How to survive your PhD
Essays from KlimaCampus
graduate studentsDear new graduate student,
The handbook you are holding has been written for you. 11 PhD students and 3 MSc
students wrote about their own grad school experience thus far. They put them-
selves in your shoes, the shoes of someone starting out on the PhD endeavor. So,
what you n fi d here is not an all-embracing manual written by someone with 20+
years experience . But, what you will n fi d here are essays written by students who
still vividly remember what it was like when everything was new, the amount of
information just overwhelming, and writing – let alone publishing – a scientic fi
article seemed a big myth.
The essays presented here are based on a semester-long ‘research-skills’ course.
At the outset, the topics of interest to the students were chosen by popular vote.
Throughout the semester, these topics were discussed one-by-one in separate lec-
tures. Now, 14 students put their own perspective on these topics into writing – ba-
sed to a varying degree on their personal experience, the research-skills course, and
their discussions with other people etc.
The essays also benefited from a writing workshop co-taught with Dallas Murphy
(writer from NYC, USA). While the workshop was at its core directed at scientic fi wri -
ting, we took the essays as a starting point to discuss the process of writing.
In summary, the authors wrote down the pieces of advice that – in retrospect – they
would have found useful when starting out with their graduate studies a year or
two ago. You may therefore enjoy reading the handbook from cover to cover, but we
also hope that you might n fi d it useful to come back to the appropriate essay when
you later find yourself faced directly with one of the topics discussed.
Johanna Baehr is a Juniorprofessor for “Climate System Data Assimilation” at the
Institute of Oceanography. She designed and led the course to help junior gradu-
ate students develop the research skills needed for a successful completion of their
thesis. She also co-taught the writing workshop with Dallas Murphy, and coordi-
nated the compilation of the essays in this handbook.
This kind of scholarly advice you can (and possibly should) read elsewhere. We put some suggestions for this kind of
literature at the end of the handbook.
Communicating with your advisor
Janpeter Schilling page 6
Kostas Bonatsos page 10
Time and self-management
Bente Tiedje page 14
Managing and organizing information
Hyung Sik Choi page 18
Pavan Kumar Siligam page 22
Jana Peters page 26
Oliver Kunst page 30
Ralph Rösner page 34
Scientic w fi riting
Maria Koon page 38
Wenke Wegner page 42
Oliver Krüger page 46
Laura Niederdrenk page 50
Alexandra Kroll page 54
Christine Radermacher page 58
Literature page 62Communicating with your advisor he would have noticed the student’s reluctance to take over the task. But the same
Janpeter Schilling is true for the student; if he had known about his advisor’s full schedule and habit
of doing everything at the eleventh hour, the student could have anticipated and
Advisor: “Hey, I just realized that the abstract for the World Science Congress is due prepared for the situation (for example by collecting some ideas for the abstract
this Wednesday. Could you write that? I’m gone until the end of the week and it’s ahead of time). This argument should not be misinterpreted as a general appeal to
very important.” n fi d out everything about your advisor. It is not necessary to marry your advisor (in
Student: “Wednesday, that’s tomorrow! I am not sure...” most cases this causes trouble elsewhere). However, the student should have a basic
Advisor: “Great, you can send it directly to Mike or upload it to the platform.” understanding of his advisor and vice versa. Where does he (academically) come
Student (to himself): “What platform, what Mike, what conference?!” from? What is important to him? What are his weaknesses and fears? Where does he
Advisor (to himself): “I am sure… whatever his name is will do fine.” want to go and where is he actually heading?
Dialogues like this can be witnessed everyday at universities all over the world. The
communication between a PhD student and his advisor is often difc fi ult. In this essay Now that we have identie fi d two root causes of miscommunication, we can think of
I will discuss why that is (the root causes) and what can be done about it (strategies). strategies to tackle them. To avoid or to reduce major discrepancies in expectations,
An ineffective, unbalanced or somehow else dysfunctional communication between it is important to know what the other person expects. Expectations need to be
student and advisor can have many causes. However, I think that (a) different and clearly communicated. The interview for the PhD position should give a r fi st hint
unclear expectations and (b) a lack of understanding for the other person can be as to where the other person wants to go. At the beginning of the PhD period there
seen as root causes of miscommunication. should be a more informal meeting where the student and the advisor sit down to
tell each other what they expect from the upcoming years working on the PhD. The
In the dialog above the advisor expects the student to write an abstract for a confe- meeting will show where differences in expectations already exist or where they
rence. The student does not expect to be asked to write the abstract, otherwise he could potentially develop. A prerequisite for such a meeting is, of course, that you
would have known about the deadline, or at least the conference that his advisor know what to expect from your PhD studies. It makes sense to take a moment and
was referring to. One could further assume from the student’s confused reaction to write down everything that comes to mind. From “becoming a lead author of the
that he would expect some more information and guidance from his advisor before next IPCC report” to “just getting that bloody title,” anything is possible. For some
writing such a “very important” abstract. There is a clear discrepancy between the people it is useful to assign these thoughts to categories such as ‘has to be achie-
advisor’s and the student’s expectations which leads to miscommunication. The ved’, ‘could be achieved’, ‘is desirable’, or ‘welcome to utopia’.
discrepancy in expectations can take multiple forms, but it is always the result of at
least two people interacting. The advisor may expect his student to win a Nobel Pri- Once you are aware of your own and your advisor’s expectations, you can then try
ze while the student just wants to have a warm shelter where he can check his pri- to match them. At r fi st some of your advisor’s expectations might seem ridiculously
vate email. Or the student pressures himself to write one paper per month while the low (“show up for lunch”) or disproportionately high (“win a Nobel Prize”). But keep
supervisor is already happy when the student shows up for lunch once in a while. It in mind that your knowledge and skills will advance over the PhD period. This means
also works the other way around. The student may expect the supervisor to take his that objectives which seem to overwhelm you at r fi st could become pretty mana -
hand and guide him through the ‘dark woods of science’ right to the ‘bright glade’, geable at a later point in time. If there is really something that your advisor expects
where the student’s PhD title is already waiting for him, while the advisor thinks it from you, for example drilling for ice cores in the Arctic though you hate the cold, it
is ok to meet his student only twice (once to discuss the outline of the thesis, and is important to inform your advisor about your concerns right away. Otherwise the
again when the student hands it in). Arctic will circle as the sword of Damocles above your head until your highly disap-
pointed advisor finds out.
Closely related to this r fi st root cause of miscommunication is a second one: a lack
of understanding for the other person. Again referring to the introductory dialog, Again, a categorization of your advisor’s expectation from ‘I will do that’ to ‘not
the advisor lacks even a minimum level of understanding of his student; otherwise in a thousand years’ could be helpful. At the same time you will discover skills, for
Communicating with your advisor Communicating with your advisorexample by organizing an Arctic excursion (without actually attending it) that your shows your advisor that you are prepared and that it is important to you.
advisor did not expect you to have. If you on the other hand have the feeling that Of course, all arguments presented here are to a certain extent theoretical. Some
your advisor cannot provide the assistance that you desire (guidance through the advisors may not appreciate any personal contact with their PhD student while
dark woods of science), you will always be able to turn to your second advisor, or others want to marry you. You yourself might think that a deeper understanding of
another person whom you trust. For that purpose it is useful to have a fellow PhD your advisor is not necessary – or even counterproductive. That is absolutely legi-
student or postdoc acting as a ‘shadow advisor’ who can answer your ‘stupid’ que- timate. The given advice may be unsuitable for some, while it will work for others.
stions and who supports you without judging. From my perspective, a common ground of expectations in combination with the
ability to put yourself in your advisor’s shoes once in awhile is essential for a heal-
In general, it seems more practical to meet your advisor’s expectations (or to argue thy and productive communication.
why you absolutely cannot) than make your advisor meet yours. Sharing a common
set of expectations with your advisor is likely to make both of you more comfortable Recommended Readings
with one another, and ease up communication between you. An advisor who writes about the communication with her students:
Communication can be further improved by deepening your understanding of your FemaleScienceProfessor (2009): BAs (Bad Advisors). Blog (01/09/2009),
advisor. The question is how exactly? You are likely to n fi d basic information such as http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2009/09/bas.html.
your advisor’s prior institutions, aflfi iations or even a full CV on the web. To gain an
understanding of his scientic fi views it is a good idea to read his publications (and FemaleScienceProfessor (2010): Try, try, try to understand. Blog (31/03/2010),
especially his conclusions). Or, if you attend his speeches (which he is likely to ap- http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2010/03/try-try-try-to-understand.html.
preciate anyways) you will win a sense of his style of communication, his responses
to questions, and his preferences. Lunch, after work activities, or a shared trip to A helpful scientic b fi ook for everyone who wants to dig deeper into the subject:
a conference is good opportunity to gain some personal insights (political opinion, Mortensen, David (1997): Miscommunication. Sage. London.
family status, current worries). Experienced coworkers who have worked with your
advisor for a longer period of time are often a good source to learn about his habits A fun website that collects comics on student’s life is at: www.phdcomics.com
This may sound like a manual on stalking, but some of the advice might actually
make communication with your advisor a little easier. In any case, it at least helps
the advisor to remember his student’s name. Maybe if the student in the introduc-
tory dialog had known his advisor a little better, the student would have viewed his
advisor’s request as a sign of trust and appreciation. A better understanding of how
your advisor “works” will also help you to improve the timing of your conversations.
A well-chosen moment allows for a smooth start of a conversation while a rushed
atmosphere (one day before the deadline) can sabotage a conversation right from
Every advisor is different. Some are available for an easy chat early in the morning,
after lunch or late in the evening, others will only talk to their students on the
weekend (in this case: good luck with that). If you want to talk to your advisor about Janpeter Schilling is in his 2 PhD year at SICSS. He received his graduate degree
something important that needs more time, send him an email with bullet points in Geography. In his PhD thesis he focuses on the interrelations between climate
listing what you want to discuss with him and a timeframe for the meeting. This change and conifl ct in Africa.
Communicating with your advisorCommunicating with your advisor an advisor is a PhD student’s mentor on their way to becoming an independent sci-
Kostas Bonatsos entist. Independence is a quality that an advisor has to encourage and reinforce in
his students. Independence is a tricky feature for an advisor to inue fl nce, since it in -
Introduction corporates strict guidance while at the same time leaving some room for the student
I strongly believe that the subject in question is of paramount importance for a to make their own choices. To put it simply, I reckon that inspiring independence is
young scientist. Conifl cts and miscommunication between students and the super - a product of an advisor’s ability to maintain a balanced distance from his student.
vising head could lead to both scientic fi ineffectiveness and unpleasant situations. Maximizing that distance leads to alienation, and minimizing it leads to overpro-
On the other hand, in those fortunate cases where such pitfalls are overcome, goals tection. Any failure in such a process is not only a student’s but also an advisor’s as
are achieved and cooperation flourishes. well. With that in mind, we as students more or less know what to expect.
Having spent some time in academic communities as a student myself, I have met a So what is next? The very next step is to determine what a supervisor is actually
lot of academics, both students and professors. I was always interested in enriching asking of you. From an advisor’s point of view the answer to that question may look
my point of view with diverse and fresh ideas. Discussions, interviews and debates straight forward. It makes perfect sense that an advisor expects a motivated and pro-
with students and professors helped me shape a personal view on the issue of com- active student that is eager to deepen his scientic fi expertise. Advisors like to work
munication between students and advisors. with self-motivated young scientists who do their own background research, avoid
I’ve frequently observed that the student-advisor relationship illustrates some spe- or solve problems, and deliver questions throughout this very process. Matching
cic fi attributes. The main objective of an academic institution always was scientic fi that description seems like a beautiful goal to set, I can say for myself at the least.
progress. For that reason, the typical employer-employee stratic fi ation, as seen in
other working environments, is quite weak here. Unlike the typical, strict, free- Problem spectrum
market hierarchy, in the academic realm the two parties treat each other more as As a rule of thumb, I n fi d it helpful to separate communication problems between
equal colleagues. This nourishes mutual respect and understanding. As expected, PhD candidates and supervisors into two interlinked categories: Complaints related
common scientic fi background is always present, practically serving as the “internal either to science or resulting from personal discord. One could argue that perso-
language” of each working group. Unfortunately, I notice some of the usual com- nality manifests itself in every possible way, in every possible issue; that you can’t
munication barricades as well. just get rid of it. I totally agree! However, even though personality always interferes
Most of the complaints you hear about have to do with the ease of approaching a with everything, I distinguish science-oriented problems simply because they are
supervisor and their time management capabilities, or the seeming complete lack of too strictly den fi ed to be altered by personal beliefs.
both. The same applies for perception conifl cts. “He has no time for me,” “I’m stuck Given the distinction, problems such as “which method should I use,” or “I need
and don’t know how to approach him,” or “I’m afraid he will be harsh on me,” are more material input,” could be included in the science-oriented list. Correspondi-
some of the phrases I have often heard from PhD and even Master students. ngly, complaints like “my supervisor does not have enough time for me or interest
The way I see it, there is no obvious all-in-one solution when concerned with inter- in me,” fall into the personal conifl cts category. Science-oriented problems can
personal communication. A helpful starting point could be a personal question, and be approached with a more strict and logical manner, whereas the second class of
so each person involved in scientic fi work should ask themself, “What do I expect problems calls for flexibility in communication.
from my supervisor in the r fi st place?” It is pretty irrational for someone to complain
about what they have, when not being able to den fi e what they want. Nevertheless, Hard advice
this issue is strictly too personal and is a subject for introspective individual thought. In this section, I will try to give information based on input from fellow students
and my personal experience up until now.
Den fi ing common grounds Regarding cases where you as a PhD student do not have enough time with your
After clarifying your own personal goals you could try to see things from your advisor or need more scientic fi input, setting an agenda could do the trick. Make a
supervisor’s point of view. list of topics you need to discuss, set a timeframe for the discussion, and arrange
Let’s take a look at an advisor’s typical job description. According to the formalities, regular meetings. Then, just communicate your intentions to your advisor. Meeting
Communicating with your advisor Communicating with your advisorfrequency is related to your individual needs and your personal way of working. as you would wish for yourself, your advisor also cherishes a word of acknowledg-
Each advisor is different, so it is highly likely that you have to identify your advisor’s ment. Express your gratitude without a second thought. It is always nice to couple
normative way of working or socializing. information with a note of appreciation towards your advisor from time to time.
When in the meetings, you could have a conde fi nt and direct way of explaining your
agenda’s topics. Don’t worry if you maybe sound simplistic. Conde fi nce comes when Epilogue
one knows he did his best and is satise fi d with that. Until you reach that point, you It is important to understand that each of the matters addressed here call for a
could n fi d comfort in asking your ‘silly’ questions to your fellow students or some - specic fi , flexible approach. Not all scientists are on the same level of expertise and
one you trust. not all personalities bear the same characteristics. Regardless of whether the con-
It is more than probable that at one point or another you will n fi d yourself with a ifl ct lies in science or in personality, in the end it is usually the case that problems
piece of not so pleasant news to communicate. This may seem frightening but there between students and the respective advisors are, more than anything else, com-
are ways to tackle your concerns. Be direct and don’t wait for the ‘right’ time. Usu- munication failures. Your best allies in tackling those failures are your hard work,
ally, postponing the time to approach your advisor only makes things worse. Being your honesty and your good intentions.
straightforward without dodging the issue also helps to build conde fi nce in your
relationship with your advisor. Feeling conde fi nt with your advisor and vice-versa is
a quality that solves many problems, sometimes before they even develop.
Timing is also important. All people have good and bad moments, so you could r fi st
try to observe your advisor’s working patterns and how he responds to your calls.
It may also be helpful to keep in mind that not everyone perceives the same piece
of news in exactly the same way. Reviewing criticism of a paper, for instance, may
seem like terrifying information to receive for a student, but a challenge and an
opportunity for evolution in the eyes of an advisor.
In case you feel like your advisor wants you to work in a different way than you
usually prefer to, make sure you let him know. Propose your own way of carrying
out your workload. Even if your proposal is rejected, you will have made your point
clear. There is no need to stress yourself without expressing your thoughts. After all,
working the way your advisor proposes is one thing and working in your individual
pattern in addition is another. Those two are not self-excluding scenarios. Usually
after discussing such topics with your advisor, a solution or a working equilibrium
if you wish, is reached.
I have observed that advisors do not tend to interfere with a student’s time ma-
nagement and usage, especially when the job is done correctly within the time
frame given. Your advisor probably will not care whether you work for six or fifteen
hours per day as long as your results are sound and on time. Cases where students
work remotely from home also fall under this category. Also, have in mind that no
matter how many working hours your contract specie fi s, an advisor always expects
your full-time devotion and sometimes even more (background research, literature Kostas Bonatsos is a 3 semester MSc student in the SICSS program. His r fi st BSc
reading and extra curricular activities). degree is in Maritime Studies at the University of Piraeus, Greece. He is currently
Carrying out a PhD thesis seems to me to be an interactive process that incorporates interested in approaching climate-related issues in a more holistic way, combi-
mutual benefits for you and your advisor. Remember to show your appreciation. Just ning physical, economic, and social aspects.
Communicating with your advisorTime and self-management cic fi objectives and milestones of your work on a multi-monthly basis. Although it
Bente Tiedje covers a rather long time period, it has to be reviewed and reorganized regularly,
for example before advisory panel meetings or whenever your scientic fi objectives
Once you‘ve g fi ured out your scientic fi goals for your PhD, and what you have to change directions. In contrast, the items on your daily or weekly to-do list should
do to accomplish these tasks, there is no way to avoid planning when to do all this be as specic fi as you can express them. Breaking your tasks down into small things
stuff, either on a short term scale or in the long run. Good advice is manifold and has the advantage that the single points or small goals of your list can be achieved
different strategies work for different people. Only you know the time when you easily or in a rather short time span. That way, when you check your list the next
work most creatively and concentratedly. So in the end you have to g fi ure out which time, you’ll have a good feeling when looking at all the accomplished missions, and
strategy works for you. The fact that an average ofc fi e worker loses 1-2 hours a day you can build enthusiasm for the next tasks. If you can‘t remove any point of your
due to a lack of planning shows that you need a plan to work more effectively. You list at the end of the day, you have probably overscheduled your day. It is helpful to
won‘t find time, you have to make it! review the day or week in the evening, or to plan the next week on Friday. For the
Is failing to plan planning to fail, or is a deadline junkie condemned to be a dead- daily list it is also helpful to write down precisely what to start with in the morning
line junkie? Is Parkinson‘s Law really true in saying that “work expands so as to lfi l in the evening before. A common and often recommended strategy for organizing
the time available for its completion?” In the next few paragraphs you won’t n fi d your day/week and prioritize your tasks is the Eisenhower method. With this method
answers to these questions, but they will point out some advice, tricks, and sugge- you sort your tasks as the following table suggests:
stions on how you could cope better with the limited time you have in each day or
over your years of PhD study.
Due soon Not due soon
Because, as mentioned above, everyone has to n fi d his own strategy, this essay is
Important 1 2
naturally based on my own experience. I‘ve found out what works for me (mostly
Not important 3 4
by trial and error), but I am always open to new tricks that can help me stick to my
to-do list. The discussions we‘ve had during the research-skills course made me Be especially aware of the ‘Due soon but not important’ tasks. They can be time
realize how important time and self-management is and will be for my future career sinks. In the end it does not matter if you write down your to-do tasks in an Ei-
and, in the end, for my work-life balance as well. This became especially clear to me senhower list or in a simple column. The idea behind it is that you have to sort your
while listening to Randy Pausch‘s talk about time management, available at http:// to-do list by importance. The last important thing to mention for to-do lists is that
www.cs.cmu.edu/~pausch (September 2010). So a lot of good advice you will n fi d in you need to be flexible: do not expect that you will always get everything done. You
this essay is inspired by his talk. can always reorganize and reprioritize. You can always change your plan as long as
you have one!
At the very beginning, before you start making plans or tidying up your desk, you
have to look properly into yourself and n fi d out your creative time. It‘s up to you if By making these lists and being serious about them, you more or less set deadlines
you spend this time alone, maybe at home, or in your ofc fi e – although you might for yourself. If you cannot manage to stick to them in any way, you might take the
have a couple of ofc fi e mates – but you should defend this time ruthlessly. In con - opportunity to tell others about them, for example your advisor or ofc fi e mates, so
trast, you probably have some hours during the day when you can‘t focus at all. you have some kind of loose control and motivation to get things done. If you give
In this dead time it is probably more effective to schedule meetings, phone calls, deadlines to others, for example in a team project, include 1-2 extra days to make
surn fi g for new literature, and/or dull stuff, than think about the same formula over sure you and they can really meet the deadline. All the advice above should help
and over again. you to avoid doing things at the last minute, so you can avoid stress and being a
deadline junkie every time.
Generally, successful planning starts with organizing three basics things: a calen-
dar, a master list, and a daily or weekly to-do-list. You should try to stick to only Of course there can be a lot of things that delay your work apart from simple lazi-
having one of these things for each category. The master list should contain spe- ness. Time sinks can be, for example, coping with all the emails, phone calls, and
Time and self-management Time and self-management additional tasks or requests coming in. Reading and answering emails and phone
calls is part of your work, but if you don‘t want to spend precious hours of your
working day you have to keep it short and effective. Instead of checking your inbox
every time you hear the ‘incoming email’ sound, you can try to set regular email
times, for example 15 minutes twice a day. To make sure your inbox is not your to-
do-list, clear it, but also make sure you save all the emails. If you have read an email
and have gathered all the information to answer it, do it immediately. To touch
every email only once helps you to avoid procrastination and keeps your head clear
of thinking about the email trafc a fi ll the time.
Phone calls or interruptions in person can be kept short, r fi st of all by standing up
and starting the conversation with phrases like “I only have five minutes,” or “I‘m
in the middle of something now.” For additional tasks and requests by people other
than your advisor, you should review why you would say yes. Do you have the need
to please or are you afraid to offend someone by not doing it? You could try with a
gentle ‘no’ by saying, “If no one else is willing to do it, you can come back to me.”
For requests from your advisor another rule applies: Don‘t say no to your advisor!
Let him re-think the task by explaining to him what else you have to do and what
you‘ve planned for the future (probably what you’ve planned together) and discus-
sing with him whether or how this new tasks would fit in the original plan.
In the end, and after all the good advice, you have to realize that effectiveness also
depends on appropriate self-assessment in respect to your personal stress level
and physical well-being. So make sure you set your own pace and enjoy your private
life besides. And remember: There is always time to eat and sleep!
Bente Tiedje is a 2 year PhD student at SICSS. Her graduate degree is in physical
oceanography. In her PhD, she investigates the potential predictability of the
ocean circulation on decadal timescales.Managing and organizing information reorganize them once a week (usually on Friday): my knowledge system is organized
Hyung Sik Choi again and I feel like I’m conducting an orchestra.
Trouble with overwhelming amounts of material You may have more questions about how to organize materials in an effective man-
Did you ever think that if you had collected and organized material well since the ner. I generally classify everything in two ways – according to topic and to purpo-
beginning, your work would be much easier? I have had this thought so many times se. For instance, research papers can be categorized into their topics, i.e. extreme
during my past years of university life. While I did my master’s degree, I couldn’t event science, extreme impacts and adaptation policy, in the case of my research.
resolve this problem. All of the lfi es and papers were scattered all around my hard This is a generally accepted method. When I have to prepare for presentations or
disk and desk. It resulted in an inefc fi ient working process. write a paper, I create a new folder. This is a new branch of data systems from my
original one. I can just select the ones necessary for my purpose and start to work.
When I started my PhD, I r fi st made up my mind to establish an efc fi ient information This rearrangement of your materials is a reprocessing of your raw data. From this,
and material management method to survive in PhD life. I thought that this could you can extract important information and work more efc fi iently.
play a vital role in doing good research, or at least being a competitive researcher. I
seriously pondered over my problems in handling research material. I realized that However, the most difc fi ult part of this process is determining how to easily extract
I tended to be somewhat impetuous in n fi ishing my tasks, because I am obsessed information that I need for writing papers and presentations. I decided to take
with the notion that I should produce many good results. Thus I didn’t pay much notes and keep them in notebooks and word lfi es corresponding to their topics.
attention to organizing materials. As a result, lfi es and papers were mixed readily Whenever I read research papers, reports, and data, I think about how this infor-
without proper naming and order. Many useful reports were not accessible when mation could be used and decide to keep or discard it. This became a very important
I needed. It made my working process sluggish. I concluded that my bad habits moment, which can affect my research. In addition, I also decided to make ano-
should be changed and effective methods and rules must be devised. ther set of notes for seminars and discussions. During PhD studies, students attend
many seminars and conferences. I also decided to keep that valuable information.
I tried to search for established methods on the Internet, but there was not much Ultimately, I realized that daily reading and research activity end up with certain
useful information available. Therefore, I tried to discuss this challenge with my products, such as good research papers and good presentations. Lastly, I found that
colleagues. But I could not ask them every detail of their methods because it is a the proper naming of lfi es is important in classifying materials. I name each lfi e
matter of personal preference. About 8 months have passed since I started my PhD. I with publication year, the r fi st author’s name, and the work’s title. This rule makes
still struggle with abundant materials, like reports, scientic fi papers, models, books, it easier to search for them again with only author’s name and title.
online articles, and data. But I dare to say that I seem to have succeeded in making
my own effective rules. I would like to tell you about my experience of learning to So far I haven’t utilized any reference manager software. I keep document lfi es and
manage and organize information. papers without any software, apart from information on them available online.
When I discover useful articles and information, I save it using Firefox Zotero. I
Some rules I have learned might use a reference manager to write a research paper. There are many software
First of all, I realized there is no magic solution. Certain amounts of time need to tools that you can use for data management, and you should decide whether to use
be spent on organizing your materials. I used to regard this time as wasteful, and it or not after trying it. Such software is merely a tool, which is able to facilitate
was only concerned with time for researching, reading, and programming. I decided your work process. Your concern and effort for managing your materials are more
to change this attitude. Now I spend 10 minutes every day to arrange documents essential than the use of tools.
on my PC, and lfi e research papers on my desk into folders before I leave my of -
c fi e. Whenever I start working the next day, documents and computer lfi es are well You can apply the same rules to collecting materials and organizing not only your
organized and it makes me feel settled. Sometimes I n fi d this all very troublesome research, but also other materials. I like to gather plenty of information on many
and fall back into my old habits. My materials become disordered again. However, I kinds of topics such as climate economics, renewable energy cost, climate change,
Managing and organizing information Managing and organizing information and so on. It is my personal aspiration to be an intellectual in this el fi d. I hope that
my concerns over material management systems will make a big difference in the
On occasion, I reorganize my database of materials. After a panel meeting, confe-
rence presentation, or before writing a paper, I rearrange all of my information and
renew my system according to the new research objective. Once in a while, I try to
search through my lfi es and the papers in my folders and remind myself of what I
have learned and have struggled with.
Making your own good habits
I try to bear in mind that whenever I read and think, I should keep my objectives
and their utility in mind. I believe that my PhD thesis is made up of the routine
work I carry out everyday. My good habits in data management make my work more
efc fi ient. I encourage you to develop your own ways to organize research material,
which fit with your style and stick to them all the time. I hope that your own me -
thods will work out and help you finish your thesis as you expected.
Hyung Sik Choi is a 1 year PhD student at the IMPRS-ESM. His graduate degree is
in mechanical engineering (South Korea). In his PhD, he investigates decision-
making in climate policy under climate uncertainty.Work-life balance concept of prioritizing is also very useful, whether it means taking time for hobbies,
Pavan Kumar Siligam travel, shopping or family.
When talking about Work-life balance, what is the very r fi st thought that comes to Time management is also an important part of achieving balance. The way to go
your mind? One way to den fi e it is as the efc fi ient management of work and perso - about this is to evaluate how to use one’s time productively. It can be done by fo-
nal-life to strike a harmony between the two. In my opinion, work-life balance is cusing on the important tasks at hand, n fi ishing them within the time set aside for
reached when neither work nor life blurs out the other. The desired harmony comes them. From my personal experience, having a to-do list is very useful to achieving
when both are carried out effortlessly, both bringing out productive and satisfac- as much out of a day as possible. One critical aspect of striking a balance is not to
tory outcomes. crowd up too many activities in a short time span. According to Thomas Fuller (1732),
“A stitch in time saves nine.”
Though work and personal life are different facets of one’s life, they signic fi antly
inue fl nce each other. One common attribute the two share is that they are both very Strategic planning is another great way to get organized, and be productive. For a
time intensive. For someone who is pursuing a Master’s or a Doctoral degree, the start, it is good to n fi d a work place that encourages a work-life balance for its em -
major portion of the day is spent at the University, leaving the lesser portion of the ployees. Finding possible resources/facilities in the vicinity of the work place makes
day for your personal life. Often more time is required to complete study/university life convenient for the family of the employee. For example, when a person n fi ds a
related tasks. Considering this uneven distribution of time for work and personal workplace where superiors are understanding and offer flexible working hours, he
life, trying to accommodate by allocating more time to your personal life may not be can easily fullfi l his family and personal needs. For employees with working life-
a good approach. I would recommend a ‘task oriented time allocation for the day’ partners, it is better to n fi d work in the same organization (Dual-career option) or
approach. These tasks can be related to both work and personal-life. I enjoy a sense at least the same city. This leads to higher concentration and efc fi iency on the part
of satisfaction as long as I can keep up with this kind of schedule. of the employees, since they can focus completely on their tasks at hand.
Importance Communicating with family about work related issues is very important. The same
I have understood that it is important to n fi d a balance between work and life in applies for organizing home activities. A good way to go about this is to assess the
order to be satise fi d, productive, innovative, and creative. At the same time, this total amount of time available, and then divide the various responsibilities among
balance has helped me to improve my organizational and managerial skills regar- one another. It is a fortunate situation when each individual is able to n fi d the ease
ding both studies and personal activities. Lack of balance can lead to dissatisfaction and space to do the shared activities, without actually compromising his individual
with work, thereby decreasing performance and possibly leading to medical condi- goals and interests. For instance, for a couple who are both career oriented, it may
tions, both psychological and physiological. For example, only an individual would be difc fi ult to n fi d the right time to have children. But, there could never be a right
be able to understand what he has had to sacric fi e in order to achieve his goals. time for childbearing if one considers their career as priority. There will always be
And so, if for some reason he is not successful in his career goals, he might fall into some pressing career issue that could hinder having children. Again, communication
a downward mental spiral, from which it might be very difc fi ult to recover. is very important for decision-making.
Work-life balance can be achieved at work and in your personal-life by making good Apart from the tools mentioned so far, I have found that it is also important to know
use of tools such as prioritizing, time management, strategic planning and commu- when to take a break from stressful activities – whether at work or in one’s personal
nication with family. life, so that there is no ‘burn out’. Such situations demotivate the individual and
raise obstacles to regain focus and concentration. This is crucial, because a person’s
Prioritizing helps me to organize activities according to the urgency that is deman- mental stability gives him the ability to use the tools discussed above.
ded by them. At the University, sorting tasks according to their importance and
approaching deadlines helps in completing tasks as planned. In personal life, the The very idea of creating a balance between work and life can be different for dif-
Work-life balance Work-life balanceferent individuals depending upon their lifestyles and career lines. For example: for
a scientist, there is always the need to research and experiment, meet grant dead-
lines, attend meetings, build relationships, and so on. Unless the scientist is well
organized, and has his priorities set, it is very difc fi ult for him to cope with these
high work demands and personal life.
All-in-all, in order to achieve a balance, setting priorities, saying no to non-pro-
ductive and time-consuming activities, and investing in family communication is
very important. It is good to accept help and assistance, when things might get too
overwhelming to handle, and also ask people around you with similar lifestyles for
Pavan Kumar Siligam is pursuing his Master’s at SICSS. His r fi st graduate’s degree
is in ‘Spatial Information Technology and Remote Sensing’.Work-life balance in academia river, and a difc fi ult problem may always turn out to be very easy to solve after a
Jana Peters proper amount of sleep.
Work-life balance is a broad concept concerned with the proper division between How much should a PhD student work?
time spent working and with the family and at leisure. This question is strongly related to the problem of feeling guilty about not working
There is no accurate den fi ition. It is not clear what ‘proper’ means in this context. enough. Especially for PhD students, this question is impossible to answer, in ge-
In addition, the division between the two in the concept is fuzzy. The concept only neral because we are result-oriented. It does not matter how long we work on a
implies two things: Work and free time are two totally different parts of life, and paper or the next chapter of our thesis. It has to be good, and it must be n fi ished
second, it is important to divide the 24-hour day into two parts, one labeled ‘work at a certain point. No one checks whether we are in the ofc fi e or not. It also often
time’ and the other labeled ‘free time’ and then somehow n fi d a balance. This does does not matter if we are working at the ofc fi e or at home.
not really seem to fit into a PhD student‘s lifestyle. For example, most do not shut Most of us can decide where and when we work, as long as we are making progress
down their brains when they leave the ofc fi e and go home. On the contrary, often - and getting things done. Given the limited time-span of 3 to 4 years for our projects
times good ideas and solutions to difc fi ult problems are to be found away from the though, this often means we work a lot, even on weekends. We have the weighty
desk. responsibility of organizing ourselves in such a way that we are getting things done.
Work-life balance also seems to be a quite fashionable concept. There is a huge This can fail in two ways. First, the freedom we have can result in not working en-
amount of guides and online content on how to n fi d the perfect balance. Many ough. If no one checks whether we are in the ofc fi e, no one will notice that we are
people try to sell their solutions and concepts for n fi ding the perfect balance. In drinking coffee in the sun instead of working on a paper or the thesis. The freedom
my opinion, work-life balance is more or less a modern phrase for the old question can lead to procrastination, which in turn can result in a lot of stress or in the worst
of how to n fi d happiness. By asking “how can we become happy PhD students,” case, in failure at the end of the project. But secondly, the freedom we have and the
instead of “how can we n fi d a perfect work-life balance,” we can rid ourselves of lack of a fixed working structure can also result in working too much, in guilt and a
the puzzle as to which part of life belongs to working time and which to free time. nagging belief that we don’t work enough, and consequently in the neglect of our
We don‘t have to divide up the day, and the imperative to balance is also relaxed. children, friends and hobbies. The answer to the question of how much we should
Unfortunately, this question on happiness is not only very old, but is also difc fi ult to work, lies somewhere in between.
answer. Frankly, I do not think there is a general answer: everyone has to n fi d his or In my opinion, it is important to keep both extremes in mind: Do not forget the
her own way to live a happy life as a doctoral student. paper or thesis chapter that has to be written, but also think of your family and
A Chinese proverb says “to know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” As I am friends, your hobbies and always include some time to relax.
still on my way, I cannot really give perfect advice, but I want to address a few
points, which may help you to become a happy PhD student. First, let me start with Family and friends
the opposite. To n fi d the right amount of work also includes thinking about family-life and
maintaining time for friends. How much time would we like to spend with our part-
Reasons why we may not be happy ner, how much time do we want for ourselves, and how much for our friends? Maybe
There are many reasons for not being happy. Many PhD students feel guilty about some also like to think about starting a family. For some people, the special struc-
not working enough, or leaving the ofc fi e too early. This guilt sometimes results ture and the freedom of academia is the perfect environment for having a baby, but
from comparing yourself to other people, but it also results from expectations that on the other hand, having a baby is a time consuming (albeit wonderful) additional
other people, like your supervisor, might have. Also your own expectations, or ex- ‘research project’, and as such needs an extra amount of organization.
pectations you think other people might have, can impose a burden. It is not that Whether being a PhD student is a good time to have a baby or not is a decision every
easy to rid yourself of guilt, as it is not easy to dispose of any other feeling. For couple, and not only the woman, has to make on their own. The advice I can give
some, it helps to know that ofc fi e-hours are not a good measurement, and that here is: Discuss it with your partner and see if both of you are ready for it.
research is never ‘done’. Often, important ideas are found during a walk along the In conclusion, an important aspect of becoming a happy PhD student is n fi ding the
Work-life balance Work-life balanceoptimal amount of work. Think about the three points above, and may they help you
to n fi d your personal optimum, or at least lead you to a better approximation. Just
be aware that you shouldn’t spend too much time optimizing.
Jana Peters is a 2 year PhD student at SICSS. Her graduate degree is in mathema-
tics. In her PhD, she investigates how the concern for model uncertainty can alter
environmental policies.A (not so) serious guide to an excellent oral presentation Before starting your preparation, you should think about the question: “Whom do
Oliver Kunst I want to address with this presentation?” As stated earlier, you are networking.
Since you like your job and the research you are doing, it is best not to change your
Scientic fi presentations are the backbone of every conference, workshop, etc. These research area during your scientic fi career. Hence, you should only address people
events are relevant for researchers, and even more relevant for junior researchers, who are really interested in your work and doing stuff that belongs to the same
as they are an opportunity to establish new contacts – to network. el fi d of research. This could include many people, so you have to lfi ter carefully. Who
Networking is good for your scientic fi career because you generally have a time- might be important for your career? In general, research positions are not offered by
limited contract with your university. Therefore, it is important to have contacts to junior scientists, so forget about them. You have to address the more experienced
potential employers. Getting in touch with potential employers is a hard task, even scientists. There is only one reason why you should network with junior scientists:
when you are at a conference. There, the best way to get attention and lfi ter the A really clever junior scientist can provide valuable input to your work. A further
big shots from the rest is by giving an oral presentation. Since you are looking for advantage is that nobody knows the names of junior scientists, and therefore, it
business contacts, the maxim is: ‘Every talk is an application!’ Therefore, you have does not matter if you don’t cite your contributor. Whew, we are totally off-topic,
to be aware of some important rules for any presentation! now. In summary: Your presentation has to reach the experienced and smart people
Once you have established a good presentation, you can use it over and over again, in your el fi d. Anyone else is useless for your career! Bearing this in mind, you can
making only minor revisions. So you have to spend the most effort on your r fi st prepare your basic presentation.
presentation. In following, I will explain how to prepare it.
To allow yourself an easy start, prepare the last slide r fi st. It is an unwritten rule,
You have to choose the proper media for presenting your results. In fact, there is but your last slide should contain only one sentence: “Thank you for your attenti-
only one kind of relevant presentation media: PowerPoint! Using PowerPoint shows on!” If you don’t have this slide, people will think that you are impolite – no, they
that you are familiar with a computer, and even more importantly, it shows every- will think that you are rude. When you think that people should judge your science
body that you have prepared your presentation ahead of time. Doing a blackboard and not your character, here are some more reasons why it is bad to end your pre-
or ifl p chart presentation is like typing your keywords into a text processor in front sentation with a different slide. The last slide is as important as the r fi st one! Even
of the audience. People will think, “hey, this speaker is too lazy to do the work in people day dreaming during your talk will recognize your r fi st and your last slide.
advance.” Showing that you are prepared is also possible with other presentation You should use this moment of their attention carefully. Do you like it when people
software besides PowerPoint, even with old-fashioned slides and a projector. But pay attention to someone else’s work while you are presenting? No? So don’t end
using a tool most people don’t use makes you seem lika a maverick, a geek, or just with your references. Even worse is to have a set of conclusions as your last slide. If
old-fashioned. It will show that you are not ready to work in a group, because you you do, the people who have been day-dreaming will not recognize that your pre-
are not willing to adapt yourself to the group. To put it shortly: If you don’t use Po- sentation is coming to an end, and they will not applaud you at the right moment.
werPoint you will never get a post-doc position! During the applause, everybody focuses on you and your last slide. Some people will
focus on your presentation for the r fi st time. They will take your conclusions and
Since you are using PowerPoint, you have to choose the matching template for your form some trivial questions from it. They don’t do it out of interest! Those people
slides. This is a very easy task! In general, your institute or university provides you will use the discussion to pretend they have understood your talk and impress the
with such a template. Of course there is one available from the KlimaCampus, too. audience with how smart they are. In general, these are not the brilliant researchers
Just use it! If you do, you will show both that you are not a lone wolf and that you looking for a position, but are rather those who have messed up their own presen-
are loyal to your institution. Any organization puts a lot of money and effort into tation and will use yours to compensate. Avoiding stupid questions is made easier
designing its template. Every single design property is carefully chosen and opti- by the ‘thank you’ slide.
mized, so do not modify the template, you can’t do better! There is exactly one
exception: If you have a lot of important text that you want to pack onto a single The r fi st slide of your presentation should contain your name and the title of your
slide, it is acceptable that you decrease the font size. talk. Since the title announces your presentation, it should be very catchy. Keep
Oral presentations Oral presentations the title general, but use a bunch of buzzwords: buzzwords attract people. The inconveniences by using a laser pointer. A laser pointer has even more advantages!
more people listen to your talk, the better the chance that there are experts in the You can get rid of a really annoying type of person. Some members of the audience
audience. Also, if the title is very general and cleverly chosen, you won’t have to might show their good will by following your talk, but they will not be able to un-
change it for every new presentation. At the beginning,you should present a short derstand your brilliant ideas. With such people, you often have to explain your ideas
introduction. This should not be longer than one slide. Keep the spoken introduc- to them during the discussion after the presentation. They block valuable discussion
tion short, and put a lot of additional text on the slide. Interested and smart people time, which could be lfi led with fruitful questions. How does one get rid of them? If
can read it quickly while you are talking. they cannot understand your brilliant ideas, it will be even harder for them to focus
Since a presentation has the same structure as a journal article, the most conveni- on your presentation. So, give these people the opportunity to deal with things they
ent way to add content is to copy important parts from your last paper over to the can understand. The trick is to point constantly with the laser to the sentence you
presentation slides. Since your last paper was excellently written, it could even be are reading. While you are reading, allow your hand to shake normally; don‘t even
understood by non-experts. Keep in mind that only the experts are valuable for try to hold the dot perfectly steady. Instead let the red dot jiggle around the words
networking. Smart people can focus on the whole talk. If you repeat things you will you are trying to point at. This jumping dot will become the focus for everyone in the
offend the smart people, so don’t bother with the dumb pseudo-scientists, and audience who is not able to focus on your brilliant ideas. They will be distracted like a
avoid summaries and recapitulations! Okay, maybe that’s too hard. People who cat focusing on an insect. These cat people will immediately stop trying to understand
don’t understand your presentation should get a second chance. Give them the your presentation. Therefore, they won’t degrade your discussion any more.
opportunity to study your presentation. Often, you can download the presentations
after a conference from the Internet. On the world wide web, your presentation will After your presentation, you have to impress the audience with a genius discussion.
be saved for years; your talk lasts 15 to 30 minutes. Using the previous tricks should leave you with a very good selection of people who
After the talk, the downloadable presentation becomes your business card. Under- will ask questions. Congratulations, now only the best scientists are still talking to
standing the downloaded presentation without having listened to your talk is only you! But how should you answer? First of all, discussion time is very limited. Even
possible when your presentation contains a lot of text. At the least, your talk should if it is called a ’discussion’, it is simply a short answering of questions. Clearly, a
be written completely on the slides. A very basic rule is to put as much text on your short answer can not cope with your presentation. Nonetheless, before you answer
slides as possible! If necessary, reduce the font size in your presentation template. any question, pause a while and try to stare smartly into space. After one to three
A small font is a good way to attract the audience’s attention to your spoken words, seconds, praise the questioner for asking such an interesting question and invite
and away from your written text. The written text should be easy to read when you him to have a real discussion during the coffee break. It could be that only the
are standing in front of the projected slides. It is convenient when you can read the chairman is asking you. Answer his trivial questions shortly, and don’t invite him to
text directly from the slides. Doing so, you can easily n fi ish your presentation within further discussion. He is not really interested, but he thinks that it is more polite to
the announced time limit. If you can not talk fast enough, you can skip unnecessary ask something than enjoy the silence following your storm of sophisticated scientic fi
words. Just make sure that you use the most important keywords. But be careful! ideas. If nobody else replies to your talk, then you have been really great. The whole
Even for a really sophisticated listener, it will be hard to follow your talk unless you audience is impressed, especially those members who could offer you a job.
are using an appropriate pointing device.
Good luck with your next presentation.
Basically there are two kinds of pointing devices: A really cool laser pointer or an ordi- May it be very impressive!
nary stick. Sticks have proved to be reliable for thousands of years. Of course it will do
its job, for sure, but it will prevent you from looking young, energetic and smart. Ano-
ther very embarrassing moment can come about when you are standing in front of the Oliver Kunst is a 2 year PhD student at KlimaCampus, University of Hamburg. He
big screen and realize that your stick is too short to reach the important parts of your has a graduate degree in applied mathematics (Technomathematik). In his PhD,
slide. If you try to point to those areas with the shadow of the stick, you will look like he develops a three dimensional adaptive Discontinuous Galerkin Method for at-
a conductor, or a five year old playing with his own shadow. You can easily avoid such mospheric moist convection.
Oral presentationsOral Presentations It is also quite helpful for the preparation of your talk to know how large your au-
Ralph Rösner dience will be: for a larger audience your presentation should be more formal and
entertaining, while for a smaller audience a relaxed and conversational presentati-
Communication and the exchange of information, whether intra- or interdisciplina- on seems to be more adequate.
ry, is crucial for successful and progressing science. Presenting your own work gives Therefore, it is essential to adjust every presentation to your audience!
you the opportunity to share your results with colleagues and fellow scientists. If two-thirds of your audience is pleased at the end of your presentation you surely
Furthermore, you get feedback on your work, which can both help you to improve did a great job!
it, and think about it from a different point of view so that you are able to develop
new ideas. How should I design my presentation?
One of the most common mistakes among presenters is that they put up way too
But there is another advantage, which should not be underestimated: Conference much information on one slide. One problem that arises from this is that most peo-
meetings, talks and oral presentations will make your work public. Certainly you ple in the audience will try to read the text on the slide, and hardly anybody will
have already experienced good and bad presentations, and everything in between. pay attention to the speech of the presenter anymore. A helpful hint might be that
But only the good and the bad talks will be remembered later, while the others will you should show only those passages on your slide, which you are addressing at that
be forgotten very quickly. The bad presentations will only be kept in mind because very moment as you move on through your speech. This will help the audience to
of all the mistakes that were made. On the contrary, the good presentations will follow your presentation more attentively.
impress the audience and your face will be positively related not only to the pre- Another common mistake, which often occurs in line with the above-mentioned
sentation itself, but also to your results, which will be more easily kept in mind. If problem, is the small font size of the text on the slides. Use at least a font size of 24,
you do a good job, you will be remembered by some scientists, which could even not only for your text but also for the description of your graphics, and you can be
lead to a future collaboration. There are a lot of reasons why you should be eager to quite sure that even the last row of the audience will be able to read your text. The
present your own work as well as possible. secondary effect of using a larger font size is that you are forced to reduce your text
to a minimum so that it fits on one slide.
In the following, I will give you some advice on how to prepare a good scientic fi Further problems concerning visibility that might arise can be due to the contrast
presentation. These hints are based on personal experience and on the research- of the slides. Be sure that all content is visible! You can use bright colors for impor-
skills course. I would have found these hints very valuable at the beginning of my tant content and duller colors for less important content. When choosing colors,
scientic c fi areer, and I hope that they will serve you well! be aware of the fact that many people (about 9% of men and 1% of women) suffer
from red-green color blindness, which means that they cannot distinguish between
How should I start? those two colors. Try to eliminate this color-combination in your graphics!
Watching as many presentations as possible can be very useful, because this can
help you to identify which way you want to build up your presentation. Write down How should I present my talk?
during each presentation precisely what you like or dislike the most about it and Many people feel very uncomfortable if they have to present their own work and
use this information to design your own presentation. This will help you to avoid results in front of a group of people whom they don’t know. They are afraid that
the same mistakes and to prepare a presentation with all the benefits of previously they could make a fool of themselves, if they make a mistake, or even worse, that
seen presentations. their work will be criticized and they will not be able to explain the facts properly.
Before you begin with your presentation you should also know who your audience Stage fright is a very common phenomenon among presenters. Nearly everybody
will be. Will you present your work to scientists of the same or a familiar research suffers from stage fright, and so did I during my r fi st presentations at the university.
area or will the audience barely have any idea what you are working on? If your au- I believed that the expected standard was really high and the self-made pressure
dience consists of both groups, a useful technique is to start quite generally at r fi st, for giving a “perfect presentation” increased my nervousness even more. There is
and then narrow the presentation down towards the end. not much you can do about your nervousness when standing in front of an au-
Oral presentations Oral presentations dience, the most important person in the room at that very moment. ask him to come to you after the presentation, by saying something like, “I would
The symptoms of stage fright will be reduced after several presentations, because really like to discuss this point with you, maybe we could do so afterwards?” This
you get used to the conditions when talking in front of an audience. But these sym- is not rude at all, and the audience will be thankful to you for avoiding off-topic
ptoms probably never vanish completely. Just keep in mind that everyone started questions that are not of general interest.
as a nervous wreck at the beginning and you can be quite sure that no one in the Questions might even come up that you are not able to answer, simply because you
audience will make fun of you. All of them have had the same experience as you. don’t know the answer. The worst thing you could do is to make something up! Just
The only helpful advice on reducing your nervousness before a presentation is re- admit that you don’t know the answer and that you will have to look it up. There
asonable preparation. Practicing your speech over and over again until you have is nothing wrong with that! It is quite obvious that you can’t know everything on
internalized the whole presentation is essential for a successful talk. the topic.
During your talk, you should stand in a relaxed position or move around calmly a
little bit from time to time. This gives the impression that you are not only conde fi nt Although giving presentations in front of an audience may sound intimidating, you
about yourself, but even more importantly, about your work. shouldn’t worry about making mistakes. Quite the contrary! You should seize every
Smiling occasionally and making eye-contact can help as well to keep the audience opportunity to present your work to colleagues and fellow scientists. Practice makes
engage in your presentation. perfect! In the course of time you will become more conde fi nt and you will n fi d out
Even a little humor can lighten up the stiffness of a scientic fi talk, though that how the audience’s reaction to your presentation evolves. According to this reac-
doesn’t mean your presentation should be like a performance in a comedy club. tion, you can adjust the presentation slightly until you are fully satise fi d.
If you are very nervous during your speech however, it surely isn’t a good idea to
force a joke, because it wouldn’t seem honest. It could make the predominant at-
mosphere in the room turn even tenser, and your nervousness could become even
worse. It doesn’t make sense to be funny because you believe that this is expected
from you – it is not!
If you don’t feel relaxed on stage, you should stick to your prepared presentati-
on; you shouldn’t start thinking about experimenting with new presentation tech-
niques or start improvising.
How should I deal with the discussion?
After you have n fi ished your talk, you will have to face the next part of your presen -
tation, which many people feel uncomfortable with: the question and discussion
section. Within a short time-span the audience is encouraged to ask questions on
your presentation. To a certain extent, you can prepare some answers to questions
that are likely to come up. Just think of some aspects that might not be quite clear to
the audience or gaps that there could be in your work. During your presentation you
can also include some phrases like, “unfortunately, I don’t have time to talk about
this in detail,” if you want to lead the discussion in a certain direction.
It is also quite important to mention that you should remember to repeat and sum-
marize an asked question from the audience again before answering, so that eve- Ralph Rösner is a 2 year PhD student at SICSS. He received his graduate degree in
ryone in the room is able to hear it (you are the only person in the room with a biology from the Ludwig-Maximilians University (LMU) in Munich. In his PhD, he
microphone!). investigates the impact of climate change on Lake Plußsee and its zooplankton
If there is an insistent questioner or a person who asks off-topic questions, you can community.
Oral presentationsScientic w fi riting and summarizing scientic i fi nformation not procrastinate, and even if you do not begin writing well before the deadline, at
Maria Koon least begin your research.
Introduction General writing tips
Throughout high school and while completing my bachelor’s degree, I naturally had After searching for advice on how to read and prepare to write a scientic fi summa -
to write essays and research papers. Usually these papers were about historical ry, I consulted writing handbooks for general writing guidelines. Tim Skern (2009)
events or literary topics, not scientic fi ally based. During my bachelors, I began to offers eight guidelines for improving your writing technique - make a plan, use a
write more scientic fi papers on experiments that I had personally conducted. I felt legible layout, use paragraphs, write simple sentences, write positive sentences,
that my scientic fi writing was not perfect, but at least clear and, most importantly, write active sentences, omit needless words, and read and think about your work. I
followed grammatical and scientic fi writing rules. Writing always took me an ex - found these tips helpful, but as usual, easier said than done. It is important to n fi d a
ceptional amount of time, but was not extremely hard because I was able to reflect good website or book to consult in case you have questions about specic fi gramma -
upon the work I had done and the steps I took to complete projects or experiments. tical or punctuation rules. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers offers
During the past year of my master’s, I have had several assignments in which I was extensive content on the mechanics of writing.
to make a presentation and write an essay summarizing scientic fi articles. At r fi st, The book also includes advice on citing sources, an issue with which I often found
it did not seem very challenging. Then I realized that it is very hard to write about myself struggling. As it can vary from course to professor to topic, I was never cer-
a topic that is difc fi ult to comprehend and is something on which you have not tain which style to use for citations. However, it is typically acceptable to use inline
personally worked. The assignments also raised my awareness on the differences citations. A few examples are as follows (Department of Biology, GMU):
between good articles and overly complicated and incoherent writing. I recognized • „Smith (1983) found that N-fixing plants could be infected by several different
that I did not want to make the same mistakes in my writing and needed advice on species of Rhizobium.“
how to write scientic fi summaries. Apart from attending a research-skills course in • „Walnut trees are known to be allelopathic (Smith 1949, Bond et al. 1955, Jones
which one discussion session was about scientic fi writing, I browsed the Internet for and Green 1963).“
tips and consulted a few books to refresh upon the basic rules of writing. • „Although the presence of Rhizobium normally increases the growth of legumes
(Nguyen 1987), the opposite effect has been observed (Washington 1999).“
Writing scientic s fi ummaries Speaking of citations, this is probably a good time to mention that it is very impor-
In my search, I found the following statement regarding professors’ perspectives on tant to learn a program to assist with keeping a digital bibliography and composing
student writing: “They agree that the r fi st step is to have a solid understanding of your report. One such writing program is LaTex, which can be downloaded from the
the science. Therefore, reading comprehension is one key factor in effective wri- Internet. Once you learn how to use it, it eases the pain of formatting documents
ting” (Department of Biology, GMU). It is very obvious to professors when students and can also store citation information from scientic w fi orks.
do not understand the topic on which they are writing; therefore, it is important to
begin conducting your research as early as possible, and conduct further research Lessons learned from the scientic w fi riting discussion
on subtopics that you do not fully understand. Do not try to simply extract sen- As mentioned, some of this research was done while preparing topics for discussion
tences from the article you are summarizing. Maintain and build a large vocabula- in a research-skills course. During the session, we also discussed some other impor-
ry, use a systematic reading technique, and re-read information when you notice tant tips for writing and went through some examples of how to improve sentences.
you have not fully understood (Martin, 1991). Verbally explain what you have read To clarify, the focus of the session was mainly about writing scientic fi articles on
to someone before you begin writing (Department of Biology, GMU). Whether you your own work, not writing scientic fi summaries. To overcome your writer’s block,
have to give an oral presentation on the topic or not, talking about it with others start with the g fi ures that you want to include (or think you want to include) in your
helps to assess whether you have truly understood it. I think it is also important report. Think about how they are connected and what you want to convey; howe-
to read other articles relating to the topic, even if you do not include them in your ver, do not describe them in detail in your writing. After considering your g fi ures,
summary, just to be sure that you have a r fi m grasp on the material. Basically, do tell a story about your work, but do not write a crime story in which you wait until
Scientific writing Scientific writing the very end to convey the main information. Ensure that your story makes one
point. Perhaps it is better to consider the title of your work even before the main
content in order to conr fi m what point it is that you truly want to make.
In writing your story, always remember where you are and remember to keep the
emphasis at the end of sentences or paragraphs. Stick with one tense in your report
and ensure symmetry in writing.
Ready to start writing?
I cannot say whether or not this essay will really assist in your scientic fi writing
skills, but sometimes it is helpful to read about writing before actually doing it, to
overcome initial barriers of where to start. Read many scientic fi articles as well as
other documents to build your vocabulary, but keep sentences simple and do not
use big words simply for the sake of sounding intelligent. Keep a writing workbook
on hand in case you do not know if you need a comma or a semicolon. Finally, learn
to use a writing program because when you have a deadline, you do not want to
spend hours trying to format your g fi ures so that they are all aligned perfectly and
numbered correctly. In summary, my advice for surviving your masters is to learn
the scientic fi jargon and learn to talk to people about scientic fi topics. If you are
able to express yourself in speaking, then you can certainly achieve the same in
Department of Biology, GMU. (n.d.). A Guide to Writing in the Biological Sciences -
Practical Tips for Scientic W fi riting. (G. M. University, Producer) Retrieved Septem -
ber 5, 2010, from Department of Biology:
Martin, D. (1991). How to Improve Reading Comprehension. Retrieved Septem-
ber 4, 2010, from How to be a Successful Student: http://www.marin.edu/~don/
Skern, T. (2009). Writing Scientic E fi nglish - A Workbook. Vienna, Austria: Facultas
Verlags- und Buchhandels AG.
The Modern Language Association of America. (2009). New York, New York, USA: The
Modern Language Association of America. Maria Koon is a 2 year master’s student in the SICSS program. She completed her
bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at Clemson University in Clemson, SC
USA. She will begin her master’s thesis in March 2011 on “The Characterization of
the Hydrothermal Carbonization Process for Biochar Production.”
Scientific writing Publishing It is furthermore wise to submit your paper to the journal that inspired you to pur-
Wenke Wegner sue the research you are trying to publish.
One of the r fi st things that I was told when I started my PhD was that an important Formatting and submitting
part of it is having my n fi dings published. At that point, publishing felt like it was It is common for each journal to have its own format for papers (at least in the e fi ld of
ages away. Still, I had all these questions in my mind: Why exactly should I publish? economics). You should therefore keep your writing in a manuscript style so that it is
Where and how could and should I publish? easy to adjust to the journal’s request or their given style lfi e. You should then submit
To help answer these questions, I talked to my colleagues and supervisor. They your work to the journal that you think would be most appropriate for your paper. Usu-
gave me reasonable answers, for example on why I should publish my results. They ally, journals want you to sign that you have not submitted your paper elsewhere.
r fi st of all mentioned that the publication of scientic fi results in refereed journals CHOOSE AN EDITOR: Choosing an editor for your manuscript is important because the
is an essential part of the scientic fi process and a scientic fi career. One can say right editor can make a crucial difference in whether or not your paper will be pu-
that publication is the researches n fi al payoff. Publishing gives you the chance to blished.
get critical comments from members of the scientic fi community other than your The managing editor is normally a full-time paid professional, whereas editors are
advisor. In addition, most thesis regulations call for at least one published paper. usually unpaid volunteer scientists. The managing editor is normally not involved in
My supervisor said that one of the most appropriate reasons for publishing the the acceptance-rejection decision.
research results is to tell others about it. You may have important things to say, or
to teach others, and scientists may build their ideas upon your methods or results. Submit the paper
The next step is to then think about how and where to publish. I again talked to When submitting your paper you should often include a cover letter. Write this
some colleagues and others who where more experienced than I. I summarize the letter with great care, as it will form the basis for the editor’s r fi st impression of
answers in the following as a kind of manual. It will slightly differ from research you and your work. Be sure you spell the editor’s name correctly. In the letter,
area to research area (my knowledge is based on the economics literature), but the name the journal and say something nice about why it is the appropriate place to
main steps will be the same. publish your paper. You should include your postal and email address, as well as
your phone number.
Write When your paper arrives at the journal’s ofc fi e, the managing editor makes some
The r fi st thing to do is to start writing. It will not be perfect in the beginning but it preliminary decisions. He checks if the manuscript is concerned with a subject
is a start. You should also remember to focus on the reader, because the reason for area that meets the main topics of the journal. He examines if the form of the
writing is to communicate with other people. Keeping that in mind will help you manuscript is suitable to the editorial style of the journal. He then selects and asks
avoid becoming too concerned with an abstract discussion of your topic. To learn the reviewers if they will take the paper for peer review.
more about this specic fi topic, you should read the essay on ‘Scientic fi Writing’
included in this handbook. Response from the editor/reviewer
„The r fi st thing to remember is that submission of a serious scientic fi paper to a sci -
Choose the journal entic fi journal establishes the author as a citizen of the scientic fi community with
The objective is to n fi d a journal that fits the topic of your paper best (and not the all the rights and privileges thereof. So hold your head high and refuse to be exe-
other way around). This choice depends on the length of the paper, the audience cuted without a fair trial in which the evidence against you is clearly presented and
you would like to reach, the money you are willing to spend, how interdisciplinary you have the opportunity to state your case on an equal level with the referee‘s
the paper is, and so on. If your paper has to be published swiftly, then you should indictment.“( Parker 1997)
look for journals that do so. When you read the table of contents of the journal
you will get a feeling for who has published there and what the main topics are. It Remember that a harsh reviewer’s criticism means that your paper most likely
would also be a good idea to check the mission statement or the goal of a journal. contains something nontrivial. There are four possibilities when receiving your
Publishing Publishing paper back. One possibility is that it has been ‘accepted’. In that case, take a day
off and reward yourself with some ice cream. Unfortunately your receiving this
answer is highly unlikely. The other possibility is that ‘minor revisions’ are re-
quested. In this case, the reviewer points out some small mistakes, which can be
easily corrected. The third option is that ‘major revision’ is required. In that case
you have to revise your paper. You should then take a deep breath, and calmly
evaluate the comments made by the reviewers. Go through the review report
point by point. Start with the comments and suggested changes that make the
most sense to you and adjust your paper accordingly. If a reviewer misunderstood
you, try to determine why he did so and think about whether you can make it
easier for readers to understand. Did the reviewer misunderstand you because
he is a blockhead, or did you not make it clear enough? In most cases, reviewers
have positive intentions; they actually want to critique the paper in a constructive
manner, to improve it. The last possible answer is a ‘rejection’. If that happens you
should consider submitting the paper to another journal.
In your letter to the editor you should respond to each of the reviewer’s comments
and indicate acceptance of the suggestions. If you choose not to accept one of a
reviewer’s comments, you should indicate why not. Try to avoid anger in your re-
How often can one resubmit the paper to a certain journal? Some journals do not
have a limit on resubmitting papers. However, if you rewrite it over and over again,
it will at some point no longer be your own work. Another crucial point is that your
paper will not be up-to-date anymore, once you have resubmitted it a couple of
times. At some point, you may want to think about choosing a different journal.
These are the most important steps in the process of publishing. As these steps
vary between research el fi ds, always ask your fellow PhD students in your el fi d of
research who have already published papers, or your supervisor for more specic fi
help. This den fi itely helped me in the beginning, and the goal of getting my n fi dings
published does not seem so far away anymore.
E. N. Parker (1997), The Martial Art of Scientic P fi ublication, Eos 78, 393–395.
Robert A. Day (1979), How to write and publish a scientic p fi aper,
Cambridge University Press. Wenke Wegner is a 3 year PhD student at SICSS. Her graduate degree is in mathe-
matics and economics. In her PhD, she investigates power and responsibility in
Ann M. Körner (2008), Guide to Publishing a Scientic Pa fi per, Routledge. environmental policy making.
Publishing Paper reviews of criticisms. Such critiques must not be taken personally. It is always hard to be
Oliver Krüger criticized. It is even harder when you identify with your work. But a review should
never be so overwhelming that it may spoil your mood – a lesson I had to learn
This text is inspired by “The Martial Art of Scientic fi Publication” by E.N. Parker and in the beginning.
the discussion in the research-skills course. I merely write about the things that
I have experienced, and the text is thus biased. I do not intend to give objective Addressing reviews and revising the manuscript will consume a fair amount of time.
advice. Instead, I write about the lessons that I have learned and that readers can Nevertheless, sometimes all the effort and time seems to be pointless when the
probably learn from. paper is completely rejected in the end. Then, authors are still free to submit to a
different journal, or perhaps even need to reconsider whether that particular publi-
Paper reviews can be pure pain – if you‘re not prepared. I still remember the r fi st cation is worth the time and continued struggle.
review I received. Back then I was a very inexperienced student and in the process
of writing my diploma thesis. My supervisor and I summarized the early content of When you review a paper, there are some important questions you need to ask
the thesis and submitted it to a journal. Four weeks later, the reviews were in my yourself, namely: How can you help the authors to make the paper better? How
mailbox. At that moment, I shouldn‘t have read the reviews. They upset me. Ho- would you improve the manuscript, and what advice would you give the authors?
nestly, I wasn‘t prepared and didn‘t know what to expect from the reviews. Funnily, That is to say, the focus should lie on the evaluation of the article, and on putting it
the two reviews held completely different opinions of my work. One recommended into a scientic fi context. Both strengths and weaknesses should be pointed out and
a publication with minor revisions; the other rejected the paper. Also, while the a conclusion should be reached. Based on this conclusion, the reviewer eventually
r fi st review was quite objective, the second was not. Instead, his or her comments judges the manuscript whether or not it is publishable. Does the article tell a com-
made me wonder whether the reviewer had actually read the manuscript. At that plete story? Does it contribute to the knowledge on a specic fi el fi d? Is it scientic fi ally
time, which was stressful anyway due to my thesis, I did not expect such condensed sound? Are the right references cited?
criticism of my work at all, and the reviews put me in a bad mood. After several
talks with my advisor, and one n fi al call not to allow myself to be deeply affected by These questions can only be addressed after the article has been carefully read. I
these reviews, I revised the paper. Later on, we resubmitted it to the same journal. once received a response where one reviewer raised a point that had already been
I did not expect the paper to be accepted. In the end, it was rejected due to space discussed in my article. If he had read the manuscript carefully he could have saved
limitations, although the reviews were more positive than before. the time needed to discuss this point extensively. He even came to the same con-
clusions as we did. I was quite amused by his advice that we should include this in
Unfortunately, some reviewers keep forgetting how their reviews affect the actual our paper. Nevertheless, we revised the sentences that dealt with this point. When
writers. In that sense, both authors and reviewers need some rough advice to cope a reviewer is not able to grasp the whole meaning, a revision is benec fi ial and seems
with reviews. In the following, I r fi st seek to give some advice to authors of ma - unavoidable, if only to further clarify specic fi points. Doing so will hopefully prevent
nuscripts. Afterwards, I address some of the issues that reviewers face. other readers from misunderstanding the manuscript.
Handling reviews is fairly easy, although my experience above seems to state other- Reading carefully does not necessarily mean that a reviewer should take as much
wise. Authors should understand reviews as one part of a discussion. Reviewers time as wanted. In fact, a reviewer usually faces a deadline by which an article
raise points to which authors need to respond. should be read and evaluated. Reviewing is work that consumes time beyond one’s
The author might then admit that a particular fact has simply been forgotten, or normal workload. In that sense it might be handy to get the review done quickly.
that certain issues were underrepresented in the manuscript. Rejecting sugge- Furthermore, if the review is done in a timely manner, it will help you to build a
stions can also be an option. However, authors always need to describe changes, reputation as a good reviewer. Reviewing speedily can only be achieved if the revie-
and discuss and justify their points. I find it easier to handle reviews if I see the wer always keeps the previously mentioned tasks in mind. The question of how the
points raised as suggestions for an improvement, even if the review is just a series paper could be improved cannot be addressed when the reviewer starts to nitpick.
Paper reviews Paper reviews Does it make sense to reproduce results to the fourth decimal place? Maybe. Even
when the estimated uncertainty associated with the datasets used is much higher?
Maybe not. Does the reviewer need to address points like “in line 4, ‘their’ should
be ‘there’”? Den fi itely not. There are other people that tackle spellcheck issues. So -
mething of that kind should only be mentioned if the readability of the manuscript
is seriously affected. The authors and editors will also be grateful if the review is
brief. It is easier to address points as an author or to come to a decision as an editor
if the review doesn‘t stretch for 16 pages. A condensed conclusion with a precise
recommendation is the ideal review.
Of course, a reviewer is free to write and recommend anything wanted, even further
experimentation or more citations. A recommendation for further research is always
useful, however it is often not necessary. For instance, one reviewer wanted me to
compare my results to those of a different method. I believe that the suggestion
would have been very useful, if I had been able to do so. The problem was that the
other method was only roughly, moreover imprecisely described in a paper, and
relied on numerical models that were specic fi ally designed for that analysis. In my
reply to the review I mentioned that I was unable to carry out the same analysis
with my model for the above-mentioned reasons. The reviewer was satise fi d and
admitted that it would not have been possible to carry out such an analysis, which
was beyond the scope of the presented paper.
Besides recommendations, I strongly suggest reviewers to be positively minded and
to watch the tone of their language. First, every serious manuscript has strengths
besides weaknesses. Even if the paper cannot be recommended for publication, the
strengths should be emphasized to encourage authors to continue their work – not
to discourage them. It does not help to just give a series of criticisms. Second, every
disapproval can be expressed in a polite way. Instead of writing that reading has
been “a waste of time,” the reviewer should give some advice on how to improve
the manuscript and do so in a friendly manner.
By the way, I used both rounds of reviews written about in the beginning to im-
prove my thesis, which we later again condensed into a new paper. We submitted
this version to a different journal, from which we soon afterwards received the
reviews. The reviews were surprisingly constructive and positive. I do not want Oliver Krüger is currently a 2 year PhD student at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geest-
to emphasize this point, but it makes a difference: Constructive reviews make it hacht and a member of SICSS. He graduated in Meteorology from the University of
easier to motivate yourself in your continued work on a subject. In my case, these Hamburg in 2009. Oliver‘s research mainly deals with pressure-based proxies for
reviews helped me to get through the publication process – the paper has since storm activity. In particular, he evaluates the informational value of these proxies
been published. for assessing past storminess.
Paper reviews What is networking and what role does it have in results to someone are proactive decisions you make. Although there is no gol-
a scientic c fi areer? den way to foster useful contacts, it is helpful to think about the profitability and
Laura Niederdrenk potential advantages of contact before putting too much effort in maintaining a
connection to a specic p fi erson.
While thinking about the question of why having a network is important, I had to
ask myself what exactly networking means. It is obvious that a network is important Certainly, such a network is necessary for n fi ding future positions. If nobody knows
not only for your scientic fi career, but also on a daily scientic fi working basis. You you and you do not know anyone, it is not only more difc fi ult to n fi d interesting
can network during conferences, workshops, or summer schools, and n fi d contacts positions; it is also more difc fi ult to successfully complete the application process.
in many meetings, but what precisely does a network imply? Does a network always This does not mean that you cannot n fi d a job without knowing someone, but, as
have to be built around you? Or could you simply adopt an already existing one, for mentioned before, it can make things easier. If people remember you from a con-
example, that of your supervisor? Is it even the task of your supervisor to network ference and if they know about your publications before receiving an application,
for you? It depends on your den fi ition. However, everyone is supposed to have his they might know in advance whether you are promising for this or that position.
or her own network. This might mean basically that one should have contacts to Additionally, you can tell people before n fi ishing your PhD thesis what type of po -
different scientists, who can be other students, post-docs, or senior scientists from sition you are interested in, or more precisely, in which el fi d you plan to work af -
your own institute and from others, in Germany or abroad. In any case, they should terwards. Often, people keep you in mind and if they have or hear about a position,
all have in common one thing: their work should somehow be related to yours. they might contact you before it is announced.
When I started my PhD one and a half years ago, I was completely new to the el fi d, Telling people what you plan to do after your Ph.D. implies that you are thinking
which meant basically that I did not know anyone from this community, where eve- about your future scientic c fi areer now, while writing your thesis.
ryone seems to know everyone else. Now, I already have the feeling that not only do Do not start with that too late, because in the last months before handing in your
I know some of these scientists, but that they also know me. thesis you will surely be too busy with other things. About one year before you plan to
have n fi ished your thesis seems to be a good point in time to start n fi ding out where
But why is having a network important? The answer is simple: It makes things ea- you see yourself afterwards, and begin talking to other people about it. Open your
sier. When you try to n fi d a job or a project, it is necessary that you know people to eyes to new opportunities and reflect what a future position should bring with it.
ask for advice. If you do not know anyone, it is much more difc fi ult to n fi d an expert
when needed. You can start collaborations with other scientists, either by joining Is there the perfect scientic fi career? And what does that mean: what is a “perfect
projects and working closely together with others, or by discussing your results with scientic fi career?” The path, at least in Germany, and at least in the r fi st steps, seem
someone not directly involved in your research. Such an external point of view can to be clear: Master of Science or Diploma, PhD, post-doc and then after that it be-
be helpful in many situations. Furthermore, you might receive new input for your comes unclear. There follows somehow an ‘academic career’. You have to g fi ure out
work as well as broaden your mind in different el fi ds. It is obvious that you can on your own if you see yourself on that track. If so, you need to take a closer look at
n fi d and keep such contacts during conferences or workshops, etc. At the begin - your interests. Do you want to specialize in a el fi d closely related to that of your PhD
ning, when you are new to a el fi d, it might be easier to open the door to a specic fi work? What parts of your work do you like most? What would you like to learn more
community while presenting on small specialized workshops or informal meetings, about and what would you like to avoid if possible? It is also possible to change
rather than while participating in one of the big conferences. Last month, for exa- your scientic fi el fi d of interest with the r fi st post-doc position. There are plausible
mple, I participated in a small workshop with a very specic fi topic. I had the chance arguments for and against changing your el fi d. Insisting on a specic fi topic means
to have interesting discussions with experts in my el fi d, which probably would not increasing your specialization with time. Changing to a new el fi d can broaden your
have been possible at a big conference with a more strict and dense timetable. knowledge and allows you to gain insight into different perspectives on a scientic fi
However, you can also contact authors of interesting papers or go to talks and se- problem. Either way, be aware of your personal and scientic fi advancement! It is
minars. The crucial point is that networking is an active process. One cannot say, not enough to answer the same research questions as before, with more detail.
“Today I will network,” but writing an email, asking for an opinion, or sending your Something new must begin.
Networking Networking The university structure as an employer for scientists in Germany is changing ra-
pidly, and there remain possibilities for a scientic fi career outside the university, in
non-university research institutes, for example. There are numerous governmental
and inter-governmental research institutes searching for young researchers. Do not
forget to keep your mind open to such possibilities as well. Until now, the positions
at universities often imply a teaching role, which is very nice with respect to getting
new and fresh input from motivated young people, but can be long-lasting in the
sense that you have less time to do research. In the U.S., there are permanent po-
sitions for researchers, called principal investigators, as an alternative track to the
Think about your interests in detail, for example, whether you would like to teach
or not, and do not postpone this planning on your personal way n fi ding the perfect
scientic fi career, which den fi itely looks different for each of us! Talk to your col -
leagues and other scientists about their experiences and use your network to n fi d
out what you would like to do. And last but not least, besides all this thinking about
career plans, do not forget to trust your gut.
Laura Niederdrenk is a 2 year PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for Mete-
orology and a member of SICSS. She has studied mathematics and psychology in
Freiburg and Madrid. After her university studies, she changed to oceanography
and is now concerned with the Arctic hydrologic cycle and its variability.Interdisciplinarity How to become a good interdisciplinary researcher.
Alexandra Kroll A good interdisciplinary researcher needs adequate and profound knowledge in his
discipline, and also a broad understanding of other disciplines. How can we ar-
Why work across disciplines? chieve this? Is it better to have a multidisciplinary education (for example, via a
Because the core research within the disciplines is already done; Because questions liberal arts education), which combines different research disciplines, and become
which involve more than one discipline and which interact between traditional dis- a specialist afterwards? Or is it better to have a traditional education in a specic fi
ciplines have become more pressing; Because fundamental concerns like environ- discipline (chemistry or physics) to achieve a deep-reaching knowledge in one field
mental issues, sustainability, or poverty cannot be answered by disciplinary work, and get in touch with other disciplines afterwards?
and we need a common interdisciplinary strategy. As the philosopher Karl Popper
put it, “We are not students of some subject matter but students of problems.” I don‘t know what is better. I had a multidisciplinary education, and thus I came
into contact with the different disciplines of natural sciences very early. During my
What is interdisciplinarity? studies, I learned that when physicists and biologists use exactly the same word
Interdisciplinarity crosses traditional borders among academic disciplines or schools they might mean something very different. There are even differences within one
of thought. It addresses questions and issues that cannot be answered by one of discipline: for example, the time for adding the “internal standard” to a sample in
the traditional disciplines. In contrast to multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity is organic and inorganic chemistry is different.
not additive, but is instead incorporative. Therefore, during interdisciplinary work,
the disciplines work together and intertwine with each other. The aim of interdis- Moreover, I learned that (1) it is necessary to have broad interests in adjacent disci-
ciplinary efforts is the connection of knowledge and methods from which synergies plines and (2) it is easier to communicate with people who are right at the beginning of
arise, and in turn answer a scientic q fi uestion at hand. their research life. With enthusiasm and interest for different disciplines, it becomes
much more easy to get in contact with people from other disciplines than thinking
Following this den fi ition, interdisciplinary work could be done by one individual one‘s own discipline is the one and only true study. If you do think along these lines,
who is familiar with at least two disciplines, or by a team of people of different people become incommunicative and uncooperative and any cooperation becomes
disciplines. Probably, the cooperation of different people more efc fi iently results impossible. Communication with people right at the beginning of their research life is
in synergetic effects than the work of one individual. This means that completing something different than the communication with senior researchers: the ‘beginners’
interdisciplinary work as a single person is possible, but not as efc fi ient as working are not that deep into their e fi ld and they can still imagine what the problems are
together with other researchers. for outsiders. Senior researchers, who are not used to interdisciplinary work and have
worked on one specic fi issue a long time, may suppose too much expert knowledge
What are the basic prerequisites for interdisciplinary work? and don‘t have the holistic view needed for interdisciplinary communication.
Interdisciplinarity requires critical reflection on one’s discipline. In particular, the
power and the boundaries of the own discipline must be formulated and must be What are the challenges of interdisciplinary work?
related to the strategies of the cooperating disciplines. Implicit assumptions about Working across disciplines in a team can easily lead to misunderstandings or mis-
one’s own discipline must be made explicit. Through this process, it becomes pos- communication. For example, the interpretation of research questions could be
sible to familiarize other people – who have no background in the el fi d – with different or den fi itions and terms could be used differently. Maybe two disciplines
the basic concepts of the discipline. Some might say that a critical reflection on have different den fi itions for one and the same issue. I have experienced this type
one‘s own discipline is time consuming and annoying, but it is necessary to relate of misunderstanding when using the same terms despite meaning something diffe-
and classify the interdisciplinary research topic within the cooperating disciplines. rent several times during my studies. Sometimes it takes a while to recognize.
A critical reflection reveals the abilities, the differences, the similarities, and the
boundaries of the cooperating el fi ds. Even the explanation of one’s own discipline Not only can communication be a challenge, prejudices may also exist. Prejudices
and the learning of other disciplines could stimulate further research. might concern the methods, the procedures, or the basic competence of the foreign
Interdisciplinary work Interdisciplinary work discipline. These prejudices should be corrected as far as possible, because other- time, interdisciplinary issues tend to become a new el fi d of their own or even re -
wise there is no chance for successful cooperate and interdisciplinary work! place an existing el fi d. For example, biotechnology is now accepted as a discipline
on its own, resulting from interdisciplinary work in biology and engineering. In such
Also, there could be a lack of the theoretical and methodological knowledge neces- a case, the interdisciplinary researchers become the specialists in this new field.
sary, and which must be communicated – very likely more than once. For example,
imagine the following problem: you are working together with someone who mea-
sures something during an experiment. For your work, you need his results but in a
different unit than measured. You cannot properly convert the measured unit into
the one you need, because you need additional information about conditions during
the experiment, which were not measured and cannot be reconstructed afterwards.
Therefore, the results are useless for your work. Imagine further you explained the
problem to your team partner in advance and he appreciated the problem. In the
future, you can be sure that you will have to communicate this issue more than once
with him, because the experimenter has measured this same way for a long time. In
essence, keep communicating and don‘t get tired of it!
Also, the usual group challenges can occur, which appear in the course of coopera-
tion, like problems with team coordination and planning.
For individuals, the challenge can be fully comprehending the other el fi d. For exa -
mple, some may be unable to judge the quality of results due to a lack of familiarity
with the other disciplines, or they may not recognize the relevance of the know-
ledge from other disciplines. This could be overcome by work based in interest in the
other field and, again, by communicating with the working partner.
What does it all mean?
Overall, I would like to mention the most important requirements for people who
would like to complete interdisciplinary work, and those are: (1) broad interests in
other disciplines, and (2) proper communication within the team (that also implies
the willingness to explain a lot, most likely more than once).
If these requirements are fulfilled, one can gain a lot from interdisciplinary work:
one can learn techniques and methods from other fields, achieve broader know -
ledge, develop new opinions, and appreciate different points of view. Thereby, Alexandra Kroll is a 2 year PhD student at the Institute for Hydrobiology and
one has new ideas and it stimulates research in its whole and raises new re- Fisheries Science and a member of SICSS. She studied at the Institute for Chemistry
search questions. Moreover, you become able to achieve results by working in and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM) at the University of Oldenburg,
an interdisciplinary field: results which you could not achieve by working in one where she received a Diplom in Marine Environmental Sciences. In her PhD, she
discipline. investigates the regulation of phytoplankton blooms by life cycle events by im-
Besides that, working across disciplines is often only a transient phenomenon: with plementing numerical models.
Interdisciplinary workInterdisciplinary work central questions of one field, researchers are now confronted with problems
Christine Radermacher that cross the borders of their fields. Specifically, the need for a growing socioe -
conomic component in earth system sciences arises due to changes in the climate
Interdisciplinary research seeks to combine different scientific fields to solve pro - system – whether or not induced anthropogenically – and their impacts on so-
blems that single disciplines fail to handle by themselves. In my PhD studies, I am ciety. Unlike the old discoverers, we not only see our earth and the universe as
concentrating on the climate modeling of extreme precipitation events. Moreo- a whole, but we face ourselves interacting with the climate system. These shifts
ver, I am working in a project that focuses on the assessment of landslide risks in scientific thinking make it necessary to find a way to communicate efficiently
at present and in the future. Climate scientists (like myself) and geologists are across the fields.
working together across our disciplines. Through my project work, I have alrea-
dy earned some knowledge about interdisciplinary research that enables me to But how can we achieve efficient communication? During my first project mee -
share my experiences. tings, I sometimes felt uncomfortable communicating my work. I had the feeling
that I was still very inexperienced, and was thus afraid that I would be unable to
Although the disciplines that are involved in this project represent different give the right answers to questions from senior experts, although they were from
aspects of the geosciences, the scientific knowledge of people working in the - different fields. This feeling might seem familiar to many PhD students, especially
se fields hardly overlaps. On my first project meetings, for instance, I faced the in the beginning of their doctoral studies. Just remember: When you work in an
real challenge that is communication. Just imagine the word ‘model’! Different interdisciplinary project and explain something from your field to people from a
communities use this expression for very different things, with very different different field, you are likely the most experienced person in the room. In this
requirements and possibilities. Not communicating accurately about such terms situation you are the expert on the topic.
can lead to misunderstandings that may have far-ranging consequences for the
outcomes of the project. But why is communication so difficult for scientists no - In giving oral presentations about my work at project meetings, I realized that
wadays? Has it always been like that? it is worth the time to explain even the simplest facts about the model, or the
methods I used. Otherwise, misunderstandings and mislead expectations about
When I think about the history of natural science, great names like Nicolas Coper- each other‘s work appeared very quickly. In order to prepare for a project mee-
nicus, Alexander von Humboldt, or Alfred Wegener come to mind – discoverers, ting, it can be helpful to ask yourself some questions: For which purposes are
for whom interdisciplinary work was a logical consequence of trying to under- other people using my results? Which additional information do they need to use
stand the world as a whole. Despite the interdisciplinary nature of their research, my results successfully? What are the aims of their contribution to the project?
their findings were the basis for specialized research. Specialized scientists of When you present your scientific results, it is important to prepare them in a way
later generations understood more and more about astrophysics and meteorolo- that people from the other disciplines can understand the essence of the results.
gy, about the nature of plate tectonics and the constitution of the earth. Today, Nevertheless, make sure not to lose important information due to oversimplifi -
many of the world‘s biggest riddles have been solved, but hundreds of puzzle cation. Obviously, this is a fine line. Ideally, people from each field would have
pieces still keep falling into place, contributing to a better understanding of our some prior knowledge in the fields they are cooperating with. Of course this is not
world and the universe. During the 20th century, science underwent a shift away easily achievable if the involved fields differ greatly.
from the pure understanding of the laws of nature towards a better understan-
ding of changes within the earth’s system, the role of humanity, and most recen- In my opinion, the greatest danger of interdisciplinary research is a loss of quality
tly, the impacts of climate change on human life. due to a lack of careful communication. In the ideal case, interdisciplinary research
would be synergetic, but if people are not able to n fi d a common language, inter -
As a consequence of this shift, people realized that scientists working in only one disciplinary research can easily become a step backwards. It seems important to
single field of research couldn’t tackle today‘s scientific problems. Instead, vario - me that knowledge is aggregated at a high level to maintain the credibility of the
us disciplines need to be connected with one another. Besides aiming at the very completed research, especially when information is passed on to policy makers.
Interdisciplinary work Interdisciplinary work If people accept the challenge of communication across fields, interdisciplinary
science can be a great success. For diverse scientific problems like climate change,
different perspectives and the connection of specialized knowledge can build the
basis for innovative solutions.
Christine Radermacher is a 2 year PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for
Meteorology in Hamburg and a member of the IMPRS-ESM. She obtained her gra-
duate degree in meteorology at the University of Bonn. In her PhD, she investi-
gates changes in extreme precipitation over Europe.Literature List just a few examples in essay form, by no means comprehensive
Careers outside academia
Academic careers & time-/self-management, work-life balance
• F inding Nonacademic Work Overseas, Robin Moriarty (2004, Feb., 16th), Chronicle of higher
• A Scientist by Choice, Edward N. Lorenz (1991). Kyoto award lecture. http://eapsweb.mit.edu/
• Q uasi-Academic Careers, Susan B. May (2009 Jul., 12th), Chronicle of higher education.
• A dvice for a Young Investigator, Santiago Ramon Y Cajal (1999). MIT Press. 172 pp. His advice
originally appeared in Spanish in 1897.
Susan B. May is the author, with Maggie Debelius, of „‘So What Are You Going to Do With
• Advice to a Young Scientist, Peter B. Medawar (1981). Basic Books. 128 pp.
That?‘: Finding Careers Outside Academia“.
• The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch (2008). Hodder & Stoughton. 206 pp.
• A n Open Letter to the Next Generation, James D. Patterson (2004, Jul.). Physics Today, p. 56-57.
• S cientist: Four Golden Lessons, Steven Weinberg (2003, Nov., 23rd). Nature, 426, 389.
• Interdisciplinary Research and Your Scientific Career, Richard M. Reis (2000, Sep., 29th),
• Tough Lessons for Survival in Hard Academic Times, John A. Duley (2004, Jan., 1st). Nature,
Chronicle of higher education. http://chronicle.com/article/Interdisciplinary-Research-/46386/
427, 13. (‘Correspondence’ to ‘Concepts’ essay by Weinberg).
R ichard M. Reis is author of “Tomorrow‘s Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Sci-
• St op Trying to Get Tenure and Start Trying to Enjoy Yourself, Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. (2008,
ence and Engineering”. He is also the moderator the biweekly Tomorrow‘s Professor Listser-
Sep. 22nd). Inside Higher Education. http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2008/09/22/le-
ve, which anyone can subscribe to.
wandowski (Substitute ‘getting tenure’ for ‘getting a PhD’).
• Triaging the Behindedness, Kim A. Kastens (2010, May, 5th). Blog.
http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/blog/2010/05/05/triaging-the-behindedness/ • M ama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life, Elrena Evans, Caroline
Grant (2008). Rutgers University Press. 288 pp.
• S olving a Work Problem, Virginia Valian (1985). In M. F. Fox (editor), Scholarly writing and
publishing: Issues, problems, and solutions (pp. 99-110). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. • M otherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientists Speak Out, Emily Monosson
Available from her website: http://maxweber.hunter.cuny.edu/psych/faculty/valian/valian.htm. (editor; 2008). Cornell University Press. 219 pp.
• I mpostors Everywhere, Richard Felder (1988). Chemical Engineering Education, 22(4), 168-169. • Karriere und Kind: Erfahrungsberichte von Wissenschaftlerinnen Nikola Biller-Andorno et
http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Columns/Impostor.html al. (editors; 2005). Campus Verlag. 328 pp.
Communicating with your advisor Literature on scientific writing (not in essay form)
• B As (Bad Advisors), FemaleScienceProfessor, (2009, Sep., 1st). Blog. • Scrutiny of the Abstract, Kenneth K. Landes (1952, Jul.). Geophysics, 17 (3), 645. Previously in
http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2009/09/bas.html AAPG Bulletin (1951), 35 (7).
Also available at: http://sepwww.stanford.edu/sep/prof/abscrut.html
• Try, Try, Try to Understand, FemaleScienceProfessor, (2010, Mar., 31st). Blog.
http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2010/03/try-try-try-to-understand.html • The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White (1918). Longman. 105 pp.
• St yle: Toward Clarity and Grace (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing), Joseph
M. Williams (1995). University Of Chicago Press. 226 pp.
• Ten Secrets to Giving a Good Scientific Talk, Mark Schoeberl and Brian Toon:
• The Martial Art of Scientific Publication, E. N. Parker (1997, Sep., 16th), Eos, 78 (31).
Also available at: http://aas.org/career/ArtofSciPub.php
Literature Literature Call for submissions: The Wladimir Peter Köppen Award
The Cluster of Excellence CliSAP, KlimaCampus, University of Hamburg honors out-
standing PhD theses in climate and earth system research with the Wladimir Peter
Köppen Award. The award grants 5000 Euros and is presented annually to talented
young academics who have completed their PhD work in the German-speaking
The dissertations can be in German or in English and should not date back more
than two years at the time of nomination. The candidates should not have yet
reached their 30th birthday at the time of completion. Supervisors, professors or
heads of the working groups can nominate appropriate dissertations and submit
them together with a letter of recommendation to the KlimaCampus. The CliSAP
Steering Committee selects the awardees on the basis of the recommendation of a
scientic j fi ury. The date for submission is the 31st of March of each year.
Dr. Ingo Harms
University of Hamburg
KlimaCampus, CliSAP Ofc fi e
D-20144 Hamburg, Germany
Tel. +49 (0)40 42838-4206
Fax +49 (0)40 42838-4938
KlimaCampus, University of Hamburg
Cluster of Excellence CliSAP
Johanna Baehr, Ute Kreis
Cluster of Excellence CliSAP
Stephanie Poschmann, Hamburg
Print run: 300
CO neutral printing
Hamburg 2011This handbook has been written by PhD and MSc students studying at the School
of Integrated Climate System Sciences (SICSS) and the International Max Planck
Research School on Earth System Modelling (IMPRS-ESM). The schools offer PhD
programs in climate sciences and earth system sciences, respectively, and are
committed to promoting young academics.
SICSS is part of the Hamburg Cluster of Excellence “Integrated Climate System
Analysis and Prediction”. It links climate system sciences such as meteorology,
physical oceanography and biogeochemistry in one curriculum. The school
integrates also social and economic sciences as well as peace and conifl ct research
and offers a Master`s and a PhD program.
IMPRS-ESM provides a high quality, modern and structured graduate education
as well as an active exchange program and networking opportunities to students
pursuing a doctoral degree in the emerging discipline of earth system modelling.