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Interview with Anna Hulda Ólafsdóttir

Today, I have a special guest for an interview at PhD Talk: Anna Hulda Ólafsdóttir. Anna is a Ph.D. student in Industrial Engineering at the University of Iceland, where she also works as a lecturer in System Dynamics. Outside of her academic achievements, Anna is a weightlifting champion and high-level Crossfit athlete, whom I’ve been following in her athletic endeavors for a while. She also has a 4-year-old daughter. You can find her on Facebook, Linked In and Instagram.

I always wondered how she combines her studies, teaching, family life with top-level sports, and some time ago, I approached her on Facebook to see if she’d be interested in my interviewing her – which resulted in this interview.

Can you give us a general overview of your activities?

I am a PhD student in Engineering at the University of Iceland. I am close to the finish line with my thesis and I plan on graduating in January. I recently was awarded with the international award as the IPMA young researcher of the year 2015. I teach System Dynamics at the University of Iceland. I’m a Mother of a 4 year old girl and live in Reykjavík with my husband. I compete at a high level in CrossFitt and weightlifting. I am also a CF L1 certificated and I coach at Crossfit Reykjavík.

I’m not a professional athlete so I do not have 24 hours in the day to train. I try to eat clean, mainly plant-based diet and focus my training sessions on Olympic weightlifting. I also love CrossFit and outside activities.

Current Job: I teach System Dynamics to masters students at the University of Iceland. I’m also a full time a PhD researcher at the University of Iceland. I also coach weightlifting and crossfit in Crossfit Reykjavík.
Current Location: Iceland
Current mobile device: Iphone 5
Current computer: MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
My current situation regarding my PhD is that I just handed in my last paper for my PhD thesis. At the moment I’m just tying up loose ends and finishing what needs to be finished in order for me to graduate. I plan on handing everything in before I leave to South Africa in the end of November. Then I should be able to defend my thesis in January if everything goes as planned.

Regarding sports my current situation is that I injured a ligament in my right hand so I’ve had to adjust my training accordingly. I even had to say no to the invitation to compete at the world championship in weightlifting that takes place in November, and some other fun competitions. The focus for me now is just fixing my hand and get back at it when I’m all good.

In my research, system dynamics are applied to evaluate aspects of a quality management in the construction industry. The main research questions covered are the following:
1) What variables are necessary to form a dynamic model of quality management in the construction industry?
2) How can the concept of an active quality management system be defined in relation to the construction industry?
3) What is the value of stakeholder GMB approach to form a causal loop diagrams in a messy non-corporative problem?
4) Can a system dynamic model be used to assist policy making for capital investments in a quality management system?
Results were reached with a three-layered study, i.e. with a quantitative background study in the Icelandic construction industry, with a stakeholder group model building sessions with highly influential stakeholders and with a case study of a construction project in Iceland. The core model was created in the second layer, in the GMB sessions. It was then adapted and illustrated with a case study of a construction work in Iceland. The model was used to assess the benefits of processes related to the quality management system.

Could you tell us some more about your achievements in Crossfit & weightlifting?
I went to the European regionals first in 2012, and then with my team in 2013 and 2015. We made it to the finals at the Crossfit Games in 2013. In 2014 I was 9th overall in the individual competition at the Regionals. In 2015 I placed 2nd at regionals with my team and we competed at the Games as well.

I also compete in weightlifting (60kg BW). I’ve been elected the female weightlifter of the year three times in a row in Iceland (2012, 2013 and 2014). I think I have broken Icelandic records in weightlifting about 34 times now (in -58kg category and -63kg category). I was the first Icelandic female to compete in the European championship in weightlifting and the first Icelandic female that placed on the podium in the Nordic championship in weightlifting. I was the Nordic champion in -58kg class in weightlifting in 2014.

How do you manage to combine university work, PhD studies, sports and motherhood? What does a typical day or week look like for you?
I just have a clear priority list. Of course motherhood is first, then University work and then my adventures in sports.

Nonetheless I try to squeeze in training sessions whenever I can. I usually take my gym bag with me in the car in the mornings when I go to work in the hope that I have the chance to jump in the box at some point. If the opportunity comes I use it. I am happy if I can train 3-4 times a week for an hour each time.

A typical day could be something like this: I wake up and drive to the Box for a short training session, then I drive to the University and teach and also try to work on my own research. Then at 4pm I drive home and get my daughter from kindergarten and take her to Gerpla where she trains Gymnastics between 5 and 6 pm. While she trains I work on my computer. On our way home we often swing by at our favorite restaurant, Gló, and grab a dinner to take home. Then we eat and have a little girl time and I put her to sleep and around that time my husband comes home from work.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
Stella, OmniGraffle, Endnote and Kaleidagraph.

Do you have a fixed workspace, or do you alternate between a home office, university office and lab?
I alternate between home office, university office that I have and my professor’s university office.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Sleep, train and drink coffee.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks? Do you use a similar method to keep an overview of your training and nutrition?
I use OneNote and my calendar to keep track of work things. I don’t really have an overview of my training but I use EatToPerform methods for nutrition.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life? Do you rely on technological tools, such as for example a heart rate monitor, in your training?

Not really.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I guess I’m stubborn. That sometimes help.

What do you listen to when you work?

It can be one of the following, depending on where I am: Study playlists on Spotify (acoustic music), my professor thinking, my husband playing from another room.

What are you currently reading?

Only articles at the moment. I was actually reading one written by one of my professors recently that actually looks like a book. It’s in the Geochemical Perspectives, Volume 3, number 2, October 2014 called Natural Resources in a Planetary Perspective . Written by Harald Sverdrup and Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?

I guess I’m an extrovert that started up as an introvert. I’ve always considered myself as an introvert but when my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, she passed away one month after her diagnostic and I decided I wanted to be more like her. She was what I would say an extrovert and a do-er. This life experience made myself realize how shaky life can be and how quickly it can vanish.

My mother was a real superhero, really athletic and accomplished woman and with her as a role model I try to make the best of all my days, both professionally, in sports and with my family.

What’s your sleep routine like?
It’s like any other engineers I guess, hehe… terrible. I go to bed way too late and I have to wake up far too early. My husband is a musician and he often has to play gigs over the weekends and therefore comes home in the middle of the night. I’m usually up when he comes home.

What does your training regimen look like?
Train whenever I can. Try to have it about 3-4 times a week for one hour each time.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Everything is possible.

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