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I am Jeff Havixbeck and This is How I work

Today, I’m interviewing Jeff Havixbeck for the “This is How I Work” series. Jeff is currently a 3rd year PhD candidate at the University of Alberta studying immunology and cell biology, where he works primarily on the induction and regulation of inflammation with a focus on neutrophils. In 2014 he received the NSERC Vanier CGS scholarship to fund the completion of his PhD. You can find him on twitter @JJHavixbeck and @BackboneBiology.

Current Job: PhD Student at the University of Alberta
Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Current mobile device: iPhone 5
Current computer: Macbook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?

I am a 3rd year PhD candidate studying immunology. My project focuses on examining the contribution of neutrophils (white blood cells) to the induction and regulation of inflammation.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?

When it comes to data collection, I rely heavily upon flow cytometers and microscopes to help me analyze neutrophils and their cellular responses. I use a program called GraphPad Prism for my graphing and statistical analysis. I also use a program called Zotero when writing. Zotero is a free program that allows me to ‘cite while I write’. In addition, it also allows me to organize and store all of my papers automatically (simple one click download from online sources such as PubMed).

What does your workspace setup look like?

My workspace is relatively low tech- I typically bring only my iPad or Macbook to my lab at the University. I also generally use a second monitor at work. Stacks of paper surround me, albeit they are all organized!

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

My best advice is to learn how to manage your time effectively. In the early stages of my PhD I was constantly working evenings and many weekends to try and stay ahead of the curve. However, I quickly learnt how to manage my time, leaving plenty of time for extra curricular activities, all while staying productive in the lab.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I keep a whiteboard on my lab bench outlining all of my current projects and experiments to be done. This allows me to easily alter and update my future plans. I would take a picture, but that would give away all of my plans!

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I use my iPad as well, however, this is typically for personal use.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I believe that I pushed myself early in my degree to separate myself from the rest of the pack by learning how to ask the right questions. This has allowed me to push my research forward at a quicker pace than many others. In addition, I attribute much of my current success to common sense. Many people do not want to admit this, but I definitely believe that common sense has allowed me to work smarter than many others. There are far too many people, especially in science, who let common sense go by the wayside.

What do you listen to when you work?

I listen to a number of podcasts while I work. However, while I am writing manuscripts, I don’t typically listen to anything.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?

I am currently reading 3 books- The Double Helix, The Lean Startup, and The $100 Startup. I try and make every moment of my day productive in one way or another. I read during my commute time to and from work (25 minutes each way) as well as before bed.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?

I am an extrovert. This is a rather interesting question because I have never thought about how it influences my work habits. I would say being an extrovert has allowed me to push past my comfort zone and continually explore new opportunities. For example, I have volunteered with Let’s Talk Science, I run a scientific help site called Backbone Biology, and I will go out of my way to help other students. This has allowed me to establish many collaborations and projects outside my direct area of study.

What’s your sleep routine like?
I would say I average 6.5-7 hours a night. Typically from 12pm to 6:30/7am.

What’s your work routine like?

As a graduate student, I typically don’t have a daily work routine. I arrive at my lab around 8am and work until 5pm. I generally dedicated at least part of my morning (30 minutes or so) to read about finance, the markets, and business.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
The best advice I have received was to never let someone talk you into a PhD. There are far too many students that were talked into doing a PhD, only to regret it immensely later on. If you are planning to do a PhD, make sure it is your plan!

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