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I am Ivan, and This is How I Work as an Academic Parent

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing El Profe Ivan for the series “How I Work as an Academic Parent”. Ivan is a professor at the Department of Informatics and Computer Science of Escuela Politécnica Nacional in Quito, Ecuador. He is currently a PhD student at the Computer Science Doctoral Program at University of Porto, in Portugal. His research interests are Machine Learning, Distributed Systems and Bioinformatics. Since Ivan mostly works from home, his insights may be particularly interesting during these times of the covid-19 pandemic.

Current Job: PhD student of the Computer Science doctorate program, at the University of Porto
Current Location: Porto, Portugal
Current mobile device: Motorola G7
Current computer: HP Pavilion Notebook

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I am a second-year PhD student. I defended my project at the end of my first year.
My research is on the development of a new Machine Learning Algorithm for the discovery of new interactions between drugs and diseases.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I use Python and R as main programming languages.
I use Machine Learning libraries for text mining, feature analysis, and classification of disease interaction databases.

What does your workspace setup look like?

Even before covid19, I worked from home. At the university I used to attend class and have meetings with my advisor.
I live in a small apartment, so I use the dining room table to work. Last year I lived in a bigger apartment where I had a desk and my own work space.
I work with my computer most of the time. I don’t use many “physical” books, most of my reading is on the screen. However, I use a lot of notebooks where I keep record of my meetings, ideas, and comments on research papers.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?

Don’t lose focus of your main objective. You can organize your daily work and still forget what is the main focus of your research. It is very likely that you change subjects, or background, or even projects. When you do a PhD you shouldn’t lose focus of your main goal.
Keep in mind this focus when discussing research goals with your advisor.

What is your best advice for academic parents?

Be open, and talk. You can feel overwhelmed of work and parenting. It is very important that you can talk to your partner and have the opportunity to share your feelings.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
I keep track on my notebooks. I keep notes on physical notebooks, and virtual notebooks: OneNote, and Jupyter.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I work from home with a remote connection to a server. I manage large databases, so I couldn’t process all that information in my laptop.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

I think it’s my communication skills. My research is multidisciplinary, and I have two advisors, one on Computer Science and one on Bioinformatics.
I have had to learn biology and chemistry first in order to be able to model the problems and transform them into Computer Science problems.

What do you listen to when you work?
I am very eclectic in my music taste. Since my daughter was born I prefer to listen to relaxed music, and music that is more vocal than instrumental.

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

The Book of Why by Judea Pearl is my current book. I read several books at the same time.
I make some time to read in my daily work. Whenever I have to focus on reading I can read all day.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I’m more of an extrovert. Since I work most of the time alone, I try to keep in touch with friends in social media.
Also, I participate in a running club where I can interact with people outside work.

What’s your sleep routine like? Has it changed significantly since becoming a parent?

My daughter is only 4 months old. She changes her sleeping habits constantly, so my wife and I have to keep up with her changes.
Nowadays my daughter lets me sleep from 11pm-ish, to 8am, with two diaper intervals.

What’s your work routine like?
I work 3 – 4 hours in the morning, starting around 7am, and I also have a 4 hour period of work in the afternoon, around 4pm.

How much maternity or paternity leave (if any) did you get and was it paid leave?

I am PhD student, and in University of Porto students have a 2-week period of paternity leave. I had exams when my daughter was born that I was able to present afterwards.

Which childcare services are you using? Does university provide support in finding and funding childcare?

I don’t use childcare services.

How is your parenting style?

I enjoy being a very present father. I try to do as much as I can.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Life is not about pursuing happiness. In harsh times, happiness won’t make a good purpose to life. Life is about responsibility, in saying “useless as I am, I can lift a heavy weight”. Parenting is a beautiful responsibility.

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