diary general announcement


Happy New Year and Good Health

As much as 2022 started with good vibes (covid seemed behind us, starting the blog, new projects…), the giddy feelings all came to an abrupt end in February. An unfortunate accident with my bicycle on the way to work resulted in a badly broken elbow and, a couple of weeks later, the world woke up to the abject invasion of Ukraine. The good year wishes didn’t last very long, did it?

Life Goes On and Has So Much to Offer

Nevertheless, obstacles remain just that; obstacles. We stumble on them but we get back up, learn from them, and push forward. After a mentally costly surgery, my arm is on the path of full recovery and mental health keeps its steady ascension from the gloom of 2020.

I am now back on the daily blog and have so many projects to start, share, and thrive on. 2022 may have stumbled a bit in this first quarter but there is so much more to live for; I’m very excited about what’s coming 😀

Closing Words

So, how has the beginning of 2022 been treating you? Any topics you would like to see covered here?

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.


One More Week of Daily Writing and Ideas

‘Challenge Must Go On’

After the first three weeks of publishing a new blogpost every day, this is what I’ve learned.

First of all, the daily grind of writing daily gets easier, but unlikely to become second nature. This is so far falling within expectations. The grind comes from fearing the writing process and the inherent writing block. As stated in the very first blogpost, the motive for starting this challenge was to learn to overcome this writer block. At this stage, I confirm that writing these blogposts is getting easier in comparison to the very first few ones. Ideas are flowing faster and in greater number. Sentences are forming in my head with less friction.

Furthermore and similarly to any skills, this is unlikely to become pain-free and the dread to write will not disappear, however smaller it becomes. This is both anticipated and in a sense welcomed. Part of what makes experiences enjoyable lies in the efforts that one pays to ripe the rewards. Like in a rollercoaster or climbing a mountain, the joy at the end is fueled by the fear or the sweat (or both ;p) in performing any of these activities.

Another side-effect consists in a lowering of my fear to share out more openly my thoughts and its positive impact on my stress level. A facet of my burn out stems from the harsh job environment of academia where written work (e.g. papers, proposals, reports, lecture notes, tutorials) are heavily criticized through their related review process. This had a massive negative impact on my mental state, already weakened by numerous bad personal and professional events. Some took place over a defined periods of time in the past and scared me till now to the point of more easily triggering burns out now. This is a point the work my therapist and I have been focusing on for the last year and we’ve made good progress on. I appreciate that very few of you are reading these blogposts as of now but releasing them combined with sharing them openly on this blog has tremendously eased the weight on my mind about my ability to write and share ideas. So thank you, the internet.

I thus shall continue to this writing challenge for all this above virtues and more.

‘Blog Will Rock You’

When scared about losing ideas to others, then one good advice surprisingly consists in sharing these ideas, as many more will start flowing; this writing challenge is no exception.

The more blogposts I write, the more ideas are coming to my head; at first during the writing sessions, then little by little throughout the day (please let me sleep at night). The first type of ideas consists of themes to write about in future posts. The second consists of future projects for this blog and general website. The third type is about the methods of sharing these ideas. The first two are self-explanatory and you will most likely see these ideas concretised in near-future blogposts or webpages.

The third type is however more subtle to describe. As much as I stated above that sharing these blogposts in the open on the internet has almost a therapeutic positive impact on my mental health, I also acknowledge that this blog is pretty hard to find and most likely (as confirmed by the website’s statistics) these posts are hardly read. This is the point I’m slowly warming up to improve by gathering the courage to share or advertise these posts more widely, especially on social media (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn). The objective is to gather more views and learn more and faster through exchanging comments with other readers. This can read at first as a contradiction to the point stated at the beginning of this post about how reviews badly impacted me. Rather than that, my view is rather that my mental health has been slowly regenerating through this writing challenge and is now ready to rise to the bigger challenge again.

There are also many other projects about creating a podcast about power electronics knowledge, a YouTube channel about modelling and control, a GitHub repository about open-source projects… You will hear more when these ideas will have more matured.

So, watch that space for more (grand and wider) announcements!

Closing Words

How has your reading experience on this daily blog been so far? Do you have any features or topics you would like me to cover?

For some reasons, the songs of the late Freddie Mercury resonated in my head while writing this blogpost. Did you catch their influence on the section names? ;p

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.


Marking in Progress

This is going to be a short post as it’s already late and tomorrow will be a long day as well.

This Part of the Education Cycle

Marking constitutes an inherent part of any teaching job, as much as exams are an inherent part of any students’ journey.

Exams are dreaded by students for the stress during the examination and the release (and consequences) of the resulting marks. Teachers also have to put a lot of efforts (aka time) into writing exam questions. Once the examination completed, the teachers will also spend a significant amount of time marking all these exam transcripts.

All in all, we all have to commit to exam and marking.

A Love Hate Relationship

I’m sure this is a feeling shared by many colleagues, but I’ve have a love-hate relationships with exams.

I like examining my students to measure (relatively quantitatively) how they have grown as skilled engineers. However, the volume of marking (easily 30min per transcripts and hundreds of them to mark) makes it a very daunting task…

To help me motivate myself to even start each mini marking sessions (it is unrealistic to mark everything at once), I usually keep picturing the curious and engaging students I have so much enjoying sharing knowledge and interacting during the course. Even if the transcripts are anonymous (which is an essential aspect of marking), my mind remains curious about how closer to a full engineer these students have become.

This means that I need to examine them. This means that I need to mark…

Closing Words

How do you tackle marking? Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.


Setting and Achieving Goals

Huberman Podcast

A new podcast has been skyrocketing on the internet over the last few months: The Huberman Lab podcast. Set up by Prof Andrew Huberman, professor of neurobiology at Stanford university, this (almost weekly) podcast aims to present insightful biological explanations and life tips supported by peer-reviewed research.

My wife and I discovered back in October after his episode on Dopamine made a splash on social media. We have since been trying to keep up with his release; mostly failling since the episodes are often released weekly and are information dense & long (1-2hrs). These episodes never miss to trigger a discussion between us and how we could potentially change of our habits in line with the reported research; my wife now likes to promptly open the curtains to see the sun in the morning!

I’ve got a feeling that his (future) episodes will make a recurrent appearance on this blog…

The One About Goal Setting

The latest episode on ‘Setting and Achieving Goals‘ is again very interesting and thought provocative. Prof Huberman has once again packed this episode (2-hour long!) with biological explanations on what motivate us to achieve the goals we set to ourselves (surprise, surprise! It includes dopamine).

As you may have already experienced yourself, the literature and social media on this topic is very prolific and provide enough claims about overriding the motivation problem that it could solve the World and more.

Prof Huberman focused on the scientific literature and came up with 9 life-hacking tools to approach goal setting and achieving:

  1. The 85% rule
  2. Initial focal visualisation
  3. Aged self-image
  4. Goal visualisation at the start
  5. Failure visualisation to carry on
  6. Challenge/reward balance
  7. Avoid goal distraction
  8. Specificity of goals
  9. Space-time bridging

Some Reflections

As Prof Huberman said in this episode, most of these points have been covered with different names in popular motivation books and some of them even seem obvious once you have experienced them at some points in your life.

I’m not going to comment on every of these points as the best would be for you to listen directly to the podcast. What I’ll share however are some (fairly hot) takes.

The 85% Rule

This one refers to managing the challenge level of the intermediate goal we are currently tackling. The idea consists in setting the difficulty level such that we succeed 85% of the time and fail 15%. The former reassures us that we are not overwhelmed by the task, while the latter keeps up on our toes and curious enough to put efforts into it. This applies typically when learning something.

I straight away thought about my own learning journey and present role as a teacher. Keeping the motivation high requires to make the goal look achievable but not too easy and I concur with this; not too sure about the stated ratio but apparently some research backs it.

This is definitely a point I need to remember when setting up a course and writing a specific lecture. The students should be able to grasp the vast majority of the points with minimal reflection (the 85%) but should nevertheless feel challenged by the new material presented to them.

Visualisation and Planning

All the points about visualisation and specifity of goals can be grouped under the classic project management umbrella. The final objective (e.g. mastering control theory) should feel grandiose enough to motivate us to start this journey in the first place.

However, this long-term vision can quickly become toxic as the goal may feel unattainable when we realise that hardly any (relative) distance has been covered after the first few steps. To counteract this stage, breaking down the journey into smaller steps and visualizing the eventually of failure will help to keep motivate and pushing forward.


The point about avoid goal distraction rang particularly home.

Having too many concurrent goals (also read projects) turns out to be counterproductive. Since our efforts become divided, our progress on each goal also slows down; potentially leading to a loss of motivation and an endless cycle of underperformance. In extreme (but unfortunately common) cases, burnout can appear and take hold (as I battle with myself cyclically for years).

In the world of university, academic time is often considered by many (including academic themselves) as of free and limitless. This combined with an environment prone to generate ideas (we are all educated in doing research after all) leads to a propension to often accept new projects, big and small.

However, the physicality of life and the absence of cloning (a recurring joke amongst academics) means that we become overcommitted and cannot deliver on all these projects.

This is further compounded by the fact that each of these projects often involves different stakeholders (e.g. students, industrial partners, various part of the administration, other colleagues in and outside our home university) and their lack of global vision on our workload (as well as our inability to communicate it) gives the impression that we are almost purposely making no progress on the project they are involved in.

As part of this year’s resolution, I will develop my assertiveness and let go of some projects/ideas as well as saying ‘no’.

Closing Words

And what do you think? How do you motivate yourself to set and achieve goals? Do you have some good references to share on this topic?

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.

diary Teaching

Asking Questions At Presentations (Part 1)

A Habit to Cultivate

“You should aim to always ask at least one question after a presentation.”

This was word by word the answer provided by a colleague to my interrogation years ago regarding her constant and pertinent questioning after each presentation. One of the many exceptional traits of this colleague was her habit to ask questions and how often these would invite the presenter to share addition insights that the presentation didn’t cover.

This struck me for two reasons. First, my inner self remains deeply rooted on the shy introvert side, often preventing me from interacting directly more with other people. Second, she managed to often ask pertinent questions, even when I couldn’t think of anything to ask due to either purely having misunderstood or already feeling satieted by the presentation.

When I reached out to her, she started explaining she used to feel similar but decided fairly early on in her education to challenge herself to ask at least one question, even if it was an obvious one. Like any regular practices (e.g. this writing challenge), she eventually developed a habit and accompanying skill of more easily coming up with more meaningful questions. This was one of these revealing moments to me and a new habit formed on that day.

Getting more from Presentations

Exercising this habit for some years now, benefits are undeniable.

First, it forces us – the audience – to be more attentive to the presentation. If we know we are going to ask something, we better try to gather materials ask about. This means that our focus is sharper and often our understanding of the presentation is deeper. This is contrasted to the opposite situation where we don’t ask necessarily ask questions, often leading to a mindset locked in the passive audience mode (think watching TV) and only the shallow and easy-to-grab message reaches our mind from the presentation we’ve just attended. This shift from passive to active listener thus already constitutes a simple yet effective mind trick.

Second, performing a presentation implies making editing choices and not all the pieces of information will be showed in an equal way – let alone included at all – due to time and format constraints of the presentation. This means that, as the audience, we are presented with a partial picture of what the full message should be. Questions bring an opportunity to piece together these gaps and often go beyond the initial delivery by the presenter.

Third, asking sensible questions supports your status as an intelligent person in the audience. Eventually, it could serve as an effective icebreakers either with the presenter or a member of the audience, with whom collaborations or further knowledge could be exchanged.

All these feel like a win-win, if done properly.

Closing Words

This post constitutes a first attempt at creating this guide on ‘how to ask questions at a presentation’. I will definitely come back to this topic as experience comes back with more ideas.

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.