Saturday, April 14, 2012

Doctoral Confessions: Eva Lantsoght, Ph.D. Candidate

By Eva Lantsoght, Ph.D. Candidate

In this entry, I’ll be sharing you my experiences as a doctoral student so far. Currently, I’m in the 3rd year of a four year program to obtain my Ph.D. in Civil Engineering.

I applied for a position as a Ph.D. candidate at Delft University of Technology by simply sending an email to the research group I was interested in working with. I had read a description on their website about new research which they would start, and decided to inform if they still had an opening. I was very glad to receive a positive answer, and I was invited for an interview at the end of December 2008. At that time I was still studying at Georgia Tech, and my soon-to-be advisors from Delft asked if I could graduate as fast as possible since their project would start in January 2009. I took a deep breath, plunged into my study books and finished my MS in August 2009, ready to join the research group in Delft in September 2009.

When I arrived to Delft, I knew I was by far the last one to join in the project, and there was a certain amount of time pressure from the funders to deliver experimental results as soon as possible. As a result, I ended up having my first specimens made just a month after I got started – and got involved with lab work right from the beginning. While most PhD students start by reading about their topic and get an understanding of their field of research, I had to roll up my sleeves, plunge into the deep to start experimental work for the first time in my life, and at the same time read about my topic. Even though I could sense the pressure to deliver results and work on the reports from the very beginning, I enjoyed the variety of tasks very much.

However, little did I know that I was about to end up in the lab for the next 2,5 years. As time progressed, the initial planning for the experiments seemed to be stretched to infinity. More parameters would need to be studied, which meant more specimens needed to be tested. While my initial planning included experiments until Fall 2010, I ended up testing until Spring 2012. At the same time, I had to show our funders what we were working on, and make intermediate versions of our research reports. While I always thought researchers get to sit down at their desk and think about how to solve the world’s problems, I soon learned that I was in for juggling a large amount of tasks.

From the very beginning of my doctoral studies, I was producing experimental results – and publishing these in conference papers. In fact, I wrote the first abstract for a conference when I was only 2 months into my research. Since then, I’ve been keeping updated with the conferences in my area, and trying to balance preparing for a conference with my other research and teaching responsibilities.

After the first half year, I felt that I started to gain inertia: I had my experiments going, was keeping up with my reports, writing and giving my first presentations. I started to find a routine and had found a permanent place to live. Adding TA-ing a course and assisting MSc students with their thesis, and I had a mix of tasks which I worked on for the first 2,5 years of my PhD.

Mid March 2012, I finished my experimental work (so far). With my thesis due around mid April 2013, I had the feeling that so much work is left unfinished. However, I sat down and started to prioritize and see what is necessary to come up with a coherent argument for my dissertation – the material I have so far and what still needs to be done. I outlined the contents of my dissertation, and started working on the chapters. I wanted to get started on writing as soon as possible. As I finish up my reports, I want to condense them immediately into the respective chapter. While this is working fine, I still need to find a large chunk of time to research on the missing parts for my dissertation. By times, this goal seems rather challenging to me.

When I started planning the writing phase of my doctoral studies, I did not really take into account all other tasks I have at hand. Now, at times I feel a sense of panic when I know today is April, in May I am travelling for 3 weeks, in June I will be away for a conference, in July for two conferences and in August I am getting married. When will I find the time for writing? That is my next challenge at hand – I’m excited, nervous, worried, hopeful and stressed, all at the same time.

Eva Lantsoght is a structural engineer currently pursuing a PhD at Delft University of Technology on the topic of shear in one-way reinforced concrete slabs. Originally from Lier, Belgium, she received an Engineering Degree from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and a MS from Georgia Tech. At her blog PhD Talk, she blogs about her research, the process of doing a PhD, the non-scientific skills you need during your PhD, living abroad and her travels.


  1. Hello, Eva!
    I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I am currently working on getting my undergraduate degree in Secondary Education/History there, but I plan on going as far as I can with my education. I enjoyed reading about your experience with a doctorate program. Although my program will be much different from Civil Engineering, I know that I may encounter the same challenges with time management, pressure to perform, and juggling everyday life and other obligations with doctoral studies. Thank you again for sharing your experiences! Good luck with the rest of your studies and congratulations on your coming wedding!
    Jessica Bonner
    Jessica's EDM310 Blog

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, and I wish you tons of good luck, inspiration and enjoyment during the course of your studies :)