Powers and pitfalls of introvert researchers

A Ted talk by Susan Cain on the power of introverts got me thinking about finding a balance between the power and pitfalls of introversion as a researcher. Cain argues passionately that valuable deep thought and truly creative and innovative ideas can only bubble to the surface if given enough quietness and solitude. Yet, she points out our society is increasingly organized to promote a more extrovert approach to cooperation, group work and outgoing interaction. The academic environment traditionally respects and fosters quiet contemplation, especially for PhD candidates and postdocs, but even here pressure increases to go public with your ideas: to publish, to participate in conferences, and to valorize their knowledge by reaching out to the general public and cooperate with many organizations.

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De onzekerheid van een promovendus

Jenny (pseudoniem) heeft zich aangemeld voor een ultra korte speed-coaching sessie tijdens  een groter loopbaan-event voor promovendi. Ze is bezig met haar promotie-onderzoek en hoewel ze inhoudelijk aansluit bij de wetenschappelijke mode binnen haar vakgebied, vindt ze het moeilijk om met de onzekerheid van het bestaan als wetenschapper om te gaan. Ze twijfelt of ze sterk genoeg in haar schoenen staat “om de competitie aan te gaan”.

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“slippery stuff like philosophy”

Met de start van het nieuwe academische jaar beginnen ook weer alle activiteiten die onderzoekstijd zo onder druk kunnen zetten: onderwijs, vergaderingen, financieringsaanvragen… Menig academicus heeft het voornemen, of in ieder geval de wens, om de productieve rust van de zomerperiode zo lang mogelijk vast te houden, vaak tegen beter weten in. De ervaring leert dat het heel moeilijk is om oog in oog met allerlei urgente vragen en verplichtingen in je inbox en je agenda tijd te maken voor minder urgente, maar misschien wel veel belangrijkere activiteiten zoals vrijelijk denken, lezen, en onderzoeken. Ter inspiratie bied ik je hierbij twee citaten aan uit de dystopische novelle van Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, genoemd naar de temperatuur waarop papier vlam vat.
 
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Schrijfblokkade of afrondings-angst

Als Marieke (niet haar echte naam) bij me komt, zit ze vast bij het schrijven van haar masterscriptie. Ze ervaart hoge tijdsdruk door de deadline en prestatiedruk omdat het een eindwerkstuk van haar opleiding is. Dat herkent ze van haar bachelorscriptie. Ze reageert net als toen door chaotisch bezig te zijn: ze springt van links naar rechts in haar tekst en schrijft her en der stukjes  zonder overzicht van het geheel, zonder duidelijke structuur. Ook vlucht ze weg voor deze moeilijke klus. Ze vindt allerlei uitvluchten: van de boodschappen tot de was, van een kopje thee tot internet. Vervolgens baalt ze van zichzelf omdat ze niet gedaan heeft wat ze zich had voorgenomen. Ik raad haar aan om elke dag eens stil te staan bij wat er wel goed ging: waar is ze tevreden over?

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What am I about?

Some weeks ago my article “Create Your Future” appeared in Pandora, a magazine for the women network of Utrecht University. On their biennial network day I provided a workshop on how to balance professional and personal images while profiling yourself as a professional scientist using social media that require a more personal perspective. The main challenge that we tackled that day is to find an overall fitting answer to the question: what are you about?

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Value of the Dutch Approach of the PhD

Today, the Dutch government confirmed the current Dutch approach to the PhD, i.e. where PhD candidates are seen and rewarded as employees, not students. Dutch universities (VSNU) have been trying to create the option that PhD candidates get a student status, which would be much cheaper. They encounter much resistance, both from organizations of PhD candidates (who joined forces at e.g. promovendus.org) and from trade unions. The discussion has been going on for years now (e.g. article Trouw and DUB). I will not bore you with a summary of all arguments, but briefly indicate the main reasons that have been brought forward.

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How to write for newspapers as a PhD candidate

The workshop that I organized yesterday with Platform Hooft was a huge success. Over 30 PhD candidates in the humanities got a hands-on training in writing opinion articles from well known Dutch newspaper editors Chris Rutenfrans, Jaffe Vink, Derk Walters and Anouk van Kampen. They learned how to grab their readers’ fleeting attention and get their well-informed point of view across. If you understand Dutch and would like to know what feedback, tips and tricks they received, I invite you to read my piece on the workshop over at Platform Hooft. If you don’t read Dutch and still want to know the tricks: ask away and I might find time to translate it.

The effect of personality on labour market success

A successful transition from education to the labour market affects careers later in life, but what role do personality characteristics play in making this transition? In the recruitment process of highly educated professionals personality features are an increasingly dominant factor, besides the more obvious requirements of specific competences, specialist knowledge, and cognitive abilities.

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Another perspective on two years since PhD thesis defense

My previous post focussed on feelings about your PhD thesis topic while you’re in the midst of writing as compared to when you’ve had the time to step back and widen your perspective of your specialist subject. I gave a personal example of what two years distance can mean for the relationship with your thesis topic. Now, I’d like to share with you the second part of my story since defending my PhD thesis. This part tells about the turn I took and the new road I began traveling, of which this blog and this website testify.

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Lessons from the past

In September 2010 I defended my thesis on Stoic philosophy and this summer the journal Mnemosyne published my summary announcement in their section Dissertationes Batavae. Needless to say I’m quite proud, but also it feels very strange to encounter work from the past again in this way: it partly seems to come from a different world. Two years ago, I could not imagine being where I am now. Finishing my thesis was a struggle. How I would have loved to know some of the things I know now!

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