In the Zernike Institute Advent Calendar, we are presenting 24 short spotlights in December. In these specials, we highlight PhD students, postdocs, and technicians of our research groups - providing a glimpse into their typical day at work. In Episode 6 meet Henry de Vries.
Briefly describe your current position and role within ZIAM
I am a PhD candidate at the Micromechanics group at the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials working on computational modeling of transport through (artificial) nuclear pore complexes. I’ve also served as a PhD-sounding board member for ZIAM/FSE.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
This changed a bit throughout the years: pre-COVID I did a significant amount of teaching and supervision, and depending on the day of the week, I would often be occupied with a variety of teaching tasks, or research tasks. I ‘finished’ teaching before COVID started, and from that point on my days changed. Although the picture suggests that I work in a nicely organized office on campus, virtually all of my work for the past 1.5 years was done at home, since I mainly need a high-speed internet connection, an extra computer screen and a bit of coffee to do my work. Now that the end of my PhD is coming near, I spend the first hour or so of my day writing and editing while my mind is at its sharpest. After that, I start up my regular working day and briefly work on a mix of planning, small tasks, catching up on e-mail, and making sure that my simulations are still running smoothly. I divide the rest of the day into blocks, where I dedicate each block to a specific goal. I find that this keeps me focused on the things that matter. Most of the blocks consist of programming, where I prepare or analyze my simulations, or use computational tools to study proteins and their structures. Other blocks of time I spend by doing usual research activities like reading and/or writing papers, or meeting with colleagues, students, collaborators or supervisors.
What has been the biggest challenge you faced this year?
Like many of us, I realized -after- the lockdown restrictions were released a bit, how much I missed the office life: chatter, discussions, in-person meetings, etc. However, I think my big challenge (which quite frankly is still ongoing) is the combined process of finishing up a PhD while figuring out the next move. The end of a PhD is a crossroads in many ways (some may even wittingly label it an existential crisis) that encompasses many professional and personal choices. What do I (not) want to do? What am I good at? Stay an academic or not? What do I need to learn? Where to live? What is the meaning of life? Messi or Ronaldo? It took quite a lot of time, effort and introspection to find my (professional) identity besides being an academic, and at the moment of writing I feel I finally started to figure some of those things out.
You were a member of the ZIAM PhD sounding board, tell us a bit about what this means for you?
I remember being invited for a meeting between PhD-candidates and the scientific coordinator on how to distribute teaching loads more evenly among PhD students. Since I fell on the far side of the spectrum, having been a course developer and frequent supervisor, I felt that I had something to add to the discussion. I noticed that I enjoyed bringing in ideas on improving the workplace for my peers. When I heard that there was a spot opening up on the PhD sounding board for both ZIAM and the faculty, I decided to join, since I wanted to help out peers and university staff by thinking along. I sat on the sounding board for nearly two years and enjoyed helping the institute and faculty come up with ideas to improve the success and wellbeing of PhD-students.
Contact: Henry de Vries
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