23 Things: what I have learned

23 Things programme is coming to the end, and then it’s time for me to write down a few lines to explain what I got from it.

I can doubtlessly say I learnt a lot from this experience. First of all, I gave a try to many useful programs and tools I hadn’t heard of before or that I barely knew. Mendeley has already become my main resource to organize and group references, and, since I’m just at the beginning of my research career and the papers  I collected so far seem already to amount to an incredibly high number, I count on using Mendeley quite a lot also in the future.

It would be boring and useless now to make a list of tools I tried and started to use and why I considered them useful. It’s something I’ve explained week after week through my posts along with trying to give it a go to all those new proposed tools.

Something I’d like to remark here is how glad I am to have finally a LinkedIn and Twitter profile. If in one hand I mainly use Twitter to keep myself updated on scientific news, read interesting posts or articles and share opinions and thoughts, on the other hand LinkedIn is something I discovered being more powerful than I thought. It has been less than two months from my first appearance on this social network and I’ve already received job offers. Even if I’m not looking for a job at the moment, I am very surprised it works so well, and it’s helping me to be known and to show who I am and what I have done to potential employers.

Finally, I’d like to thank the Researcher Development Programme of University of Surrey for giving me the opportunity of following this programme and hopefully, now that the 23 Things is completed, I will try to keep my blog updated by writing posts related to my research project.


My personal website

This week I’m going to talk about my personal brand and how I intend to make my online presence stronger. Since I’m still in my first year of doctorate, I’m not sure what my future is going to be, if in academia or in industry. However, what led me to choose an EngD rather than a PhD was the link between University and industries and the opportunity to do research along with the practicality of an industrial experience, which is probably what I’ll end up doing after I finish my doctorate. For this reason, I prefer to ‘define the professional me’ with a website like LinkedIn rather than Surrey.ac.uk, which is more likely used in an academic field to outline your research interests and by owning a .ac.uk. suffix it also has the highest search engine optimisation, so that on Google searches for you will always feature your staff profile page highest.

As suggested in Thing 7 and explained in one of my previous posts, I found LinkedIn very useful, and a logic conclusion when having a LinkedIn profile is that this one is going to be my personal website. Since the aim is ‘to sell my brand’, to show who I am and what I’m doing in a professional way and my personal website is the first place people will refer to when looking for me on the Internet, common sense wants me to include some basic things in my profile:

  • Professional profile picture: the first thing people interested in you will see on your LinkedIn profile is your profile picture, and we all know that appearance matters. I still can’t understand how people can upload pictures of them wearing a bikini, low-necked tops or huge ski sunglasses that cover all their face. A profile picture in a website like LinkedIn which aims to represent you as a professional and responsible worker should be chosen carefully and wisely.
  • Name and surname: the second most important thing is to include your complete name, not just a silly nickname but your actual name because people will know you and recognize you according with the name they see in your profile.
  • Current occupation: where you’re working, what you’re doing and for how long you’ve been working there.
  • Professional contact details: your email address and your mobile number that will allow people to contact you if interested in you for an interview or consultancy purposes.
  • Qualifications, achievements and summary: to have a LinkedIn profile means you can write about all the things you want to show off about yourself. In other words it’s a summary of your professional story including your records, publications, projects, collaborations and qualifications, but also your interests and volunteering activities.

In conclusion, I think that to have a professional profile in a well known website such as LinkedIn is one of the best ways ‘to sell my brand’. It is like having an always-updated online curriculum vitae, that people from all around the world can see and read and then know who you are, your story and what you are doing.

Scheduling and collaborating tools

This week’s tasks have been quick and easy because I am well acquainted with most of the tools described. First of all, I was used to make Skype meetings with my Italian master thesis’ supervisor during my Erasmus last year, since I was placed in the UK while writing my thesis and hence there was no way to arrange proper meetings and meet him in person. In addition to this, I have needed to make video calls with more than a person involved simultaneously because of many group projects I had to complete during my Master. Especially under exam sessions, when trying to find a slot of time where everybody can be in the same room seems to result harder than passing the exam itself, to own a tool like Skype sounds more like a miracle than just technology help. About other existing tools such as Webinars and Goole+ Hangouts, although I have never needed to use them, I have heard other people used them especially to gather different academics from different universities around the world for discussions and paper writings. So, maybe and hopefully, I’ll need to use them during the upcoming years of my research carrier.

Thing 19 was quite useful since it looked at tools for scheduling and organizing meetings. In particular I gave Doodle a try and it turned out to be a very simple and quick way to send event/meeting invitations showing my time preference too. Because I was used to manually try to look at my supervisors’ calendar and combine their availability with mine to arrange meetings and then send them an email, this new tool will be able to send them an invitation email and find the right slot of time when all of us are available without the involvement of hundreds pointless emails and stress coming up trying to make everyone happy and satisfied.

Last Thing this week introduced tools like Google Drive and Dropbox, tools that I have been using from more than five years now. They are incredibly useful instruments to share, store and edit files. When files or media are too big to be sent by email, they can easily be uploaded on a shared folder and be downloaded and seen by the other participants. Moreover, I am used to store my own documents on Dropbox such that I can have access to them every time I want and wherever I want without the need of remembering to bring hard driver or memory sticks with me every time or living with the fear of losing my work if my computer crashes and breaks. To allow different people with a gmail account to edit the same document online is also very useful during group projects, when more people work on the same shared file and modify it in order to obtain the final version of it.

C&C: Citations and Copyright

Unfortunately, I am still at the very early stages of my research career and hence I haven’t published papers through any journal yet. For this reason, the task proposed by Thing 14 this week was not something I could practically do. However, it has been interesting to read about Open Access (OA) and learn about how to gain visibility or different routes to OA.

Thing 15 and Thing 16 have been much more useful. Sincerely, I have never thought to use quantitative tools to measure academic output and academic impact. My simple thought was that the higher the number of citations your work has, the higher your popularity in your research field and the higher the impact of your work in further research projects.

[Flickr photo shared by Sugar Daze under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license]

 Bibliometrics and altmetrics have been completely new concepts to me this week and after reading the task proposed I have been very happy to give it a go. First of all I chose three of the main papers I read so far and that contribute to my project literature review. I picked one of the oldest papers in my library (‘A Unified Approach to Progressive Crushing of Fiber-Reinforced Composite Tubes’ by Hull D., 1991), a fairly new one (‘Energy Absorption in Polymer composites for Automotive Crashworthiness’ by Jacob G. et al.,2002) and finally a paper published last year (‘On functionally graded composite structures for crashworthiness’ by Zhang Y. et al., 2015). Even if all the chosen papers appear in all the three data worlds considered- Web of Science (WS), Scopus (S) and Google Scholar (GS)- the number of citations each publication received is different in each database. As predictable, for all the three papers considered, GS gives the highest citation count and WS or S the lowest. Moreover, while the oldest paper received the highest number of citations (WS-277, S-288,GS-393) the newest paper received just a few (WS-1, S-2, GS-3). This demonstrates that to make comparisons, normalised bibliometric indicators are needed because, for example, older papers have had more time than newer ones to be known and hence to attract citations. Publication year as well as subject area and document type have to be taken into account to quantitatively measure academic output and impact.

Lastly, Thing 17 led me to easily add Creative Commons (CC) license to my blog. Copyright issues have always scared me, and to understand what I can or I can’t take from the web and use in my assignments/ reports/ presentations would be extremely useful as well as to know how to protect my own work with copyright.



Sharing research online

During my studies and research, I gradually understood the importance and utility of screencasts. The availability of tutorials and videos which use screen capture tools is increasing on YouTube and University’s websites and I found them extremely useful for several reasons. First of all, professors can easily show students how to use an online tool or, most of all, a software/ computer program. In this way, students can follow every single click and mouse movement. I find this kind of tutorials much easier to follow than a bunch of papers telling you step by step what to do as lists of words and commands. The possibilities of missing a step or clicking on the wrong part of the screen are surely less with a visual kind of tutorial. Personally, the first think I do when starting a new finite element (FE) model or when I encounter a problem with the same FE software is looking at online videos which may solve similar problems and carefully pay attention to possible different commands used.

Even if I think it’s an unquestionable powerful tool, I’ve never tried it out! Ok, probably I’m not brave enough or I’m just too embarrassed to share a media about me and my research but I’m also aware of not being confident and expert enough to do it right now. However, because my personal experience led me to a very positive opinion of screen capture tools, I’ll try to give my contribution and publish some useful videos and make them available to everyone on the Internet!

Another way to share research online is through presentations. Although to create a PowerPoint presentation can be seen as quick and easy, to obtain a good presentation is not as simple as it seems. There are some basic rules which are basically common sense rules aiming to make the presentation interesting and  as little boring as possible to keep public attention and interest alive. For example, to use photos, animated images, short videos avoiding long sentences and descriptions  is certainly an understandable tip. No one will never read willingly a slide full of words but he will prefer a short explicable video. But obviously, if the presentation is an online one without anyone standing in front of it talking and explaining images and subjects, more details must be given to make it understandable.

I’m very happy to have discovered a new tool for creating presentations this week! I feel quite embarrassed to say that I’ve never heard about ‘Prezi’ before. But I’m also very glad to have found it because it allows, not only to make a presentation more interesting and interactive, but also to make connections moving around the created storyboard. Even if I think that practice is needed to fully understand this tool and make the best of it, it is still a new and interesting tool and it’s worth learning how to use it properly.

Wikipedia, finding presentations, references

As you can easily get from the title of this post, this week has a wide variety of tasks to try and have a look at!

First of all, Wikipedia. it’s every student’s online best friend and, as I have been a student myself, and I’m currently doing a doctorate, I can say it’s still one of my closest online friend along with ScienceDirect and other more specific scientific websites. So yes, I’ve been using Wikipedia very often because it gives me an initial idea of the topic I’m interested in, with easy definitions and general information about it.  My starting point has been the research of composite materials, finite element analysis, crush, digital image correlation, automotive crushing tests and McLaren automotive, which are essentially the subjects of my project. I came through very basic definitions and some pretty pictures to make those big difficult scientific words look nicer and more easily understandable, while typing ‘McLaren automotive’ I found out that history and products of the company are listed and described. Finally, even if I’d be terribly curious to try editing a Wikipedia page I don’t trust my knowledge enough yet and I’m not sure of what I may or may not write at the moment. I’ll wait to see if I can add something more specific about my project in the following years of my PhD!

I don’t have much to say about all the websites suggested to find presentations, talks and slideshows, but just that I’ve found them very interesting! I’ve listened to some presentations on TED talks, Slideshare and BBC podcasts, as the task suggested, and even if I couldn’t find any presentation closely related to my project it has been useful to see how many different scientific topics are covered and the given number of online courses and talks.

Lastly, some reference management tools have been proposed. To be honest, the only site I’ve already heard about before this Thing 11 task was RefWorks, and even if I’ve tried to use it just once, I found that Mendeley was so much easier to use. I started looking at it because a friend of mine mentioned it’s name before saying he found it quite useful and easy to manage. and guess what?! I totally agree!


Professional networks

Thanks to Thing 7 I finally set up my LinkedIn account! I’ve always thought LinkedIn is well worth having, a very useful tool able to connect yourself with people in your professional field. I’m aware of the power this network has and of the numerous working opportunities it can give you. Nevertheless, up until now I’ve never bothered to join it just because I’ve never had the necessity to look for job offers since after graduation I’ve began my research career as an EngD at University of Surrey.

linkBut now, that I’ve sign up to this network, I can tell that it represents a very efficient and functional instrument to achieve the purpose at the base of it. This concept of a always up-to-date CV available online 24/7 is, for sure, revolutionary in the job industry and it allows  companies all over the word to easily find the candidate who suits their needs most. On the other hand, the candidate is given the possibility to show his credentials to billions of companies with just one ‘click’.

About ResearchGate and Academia.edu, I don’t feel like expressing any personal opinion since I have not yet published any papers/journals and hence I don’t see the utility of creating an account now. However, in the next few years I will certainly take advantage of these platforms to sell ‘my brand’ and make myself known in my research field.

In conclusion, just a few years ago people in search of a job had only a few limited possibilities but nowadays the alternatives are many and we need to exploit them all and make the most of it.


Googling my name

Like it or not, those days when first impressions began with a handshake are over. When receiving a CV, most of the companies are now used to search for job applicants online before meeting them in person, by peering in social media sites or just by googling their name.

What about me? Turns out Ghilane’ Bragagnolo is not a very common name (what a surprise!). Probably because combinations of Persian names and Italian surnames are not very common either. Bah, the point is that no others Ghilane’ Bragagnolo or similar names came out, not even some popular actress, musician or politician. However, if you are looking for a suggestive and uncommon place where to spend your next holidays, maybe you’d like to look at an oasis in Tunisia called Ksar Ghilane. It looks nice, quite dry and desolate but with an amazing name like this I would certainly go for a visit.

By googling my name in conjunction with the University of Surrey I could only find my name as one member of the new research engineers in MiNMaT. So, to be honest, not being able to find myself anywhere in the web makes me wonder how people could know about me. Conclusion—> I should definitely learn ‘how to sell my brand’.

To help me doing that, this 23 Things programme is providing numerous ideas and information. Today, for example, I set up my Twitter account.

Ok, I‘ve always known what Twitter is, it’s not like I live in another century or avoid contact with social media and technology. On the contrary I like exploring web sites, looking at pictures and hear what people like to share with the others. Nevertheless, I’ve never been bothered to create a Twitter account even if I can see why it’s considered useful and, why not, also an enjoyable way to share and read about discoveries, news, opinions and comments. So, let’s give it a go!

Social Media

As part of a programme called “23 Things”, the first thing consists in writing my first post on my first blog! But don’t worry, other posts about me, my work and whatever’s on my mind will be updated weekly!

What is the “23 Things” programme? It’s a public engagement activity which will help me to familiarize with online tools, such as social media, with the aim of sharing and talking about my own research. I admit that Facebook is the only social media I use regularly, and absolutely not for useful reasons, unless for useful you mean wasting my time looking at silly pictures, videos or fashion magazines posts. I am fully aware though that blogging and every kind of social media can be used as a powerful and effective mean to communicate ideas, experience and information of all kinds to different kinds of audience. Furthermore, employability and possible professional development should not be underestimate, in fact these numerous tools can be used to show who I am and what I do, and, hopefully, promote my work.

Let’s start then! Blogs, twitter, linkedin, youtube, etc. I’m ready to learn and try to understand how all these online tools work and make the most of it!