Tag Archives: phdlife

Book review – QGIS Map Design by Anita Graser & Gretchen N. Peterson

While finally doing my revisions and corrections on my dissertation text, I spend my last days of work (meaning work I am actually getting paid for) on maps. In our project, we are working on different names of deities and it would be nice to give a summary to all those names and – a distributional map.

So, I built the map – when there will be enough time, I hope to do a proper tutorial on that – and I collected the data and now I am sitting here in front of my screen … and I do not know how to actually design a proper map, with a layout, with a meaning. It seems rather rude to myself saying that I have not a clue how to do map design, because I am quite fit with the software and I can handle my data quite well.

I know that I need a distributional map as well as a map where I can show how many objects have been located in my known finding spots. I started googleing around on map design and then I found it: “QGIS Map Design, Second Edition (for more information click here), by Anita Graser & Gretchen N. Peterson, with new and updated workflows for QGIS 3.4.

QGIS 3.4 is the current long term release (LTR) and available for Windows, Mac and Linux. I am now working on Windows with QGIS 3.10, and there are not so many differences to 3.4, so I am quite good with it. And I have to say, it actually never crashed: 3.10 works fine as well.

But now, the review: Actually, the book is designed like one of those nice programming recipe books you may know. Its build up in three main parts: Layer Styling, Labeling and Print Map Design.

By flipping through the pages of this book it is possible to gain an understanding of the wide variety of mapping possibilities within QGIS. These pages provide in-depth, step-by-step instructions on how to create the maps shown, a variety of genereal cartographic techniques, and plenty of design inspiration. – p. 205

On more than 200 pages there is a collection of different maps and layouts, focusing on the further use of the map and the shown data. I found this book at our university library and I flipped through it in my coffee break – and I was convinced by chapter 3 that this was the book I needed desperately.

I am no tech native, I am no programmer and I am a learning-on-the-job archaeologist trying to give a proper geographic insight on our project work. A map is like a picture – it tells you a whole story and answers a certain question.

So, when getting started with the tutorials described in the book, I first downloaded the ressources accompanying the tutorials. I played around on various examples. The descriptions are step-by-step and easy to follow. As with all technical stuff, the key to understanding is reading your instructions calmly and concentrated. I was quite impressed by my results and on the next day I started immediately to try the techniques on my own data – you see a glimpse of one of my maps I am going to use for my dissertation project in the header.

I discovered a whole new world beyond the the functions of QGIS I am now quite used to. I suddenly felt a new interest in trying things and I understood the way to think and work with my data so that there will be proper and effective results.

You should have some basic training in QGIS, but there are enough ressources online and as books to get you into the material and the fun part of it. I am still impressed by the great simplicity of the explanations and the possibilities you have as a user of the whole package data you can work on.

So, from one happy noob to the world of academic warriors, especially those in need of nice map designs – try the examples and tutorials in this book! It will change your life!

Have a great time experiencing the wonderous world of QGIS!


Astrid 🙂

Diss-cembering to the End

Okay, I am actually feeling like Frodo, except for not standing on Mount Doom and being totally wrecked by an evil power. I am actually feeling like Frodo, sitting at my desk, enjoying some Christmas cookies, tea and writing this blog post, next to the wonderful Christmas tree I decorated with my dad.

So, I am just sitting at my desk, in front of my PC, listening to music and surfing the internet. Two books are lying next to me: one mystery novel to relax my mind and “The professor is in” by Karen Kelsky (for more info see her website!).

Well, I am almost done with graduate school – you know why? The Frodo-feeling I have is actually caused by my sending my thesis and my catalogue to my supervisors the day before Christmas.
So… actually, I am waiting now for their opinions. I have time for my corrections and revisions in January – and I can reach my goal of submitting my thesis in February. If you remember my first Diss-cember post, I actually planned to sent my text by end of December or the beginning of January, but now I am two weeks in front of my schedule and I am so relieved… well: I feel you, Frodo!

It was not easy to sent my thesis to my supervisors. I always panic in front of the sent-button. And I admit it, I had my mum on the phone – the only human being with the perfect ability to calm me down (next to my love, who empowered me with choclate before going to work). This is what I meant with asking people you love for help during the time of finishing your thesis. There were several occasions in the last four weeks where I stopped working in the evening, perfectly relaxed and proud of what I did that day – only to start crying or shaking nervously few minutes after going to bed.
These were no attacks of panic or fear, just signs of my stress level. My brain literally could not stand the pressure, so movement and tears were necessary for my balance. I acted like a maniac, but I know that a lot of people did so, even some of my peers told me not to worry – we are all mad when it comes to submitting your PhD thesis.

I had and I am still having a lovely Christmas break. I was in desperate need of this break, to be honest. I  have a little cold, I am constantly tired and I am not doing anything at all except for sleeping, eating and reading funny stuff I want to read. And I am not even thinking about my thesis. There is no need. To cite the last line of Harry Potter: All was well.

There was no reason to check it again for mistakes or filling in new literature quotes or for re-phrasing certain parts. There may be need to check it again and do corrections and revisions, but I am not able to do them now without the help of my supervisors; there are some points we have to discuss again, we all know this. I have collected my arguments and I have written them down and I liked it. Really.

Remember: A good dissertation is a done dissertation.
So, I am done, and I am eager to reset my brain for the corrections to be done soon, for I will be back at my work on Thursday. But that is okay, I can scroll over my things I have to do in January and I have two days to write a new plan for corrections and do some proof-reading before hitting the last miles of PhD-road again.

I thought it would be very hard for me to let all my thesis stuff be all this time after Christmas until the New Year will catch me in my cosy reindeer socks and cuddled on my couch watching Christmas movies. Actually, it was nothing near hard or stressful.
I made it clear to myself on the evening of the 23rd – I have done the best work I was able to do, I have written down all my good and precise arguments, I am sure that there are not too many nasty misspellings in my text (yeah, I grew really blind on them, I am sorry) and I was really brave for standing up against that enormous workload and getting all my sh*t done the way I wanted it. And I was able to let go an hit the sent button.

I am still too tired and exhausted to figure out how all that worked so well, but everything is good and I am concentrating on my health and my sleeping rhythm to re-collect my strength.

So, shoutout to all my dear writing buddies who are working on their thesis right now, or are thinking really hard about how to get back to work after Christmas break. The silver lining is real and the end is near. You can do it!

Enjoy the last days of 2019 and I wish you all the best for 2020 – make it your year, make your dreams come true!

Astrid 🙂

How to Diss-cember without losing your mind…

This is it. This is the last month of my intensive writing bootcamp to finish my dissertation. That was the reason why you have not seen any posts from me recently… I was busy. Busy with writing, reading, writing, planning my writing, … and nearly lost my mind on it.

The last phase of your PhD is the most exhaustive one in you career, trust me on that.

Oh, and it is December already, so, I have to get all my Christmas presents for my loved ones as well, next to finishing that dissertation.

But December also means candles, cookies, lights and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – and yes, I admit it, I LOVE that time of the year. The play on words “Diss-cember” is not that new, I know, but it totally seemd accurate for the first sunday in Advent. I even picked a nice image with a candle to provide you with some seasonal flair. 🙂 I hope you like it.

Here comes my list of how not to lose my mind – I hope it will help you, too:

  1. Make a plan.
    Okay, yeah, this is the most obvious thing, I guess.
  2. Stick to it, but be gentle with yourself.
    Allow yourself to miss some of your own deadlines. Calculate enough time spots for breaks. After all, you have to take good care of yourself, because you cannot afford to drop out for days or weeks beacuse of getting sick or ill or whatever stress can do to your body and mind.
  3. Ask for help and tell your friends about your last phase of writing.
    You may need some eyes to get through your text, doing corrections. I am just saying… I, myself, am perfectly unable to see my mistakes, and I want to thank all my dear test readers on this occasion for helping me with my corrections and revisions.
  4. Reward yourself when you finished a task or a bullet on your huge to-do-list. And YES, you have time for that, because you have your plan, right? 😉
  5. It’s allowed to shout, cry and being frustrated. This is actually called soul hygiene. It is allowed to say that you want to f*ck all this sh*t. Really, without such little controlled breakdowns you will harm yourself. I have them at least three times a week. If you are not working with Microsoft Word, there might be less occasions. 🙂 Sorry, not sorry.
  6. Celebrate your good days – good days are days where you get a lot of stuff done and can relax in the evening.
    This is also an opportunity to reward yourself with some self-care-stuff like watching a movie with a huge mug of hot chocolate on your couch. It is as simple as that. And it is so important, because you have to enjoy this feeling of being satisfied with your work.
  7. Be actually satisfied with your work.
    Yes, I know, I am a perfectionist myself and I am never ready to submit a paper, even if I had the time to review it at least three times. Therefore, tell one person about your good work and tell them that you need help to enjoy the feeling, too. Really, try it.
  8. Get fresh air and do some physical training.
    You need your body to be trained – and yes, just take a walk around the block, it’s 10 important minutes to get your mind clear again.
I am buried with books, in the middle of revisions and quotations still to check and verify, half through my writing plan, and highly desperate for the Christmas cookie season to start. (image: Pixabay)

Until now, everything just worked out fine for me. I try to keep moving, I try to stick to my plan and I try to be at least proud of me by doing so. Yes, the last thing is the actual hard work to do. I could spent another year on doing research, on writing, on reading, but: A good dissertation is a done dissertation.

There is a silver lining: I plan to submit my thesis in february at last. I am still good in time, I planned even a nice Christmas break and I am pretty sure to get enough work done to actually enjoy it without any bad conscience. 😉 And soon, I will have finished my good dissertation!

So, I am sorry that you have not heard from me and that I had no time to do any posts, but I guess you can forgive me. 😀

Have a very nice and not too stressful December, enjoy picking your presents for your loved ones, eat a lot of cookies and do not forget to celebrate the important things in life.

Stay tuned, dear fighters of academia!

See y’all,


What to make of the Online Cult of ‘Ultra-learners’

Yet another post which almost became a book review but ended up becoming a reflection! I really wanted to do something else, like a tutorial along the lines of “Transkribus for Dummies”, but since that’s already done and Scott H. Young’s Ultralearning popped up on my screen, I just had to review it. It has received praise from Cal Newport (Deep Work, So good they can’t ignore you & Digital Minimalism) and James Clear (Atomic Habits), two authors who are definitely among my inner circle of personal development books. And it also treats a subject which has fascinated me for a long time – Ultra learning. That is the art of ‘aggressive self-directed learning’. To early-modern-ize the title a little bit. (Yes, the fellowship left its marks, but I’d do it again any time!)


Preface to the Readers

But first, let’s not get carried away. I have a word of caution to go with this (a real review will follow some time later). Ultralearning is a book promising techniques for self-learning. That is, especially self-learning to reach ‘amazing’ spectacular results, like – of course -the author has achieved. This, in my opinion, is problematic. By putting all of this down on paper in a very ‘meta’ way, Scott H. Young epitomizes a whole generation of online ‘superlearners’ who market their own learning results. While the empowerment is great, this can also easily frustrate people: Especially imposter syndrome prone PhD students might end up feeling belittled by these marketers’ apparent lack of humility. So let’s get to it. And, if you haven’t already noticed, the theme of this post is ‘early modern’ 😉


Liber I: On Sensationalism

Since I myself have gone through a period of phdlife-induced imposter syndrome just now, I also wanted to point out that listing amazing feats like “Pass a Maths/Analysis one semester class in 10 days” can also end up frustrating people. Especially if you have high standards. After all, to do our position as a Humanities blog justice and put the critical into thinking, essentially, these so-called ultralearners do nothing but capitalize on sensationalism in the end. If we break it down to the roots. Which, I am sure, they don’t really want us to.

Just like extreme athletes have to break one breathtakingly crazy and dangerous world record after the other, ‘learning gurus’ on the internet will tell you about one crazy intellectual feat after the other. About how they ‘hacked’ skill XY. And you, as a dutiful Humanities person with sky-high standards, might end up feeling inferior because your definition of mastery is quite different from the goals they have set for themselves. You will know this and still feel inferior. You catch yourself wondering how it is that these people are able to learn all sorts of great skills with apparent ease in no time while you’re still not done with your thesis. It can’t be that hard, right? Wrong. Don’t let internet personalities pretending to be real-life superheroes make you feel like an idiot. After all, they earn money from making you feel like they are better than most others, regardless of their frequent assurances that “really anybody can (learn to) do what they did.”


Liber II: The Art of Marketing

This is a dangerous trap, one might say. So I can’t give a 100% positive review, because I dislike this tendency behind it all. Tim Ferriss, Benny Lewis, Steve Pavlina and what all of their names are. They all fashion themselves as the greatest ‘meta-learners’ ever (self-fashioning also was a big thing in the early modern times, if you wanted to know. I happen to have read multiple papers about it over the last few days 😉 ). And, I get it. Meta-Learning is important. I totally acknowledge their achievement of making the public more aware of this. I was even deeply influenced by some of them. But at the same time, I can’t help but notice – in my capacity as your very Enlightened (with a big E) Humanist – that essentially, they don’t primarily learn to accomplish those amazing feats because they really want to learn them.


Liber III: Modern alchemy

The main outcome is that they make money from sensationalism, just like extreme athletes or any kinds of people who make money online nowadays. But that means that they don’t learn a skill to learn that skill, but rather: to blog about it. Because they make their living from that blog and the coaching business built around it. The skills they learn are sales proposals. Just like early modern alchemists would give sensationalist demonstrations of experiments and (some) tried to make people believe they knew how to make the philosopher’s stone and were perfectly able to reveal this secret to others.

Just like our ultra-learners do. This technique of promising greatness and riches taps into all those very human longings we can’t seem to shut off, even at a time when most of us don’t believe in the philosopher’s stone anymore. But in reality, we still do believe in it. Because we want to believe in it. We just call it differently and it comes in disguise. But essentially, it’s still the same thing all over again.

Conclusio: Redefining “success”

A big part of what they do is redefine “super-human success” and “mastery”, more or less achieve it and then sell to people the idea that they are not special: Everybody can achieve what they did and here’s how. (And input your credit card number below, of course). So, let’s have no doubt about that this is not only and not innocently about learning. Another component of their magnum opus pointing at this conclusion is the fact that they hardly choose boring projects. The projects they choose mostly also make for a great sales proposal, are apit to cause quite a stir, and yield the possibility of going viral &c. Alchemists sometimes did that, too.


These are my reflections for now 😉



(PhD) Life Wisdom Learned from Bouldering. Part I

At some point recently, us to Epigrammetrists were in the boulder gym bouldering and we realized that bouldering actually teaches you quite some insights for life. And not only life in general, but also the PhD life in particular. When I started typing the blogpost, however, I realized I had material for way more than just one single post. So you will get a little series now to which I’ll add every once in a while 😉


You don’t have to take bad holds

In life as in bouldering, we often feel obliged to take all the footholds, handholds, opportunities and possibilities we are offered. But in bouldering, at least on routes where there are more than enough holds, you always have the possibility to avoid some of them. Often, with bad holds just as with opportunities we feel we have to take but don’t feel comfortable with them, we don’t even realize that we have the possibility to just not take them. I often find that I can climb routes much better when I find a way of leaving out the dubious holds. Then I don’t need to be fearful about it and usually, you realize:


There is more than one possible path

There is more than one possible solution. In bouldering, this quickly becomes visible because people just tend to do the same climb in hundreds of different possible ways. But they don’t remember this in life. Also related:


You don’t need to reach the top the way the others did.

Getting inspiration is a good thing, of course. But often, we end up putting pressure on ourselves afterwards. Unlike in bouldering, in real life we often feel that we need to do it exactly the same way as the others. In bouldering, it quickly becomes obvious that we just have different strengths and prerequisites and thus, what works for someone else might not work for us. Then we just find another way. Maybe the other person is already at a higher skill level, is taller or has more strength – of course they can pull off other ways, even more elegant ways of doing things. But maybe you can’t. Then deal with it. Get over it. Remember you can find your own way. This is definitely something to apply to life.


Sometimes it’s a leap of faith


Sometimes all that is needed to succeed is for you to take that leap of faith. To trust in your ability. To just do it without worrying, maybe you even have to shut your brain off. When you hand in that paper, when you’re standing in front of that big audience to give your paper (maybe not so much then), or when you need to let go of both handholds so you have a chance at throwing yourself at the next one.


This is it for now. But there are many more bits of bouldering wisdom to come your way, so stay tuned 😉



R you ready for archaeological data?

Since I am trying to work myself into the use of programming with R and accomplishing my data analysis with this tool, I have struggled more than one time with the way of thinking “programmer-style”. As trained archaeologist I have practically no idea of the thoughts and ways to work with code.

You may know that really old joke when a programmer gets to do the food shopping and you tell him “Bring one package of milk, if they have eggs, bring 10.” So, the happy noob will head to the market and get one package of milk and 10 eggs. Programmers are used to a different kind of thinking – so they will bring you 10 packages of milk, because they see the condition for it: They have eggs in the store.

I am so grateful that there are no loops necessary in R programming. I tried it once for a course in C++ and it was… well, a decent catastrophe, but still, a catastrophe. I gave up in the end, after hearing most of my tech colleagues saying that an archaeologist has no need for programming. I might have answered that tech people have no need for history, and guess what, some of them really believe that. Because computer science is a modern thing. I did not tell them about the long history of cumputer science – that maths actually was a subject for women, because all man had to be philosophers. History is full of fun facts, my dear hardcore-tech-people, maybe you would like to try it sometime. (Forgive me the bitterness).

I still have to work and think hard on the analysis I want to do. I am not just heading for a simple quantitative analysis, I want to discover certain patterns of motiv combinations, considering the different samples of different temples and other finding spots – just naming one example of the questions I have for my data.

But, again, I had to start at the beginning, meaning cleaning my data. I had to think about naming my categories, about the facts I want to analyse. So, I once again found myself cursing my ex-computer science teacher at school, because we were girls and all he explained to us is not considered necessary knowledge for compter science at all. Well, if you call powerpoint and MS Word computer science, yes, we did that. It was back in the year 2005 and I am a victim of gender-biased teaching, I am afraid to say so. I am a girl, I am so talented in languages, and so interested in Latin, ergo I do not need any kind of technical knowledge. Or stuff like computer science, chemistry, physics, etc. Actually, I always thought, I am too dumb to do stuff like programming scripts for data analysis. Guess what – they made me believe that I am more talented to do other stuff like history and Latin. Maybe that is even true, but how can anybody be too dumb to use certain tools and methods for his or her work? It took me a  long time to figure this out.

I cannot imagine doing anything different than I am doing now – I love my job. I am used to people looking at me in a very bewildered wax, because I tend to say things like “I am not interested in people as long as they have not been dead for at least a 1500 years” and stuff like that. They are wondering why I am working with things like GIS and SFM and now programming languages, because old and dead stuff means… I don’t know, maybe they think, we are still using stone tablets to write on. A lot of people are very fast to ask questions like “Why would you need to learn computer science stuff? Why do you need geoinformation systems, I thought, you are analysing stones?”

I have stopped being angry about these kinds of questions. If some poeple cannot understand your way of working, then you have to do it anyway and maybe in the end they will get your intention when seeing the results. I figured out how to use R for an analysis of two categorial variables – meaning, I can show you now the distribution of motifs on the right and left side of stone altars in my geographical area of investigation.

Well, for a first try it does not look that bad… And there is more to come.

I have not found out everything yet – there is still a lot to do with the layout etc., but I have now found a way of basic understanding my data and a basic way of working with it.

I will present charts like that in my thesis and I love doing so. I will work on my 3D-skills and I will keep on trying new things with GIS software, no matter what.

I am doing all that stuff in my own way: When I have time, when I have my head free for this kind of task. Individualism is one great challenge when you are an archaeologist. Idealism is one mightier challenge and it is hitting me hard sometimes. But hey, I guess, I like it. More than I used to do.

R you ready for something new?

Stay fierce, dear fighters of academia – yours, Astrid 🙂

To err is human – to R is happy pirate noob

Okay, I have to admit it, I saw the quote “to err is human to arr is pirate” and I totally loved it first sight.

Then the love decided that I should try an introductional course in R – and suddenly I am here, writing about this 2-day-experience with a really catchy headline…

So. R. Some of you may know that this is a programming language, very used and beloved by data miners and statistic-geeks. For more information have a look here.

I am not going to do any tutorials on R or so, because I am still a total beginner – but a really happy noob, as you may know. I decided some months ago that the word “newbie” or “noob” is not a negative term for me – I am at the start of something new. So, this is just the beginning of a learning process, another one, because I am learning all my life. 😉

If you want to learn a new programming language, you might take a look to my dear Ninja’a blog on this, this and this blogpost concerning programming and learning programming languages (oh, there is even another one…).

First things first: NO, it is not easy. Learning a new language (no matte if spoken, dead, programming or fictional – now, do not tell me, you never tried Elvish or were fascinated by the Navi-language) is not easy, it takes a lot of time and practice and a lot of thinking and remembering and a lot of mistake-making.

I am currently finishing my dissertation – and it will be done by end of December, hear me!

And I have an amount of 432 objects in my Excel-file that I need to analyse. Okay, I could do it with Excel, BUT: there is a nicer way of building graphics and of analyzing a lot of data (I am really proud of resisting and not calling it “big data” 🙂 )

So, I just managed to combine all my relief motifs of different trees, plants, cornucopiae, sacrificial servants and so on and I ran my very first script with this new defined variables.

And I know, these things are just peanuts for every experienced programmer out there, but I guess for a 2-day-course I am quite successful.

I have to rush now, I need to go to a quite interesting talk – so forgive me for being so late with this post, but maybe I can please and entertain you in your coffee break on this nice monday with his litte blogpost.

Stay calm and keep going, my dear readers!

All the best,

Astrid (also known as the happy noob) 🙂

Bouldering Braunschweig II – at Fliegerhalle

Dear epigrammetrists,

it’s time for another post about bouldering in Braunschweig. As you already know, I spent my summer on a fellowship at Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel and went bouldering in Braunschweig. The first month was spent at Aloha, the second one at Fliegerhalle. You already got a long-term (4 week) review of total immersion at Aloha. Now you get a review of Fliegerhalle (a bit less extensive though). This means that I got two of three bouldering spots of Braunschweig done (the other one would have been Greifhalle).  Yay to that.

The Review

In the case of Fliegerhalle, I don’t have as many little criticisms as for Aloha. I was a bit more expensive for the one-month-ticket but just a few euros. These were totally worth it seeing as Fliegerhalle held many less struggles for me. Fliegerhalle felt a lot like our home base (Boulderclub Graz). The difficulty is labelled white – yellow – green – blue – and a few really difficult ones. A fun thing is that there are purple boulders with the “joker” level which means that they could be insanely diffcult or somewhere middle range. I’d say they were between a difficult yellow and an easy blue one. They never required the technique of a blue one, but had some quite tricky spots.

Compared to Graz, white is a bit more easy than Graz’s yellow, thus yellow and green at Fliegerhalle are also a bit less difficult than Graz’s green and blue. However, I felt that this discrepancy in difficulty levels was kind of levelled out at the green stage. There were some easy ones, but the range was quite big. This is probably necessary because Graz has many more distinctions for very difficult levels (purple, red, white, black) whereas, I think, Fliegerhalle has only red and black after the blue one but red and black are extremely rare, so difficult green to blue covers quite a big range of difficulty. And that is not only difficulty by the end of the green range, but also a somewhat sudden onset of high technique requirements.

I, as a relative newbie, progressed to the difficult green ones quite quickly, but then there were some green ones left which were much too difficult. The blue ones all had hardly anything to grip or were slopers, etc. All required techniques I had never used, so I was quite unsure who to overcome this plateau – the easy to middle range green ones had become too easy, but the more difficult ones were sometimes that much out of my range that they discouraged me rather than motivating me. However, I had this same whiny complaining for Aloha, so maybe the problem is me and not the boulder gyms 😉

Transitioning from good beginner to a really advanced boulderer in a a short amount of time is probably bound to end like this. Since I just don’t have tons of experience, I maybe just didn’t give it enough time to acquire new techniques. This is a good thing about Fliegerhalle by the way: They sometimes offer quite easy green boulders which can be used to learn a new technique. The only difficulty will be mastering this spot where the new technique is needed, for example a dyno jump from the floor and then the route is basically over. This is a great idea. If these new things were included in a route which is already challenging to me otherwise, I can’t practice the new skill in isolation. So thumbs up to Fliegerhalle for that!

I also went top-roping with a fellow fellow two times which was good fun. The staff were really nice and helped us out a lot since we both had done toprope at some point before, but like 5 years ago, so a refreshing was in order.  Fliegerhalle, I take it, is also liked by many regulars because it has a nice café. You can sit outside in the summer. There even is a ‘bouldering mushroom’ to boulder outside, also a tower for lead.

The shower rooms are nice, but here – to my dismay – there is nowhere to lock away your valuables. You have to leave them close by and hope there are no longfingers around. So better try to bring as few valuables as possible. The lack of locked storage is, I might say, the only real drawback about Fliegerhalle, if you ask me. I also lost my chalk bag at one point at Fliegerhalle and it was found again after a few weeks which was nice for me, of course. Also speaks for the institution, I think.

On the top level, there is a nice workout area with hangboards and rings. Not quite as nice as the whole gym room in Graz, but quite nice. I really like the rings as well and the fact that it’s on a separate floor, so you don’t have 50 bystanders watching you as you labour on the hangboard 😉 They had some workout equipment at Aloha as well (which I think I forgot to mention), but it was all in the same hall as everything else. I prefer the workout area to provide a little bit of privacy. You don’t want to publicly make a fool of yourself as a beginner.

My last weeks and coming home

On the personal side: I think I will take a little break from bouldering for a few weeks. I made great progress over my summer “training camp” here, but I also got a cold over the last weeks (which still doesn’t go away and has gone one for 2-3 weeks now). I think I am possibly a bit overworked by now, so as much as I loved Wolfenbüttel and my early modernist mafia (whom I will miss so much!), I am also looking forward to coming back to Graz now.

With bouldering, I think I overdid it a little towards the end and put too much pressure on myself to keep up the crazy progress I had made. Which probably just isn’t possible once you’re not a complete beginner anymore. So I gathered from a few Youtube tutorials that a 2 week break can do wonders. Your specific bouldering muscles will be all but gone, of course, but muscles come back again in two weeks. Sometimes these weeks off can be just what your brain needs to process the new techniques learned and you’ll “click” afterwards. I’m hoping for the best, anyway 😉

If you’re a PhD student and thinking about applying for a fellowship, absolutely do it. You will have much more calm and time to get actual reading in writing done when somewhere else. Very advisable and it’ll look good on your CV to have a fellowship and possibly a stipend for it to show for.

So that was it, hope it was helpful.



How to… do selfcare as a PhD candidate – Part III: Social life

Welcome to part III of our selfcare-series and I decided this time to write about social life, because I am a few days away of going on a long holiday. I definitely need a break and I really need to do this. And yes, there is still a lot of work to do – there is still a thesis that wants to be written.

But let me begin with… well, with us. We are all human beings. Human beings are social beings. Actually, this is very simple and logical and necessary for our survival – but, yes, you must have time for being social, espescially while trying to achive things like a PhD.

There are for sure some periods of your writing and thesis finishing phase where you are very anti-social and love everything about this kind of life. However, you may know that we cannot survive without social contacts and you may know that there are a lot of people who love you and who want to be part of your life because they care for you.

I have mentioned it before: the problem with your time. But you might remember part I and part II of our selfcare series – you have to plan your time carefully and you have to build up some routines. I am sorry to say this, but yes, you will sometimes need to make clear that your first priority is in fact work and your thesis – but that doesn’t make you a bad friend or a bad son/daughter/whatever. Some people will not understand it, I know this from my own experiences. Sometimes, this may be the case because they have no idea what you are actually working on and why it is so time consuming. Sometimes, it may be because they are not so interested in your life – we know these kind of people as toxic people and no, they are no good and you should not listen to them. Seriously, DON’T you ever let anybody tell you that you are a bad person because you are keeping your priorities fixed on your academic career. You need balance, and balance means that you have to say “no” to some social events. And you know, people who love you will understand.

But how to get that balance? Sometimes you cannot say “no”, because you should absolutely not. Like, birthday parties, visiting your grandparents or parents, vacation with friends, … some things are important for your well-being. The tricky thing is to know how to handle the huge amount of things that seem important.

You have to plan your time and you have to talk to your friends and your family about these things. They must know that you cannot be a spontaneous person for some years. And they love you and they will understand it and encourage you. The same thing works with you being good to yourself and allowing yourself to go on a holiday and getting some fresh air. And fresh thoughts, because your brain needs to relax.

So, the important thing I want to tell you in this post is: You have to be good to yourself. And this is really hard work, trust me. There is this toxic academic background: We are used to a huge workload and of course we will work night and day, we have to publish and doing research, we have to attend conferences and so on.

I can tell you a lot about this feeling, the terrible imposter syndrome – and the people who are always asking where you are going – at 5 pm, because they are still working and how can you possibly go home?

You can read about this academic overwork on all social media platforms. We are the new generation of academia. And what does this new generation mean? It means that we have a chance to change the system – at least a little bit. If all of us try to be good to ourselves, if all of us admit that taking a break, spending time with family and friends is totally normal, because we are social beings. Let overwork not be your guide in this jungle we call academia. Talk with your colleagues about it. Talk with your loved ones. Create a good environment of people who know how hard our world can be – and let them help you in reverse to never let go of the important things in life.

This advice does not mean that people who love to be all alone and love their work should stop working. I know these phases myself. There are times – months, sometimes only weeks – that I spend nearly alone, with my material and my research. I simply don’t like people in this phase. And then, when I am done, I will get back to normal.

And there are times that like to spend with my loved ones. And sometimes I do this with a real bad conscience – I should be writing/reading/… and instead I am eating the third slice of cake of my love’s grandma, having a blast at the barbecue party in her garden.

One day, I will remember this. I will never ever remember the days and hours locked up in my office with my research. I am proud of my work when it is done. But I remember the stories, the talks, the laughter, and for this I need real people.

So, next time you have the birthdayparty of your mum coming up – just drive home earlier that day. Surprise her. Or your love spends the day cooking for you – join him or her. Cook together, laugh together. And the day after you will start again, refreshed and relaxed – and in a very good mood. And being a happy academic you will do research happily. And happy research leds to happy ideas. And happy academic ideas lead to good work.

That’s it – be good to yourself, take a break and by the way, you are such a good looking person, you have it all, the intelligence, the wit, the spirit. You deserve a break. Go, get it!

See you all when my holiday is over. 😉

(Yes, I will struggle to get back, because … I mean, we are heading to Sardinia, you know – sea, sunset, the food! But yes, I will come back. After all… I have a date with this thesis.)

Book Review: Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning

Today, I wanted to give you another book review. This time, it’s quite a short review and the book is: Joshua Waitzkin, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, NY 2007.

Not a lot of practical takeaways

I thought this would be a relevant book from all of us in the ‘learning industry’. The title ‘The Art of Learning’ kind of suggests a book with practical tips. Also, from the never-ending praise Tim Ferriss has for the book, I would have expected a more practical approach. That’s how I came to read this book now (or rather listen to the audiobook on my way to my research stay up north). But, as it turns out, TFs 4h Chef actually is way more practical with tips on how to approach learning than Waitzkin.

Mostly an autobiography

Waitzkin’s book really is mostly an autobiography. It recounts his journey and successes as chess genius and then as a martial arts champion. Some of it was kind of interesting, but for me who is neither a chess nor martial arts fan, it was kind of boring because of the lengthy recounting of matches. I was almost thinking about not finishing the book.

One takeaway after all

I ended up finishing it after all and one concept stuck with me that I wanted to share today. It is a simple concept and Waitzkin doesn’t really offer a solution but it was an important pattern for me to notice in my own life.

It is the destabilizing impact small failures can have. Waitzkin recounted endless matches where he went into downward spirals after a little insecurity and opponents who actively played to destabilize him. He realized that he lacked in the area of bouncing back from failure. He then trained to basically ignore failure and continue as though nothing had happened and ended up even more successful, now able to handle much stronger opponents.

The destabilizing impact of small failures

I realized that I am very fragile when it comes to little failures. I am a control freak sometimes and this is, essentially, due to the fact not that I were afraid of failure itself, but rather afraid that I might not be able to get back on track after a failure. So I try to maintain a rigorous productive routine and am taken aback when a week of conferencing throws me off track. Often, this ends up a self-fulfilling prophecy because I really find myself unable to get back on track. I think this is because of all of the pressure I put on myself in these situations (which could be completely normal situations, after all).

The tiny failures end up making you fail in earnest

Had you just gone back to normal after being thrown off track, it would hardly have had any impact. A little failure, a moment’s inattention. They are not that big of a deal. But when you end up getting scared instead of staying calm;  when you react to the failure, you begin to fail in earnest.

So in this respect, Waitzkin’s book has made me aware of an insecurity I have and that I need to find ways of strengthening myself faced with failure. Maybe, as he suggests, meditation would help. And failing a lot, fast. Of course.

So namaste until later,




Networking as a “Humanities youngster”

Okay, the term “Humanities youngster” is not from me, it was used from a professor to describe what I am – young, early career stage, PhD candidate, devoted to Humanities. Well, actually, he called me first a Classics youngster, but then admitted that there are some things that are correct for all Humanities people – not just us classicists.

We sat down, had a cup of decent coffee (I am sorry, Great Britain, coffee is not your strength – I love tea, yes, but sometimes, it has to be coffee)… Okay, the coffee was decent enough, actually, the best to find near campus and the conference location. We talked about – yes, the bad coffee, but hey, the Congress Ale was great – and the talks we have heard so far and what we found interesting and what was rather awkward or really bad, because of the poor speaker’s nervosity. There are really bad talks out there, so, don’t you worry, dear Conference-Newbies (if you want, check my post on Conferencing!), a lot of people don’t like to talk in front of a group.

But this is not our topic here – we are going to talk about networking. Actually, what I just described – the professor, the coffee, the talking – is considered as one form of networking. When you are going to conferences, and you give a paper or a talk, you will get questions in a discussion round, some of your listeners will even want to chat with you in the coffee break (no matter how horrible the so-called coffee is, it is always called coffee break… a mystery).

So, you see, some networking things are just easy going. But, You know of course that at the same conference there are really famous scholars of your very own field. And yes, you will certainly go to their talks and just experience them live on stage. Next step: Talk to them. Sure, you can do that.

If not in discussion, try to ask one question in the coffee break. You have a lot of them, am I right? And believe me, people at conferences are used to the fact that a lot of people just come by and talk to them, asking them questions of their current as well as on published research. Conferences are an enormously important part in research. Research and new ideas function with the element of talking about it: the problems, the possible solutions, the results.

I know that it is not easy to just go to a very famous researcher and just start to talk. How to do it right? We had this question in one of our seminars for early career researchers: How to start smalltalk at a conference?

And… suprisingly, our coach came up with this meme:

via MEME

This one has actually gone viral, but – the 4-step-process is quite clear. (By the way, if you do not know the movie or the book, shame on you, go watch and/or read it, it is awesome! And yes, there is a book!)

So, let’s imagine a situation with your absolute idol in your field of study.

Coffee break, a lot of people.

You: Excuse me, you are Mr./Ms./Prof./Dr. Famous?  –> polite greeting

F(amous): Yes, I am. Nice to meet you, Mr./Ms. …?

You: My name is Archaeogirl, I am working/studying at the University of Pure Awesomeness. –> name

F: Oh, I have never been there, but they say it is a lovely city.

You: It is, indeed. (Never forget to smile!) I have read your recent book “Famous stuff”/article “How to find famous stuff with a very famous method/theory”. I am working on “the other famous method” for my PhD thesis and I am wondering if you will answer me some questions? –> personal link and manage expectations

F: Oh, that is very interesting. I certainly will. Let’s grab a cup of coffee… Or maybe a glass of water, the coffee is not drinkable at all.

You: I have found a coffee shop near campus where they actually serve decent coffee. (And now you have certainly made a new friend!)

As with all the things you do the first time, you will be nervous as hell. It will get better with the times you tried, I promise. And if you knew some people and you are maybe attending always the same conferences as they are, they will remember you, introduce you to their colleagues etc. That is how the network starts.

But also your colleagues back home who started with you, are an important network. These people you have studied with, maybe be friends with, will be your first peers, e.g. for proof-reading your thesis or articles. You see, a network has different stages and positions, all of them are important and you have to cultivate them. Trust me, people who are going only for the big fish will make themselves very unpopular with their other colleagues and once in a while this will come back to them. Karma is a bitch – in academia too.

Conferences or wokshops are like a market place for us early career researchers of “Humanities youngsters”. We can win our first academic spurs, we can present our research, we can meet new and interesting people.

Your network will grow in time. Some people are very closely linked to you, others not that closely, and some are dealing even with different things from a nearby research area, but nontheless they are part of your network – and one day they will need you to introduce them to another famous scholar. Or they will need your own experience for a new interdisciplinary project. Who knows?!

So, gather all your strength, stay calm and where is this nice academic fighting spirit? Go out there to start and cultivate your network!

All the best –

Astrid 🙂

Conferencing – Nightmare vs. Highlight

You have maybe seen it on our social media profiles – Sarah and I are really big in conferencing right now. You know, just see a Call for Papers on the Internet or getting it by a mailing list service, from your professors, … and writing an abstract or a poster proposal, get accepted, prepare your presentation, paper, talk or poster and just get there. Sounds like a very easy thing, right?

So, why do some academics have the one and only big nightmare: presenting their work in a room full of people eagerly listening to their words? You got attention for your work, you will get asked fabulous questions, you can proove the worth of your research – yeah, but talking in a full room, in front of people, all of them eagerly listening, some of them very professionel and skilled in my area, knowing at least everything about my topic, so, no, thank you, I like to remain unknown and never ever want to give a talk.

Afraid of people listening? Do you want to get them to use and read your research? Yes? Well… You have to tell them. And yes, they want to hear it from you. That is why they are here. 🙂 It is that simple. (all the images by Pixabay)

If you want to stay in academia, YOU. HAVE. TO. PRESENT. YOUR. OWN. RESEARCH. Now, head for the mirror, give yourself a big smile and say these words over and over again! Until you believe them with your very heart! Go, now!

But I cannot talk that good.
You can learn it. Do you think, we just got this mighty skill of conference talking mode by sheer dumb luck? This is no sudden and frightening exam you had no idea was going to happen, this is a task you can prepare. You are allowed to prepare the best topic, in your own way, you know the amount of time you have to speak. You just have to prepare it well.

But I have nothing to present.
You are writing on a thesis, right? So, you are really devoted to one topic or field? You think that it is probably the most important field you have ever done research in? You have something to present.

But what if I cannot answer a question?
You are no know-it-all genius, you are a human being, so, it is perfectly allright to tell people that you have right now no good answer, but of course you will look it up – just ask the persons asking for their contact, if you want, and write them an e-mail. You know, research works with asking questions.

Yes, by presenting your research, you set yourself to a very vulnerable position, but if you are well prepared, nothing can happen to you at all. Just stay friendly and listen to your audience. You have not to know everything.

But what if someone just tears my research (and me) apart?
Okay, tough one. But, if you are well prepared, you can resist this attack. By the way, you know that there are two different ways of being critical and the destructive way will serve to your best – because the evil critic will be judged by his or her way of criticism and you will have the sympathy of your audience. Especially as a student – you have to think it the other way: Even the people in the audience had at one point in their academic career their very first paper to present. We all started that way.

So, how to practice or prepare?
Ask your peers – talk to your friends, your teachers, your colleagues. Ask them about their conference routine. Remember yourself why you started with your current research. And yes, I know, I am citing now Marie Kondo: Does it spark joy? Of course it does. So, let that joy be visible for your audience.

But I am so nervous!
Practice. Practice your talk. Write the text, read it aloud. Read it while standing in front of a mirror. Read it in front of the mirror with the clothes you are going to wear right on. Get the feeling. Imagine the situation. Who will be there? Focus on the people you may know. When presenting you can look at them in the audience or focus on at least one person to the right, the middle and the left in your audience, always rotating with your eyes – speak to your audience, not to the floor, the ceiling or the paper in front of you.

The use of attending conferences?
Networking. I know, this strange academic habit we have all heard of a lot. But yes. Big conferences are like a marketplace for us youngsters in academia. You can meet important people of your field in a relaxed atmosphere, because after presenting, everybody gets a coffee and the talking, discussing and researching goes on. In fact, networking is quite a big topic, so we will present you one blogpost about it next week.

During conferences you are able to contact important people for your field or for your research. Coffe breaks or conference dinners are a great way to socialize and to discuss your research.

Next to networking, you have the possibility to get all the news in your field and this is important too. You have to stay  up to date, right?

And, last but not least, attending conferences is a very important part of your acadmic CV and it looks good to have some big events in it. You have to start somewhere, so maybe there is the possibility in your department or maybe in your graduate school to attend smaller conferences or workshops. Just take the chance to do so. You always have to remember that talks and presentations are some kind of publicity for yourself and for your research. You have to sell yourself – at least a bit. You have something interesting to say, so say it. You will be heard. You will be seen.

So, stay tuned – I shout out to you, brave warriors of academia. Whereever you are, have a good start in your hopefully relaxed summer and keep on reading our blog for new posts!

We would be happy, if you share your conference experiences with us! So, leave a comment! 🙂

All the best,


Book Review: Essentialism

This time, I wanted to share with you another book from my quest to regain some work-life-balance: Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, NY 2011. McKeown mainly challenges one quite fundamental assumption about our time: the illusion that we could just do it all.


Have you ever found yourself struggling with information overload? Have you ever felt both overworked and underutilised? Do you ever feel busy but not productive?


The word priority used to be singular only. Which makes sense because actually, it is not possible for two things to be “the most important thing” at the same time. It is this introduction of a plural for priorities which shows how we use language to lie to ourselves.  It means not acknowledgeing the fundamental truth that you just can’t have it all. This is especially revelevant for myself because I am really bad at accepting this. When asked to choose something, I always decide to do both. But this is not ‘being super-human’. This is acutally being stupid and naive.

We perceive countless things around us. Yet our greatest power is the power to focus, which means of making the choice to ignore most of the noise in order to get to the message. This is what ‘essentialism’ is about. To not ‘do more’, but to do ‘less but better’. To ignore most things in order to value the important things.



We often think that we’re just not good at saying no. But saying yes to something always means saying no to something else. So ultimately, we are constantly saying no by saying yes. We might as well choose which thing to say no to directly. Because you just can’t have it all.  Yet, it is understandable why people have difficulty saying no in a society which encourages you to say yes. Saying no is not the nice thing to do. It is uncomfortable. Saying yes is what is praised in the moment. People who say yes seem productive, seem like they ‘have it all’ and ultimately, most bosses do actually expect you to say yes to everything. Even if this massively hurts your overall productivity. 

Another hallmark of the subconscious unability to say no is the act of constantly cramming in “just one more thing”. Like I do. McKeown even makes the example of this one annoying colleague who foolishly doesn’t accept they just can’t have it all and thus ends up answering “just one more” email before they leave for a meeting they would already have been late to before they even started writing that last email. Let me introduce you to this colleague. It is me.

Essentialism is the deliberate pursuit of ‘less but better’.

Delusional thinking

Like I said, McKeown brings the example of people who know they have 10 minutes left to get somewhere, it takes 10 minutes to get there and yet they still sit down to answer an email before they go – thinking they could just “fit it all in”. The result is that they are guaranteed to be late and thus, still miss one of the two things. Or, at worst, both. All because they are afraid to make conscious decisions to reject something. If you don’t know this from personal experience, you have just gotten to know me. This is who I am. I am not proud, but that’s the way it is. If you don’t make this choice (of what to do with the time you have), somebody else will make it for you. This is kind of like with digital addiction.

We are ever only aware of the decisions we actively make. That these imply that we also automatically (and perhaps unwillingly) say no to other things, we often don’t want to see. At least I don’t. Before saying yes, we should ask ‘What would I give up to do this?’ rather than ‘Can I fit it in?’ which is what societal pressure tells us we should do. McKeown introduces the concept of trade-offs, i.e. the fact that when you decide to do something, you simultanesouly also reject something else. Because you just can’t have it all. When you meet person A, you secretly have rejected spending your time with person B. Only that you are not aware of this fact. Essentialism means becoming aware and accepting of this reality of trade-offs.


The unimportance of practically everything

Essentialism is about the unimportance of practically everything. By that, McKeown means that not all actions are useful or effective. Many are a complete waste of time compared to others. He brings the example that bosses feel one really good employee doesn’t create results twice as good as another but 10.000x as good. McKeown learnt in his own childhood that delivering papers was a poor use of his time. He had to trade one hour of his time against one pound. Being able to afford something nice would be a gigantic pursuit with countless hours of toil. He then realized that washing cars on Saturdays would be able to get him a six pound per hour return and thus, was a incomparably more effective use of his time. This is the sort of thinking he suggests we should do when he tells us to do ‘less but better’.


Philosophy and practice

The book is splitted in a more ‘theoretical’ part explaining the ‘philosophy’ behind essentialism and some more practical parts. These contain tips not unlike those time management tips from all of the other books I looked at so far, be it in the Digital Detox experiment oder Rest.

  1. Part two (“Explore”) suggests you ‘escape’ and save time by being unavailable (ruthlessly avoid going to useless meetings, etc.); you see what really matters, make time for (serious) play, get enough sleep and select what you spend your time with using ‘extreme criteria’. 
  2. Part III (“Eliminate”) suggests you clarify decision making, dare to say no and learn how to do it gracefully without offending people, uncommit from non-essentials and gain freedom by setting boundaries for carefully ‘edited’ amount of meaningful activities.
  3. Part IV (“Execute”) praises using a “time buffer” between commitments, removing things which hurt your effectiveness most rather than starting some new quick fix technique on top of everything, progressing with small wins, using routine to get in the flow, focusing and being in the moment by asking (“What’s important now?”).


So that’s it from me today and from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. And remember: You can’t just “have it all”. Do less, but better.

Best and until next time,






Book Review: Rest

As you might remember from the last book reviews, I am on the quest for a better life in a digital age. I have tried reducing exposure to screens, but in Make Time, I came across more than just the allure of ‘infinity pools’ like the Internet. I was introduced to the concept of the ‘busy bandwagon’. The fact that your success is measured in how ‘busy’ you are or appear to be. The more I think about it, the more disgusted I am by it. I am sick of all the people around me being proud of their business – because obviously, how busy you are shows how successful you are, right? – and I could throw up at myself for answering ‘busy’ to every innocent ‘How are you?’. Since when has the standard answer to ‘How are you?’ changed from ‘good’ to ‘busy’?


Jumping off the busy bandwagon

Anyways, in my quest for a better life, I now try to find a way of jumping off the ‘busy bandwagon’. In Make Time, a few simple steps are already mentioned. Things like not answering email straightaway but rather in batches, not being constantly available, making time for family and so on. But there is more to it than just ‘changing how we work’. Because, after all, working constantly is what I am trying to avoid. So thinking about how to work more efficiently is not the right way to do it.

This is why today, I wanted to give a review of another book I recently came across. Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, NY 2016. Also check out the website: http://www.deliberate.rest/

Overwork is the new normal. Rest is something to do when the important things are done – but they are never done. 


Introducing ‘deliberate rest’

Rest isn’t primarily a book about productivity, that would be contradictory. It is a book which argues that (deliberate) rest is not just a by-product of being human, a necessary obligation to be reduced to a minimum. No, it is an enabler of creativity which is, after all, what we really want to achieve. Being ‘productive’ doing ‘superficial’ work does not create value. (Yes, I remember I still owe you the Deep Work review). What we really mean when we say we strive for productivity is: unique creative and valubable output.

I began to wonder if our productivity had as much to do with the pace of our lives as the place we lived. I started to think that maybe our familiar ways of working and living, and our unquestioned assumptions about our need to stay always connected […] to treat weekends as a time to catch up on work […] don’t work as well as we think. […] Today’s leaders treat stress and overwork as a badge of honour, brag about how little they sleep and how few vacation days they take and have their reputations as workaholics carefully tended by [PR. …] They remind us that the working lives of even the most powerful people unfold in an environment saturated with unquestioned assumptions about the virtue and inescapable necessity of constant work. Whether we embrace the idea that overwork is essential for productivity and creativity or reject it, we all are defined by it.

In the last few years, there has been a growing interest in the habits of successful people. They have mostly been analyzed to see how those people work, how they are productive. Rest does the same. This particular book, however, notes how it is striking that all those creative geniuses mostly didn’t do more than 4 hours per day of what we would consider their most important work. Often, this had previously been judged as ‘Oh, they are so capable that they succeeded despite all their off-time’. Rest asks whether this might not have been the other way around: They weren’t successful despite the copious amounts of rest, but because of it.

I have come to see our respect for overwork as […] intellectually lazy. Measuring time is litterally the easiest way to assess someone’s dedication and productivity. It’s also very unreliable.

Rest is more than just the mere absence of work. It is not an inconvenience. Leisure nowadays is seen as a luxury to be consumed and shared publicly on Instagram, at best, and at worst, the negation of all our values surrounding success (willingness ‘to go the extra mile’, etc.) With workaholics, it can easily happen that we don’t even really exist outside of work. I think many people who are considererd ‘successful’ in Academia do not have a life or even a self outside of work.


8 ways to work better using ‘deliberate rest’

As we become ‘more productive’, we work longer hours. […] You cannot work well without resting well.

  1. You are capable of no more than (max.) 4 hours of ‘real’ creative work per day. This is also the generally accepted amount from the 10.000h rule study and the ‘deliberate practice’ and ‘deep work’ movements. Of course, you’ll need to do some low value work which takes up a lot of the time every once in a while. But think about this the next time you’re about to work overtime. Do you really think this is going to yield quality output or could you do that night’s work in half an hour when well rested in the morning?
  2. Add walks or naps to recharge. A short walk will heighten your ability for creative work for multiple hours afterwards. So it’s not necessary to walk while thinking. But walking and creative thought are related.
  3. Have a morning routine where you get the most important task done for 1-2h. Regularity generates creative output. Routine is also a necessary step to protect rest from the invading work demands.
  4. Sleep enough.
  5. Take regular breaks.
  6. Stop work in a good moment when you still have energy left. Many know this rule as ‘leave one in the bar’. Stop before you’re tired. And, if possible, in a good place to continue for the next day.
  7. Exercise, deep play, sabbaticals. Hobbies, like playing music, allow you to detach emotionally from work. The way we spend our off-time determines how effective we are when at work. Rest even cites a long-term study on which academic careers succeed and which ones don’t. Most of the exceptionally successful scientists intensively engaged in sports and active rest, some even did climbing 😉 While according to a study, low achievers tried to get better at work by doing more work, the ones who really ended up successful were busy with “deep play”.
  8. Not taking time off creates exhaustion (emotional and physical) and has long term health risks. Take vacations. I actually don’t get how anyone can get along with 5 weeks of holiday per year. If I’m honest and wanted optimal productivty for myself, I would need at least two weeks off at least every three months. Not that it’s possible. But when I secluded myself in the south of France last Christmas for two weeks, that was one of the most productive and mind-clearing experiences I’ve had in a long time. People in Academia should be allowed to go on “writing escapes” to get their writing done. Maybe (hopefully) my upcoming fellowship this summer will have the same effect.

Vacations are like sleep. They need to be taken regularly to be effective.

The book isn’t super long. The audiobook lasts only 7 hours. Many of the tips don’t go deeper than what’s included in the summary here, except for lots of examples. But it mentions climbing as an activity for active rest. So yay for that. And examples might be helpful to you. If you feel that overwork and not resting enough is an issue for you, the book will definitely be interesting to you.



How to… do selfcare as a PhD candidate – Part II: Why do physical exercise?

You might have guessed it already by seeing our blog subtitle the first time, but yes: We both are really into bouldering and climbing. 😉 Well, we are beginners and not so skilled, but it is fun and we love it. Every Monday for a couple of weeks now we are meeting at our favourite climbing hall and we try for an hour and a half to let go of all the work, the stress, the frustration.

Welcome to our second part on How to … do selfcare as a PhD candidate. (For part I you may click here!)

You might be in grad school, working on your PhD, your master’s or bachelor’s degree, basically it is always the same – your workload is amazing, you wish that you are actually in possession of one of Hermione Granger’s timeturners just to get a full night’s sleep and some kind of private life.

We all know, how good it feels to stay on your couch in the evening after work. BUT: There are those nasty backpain issues, there is the wish to do something with your body just to cope with the 8 to 10 hours a day you spent sitting around, writing, reading, studying.

The truth is, you must train your body to be ready to take these sitting hours. Your back, your butt, your arms, your neck and your legs will thank your for considering this. So, the best way is physical exercise. You have not to run a marathon, but hey, every two to three days a slow 5 km run, why not? Every two days an hour of yoga, maybe the gym, maybe you are taking your bike to get to work. Everything helps, just keep moving your body.

We both try to do some type of sports up to three times a week, which is not easy, when you have a 30h project job, which technically includes no PhD writing – and oh, there is your family as well, friends, partners. Social life, too, is a very important part of selfcare! In fact, it is that important, I will write a whole blogpost on it. And yes, you must eat, drink and sleep. However, sometimes I wish my days would have up to 36 hours, just to cope with my life outside university.

But let’s get back to our sporty theme for this post: Just exercise. Take a walk every evening. Call your friends and ask them, if they are into doing any type of sport – it is always much more fun together, but please, never forget, you should get enough alone-time for yourself. You may need this. I have often heard that it is one hour a day, where there should be just time for you, you alone. I see the smiles, yes, it sounds rather ridiculous. In our huge world of academic work, there is no space for these kinds of thoughts. Well, just be the first to think them.

Take a run, just you alone, with your favourite music or in silence. Breathe. If possible, try to run in a park – nature helps. Concentrate on how you run, on how your feet touch the ground. After half an hour you will fell calm, relaxed – and ready for some hours of work again.

The same magic happens to me while climbing. Of course, I am not alone in my climbing hall, but I concentrate on my grip, my hands, my feet and I enjoy myself when testing new routes.

The best thing to calm myself down, to get rid of my working day in my thoughts, is actually some yoga practice. I took several courses, yes, but there exists a huge number of videos and apps too, so, just try it! It is important to focus on yourself and your needs.

I will describe a little evening routine to you – I do it while already lying in bed in the evening. Just lay down, close your eyes and breathe in deeply. Feel your body. How does it feel? Is there any pain? Are there lots of thoughts wandering around your head? It’s okay, just let it be. Don’t blame yourself for overthinking too much. Just accept it. The thoughts are there, the pain in your back is there, you feel tired – everything normal, so far. Just remember, we are all human beings. How do your feet feel? Your hands? Your legs, your arms? Your stomach? Your neck? Your head? Your back? Just wander over your body, over each part, look after it – how does it feel, what is there? Note it and then accept it.

Do it as long as you want to do it. I always sleep in while thinking… In the beginning it was very hard, because I thought that yoga and meditating is about being one with the universe or whatever – well: yes and no. You come first. Nobody can ever be a better you, so just watch yourself, train it. It will get easier and better and suddenly – you might be calmed and relaxed. Is there any better thing after a hard day’s work? Right. There isn’t. And you certainly know this yoga-wisdom: We do yoga because we are all nuts. 😉

I really need to do something with my body during the week; you may not believe this, but once I started I could not stop it. I get angry and moody without exercise. My back is hurting – which stops every time after some kind of workout I do, may it be running or yoga or cimbing.

So, if you are looking for a healthy hobby and somthing that is really good for your body and your mindset – try exercising. Start very small, build up a routine and let the magic happen. Always remember, you have the time to watch Netflix or to hang out on your couch, you can spare half an hour of that time and take a walk, right?

All the best, you heros of everyday PhD (or academic) life, and keep on moving!