February 03, 2020

The Best Way to Spend Bad Days by Maarten van Doorn

Lying in my bed, on my back, I can feel it: Today is going to be a shitty day.
I briskly turn on my side — a desperate attempt to go back to sleep and wake up again, and maybe, miraculously, feel good. It doesn’t work. I’m awake. The bed is uncomfortable. But the alternative — getting out from under the blanket and working on my dissertation — sounds even worse. In this moment, it feels pointless.
I’m not a stranger to mornings like this, when negativity spreads its message to my every cell. When you know you’re facing down a bad day, it can feel as though the motivation has drained from your body.
Keep going!

“When you’re thinking about your work and you feel an uncomfortable lack of excitement, that might say more about your current mental state than about your overall view of your job. Just because you don’t find yourself jumping out of bed on a daily basis doesn’t necessarily mean something is amiss in the grander scheme of things.
But that doesn’t help much in the short term — what if you, at this moment, are still stuck? If you’re waiting for inspiration to make you get out of bed, you’re being unfair toward inspiration. It needs a little help from your side. Inspiration will show up when you do.”

Read the full article on Medium, link: https://forge.medium.com/the-best-way-to-spend-really-bad-days-5d2e3e3be897


April 23, 2019


Ali shared various articles regarding the #MeToo movement in academia. They highlight the importance of raising awareness and appropriately dealing with sexual harassment in academics. Following interesting points are raised,

“Graduate students—who have little job flexibility, are often trapped at the same university for years, and depend on the support of a few key professors for career success—seem to face the most harassment.”

“Academia is an extremely hierarchical field. Professors with tenure have immense power, with the ability to determine the fate of graduate students and more junior faculty. “

“Ayesha Ramachandran, a comparative literature professor at Yale University, agrees that sexual harassment in academia is pernicious and difficult to address. “Power imbalances and the tightness of the job market are contributing factors, but the main issue, I think, is the blurry boundaries between personal and professional spheres,” she writes in an email to Quartz. Faculty often drink with students or invite them to their homes to work. “It’s also worth remembering that it is fairly recent to have women in the university and (especially) in positions of power,” she adds.

Still, as she describes in the Washington Post (paywall), Ramachandran is planning a grassroots series of conversations, panels, and lunches to discuss how sexual harassment could be better addressed in academia.

“We’re talking finally! And openly,” Ramachandran told Quartz. “We have to support and move that along strongly, not shut it down because the revolution hasn’t happened already,” she adds.”

For the complete post, visit this and this.

There is support available at Warwick to prevent sexual violence, hate crime and harassment. We are attaching the resources,



February 25, 2019

Stress…. Is it always a Villain?

by Ali Emad Abdelaziz

stress.. it is really a villain?

Earthquakes, wars, forced migration, deadly diseases, they are all stressful life-threating events that human nature would naturally try to avoid. The Tragic stories from the survivors of the Holocaust and of the 2004 Tsunami, and those of the forced migrants crossing the Mediterranean escaping the current civil war in Syria, all make professional psychiatrists and basically anyone assume that those individuals are suffering from a kind of trauma, depression, anxiety, distressing thoughts and disruptions in normal functioning. Or in other extreme cases develop post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). But do you think that someone can actually experience some positive effects out of these life-threatening events? Can someone grow out of this tragedy? Is it possible to conquer an experience and use it for the better?

George Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, published a seminal paper in 2004 where he provided and alternative hypothesis to the common belief that most individuals who experience life-threatening events suffer from trauma and stress and need medical intervention. He argued that the most of these studies are conducted on people who are receiving treatment or who experienced great trauma. He contended that the majority of those who experience adverse incidents would actually show resilience and an ability to maintain stable psychological levels of functioning. Earlier beliefs showed that resilience is rare. Almost a sign of heroism or that it might be a sign of pathology where people are faking good functioning, However, Bonanno argues that resilience is common and that actually unnecessary clinical interventions might actually interfere or undermine this natural resilience. This was supported by several studies on the survivors and bereaveds of the 9/11 attacks. Not only that, other psychologists showed that individuals can in fact show what is called Post-traumatic growth (PTG). This is a psychological change where individuals tend to experience better functioning out of the adverse experience (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). In a way that is akin to “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The individual finds a certain drive within experiencing the stressful event and bounces back stronger, with a refreshed view of life and sometimes better relationships with those around them.

The question then becomes: how do individuals reach these positive outcomes out of stressful experiences? Psychologists have tried to answer this question and they came up with different theories. Shelley Taylor’s (1983) cognitive adaptation theory suggests that traumatic events challenge’s ones self-esteem and self-mastery. And accordingly, the individual is motivated to restore this self-esteem and mastery through self-enhancing cognitions. In other words, the traumatized individual will try to gain control over these events and their life, and if not they will look for another aspect of their life to try to have control over. To support her theory, Taylor interviewed 78 women with breast cancer and some of those patients believed that they can prevent cancer from coming back by following the doctor’s treatment or by just having a positive attitude towards it. Another means is using self-enhancement where unrealistic bias towards one’s self is adopted and where illusions are created and believed. These illusions include making comparisons to others who are less fortunate in order to see one’s self in a more positive light.

Other explanations of PTG are personality-based. They suggest that people with more coping resources such as optimism, hardiness, coping skills and social network can get positive effects out of stress (Aldwin et al., 1996). In addition, some psychologists explain PTG as a (skill-)learning mechanism. A person who faced previous stressful events gets to learn coping skills and gain confidence in dealing with future stressful experiences. For example, a study among Holocaust survivors indicated that they had more life satisfaction and better stability than those who were not involved in the holocaust experience (Shanan and Shahar, 1983) .

So, when we extend this phenomenon and these theories to other domains of life, we can actually start to see some other interesting phenomena. Engaging in entrepreneurship or starting businesses is one of the decisions that involves such high risk and uncertainty, that it has been termed as “the plunge decision," (Dew et al., 2009). If you would question why would someone take this decision in normal circumstances, you could simply find answers such as necessity and unemployment or opportunities which are recognized and exploited by the entrepreneur.

But what if such a decision is taken in the midst of or after stressful events? The founder of Marks and Spencer, Michael Marks, was a refugee escaping the anti-Jewish violence in the Soviet Union. Whats app’s founder, Jan Koum and Google’s Sergey Brin, went through hard times with their families Fleeing the Soviet Union as well. How and why would they make these achievements with such hard beginnings?

Entrepreneurship in these cases can be seen as some from of PTG and a higher level of functioning. Someone who experienced stress due to forced migration, someone who lost their home, family, wealth and maybe other resources can see starting a business as a form of exercising control. As a way to achieve a sense of mastery to restore what they lost. If you were to have your own business, managing it and being responsible for other people, this can grant you the positive light you need to make up for losing control of the other parts of your life. Such as losing significant psychological and material resources after fleeing your home or during battling a deadly disease. Another explanation is that the individual engages in starting a business and being an entrepreneur as an active problem-focused way of coping with the adverse situation by acting to change the situation. It might also be an avoidance coping method that distracts the person from the stressful situation and hard reality they are living in. However, all of these explanations have not been scientifically studied yet.

Studies on the relationship between mental disorders and entrepreneurship have recently suggested that individuals with mental disorders can develop some coping and resilience skills that can help them become more successful entrepreneurs (Wiklund et al., 2018). Researchers found that entrepreneurs with dyslexia use the strategies they adopted earlier in their life to deal with dyslexia to better communicate and motivate their employees. This is in line with research showing that children with ADHD, who struggle during school, gain some creativity and risk tolerance abilities that makes them more resilient in college. While ADHD makes school and work experience harder, it has a certain power that can be harnessed for making better entrepreneurs (Wilmshurst et al., 2011). Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin group has both ADHD and dyslexia and he performed poorly at school that his headmaster told him he would either end up in prison or be a millionaire. We all know how that turned out, so far at least. The famous chef Jamie Oliver and the business man Alan Sugar, among other examples, are famous entrepreneurs with dyslexia.

I am not saying that someone would go on and seek extremely stressful and traumatic experiences as a push for growth. But the research outlined above shows us that we should not underestimate the potential of those who suffered or have been suffering from stressful situations. With the refugee crisis being one of the most critical global issues nowadays and their economic and social integration being looked at as a burden, we may want to look at this with a different lens. There is potential, power, creativity and resilience within those individuals that can actually be harnessed.

Stress need not be a villian. It can be a hero too!

Ali Emad Abdelaziz is a PhD researcher at the Warwick Business School. His research interests are entrepreneurship and innovation. You can find more about him here.

Ali penned down this for the blog Money on my mind. The blog is run by Merle van den Akker, another PhD student at WBS. She specialises in Behavioural Science.

February 04, 2019

PhD tips: The Difference Between Knowing the Name of Something and Knowing Something”

Shane Parri discusses useful tips by Richard Feynman about the joy of learning.

“Richard Feynman (1918-1988), who believed that “the world is much more interesting than any one discipline,” was no ordinary genius.”
“We take other men’s knowledge and opinions upon trust; which is an idle and superficial learning. We must make them our own. We are just like a man who, needing fire, went to a neighbor’s house to fetch it, and finding a very good one there, sat down to warm himself without remembering to carry any back home. What good does it do us to have our belly full of meat if it is not digested, if it is not transformed into us, if it does not nourish and support us?”

Read the full article on: https://fs.blog/2015/01/richard-feynman-knowing-something/

Favourite Feynman text, “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman”


January 21, 2019

Why smart people do foolish things?

Sorry for the late entry guys! A very happy new year and hope everyone had a great break!!

Research by Heather A. Butler discusses how smart people can do silly things! I am sure it will related for you guys!

"The advantages of being intelligent are undeniable. Intelligent people are more likely to get better grades and go farther in school. They are more likely to be successful at work. And they are less likely to get into trouble (e.g., commit crimes) as adolescents. Given all the advantages of intelligence, though, you may be surprised to learn that it does not predict other life outcomes, such as well-being. You might imagine that doing well in school or at work might lead to greater life satisfaction, but several large scale studies have failed to find evidence that IQ impacts life satisfaction or longevity. Grossman and his colleagues argue that most intelligence tests fail to capture real-world decision-making and our ability to interact well with others. This is, in other words, perhaps why “smart” people, do “dumb” things."

Read on the full article on: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-smart-people-do-foolish-things/

Have a great week guys! :D

December 21, 2018

PhD tips: the importance of stupidity!

An article written by Martin A. Schwartz on how stupidity is useful and productive!

“For almost all of us, one of the reasons that we liked science in high school and college is that we were good at it. That can’t be the only reason – fascination with understanding the physical world and an emotional need to discover new things has to enter into it too. But high-school and college science means taking courses, and doing well in courses means getting the right answers on tests. If you know those answers, you do well and get to feel smart.
A Ph.D., in which you have to do a research project, is a whole different thing. For me, it was a daunting task. How could I possibly frame the questions that would lead to significant discoveries; design and interpret an experiment so that the conclusions were absolutely convincing; foresee difficulties and see ways around them, or, failing that, solve them when they occurred?”

He also discusses how challenging research can be,

“First, I don’t think students are made to understand how hard it is to do research. And how very, very hard it is to do important research. It’s a lot harder than taking even very demanding courses. What makes it difficult is that research is immersion in the unknown. We just don’t know what we’re doing. We can’t be sure whether we’re asking the right question or doing the right experiment until we get the answer or the result. ”

And my favourite bit,
“The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.”

Happy holidays! :D

November 30, 2018

PhD tips: Twenty things I wish I’d known when I started my PhD

Writing about web page https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07332-x?fbclid=IwAR2DIsefiu2JJ5Px72KIspeOVAmsYqey5Vf4OGRTh16oMXKslPBPue-nhhM_

Ali shared a very interesting article with extremely helpful and related tips for PhD students. Some of the really interesting ones:

".. 5.“I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember it” is the biggest lie you can tell yourself! Write down everything you do — even if it doesn’t work. This includes meeting notes, method details, code annotations, among other things..."

"..19.Never struggle on your own. Talk to other students and have frank discussions with your supervisor. There’s no shame in asking for help. You are not alone.

20.Enjoy your PhD! It can be tough, and there will be days when you wish you had a ‘normal’ job, but PhDs are full of wonderful experiences and give you the opportunity to work on something that fascinates you. Celebrate your successes and enjoy yourself."

Go to this link to read the whole article: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07332-x?fbclid=IwAR2DIsefiu2JJ5Px72KIspeOVAmsYqey5Vf4OGRTh16oMXKslPBPue-nhhM_

Happy weekend!

Power to princesses with a PhD! :D

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