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I am Veronika Cheplygina and This is How I Work

Today, I am inviting Veronika Cheplygina to be interviewed for the How I Work series. Veronika has a background in computer science. She completed her MSc studies at the Delft University of Technology in 2010, with a thesis project on automatically detecting outliers in images. From 2011 to 2014, Veronika was a PhD researcher at the Pattern Recognition Laboratory at the Delft University of Technology, working on machine learning algorithms which can learn from uncertain input, or input that is only defined in terms of similarities. Since 2015, Veronika is working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Biomedical Imaging Group Rotterdam at the Erasmus Medical Center. She is working on machine learning techniques which can automatically quantify disease in medical scans. You can follow her on Twitter on @vcheplygina or on her website

Current Job: Postdoctoral researcher
Current Location: Biomedical Imaging Group Rotterdam, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Current mobile device: Samung S4 Mini
Current computer: Lenovo Thinkpad X250

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I recently finished my PhD in computer science and am now working as a postdoc. My research focuses on algorithms which can automatically quantify disease in medical scans. Right now I am working on detecting lung disease, such as COPD, in computed tomography (CT) scans.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I use Gmail, Google Calendar (meetings and deadlines) and Wunderlist (tasks for projects) to keep track of what I need to be doing. For research, I need MATLAB to do my experiments, Dropbox to store everything, and ShareLateX (web-based LateX editor) to write papers. For everything else, Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

What does your workspace setup look like?
I work in the office on most of the days. Here I have a standing desk. Unfortunately it’s not the kind that you can adjust up and down – I had to borrow a few boxes of printing paper to ensure mine is the correct height. Standing all day was quite difficult to handle at first, but I am more used to it now. It has made me work more efficiently, because I get physically tired at the end of the day, so I try to get as much done as possible in the hours that I’m here.

I prefer to use my laptop with an external screen, keyboard and mouse (as in the setup), but I don’t really need those. This laptop has a good battery life, which means I can work comfortably wherever I go.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Log your hours. I am not the type of person who plans out all research activities in their calendar, but when I started my postdoc, I tried recording what I spent each hour doing – writing emails, coding, reading papers, etc. I discovered that a lot of my time was spent in “Miscellaneous”, which were non-project-related tasks.

My other advice would be to stand, sit on an exercise ball, or something of the sort. This is a constant “I should spend my time productively” reminder.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

Since I have started my postdoc and the number of projects I am working on has increased, I haven’t really figured out a good system for this. I use Wunderlist, where I have a separate todo list for each project or paper. When the project has a deadline, this works quite well, because I can schedule when each task needs to be done. But for projects without a fixed deadline, I find this more difficult.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?

I tried using a tablet (an older Samsung), especially for reading papers and taking notes, but I didn’t quite get used to it. Especially now that my laptop is quite light, it’s easier to just bring the laptop and some paper for taking notes. Perhaps this would change if I had a tablet that is more optimized for writing.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

I dare to say yes to things that scare me. This is sometimes stressful, but always a great learning experience that opens up more opportunities.

What do you listen to when you work?

Nothing. I get too distracted by music, whether with lyrics or not. I don’t mind it if an office is noisy, if I’m concentrated I can tune this out.

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

I am reading “Getting things Done” and “Otherland” by Tad Williams. I enjoy reading, but I admit I do it too little. What sometimes helps me remember to do it is to put the books into my “spot” at home – the corner of the couch where I settle down in the evening. But that is also where I watch movies, which often get prioritized.

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

I would say mainly introvert. I enjoy working with others, but interacting with people does cost me more energy than coding or writing, and after a long day I prefer relax at home (with my boyfriend and my cat).

What’s your sleep routine like?

Quite regular. I sleep 7-8 hours a night. I wake up quite early even if don’t set an alarm, so I make sure I am in bed by 23:00 or so. If I have a lot on my mind, I wake up even earlier, and am very tired the next day. I haven’t figured out yet how to get rid of this.

What’s your work routine like?
I bike to work, and am in the office roughly between 9 and 17, with a half hour break for lunch. I have a few appointments (group meetings, Skype meetings with people I collaborate with, teaching) each day, but the remainder of the time I am working at my desk. By 17 I get quite tired from standing, so then I either head home, or to the gym to lift weights. After dinner I usually do a bit of work at home, but then I just sit on the couch.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
The advice I received when I was doubting whether to do a PhD. The advice was not to compare doing a PhD to not doing a PhD, but to compare concrete opportunities, because each PhD or job could be totally different from the next. Important factors to take into account were the people I would work with, whether I could be myself, and how the position would fit in with the rest of my life. This made my decision very easy, and I didn’t regret it for a second afterwards.

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