you should try or goodtape , which allows you to record and transcribe your interviews seamlessly .
      • ResearchRabbit is a nice website to look for papers and authors, monitor new literature or visualize research landscapes, while Elicit can be helpful if you need a quick literature review on a topic that you don’t know.

15. Cool geeky things

Talking about random but potentially cool tools, in the past few months I discovered these two websites:

  • Zoom has become an indispensable tool for attending online meetings or seminars. However, it’s normal to feel sometimes tired/bored after a day of online workshops or even just a long presentation.
    In this context, you may consider utilizing the “Sharing slides as a Virtual Background” Zoom function. This tool enables you to maintain eye contact with your audience while seamlessly transitioning through your presentation materials.
  • Bionic Reading This app aims at promoting reading and comprehension of textual content in a hectic and noisy world. Bionic Reading® revises texts so that the most concise parts of words are highlighted. This guides the eye over the text and the brain remembers previously learned words more quickly. Quite powerful (but pricey).

16. Differentiate between shadow and deep focus 

Talking about productivity and personal development, I believe that understanding the distinction between shadow and deep focus working is paramount. Inspired by the insightful teachings of Cal Newport in his book “Deep Work,” this concept emphasizes the significance of immersing oneself in undistracted, concentrated tasks. Shadow work, on the other hand, involves scattered attention and constant multitasking, often resulting in a superficial understanding of the work at hand. Newport’s book advocates for the cultivation of deep focus as a means to enhance creativity, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. As we navigate the fast-paced digital landscape, discerning between these two modes of working may help harnessing our full potential. Therefore, try to split your days in two moments: a longer timeframe when you deep focus, and a shorter when you answer to emails, make calls etc.

17. The importance of planning your next steps

While the intensity of thesis work may be all-consuming, taking the time to plan for post-Ph.D. life is a necessary investment. Whether pursuing a career in academia, industry, or entrepreneurship, having a well-thought-out plan enhances the transition. By incorporating future-oriented considerations towards the end of the Ph.D., you (I) can try to anticipate some challenges, e.g., funding, and explore possible solutions. Even though it is not easy, talking explicitly with your supervisor and peers about them is very helpful. This is why, as EINST4INE, we have been organizing a few events that aim at kickstarting these conversations.

18. The importance of making lists

Well, if you dared reading until this point, I hope you would agree with me that making lists is pretty useful. Both for the reader, and the writer. In the realm of academia, where the sheer volume of data and tasks can be overwhelming, lists serve as a compass, providing direction and focus. And, as in this case, may be a funny thing to read after sometime to reflect in hindsight on what I have done and to what extent I agree with the myself of some years ago!



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