Author Archives: Marialuisa Aliotta

About Marialuisa Aliotta

Full Professor Experimental Nuclear Astrophysics University of Edinburgh - UK researcher, teacher, mother, mentor

Staying physically and mentally healthy

Our lives have changed dramatically in just a few weeks, and the future looks uncertain, hence a certain amount of anxiety is normal. Some people might have responded well to the transition, but it is important to recognise that some employees might still find this new norm difficult.

Staying sane during the lock-down is a matter of planning and caring for ourselves. For some people, self-care is simply about sitting back and treating yourself with compassion. That does not seem like much, but at a time when we are bombarded with terrifying news updates and depressing figures, sitting still might help us get rid of these negative distractions and focus on ourselves.

Self-care is about avoiding overstretching yourself and burning out by setting boundaries mentally, physically, and socially. The triangle of body, mind and soul is the core where self-care is built on. Here, I summarise a few sets of actions for the three parts of the self-care core, that should help you feel rested and more connected to yourself:

BODY

Working from home is a great opportunity to eat healthy food. Don’t let the full access to your kitchen tempt you!

Follow these top tips for guaranteed success:

* Plan your meal times – plan out when throughout the day you’re going to eat, just as you schedule the rest of your day. Planning a menu ahead of time will make it easier to avoid eating junk food, which is quick and easy but not good for you.

*Eat away from your work space – try to avoid the temptation to keep working and get as much done as possible, and have a total break from work to help you clear your mind. Being distracted during a meal can lead to over-eating and decreased meal satisfaction and fullness.

*Focus on balanced and nutritious food – it keeps us fuller longer, it helps us focus and it makes us more productive. What we eat impacts our mood and energy level. Focus on protein, fibre, healthy fats, fruits and veggies. You can and should reward yourself though with a sweet snack on Friday after a successful and productive week. 

body

*Drink plenty of water – dehydration can lead to headaches and fatigue, which are both not good for your productivity. Keep water next to your work area at home as you did at the office, stay away from sugar-loaded drinks, and avoid getting overcaffeinated.

*Exercise for at least 30 minutes – studies have shown that doing 30 minutes of exercise in the morning can boost productivity.

*Get at least 7 hours of sleep each day – sleeping the right amount of time keeps you refreshed and energised, and your mind clear for the next day’s tasks.

MIND

The World Health Organisation (WHO) are also expecting more people to start experiencing increased levels of anxiety during this uncertain time, and this should not be ignored. On the contrary, anxieties and fears should be acknowledged and addressed by individuals, but also by governments and communities. One of the key factors of experiencing anxiety is a sense of feeling out of control, and especially now this is very likely the main factor. 

It is really important to monitor your mental health, especially if you’re prone to anxiety or depression. If you are unable to focus or feel sad or overwhelmed, and you find it hard to function, think of what has worked for you in the past. For example:

*Schedule some ‘me time’ at least twice a week – take some time where you are not focused on achieving anything at all (i.e. having a bath with candles and relaxing music).

soul

*Practice mindfulness and/or deep breathing exercises for at least 10 minutes a day –  practising mindfulness and meditation have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety, and if practised regularly, can help you feel more in control of your feelings, thoughts and emotions, and protect your immune system.

*Exercise for 20 to 30 minutes daily – it can significantly lower anxiety levels as it boosts endorphins and serotonin and fills your brain with happiness. 

*Listen to music – a recent study found that certain songs reduced listeners’ anxiety by 65 percent. It seems like specific melodies can significantly calm stress and anxiety levels. Try out various types of music to see which one calms and relaxes you or makes you more focused and productive.

SOUL

Humans are social creatures by default, so being at home may feel difficult, especially for those who are extroverted by nature, and enjoy the social aspect of their job. Research has shown that loneliness is one of the world’s most significant risk factors for premature death. If that’s the case, what happens now that people’s freedom of social get-together is severely limited?

It is possible to foster connection and maintain relationships during this time; we just have to use the right tools, be patient, and get used to it!

*Connect with other people – talking to your best friends and loving members of the family is one of the best ways to feel more confident and valued. This is the best time to be thankful for social media, apps like WhatsApp, and even old-fashioned texting. If you need to, or if you feel like someone else might be in need, reach out. Send a message or have a video call and connect, with your parents, your best friend, a colleague, a neighbour. Even if it’s for a minute or two, it can make a difference.

videocall_friends

*Invest in relationships that benefit your energy level – if certain people are difficult and drain your energy, preserve yourself and your happiness and cut them off, even if it might be uncomfortable. In case it is not possible to entirely cut off a person, find coping strategies to deal with them without damaging yourself. 

 

To adapt to the current situation, try to think of it not as self-isolating but as self-retreating. The ability to adapt can make us feel that, even though the current global situation is out of our control, we can always choose how to react.

Stay healthy, physically and mentally!

 

Oh, and if you feel you need some extra support with your academic life at a time when other colleagues or suprvisors might feel miles away, please do get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. You can book a free 30-min slot on my calendar here. Take care!

 

New Online Course: Time Management & Productivity Mindset

I HAVE GREAT NEWS FOR YOU!

I am very pleased to announce that my very successful Time Management and Productivity Mindset Bootcamp (TPB) is now available as a self-study online course!

TPB_PROMO_JUL20

If you:

  • feel unhappy about the lack of progress in your work
  • struggle to cope with the many demands on your time
  • want to create meaningful change in your work/life situation, so you can experience freedom, fulfilment and excitement

then this course is for you!

During the program you will become clear about your goals and ambitions and explore what direction you want to create in your work and life.

You will discover how to confront the negative inner voices that sabotage your progress, and how to establish a clear set of actions to move forward and get closer to what you want.

The course is delivered through a period of 7 weeks to give you time to fully absorb the content of each module and put into practice what you’ll be learning.

However, please feel free go through the course at your own time. You’ll get indefinite access to the material in this course!

Here is what a participant said for their bootcamp experience:

My stress level decreased, my health condition and my mood changed dramatically; I managed to successfully complete my studies on time, as well as work on other projects, while also having a part-time job.

Additionally, Marialuisa helped me identify better my skills to help and share with people, which is something I really enjoy doing.

Being a participant of the boot camp was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn new tools and ways to be more productive, as well as to share my experience and hopefully help others with similar struggles.

Do you wish you got the same level of support and guidance to help you achieve your greater desire and goals?

Buy the course NOW at the promotional offer of ONLY £97 £47:

https://academiclife.coachesconsole.com/tpb.html

If you are still not sure if this is the right course for you, you can book a free consultation call with me here:

https://academiclife.coachesconsole.com/v3/calendar/complimentary-slots

Every great achievement begins with a first step. Ready to take yours?

 

 

Productivity during a pandemic

be_productive_getty

Image credits: Getty Images

The lock down has been eased here in Scotland, but we are still going through an overwhelming situation trying to adapt to the “new normal”. If you don’t feel especially productive while you are social distancing or in quarantine, that’s absolutely OK. In this post, I will try to give some tips to facilitate productivity during this mandatory ‘working from home’ period. And who knows, they might be useful even later, when life goes back to as we knew it!

Everybody is different; regardless of your personal style, though, it really helps to create a working routine, that also includes breaks to regain energy in order to complete your daily tasks. Just make sure not to let a break turn into a day-long procrastination spree! Alternatively, you can just include your procrastination time in your schedule! 🙂

Setting up a daily schedule and goals is necessary for working effectively; however, the practice of setting daily intentions, especially in these tough times, can change your life.

Setting intentions allows you to focus on who you are, recognise your values and live within the interpretation of them. Intentions give you purpose, and motivation to achieve this purpose.

Over-consumption of news and social media, especially regarding the pandemic, can lead you to feel depressed and overwhelmed. Also, comparing yourself to others and the way they are spending their quarantine time is not a good idea right now.

Instead, try to focus on yourself and the things you want to achieve. So, turn off all the unnecessary notifications and use technology in your favour. For example, there are a lot of free online courses out there that might help you gain a new skill or develop your existing skills, learn a new hobby or expand your knowledge on a specific topic. You can even get certification that might boost your motivation and your CV, or just have fun with something not work-related. Also, using the right online tools can make a huge difference for working remotely.  These tools, together with a positive mindset, lay the foundations for success. If you haven’t used these tools before and feel confused, set aside an hour to go through tutorials and videos to learn.

That magic hour of learning the right tools will save you many hours of lost productivity later.

staying_connected_email8

Image credit: Vulcan Post

As humans are social creatures by default, being at home may feel difficult, especially for those who are extroverted by nature, and enjoy the social aspect of their job. However, it is possible to foster connection and maintain relationships during this time; we just have to use the right tools, be patient, and get used to it!

Regular phone calls, video calls and virtual meetings help maintain communication, and help employees to continue to feel engaged and part of the team. Choose the right communication platform to get in contact with you, and keep your team informed about your work-at-home schedule.

Setting an agenda, giving the opportunity to speak to everyone, providing structure and clarity are important to ease anxiety, keep healthy collaborations and relationships and the meetings at a professional level. 

Also, when we work remotely, we miss out on all the impromptu chatting with our colleagues (i.e. before and after meetings, catching up in the hallway, and stopping by each other’s desks). In a virtual environment there is a tendency to focus more on tasks than on relationships. Make sure you schedule time for informal conversation at the beginning and end of meetings or arrange calls specifically for catching up. This will hugely help your mental and social health.

Of course, during these tough times, everyone needs to think about what makes them productive and happy in everyday life (i.e. taking a walk at lunch time), and work around their schedules. Managers, leaders, and supervisors should take this into consideration, show empathy, and make themselves available to talk about fears, and answer questions in order to reassure their staff or students.

It is important for everyone to be aware of significant changes you may see in the personality or performance of a colleague because it may be a sign that a person is struggling due to isolation or loneliness.

This situation has been hard, and the longer it continues, the more we will feel isolated and alone. But the truth is we are not alone. We are in this together.

Take good care.

How to nail your speech and hook your audience, every time

 

[Guest Post by Ghina Halabi]

I was giving a TEDx talk. My speech was carefully prepared and I had twelve minutes to speak. Three minutes in, I had no idea what the next line was.

Among the audience was the president of the American University of Beirut, some two hundred people and my speaking coach, Dania. It felt like drowning in an ocean. Water was closing in and the sounds were muffled. Only my heartbeats were audible. I pleadingly looked at Dania hoping she’d remember. Reading my eyes, she distressingly mouthed the words “I don’t know”. So I realised that I was entirely on my own.

Then I found my line.

It felt like eternity, but it was merely few seconds. By not panicking, my mind thought it didn’t matter so it remained calm and silently found its way.

Funnily, no one noticed the glitch. They thought I did it for a dramatic effect. “We had our eyes and ears glued on you to hear the next bit”, they said.

So keep calm and act it out like a boss. Chances are no one will even notice.

Speakers often don’t realise that a good speech or talk is not only about information, it’s also about persuasion and influence. When they wheelbarrow information and impersonally click through crowded slides they not only miss precious opportunities to further their careers, but also to position themselves as leaders and thought influencers. Having a presentation with the right structure and content has never been more important for creating impact. So how do you give your audience such a transformative experience?

Here’s everything you need to know to nail your speech and hook your audience, every time.

 

Preparing your talk

First, figure out who your audience is. What you want to say does not matter if your audience are not coming to hear it. Find that sweet spot at the intersection between what you want to say and what your audience is interested in, that’s the relevant content that you should be unravelling. Once you have that figured out, you are ready to design your talk but do not touch that laptop yet!

Take a walk, go for a jog or do some physical activity to get your endorphins flowing. While you’re at it, think about what you want to talk about, flex your story-telling muscle and find your narrative. What is it? Why would one care about it? Sell the why not just the what! The first few moments and slides are your chance to get the attention of your audience, or not. Make it a smooth and easy take-off. Do not rush to the details before you are sure that your audience is coming with you. Engage them from the start, otherwise it’s very hard to hitch them back on again. Start with a story, remember how I started?

Once you have your story or narrative in your head, grab a pen and paper. Outline your story using bullet points. Those bullet points will be the titles of your slides. Line up your slides while sticking to that narrative.

Now we have the outline, it has a smooth and nice build-up. It follows a narrative. Let’s talk content.

 

Content

Images! Have one or two images (or graphs) per slide, strictly not more than that, and a few words if you absolutely need to. No sentences or paragraphs! This is key. Countless are the talks that I sat through with slides brimming to the rim with text and images with an ongoing voice-over that is different from the slide altogether on top of it all! If a crowded slide hits one in the face, one tries to make the decision whether to look and read or just listen, and by the time the decision is made the speaker has already moved on to the next slide. This is a recipe for confusion, frustration, and the audience abandoning your talk and daydreaming instead! Your power is being able to convey a message with an image and few words for emphasis.

If your image is too crowded, layer it to introduce each layer separately. Use animations and effects smartly to serve your idea and presentation rather than to dress it up.

Choose a modern font. Not comic sans, sans blague!

Having well thought-through presentations position you as an expert to be trusted. Thus it’s essential that you know your script, your material and be prepared.

Preparation helps you think of the bigger picture, put things in context and reflect on your assumptions if you had made any. Practicing helps you design your sentences smartly and say the most with the fewest words possible, rather than ramble on and never hit the point. However, prepared does not mean staged. If you practice a lot make sure not to slip into a boring gear and never shift out of it otherwise, I tell you, you’ll find us snoozing.

 

The big day

Feeling like there’s a stone brick at the pit of your stomach on your big day is normal, but that’s only your brain tricking you into a fight-or-flight mode. How do you convince it otherwise?

Here’s a trick my coach Dania taught me that always worked for me: before you’re due to speak, go somewhere private (restrooms work well usually) and pump yourself up. Jump, squat, punch the air. Yes, get it all out. Look at the mirror, smile and tell yourself how great you will be, how hard you worked and how you’ve got it all. Punch the air a bit more.

Now you are in the room where you will speak and you can punch no more. It’s time to calm down, in fact.

Whether it’s waiting through the introduction or for the speaker preceding you to finish, this certainly does not need to be a time to dread. If you are anxious, an extremely efficient exercise is to simply breathe. Take long inhales and exhales to slow down your heartbeat. The more anxious you are the longer your exhales should be. Perhaps try to inhale to the count of four and exhale to the count of five or six. Trust me, I do it every time and I get so relaxed I start to yawn. Just relax and let your confidence build up so that your authenticity shines through. As you take that stage, don’t forget to make eye contact and use your voice to engage your audience so they trust what you say and appreciate the time you’ve put into it.

 

Tips to keep improving

  • Ask for feedback. This helps you see things from a different perspective and improves your presentation skills.
  • Join a Toastmasters club. It’s an excellent venue to practice public speaking and work on your body language and voice projection.
  • Chair meetings if you can. Taking charge and moderating the discussion teaches you to appreciate people’s ears and how to connect with them in a genuine way.
  • Always welcome speaking invitations, especially those you think you are not good enough for! That’s only your imposter syndrome playing you.

One thing I learned from public speaking is that it’s not only what you say that matters, it’s how you make people feel. If you make it your genuine goal to make people connect with what you say, or learn something from you, they’d appreciate you for it so leave good lasting impressions.

My last tip is remember to smile. Smiling while speaking reflects confidence and authenticity. Then it’d be hard to look away!

 

Ghina Halabi is a Space scientist, public speaker, blogger, mentor and published scholar. She is an invited speaker and panelist at several international astronomy conferences, public events and interdisciplinary forums (e.g. Global Scholars Symposium, National Astronomy Meeting, UN Space for Women Expert Meeting). She is the founder of “Scheherazade Speaks Science”, a science communication platform to improve the representation and visibility of female scientists.

This article is based on a talk that Ghina gave at the Women in STEMM Media Training” workshop by the Communications Office at the University of Cambridge.

Book Launch

I have a huge announcement and a little gift I want to give you.

My new book: Mastering Academic Writing in the Sciences: A Step-by-Step Guide has finally been released today!

book-cover

If you have been following me for a while now, you know about my work with Academic Life and how I have been helping hundreds of PhD students and early career researchers from around the world to showcase their research with effective writing.

Yet, every time I launch my online training courses and programmes some students get back to me and say: “Marialuisa, not everybody can afford £200 training courses or £500 private mentoring programmes. Could you just bring it down and synthesise what you know and put it in a book available for everyone?”

And I finally did that! With Mastering Academic Writing in the Sciences: A Step-by-Step Guide.

This book is all about giving you an easy framework to follow when you need to write up your thesis or research paper.

How many times have you put off making a start? How often have you felt anxious, overwhelmed and unsure on how to summarise years of research and hard work into a self-contained thesis or paper?

Maybe you want to stay in academia or maybe you don’t. Either way learning how to master writing skills is an asset that will serve you for life.

The reality is… you now have an opportunity to learn those skills.

And I’d like to show you how to do so by taking you through a simple yet effective step-by-step approach and by sharing with you everything that I have learned about academic writing in the last decade.

If you know my story, you know that I have been struggling a lot with academic writing when I was a student and it took me a great deal of effort and dedication to learn to write well. I have read tens of books on the subject and attended various workshops and seminars.

And just in the last decade I have been able to offer expert advice to students like you, drawing from my experience of publishing nearly 100 research papers in my field, chairing the editorial board of an international collaboration and now publishing a book about… writing!

How do I do it? How do I help other scholars achieve the same level of proficiency and confidence with their writing? How do I support students to get published even if they have little or no experience with writing a paper?

That is really broken down in this book in a way that everyone can understand and apply and, importantly, that you can do too.

I am truly excited about this book. The time has come for it.

So, here is the deal: I want to give you a £10 Amazon voucher for you to spend on anything you like.

The reason I do this is because I would like to ask a simple favour from you.

The book has officially been released today, Monday April 9th 2018, and when I look on Amazon this morning I discovered that it has already sold out!

But wait!

You can still get a copy directly from the publishers at CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group and if you act quickly you may still benefit from the promotional discount they are offering at the moment.

If you get this book and you love it and it inspires you, I ask you that you go on Amazon and post a review about it.

Just talk about the book.

Get the buzz out there, so that when other people who find out or hear about this book go to Amazon, they’ll see reviews out there.

Positive or negative. I am not asking for an endorsement from you. I am just asking that if you get this book (and my gift) you post a review for me.

Of course, if you want to blog about the book or share the message with your friends to help me get my own message out there, I’d be deeply grateful.

So, here is how my deal works:

  1. Click here to order a copy of the book from CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group
  2. Email me your receipt
  3. I send you a £10 Amazon voucher
  4. You post a review on Amazon

But please note: I will only be able to fulfil the first 10 orders, so you need to act quickly.

And if you do not manage to be among the first 10 people to email me, I will send you my 3 Free Bonus Videos on Writer’s Mindset, Tips and Strategies to Avoid Procrastination, and Weekly Check-up to help you get going with your writing project and staying on track. These are the same videos that I share with my private clients on my Hands on Writing online course.

So, here is the link again. Click here to order your copy and I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

To your successful academic writing!