Post#12…PhD tips & tricks Series: Administrative follow-up

The mailbox, the monster that never stops growing…who feeds it?

Administrative follow-up

  • Emails
  • Datasets
  • Protocols
  • MSc & Bsc Supervision

1) Emails. I try to discipline myself by checking my emails and taking 1 hour at the beginning of the day and a moment in the early afternoon to read and answer some emails. However, I must admit that my mailbox is a tool that I quite enjoy. Writing and sending an email is practical and fast. You can add a document; it also allows you to record various written exchanges. Indeed, it will enable me to periodically send reminders with a standard email template that is always ready to go or categorize the emails to be treated in priority. Also, “automatic replies” allow me to let people know that I will be away on vacation or in the field. Additionally, writing the automatic reply represents a concrete step that helps me transition from the office to elsewhere (holiday of fieldwork). However, during more or less intense periods, I sometimes find myself submerged by emails… who isn’t today? When this happens, I always try to keep in mind the benefits my mailbox and emails bring me.

2) Ph.D. “block periods” & “unofficial deadlines”. I’m working on soil-vegetation interactions and ecosystem functioning. I have fieldwork and lab periods during which I collect samples, process them, or think about the experimental design that will allow me to obtain a type of data. I often wish I had more time to analyze my data or manage to rearrange my time to do that. Depending on what I need to do, I find it hard to move forward if I am interrupted too often. So, as time went by, I tried different ways of working to take advantage of the few hours I managed to work. I haven’t found a strategy that works 100%; it depends a lot on my state of mind, physical form, the mood of the moment, and the different tasks I have in parallel. To progress and succeed in showing new results, I set “unofficial deadlines” in the diary (1-3 days in a row in general) to motivate myself and analyze my data. Even if I don’t work 8 hours in a row on a dataset, I often make much progress in 3 days. In contrast, sometimes, I get lost in my analysis without getting anything out when I plan more time. And if I have trouble getting started, I go for 2-3 hours of sport, which allows me to clear my head and start again with new energy!

3) Protocols or Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). I already told you that I pay particular attention to the writing of protocols & SOP when I do my experiments in the lab or the field; here is why:

  1. Writing the protocols or SOP of what I did for my projects allows me to synthesize and underline the crucial points of the task.
  2. Writing a protocol clearly for my projects makes it possible for someone else to repeat the experiment if the results are interesting.
  3. Suppose I have to repeat an experiment in my project two years later. In that case, I have all the essential elements at a glance.
  4. It sometimes allows me to highlight biases with other similar protocols.
  5. It could be part of my “material and method” section or appendices, depending on the importance of the protocol used.
  6. It allows me to quickly transmit the protocol to a colleague, student, or supervisor without being interrupted too many times during working hours 😉

You have to convince yourself of the use of these protocols/SOP. For example, I rarely write more than one double-sided A4 page.

4) Supervising students. I invest time approaching something that both parties can benefit from. I often hear that master’s supervision wastes time and hinders or slows down the thesis writing process. I strongly disagree! Without students collaborating on my project, I would never have been able to do all I did (or even planned) for my thesis. However, we have to be realistic. There are many different profiles of students, from the most demanding working to the laziest. Still, our role as Ph. D.s is to guide them so that they progress to succeed in giving the best of themselves for their master’s project. Therefore, I like to meet the students beforehand, discuss a little with them, and define what they expect and want from this collaboration and what they do not want. In this way, we create a master project that looks like him but fits into my thesis project.

Moreover, I specify my expectations concerning a possible collaboration by answering the student’s questions. On the supervisor’s side, it allows to quickly identify each student’s strengths and weaknesses to better understand the next steps by adapting the supervision of the students. On the supervisor’s side, it allows to quickly identify each student’s strengths and weaknesses to better understand the next steps by adapting the supervision of the students. Of course, this does not always end as planned. Still, it often avoids many misunderstandings or problems related to the project or the supervisor.

Hope this may help you!



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