Last trial run of the MSEM book, in Bamberg

Last summer I taught Multilevel Structural Equation Modeling at ECPR’s Summer School in Methods and Techniques. This summer, my coauthor, Bruno Castanho Silva did the same course. Today, we have a complete draft of the MSEM book (also co-authored by Constantin Manuel Bosancianu). For the last time, before we send it to the publisher (SAGE, QASS), we get to use it in action. I need to thank the University of Bamberg (with special thanks to Thomas Saalfeld) for inviting me to do this workshop on MSEM and giving us the opportunity to see how the book works in action and get feedback on our full draft.

How I came to love Strats

The sound, I always loved. My dad is a Strat player. And I had many Strats and similar guitars (including a Fender blue floral MIJ reissue when I lived in Nebraska). But those guitars and I could never agree with each other.

I was always more of an acoustic player. One thing about acoustic guitars is that they have no (like zero) crap on the top to be (potentially) in the way of playing. A Strat is a delicate machine where you have to strum paying attention to the knobs, switches and even the middle pickup, which is sometimes (or in my case, often) in the way.

The middle pickup issue is the easiest to live with. I always preferred guitars without a middle pickup (none of which would ever sound like a Strat), but as long as they leave me some space (and Strats do) I could work with it. A two humbucker with pickup frames and middle pickup, not so much…

The pickup switch placement is my second vice. A looser strum and I change from neck to bridge pickup. (And that is a change people notice even if you switch back quick…) But since, my playing is more refined. I can work it.

But this third one, I cannot deal with. The damn volume control. Apparently, the place I rest (or have, or whatever) my finger when strumming is right there at the volume control. I understand that having the volume control handy like that comes with great benefits, some tricks you cannot do, say, on a Gibson or a Tele, but those tricks are not me. And the natural movement of my hand while playing, what does it do? It turns the volume down. Basically, I cannot get through a quarter of a song, no matter how much I try, without turning the volume down, and usually all the way down. (And that change people really notice.)

But I love the Strat sound. I have been thinking about custom builds that overcome the issue. Maybe one that leaves off the volume control, puts it at the second knob leaving the third as overall tone could work. But it never looked right whenever I saw one of these set ups. (See above.) Or just pull a Tom DeLonge (as seen on his signature Fender Strat) and have no tone.

Still, the only Fender Strat I have seen that pulled off the limited knob set up was the pink Hello Kitty Squier with the slightly modified pickguard. But that will not get me closer to a Strat tone either (and neither would the Tom DeLonge) .

Enter a trip I once took to Stageshop, the best and really only worthwhile guitar store in Hungary, where they handed me a beat up looking Fano guitar. (By far the best guitar I have ever played, with a price to match at 7 digits in HUF – granted it started with 1 and ended with six 0s, but still – 3250 EUR, 3800 USD) That white Alt-de-Factor SP6 (actual one pictured below) had, what I learned to be called, a ToneStyler instead of a tone pot. (Though it was not the reason it was the best guitar I ever played. Not even close.) Here’s how the ToneStyler works. It is (in the case of the Fano) a 10 step rotary switch and every one of them sends the signal through a different value capacitor. The tone control rolls in a mix of the capacitor into the signal (I am sure I am screwing the terminology up – electricity is less my thing than sound). With the ToneStyler here, you can select 10 different sounds.

The ToneStyler is simply a better tone pot, in my opinion. Unless you want to use it for smooth sound effects, I think it is superior in sound and control in every way to a traditional tone knob. But they have one additional property. They don’t simply turn like any other volume or tone pot. It requires a bit of effort on the part of the player to switch between the positions.

So I got to thinking. What if I just replaced the volume pot in a Strat with a ToneStyler. The end of the story is that this worked like a charm. The rotary switch does not change just by gentle accidental touches to the pot making my main Strat problem a thing of the past. Sure, if I hand my guitar to someone, they are weirded out by the fact that the volume pot is a switch, the middle pot (well, maybe I should not get into it in detail, but it is called a Dan Armstrong wiring – look it up if you are interested) and the last pot becomes the volume down where I am use to having my volume on the Tele, far-far away from everything I could accidentally hit. Except, now I can also have that Strat sound. (Have been listening to a lot of John Mayer this year and it is hard not to lust for that sound – but I know… I know… the sound is mostly in the hand, and that is true. But a good guitar, a good amp, a healthy dose of placebo effect and some optimistic imagination certainly helps as well.)

ToneStylers are ridiculously expensive for what they are. I have looked to pick up a few older models on sale or used ones. I have a good enough stash now (even for so many projects). And if not, I bought a handful of rotary switches and planning to make my own. (Many on the net described how they built their own ToneStyler clones.)

By the way, a 10 way switch is overkill. Even if you set one at bypass and one at tone all the way up, you would not need more than 4-5 additional sounds. My vote is for the 6 way switch. They do make 6 way switches as well, so that’s cool, though my Strat now has a very old model which was a 16 way switch. It is ridiculous, but it works.

The Productivity Trap


There is a trap that is very easy to fall into in academia. You are constantly under pressure to do more. Deadlines are coming up, the work you have to get through is simply unmanageable. So you get stressed, easily distracted, mentally tired. I keep running for food (which especially sucks on a diet). Have way too much coffee with hopes to jump-start my brain. Even now I am writing this blog post instead of doing what I need to.

When this happens to me, I simply cannot get things done. Trivial tasks, as doing edits to a draft I have already marked up with paper (well, iPad) and pencil. This should be easy.

And the next thing I know, half the day is gone and I made a dozen edits that would normally take me 20 minutes with a fresh mind. Would it not have been better to just take the darn day off and get it all done in 20 minutes the next day with a fresh mind? Yeah, it would have.

Don’t be like me. Take time off! Recognize the trap and do not fall into it. If you do this right, it will make you more productive and you will get more done, on average.

Lets talk guitars (some are up for grabs if you are interested)

Something I have way too much of, with way too many projects coming up…  I should thin the existing the herd. (Let me know if you are interested.)

I didn’t have much off time in the past few weeks, but in the little I did have, I hit this project I have been wanting to deal with for months. I have this Peavey Reactor AX from the 90’s. (The more premium line of the Made in USA Peavey tele guitars. The last line of affordable electric guitars made in the US.) The more premium AX line came with blade pickups but one of the coils in the neck pickup was dead in mine. Had to do something with it. (That neck pickup was everything but useful anyway. I like the bridge pickup, but, lets face it, the only reason to put a blade pickup into a Tele is because you refuse to play anything but Teles and you need a different sound – this was not the case for me.)

So I dug through my drawers and found a few options. I had a re-wound American Standard pickup (I understand it was wound by Lindy Fralin for a more beefy tone. It has an awesome vintage white string coil cover.) I also had a hot ceramic Made in Mexico Fender Strat neck pickup. The neck pickup in this guitar was strat sized. I had several tele neck pickups lying around as well, but that would have required a new pickguard at minimum. So I needed a strat pickup for the neck.

(I also got a beat up Peavey Predator AX strat I got from someone in Alabama. Stereotypically, it came with a huge vinyl John 14:6 sticker on it along with that MIM Fender in the neck and three (3!!) Kent Armstrong HR1RAs that are completely rusted up due to what I assume to be the Alabama humidity and many hours of sweaty Christian rock.  I don’t know what I am gonna do with these Kent Armstrongs. They look like hell. Would be a great relic project but I am not a fan of these pickups, in general. I rewired this guitar with more classic strat pickups I got from Italian Boutique maker Alberto Arcangeli, aka Dreamsong Pickups, who is a super nice dude. I also had that strat refretted with vintage steel frets. It is my preferred Peavey of the two, I have to admit. I have a third one, but that is a whole different beast from the perspective of comparability – Floyd Rose, Humbuckers, EVH… great neck though.)

So I kept on digging in the drawer and found an unidentified (and unidentifiable – I have no clue where I got it) strat pickup with more vintage measurements. For the bridge, I also found the prototype Alberto made for my Baritone, a tele bridge pickup with a more vintage vibe. (In the end, this pickup was not very balanced in the baritone so he had to make one with staggered polpieces, which works perfectly now. But I had this left over.) Given the acoustic and tonal characteristics (and the looks) of this guitar, I figured the more vintage vibe, vs the more in your face set previously described should work better.

So I got to work. Lead on the strat pickup was ridiculous, but I was able to fit it with the pickup switch working backward. I only had to extend ground (which should be OK). The two pickups are RWRP as far as I can tell/hear, so that is cool too. I found a nice white cover for the neck pickup. You be the judge, but I think it looks a lot cooler than a black cover. (The original pickup was black and this one had a black cover too.) The result, this shitty neck pickup sounds great. Totally delivers that strat neck sound. The bridge is pure tele joy. The in between is somewhere in between the in between of a tele and a strat in tone. A very useable sound that can imitate the best of both worlds. I am super happy with the results.

I’ll play with it a bit more as its new set up is a lot of fun, but I already suspect that it is going to need a new home. The neck is a sporty, fast playing rock neck and I prefer a chunky, beefy vintage baseball bat. I will keep the strat (same neck) and probably set it up for versatility once this project I last wrote about is done. (For versatility, I am thinking Seymour Duncan Twangbanger in the bridge, said MIM start pickup in the middle with its own volume control as a subtle roll in for those country licks, and a Seymour Duncan Little ’59 in the neck.)

I have so many tele projects it is not even funny. I bought this body (left) a while back from the same dude I got this strat body from. And I should have also bought the one on the right too (as I love it and it was peanuts) but it was too close to linked strat body in style and color. It is sitting at my friend’s place in Nebraska. I need a neck and have my eyes on a few pieces.

I am also eyeing this beast only to make sure nobody can accuse me of being anti-second amendment. (I guess the shotgun shells here help as well.) But this would need a new neck as well. (Maybe I could find a nice sneakhead for this.) And that pickup (or pickup routing) would be hard to hide. It cannot stay as such. (Holes on the back, but not a string through set up. Shitty. Plus an Esquire should be… well… an Esquire) I would probably have to get a bridge like this below (as this is the only thing I found that is wide enough to cover a humbucker hole – that research was done for my Fender Baritone Blacktop conversion back into a real tele). On the baritone and I am super happy with this bridge, but stylistically I am not sure this is the right hardware for this ammo crate salvage body.

I guess I could make both of these Esquires, one with the Fralin rewind and the other with the Peavey Blades.  I still have another a tele set sitting around somewhere so I guess I would just have to stay on the look out for something tele and awesome. (And the baritone has a horribly heavy body too. I would not mind replacing.) I have a pickup set for a Brent Mason set up as well. (At least the vintage stack tele for the bridge and the hot stack strat for the middle. I also have a vintage stack neck tele but, honestly, I would not mind pairing it with a Don Mare Big Box either… I love that sound.) So plenty of tele projects in my future I feel. One thing I am sure about, one of these should be a bender. (Probably this Mason-Big Box one.)

Man, I saw an American Fender Strat (!!) with Glaser B and G (!!) benders for under a grand. I should have jumped on it immediately, but I was weirded out by the fact that it was a strat and not a tele. But hindsight, I totally could have worked it. See “versatile” set up above. But there is this German dude who makes B/G bender conversions and builds dual bender Teles. Last I asked, he was willing to make me one for under a grand without the pickups. (That was two years ago, and while I don’t know this guy’s work, it may be very good, he is definitely not Joe Glaser.) I do wonder if he could do a Tahiti Coral finish for me… hmmm…)

I also have this black Epiphone Dot. It was fun to play around with but I just can’t justify keeping it around since I purchased a similar style Duesenberg (hunted down a Japanese Limited Edition just for the color). I also have a pretty good 000C-16 Martin acoustic (with Fishman) that is not getting much lap time. (It is a very special line and time guitar not to be confused with the pile of garbage the 16 line became after 1995. Best value for money as far as Martins go.)

So if you are interested in the Peavey tele, Epi Dot or the Martin, make me an offer.


As I signed my name to the third piece of paper recently (or was it the fourth), I am wondering, where is that person who swore they would never write a book. Now, with this signature, I have three book contracts, and even an edited volume forthcoming soon.

So lets talk about these a bit. It is good to take stock of what am I doing.

Hawkins K, Carlin R, Littvay L, Rovira Kaltwasser C (eds.) (forthcoming) The Ideational Approach to Populism: Concept, Theory, and Analysis Extremism and Democracy series at Routledge

I am very much looking forward to this one. A little over a year ago I wrote an opinion piece in Nature where I argued for the importance of systematic comparative analysis. This book is our (Team Populism‘s) first attempt at this and, while not perfect, I am pretty happy with the outcome.

Then there is the almost finished book with my former students, Bruno Castanho Silva and Constantin Manuel Bosancianu on Multilevel Structural Equation Modeling. There is no book dedicated to the subject, to date. There are a few good book chapters, but we wanted to do something more accessible to a less technical crowd (and since Bruno asked me if we could just write this equation in landscape, I am not sure we succeeded). We pitched the idea to SAGE’s Little Green Book series a while back and they liked it. We managed to workshop earlier draft chapters at the 2016 and 2017 ECPR Summer Schools in Methods and Techniques and in a few weeks we will do it again. Hopefully it will be a complete draft by then. This solely depends on my writing and editing superpowers. (Yeah, I should be writing that and not blog posts.)

(On a side note, how inept I am at up to date quantitative methods technology will become clear at the bottom of this post, but I am proud to see that my former students’ webpages are on github – a platform I very much need to learn how to use. (And they aren’t the only ones to have their pages on github.) Not having the time to learn everything I want to learn, I hope, is compensated somewhat by pushing my students down rabbit holes they need to tumble-down to get (well) ahead of where I am at. #FeelingOldUnder40. I know, I know, I am embarrassing…)

Riding on the success of this idea and after years of discussions on what we should collaborate on, Jochen Mayerl and I sat down after the 2016 ECPR Summer School and spent two days discussing (and pounding out) what a short introductory Structural Equation Modeling book would look like if we wrote one. Fortunately SAGE’s same series, that was visibly missing a modern SEM book from the 170+ book repertoire, sounded convinced. We spent some time a year later working out some of the details, but the work starts early next year and hopefully we will have a draft to pilot at the 2018 ECPR Summer School.

But even before that, Cambridge University Press approached Kirk Hawkins to write a short book for their new Elements series on how the 2016 US election (read: Donald Trump, but we think also Bernie Sanders) fits into the comparative world of populism. Americanists in the US can be quite detached from the world of comparative politics and it is clear that current events caught them (as much as everyone else) by surprise. Americanists want to look into Trump and populism, so instead of reinventing the wheel (or rather, further confusing an already massively muddled concept – there is a lot of that going on nowadays), maybe placing the US in a comparative context where populism has been studied for decades is not a bad idea. And the Elements series looks like a great medium to do this. This also gives some opportunities to show off systematic comparative research (which is still the exception in populism studies).

The irony of Kirk (the American) asking me (the Hungarian) to write a book with him on American politics (not his field, much more mine) should not escape anyone. Between the two of us, I think we have sufficient chops in systematic comparative research on the level of elites, masses, focus on Latin America, Europe and, of course, the US to do this right. This is going to be fun. I am very much looking forward to it. And it is going to be tough as deadlines are tight. They want the book by the end of January. (February might actually be doable. At least these things are short, which, in the case of the SEM book may be more a challenge than an asset, but…)

There is another reason I am looking forward to this. Recently, a medical researcher colleague asked me to help with some stats. I figured I will finally do this the right way. I have been teaching R and good coding practices for years to my students but I never internalized them myself. I figured I will do this right, for once. (I won’t open SPSS, etc.) It was so much fun. For most of my political science work I rarely get to open a stats package. I rarely open
R and not realize it is way outdated and I should upgrade. When I have to run something, it is usually in Mplus and I can usually get a collaborator to give me clean, Mplus ready data (or I am in a rush and do it in SPSS, thought it has been a while). Now I have a project where I can and will do everything myself and do it right. Looking forward to learning more about visualization in R. I did a workshop with Martin Molder but still never had to open ggplot2.

So I have three books to write before the start of my sabbatical (assuming the request goes through to leave next fall for a year). What will I do on my sabbatical? I guess I have ideas. CEU’s Comparative Populism Project will start to produce data. There are multiple other grant proposals, grant calls in the pipeline with the potential to keep me busy doing populism research (or, at least, scientific busy work with hopes of generating something useful – like data – for research). Maybe another book? Definitely articles. I do have a plan at the back of my head to write one more stats book, this one on experimental design for political and social scientists. We will see if that happens. I need to do a lot more research on what is out there before I commit to writing even a proposal for this.

On procrastination, or how internet corporatism messes with our brains

Another guest post, this time by my friend, colleague and trusted teaching assistant for Scopes and Methods: Stanislas Richard.

Procrastination is not a new phenomenon – Leonardo Da Vinci is famous for having left unfinished a fair number of his paintings. However, his procrastination was not entirely a problem neither for him nor his creativity. If Leonardo decided to postpone the completion of the Adoration of the Magi and to work on The Last Supper instead, it is more likely he did so because he felt the final work would not meet his expectation (perfectionism is often the main cause of procrastinating behaviour), rather than him just being lazy.  Neither Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo’s early master, nor Ludovico Sforza, his first unfortunate patron, could complain that his procrastination was unproductive

Delaying the completion of a task was not a problem for the Renaissance man’s career, and this, in a nutshell, is the difference between Leonardo and me (the only one, really). When I feel bad because I wasted my day on Facebook, my complaint is not that I yet again failed to start this overdue paper, it is rather that I did not do anything at all. Not starting this paper would have been all right if I used that time to read this collection of essay on Neuroscience and Political Theory which is gathering dust on my shelf since I bought it and that I promise myself to read every time I see it.

This “unproductivity” is I think a new feature of contemporary procrastination. It is also why I believe that most of us suffer from something else than putting off an unpleasant task, our problem is rather an incapacity to focus our attention on any task that we could perform instead, any task at all.

So what happened?

I am not the first person in my family to write a PhD – I am kind of a walking proof of this appalling feature of modern society that is social reproduction. Incidentally, my grandfather has a Ph.D. in History, and my mother has a Ph.D. in International Relations.

I was not there when my granddad wrote his dissertation in communist Poland. But I can imagine the picture – he walks in his office, sits at his desk, and puts it in order while lighting a cigarette (he was a heavy smoker). Let us have a look at his desk. I bet it resembled something like this.

What’s lying there is simple, his books and the notes he took in the archives, his typewriter, perhaps an ashtray and the latest Trybuna Ludu. In other words, nothing that could distract him for what he intended to do. He has literally no choice but to get to work. Sure, he could read a couple of lines in the newspaper, but at some point, he will have finished it, and will be required to start writing, since there is nothing else to do. The human brain hates emptiness, it needs to be busy with something. Grandpa could not do anything else than diving into his work. He could procrastinate and write poetry instead (I have no idea if he did, I need to ask Grandma), but that would not change the fact that he would have something to show for it at the end of his day.

Now let us have a look at how my day sometimes looks like. I get inside the lab, sit down in front of my computer, full of good intention and ready to write a new Critique of Pure Reason and … I go on Facebook – just to check, after that, I swear, I start writing. But I see a friend of mine who wants to catch up. He will know I read his message, so not to appear rude, I will write a lengthy paragraph to reassure him that my life is overall as uninteresting as his. And, since I am at it, I will go check the Instagram of that cute girl I like. And now, Levi asks me to write a guest post for his blog, so I will go check on YouTube some videos about procrastination. A couple of clicks latter, I am watching a debate about transubstantiation in byzantine theology. I look at my watch. It is time for lunch, and the only thing that looks like the Critique of Pure Reason is the original version on pdf that I downloaded six months ago but still have not read (guess what happened every time I tried).

Does this story sound familiar? What’s the problem? Why cannot I be like Grandpa?

Well, there is one difference between him and myself, my desk looks like this:

And on the desk, thrones the father of all procrastinators, the matrix of time wasting, the vortex that devours countless hours of the little time I have in my earthy life – the internet.

The internet is a wonderful thing. The problem is that you have everything, every content and distraction you want, one click away. And it never ends – it is not like Grandpa’s Trybuna Ludu. So, is the solution to boost your productivity to unplug your router cable?  Well, not really. You cannot work without the internet after all – most of the articles and paper you write are now digitalized – and it is a good thing, it does save a lot of time, and it is simply convenient. To get the literature he needed, Grandpa had to travel a lot between libraries and archives, and it is just easier and faster to download everything. So, perhaps, it would be just a matter of self-discipline? That can be part of the solution, but it will not do, simply because the internet is literally designed to keep you away from your work, and to drag your attention away from this paper you wanted to start writing two months ago. This is the fundamental problem that we all struggle with. The internet is fundamentally user unfriendly as a work tool, since the range of what it can do is too broad.

Imagine my Grandpa typing his dissertation. He gets bored for a minute – it happens. Well, he does not have much to do, does he?  He can light a cigarette or fetch some tea, but quickly he will get back to work. Our situation is different. When we get bored, we have the entire cultural legacy of human history at the tip of our fingers. At the first sign of boredom, we can immediately switch to the new season of Game of Thrones or Erika Lust’s films. It is surprising that any of us ends up working at all. We should be in awe in front of the self-discipline we display every time we write a single sentence.

The internet has also a problem in the way it is supposed to function. Internet, as we all know it when we get our bills, is a private sphere. Everything there is designed to make money, and the more you spend on a given site, the more its owner gets in ad revenues. The more we scroll down on our Facebook feeds, the more Facebook stock shares increase in value. There are fortunes being made on us mindlessly browsing social media – some people have a financial interest in preventing us from being productive. Most internet sites, social media and applications are designed with the goal to make us stick to them with methods that sometimes border neurological manipulation. If you want to know more about this? Check for yourself.

This is pretty insane when you think about it – and I hope it is not a surprise for anyone. The invasion of private life by corporate interests has become so rampant that even your free time, your very procrastination, is now monetised. This is just the tip of the iceberg – I do not have the space here to talk about shadow work, or the neurological consequences of the aggressive advertisement campaign that the Internet allows, all of which are often responsible for you not being able to finish this overdue paper.

The worst part of the story is that we are our own enemies in this. Humans are feeble, weak creatures, and yet the internet is designed as if we were automatons, made of steel, endowed with an iron willpower, and without, needs, urges, or lazy days – the fantasy of every self-respecting capitalist if you think about it. If this reminds you of the strategy used by the tobacco industry that adjust nicotine dosages to render cigarettes even more addictive, you are right – first render a product essential, second,  manipulate the users so they cannot quit. This business model has a name now, it is called the attention economy, and its devastating effects on the human brain, on public health, and even on democracy starts being criticized in the Silicon Valley itself. Read about it HERE.

Our entire economic system is built around the key notion of productivity and yet it does everything to sabotage it at the same time by messing with natural, human fallibility. We actually cannot even procrastinate properly anymore – like Leonardo Da Vinci did.

But before you decide to give up on civilization and start training in an anarcho-primitivist terrorist camp in Amazonia to overthrow capitalism, I have some good news. There are solutions.

Solution 1: Install attention nannies.

Human willpower is a limited resource, and the best way not to sin is not to be tempted. There are applications that exist which allow you to focus on your work simply by blocking time wasting sites. I am not exaggerating when I say they saved me hundreds of hours.  Here is a list of them:

  • Stayfocusd is an app that allows you to block or reduce the available amount of time you can spend on a select list of sites. My favourite feature is that if you want to give yourself more time to browse them, you need to copy, by hand, a text on procrastination, and why it is bad.
  • Leechblock functions like stayfocusd but it also counts the number of hours you spend on time wasting site overall. No time to practice a musical instrument or going to the gym? Well, look how much you spent on Instagram today…
  • KillFBfeed (for Firefox) or Kill News Feed (for Chrome) and there are others that make your Facebook feed appear blank. Simple, yet very effective if you want to keep Facebook messenger open. (Levi: I installed this immediately after Stan mentioned it in class. I am better for it. I kind of missed that there was an election in Germany, but I digress…). Newsfeed Eradicator works the same, but instead of leaving your newsfeed blank it puts some awesome quotes about freedom, discipline and work that some clever people once said or wrote. And if you feel smarter, or just like insulting yourself, you can even put your own.
  • Rescue Time provides you with a picture of your day as given by the list of sites you browsed that day (and how much time you spent on them). Allow me to tell you that when I tried, it did not look pretty. The premium version is not free, but the free service still allows you to plan your day most effectively.

Solution 2: Plan your “Social media time”.

Whether we like it or not, it is difficult to live without emails, Facebook, tweets, and social media in general. I do not like RSS feeds, and Facebook provides me access to a lot of content that I am happy to read. But I do not want to do it all the time. I check my Facebook only twice a day, for instance. When people used to write letters (yeah, people used to do that), they were devoting an hour or two every morning to it. Let’s do the same, but for social medias. From 9 to 10, I read the articles, papers, and interesting stuff that appeared on my news feed. Afterwards, I switch it off (with Killfbfeed).

Solution 3: Make some non-digital space.

Have a non-digital space on your desk. This sounds silly, but think about it, most of us, if we wanted to work on a paper without using our computers, would not even have a flat space to put our sheets of paper on. Our desks have become spaces planned around our electronic devices. Have a place on it for you to work without switching them on. If you need to put your keyboard away to read and annotate a printed work, it means your computer takes too much space, and you cannot start working without it if you do not have space for analogue work.

Solution 4: Learn how to switch off your laptop/phone and have hobbies.

A lot of us just go on the internet because they do not have anything else to do. This is bad because if we get the practice of visiting time-wasting sites in our free time, we might as well do the same during our working time (and we waste time anyway). I remember that once I had to live two weeks without an Internet connection, so I could not just sit at my desk and spend my time in front of my screen. The amount of time that was liberated blew my mind. It is like someone opened a tap from which free hours flowed that I could devote to reading, going on a stroll, or to play music. This is probably the most difficult (and I still do not do it), but let’s learn how to switch off our devices. You want to read the news? Take the newspaper. You want to listen to music while cooking? Switch on the radio and leave your laptop in the office. You want to prepare a draft for a paper? Do it in a notebook, not on Microsoft Word. Want to read an article to be up to date with the literature. Print it (Levi: poor trees) and have a look at it on the couch. You come back home after a long day? Sit in front of your piano instead of your Facebook. Reducing the amount of time, you spend on a screen is the best way to avoid procrastination – and to banish the corporate parasite from our lives and brains.

How to do a literature review

from PhDComics

Before we go into this topic, lets just take a moment and recognize how spoiled we are. Nobody under 40 (and that includes me for a little while longer) had to ever look though paper based library catalogues to find an article, never had to take multiple paper copies to a conference to exchange with colleagues and never had to stand in the paper room at a conference trying to find the new works of the people they were interested in reading only to find that every copy is already gone. (In fact, most of us don’t even know what a paper room at a conference is.)

The Internet democratized science and while some barriers to accessing papers still exist, titles, author lists, abstracts, at minimum, are readily available at your fingertips. For the rest, we should thank our library staffs who not only work tirelessly to help us by tearing down those barriers, their jobs over the past couple decades transformed completely. They adopted and we reap the benefits.

Back in the day, you couldn’t do this, but today you have incredible tools at your disposal to do a literature review. So how do you proceed?

Usually you have a starting point. You have a paper, a book that inspired you. If you don’t have that starting point, find one. Dig up the wikipedia article on the subject you are interested in, (if there isn’t one, make one) and see if they cite a scholarly piece? Or just do a Google Scholar search (that is – and remember this website as it will come up again.)

(1) Find a starting point. (Sometimes, you have multiple starting points, that is fine as well.)

(2) Read your starting point(s). Make note of every (and I mean EVERY) relevant piece they cite.

(3) Take a look at the list of pieces you complied from the citations. When looking at a paper (and see also the How to Read post), first, you should always read the title. Sometimes the title will already tell you if this is something you should be interested in (you should figure this out from just the citation and without looking up the paper, the abstract). Always take note of the author, check the outlet it is published in. (Assess the quality of the outlet, this may require a google search or two.) If you still feel interested, read the abstract. At this point you should be able to decide with almost certainty if the paper (or book, I may overuse paper or article here, but it applies to anything that could be cited) is worth reading on or not. (Note that sometimes things are, in fact, worth reading but you don’t necessarily need to end up citing all of it. Maybe it will be a better fit for a future study. You won’t end up citing everything you read.)

This strategy of looking who people cite takes you back in time from your starting point. But, today, there is another path. This one takes you in the other direction temporally. (Not all the way to the future, but counting from the publication date of a key paper, yes.)

(4) With Google Scholar you can look at who cites a certain article. You probably still want to start with the ones you selected in Point 1. Type (or copy and paste) the title (precisely) into Google Scholar. Usually the first hit will be the paper you searched for (and if not, it is usually not much lower). Here, among other things, you will see the number of citations that paper received, to date. Click the number, and voilà, you have the list of papers that cite this study. Especially if you are looking at an important book or article, there could be many items on this list. Google orders them by the number of times they have been cited (which is a reasonable proxy of importance, especially for studies that have been out for a few years). Sometimes the task of looking through all these seems daunting. You don’t have the reference of any context as before (like in what context a paper was cited). At the same time you will find that many of these articles will not be relevant for you. (Sometimes it is surprising how many contexts a study could be cited in.) Remember the reading strategy. Read the titles on this list first (and most of the time your search will end here). If you feel you have to filter more, stick to the pieces with the highest number of citations and augment this list with pieces published in the past year or two . (Yes, you can filter by year.) These pieces may be important but did not have time to accumulate too many citations yet).

(5) And do it over and over and over and over. Once you identify and read an important article, save it, read it, (it is also a good idea to take notes on it), identify new cites, check who cites this article.

Once you are at the point where you are going in circles, you are seeing the same pieces come up over and over with almost no new information coming your way anymore, you are done.

One important thing to keep in mind is when doing a literature review, you need the literature that most closely connects with your work, your points, your arguments. If you go too broad, the work will certainly be unmanageable. Sure, pay homage to the most important publications in the general field, but you do not need to cite (or read) everything that vaguely relates to what you do. Knowing what is too distant and what is close enough to consider is kind of an art form, but with practice you will pick this up quick. What helps in this exercise the most is if you know what you are doing when you start.

Also, I am not going to lie, this is a work intensive, time-consuming and brain wrecking activity. When you start on it, the work will seem absolutely unmanageable. Work systematically and, I promise, you will get to the end. At the same time it is also a very fulfilling process. During these steps you are becoming a total expert in a field. Maybe it won’t feel like it at the time because you cannot process so much information at once, but after the initial steps the information, with time and thinking, it will skink in. Focus on the key points that most capture your attention. Write about them during the process as part of your reading notes, annotated bibliographies. Revisit your notes after you took some rest. Go take a day off after a multi-day, intensive, literature review. Go out in nature, clear your head to kick-start your thinking again.

I have gone through this process a few times. The most notable was when I changed MS thesis topics for my Survey Research and Methodology Masters Degree (the second one and already after I received my PhD in Political Science). I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Use a twin studies approach on survey response style. I found an article I liked on measuring extreme response style in an everyday survey. But I was much more uncertain about the measurement of acquiescence and I needed a solid literature review on how these two phenomena are conceptualized and/or measured.

This literature dates back the 1920s, though it is less broad than some other topics in the social sciences. Cycling through the above process took me 4-5 days. I went to my favorite coffee shop (at the time) and just worked 10-14 hour days. In the end I collected, read, took notes on 60 articles. I probably considered (read the titles of, or maybe started looking at the abstract of) over 1000 and fully read the abstract of hundreds. Depending on the topic, your experience with academic reading, your reading speed, your personal discipline, your interest in the activity, your mileage may vary greatly.

Interestingly, I think, this was the closest I ever came to experiencing Flow. I am a horrible programmer, (I do quite a bit of it, but I passionately hate it) so it is quite unlikely that I will ever get there with programming. But this process was just flying. I read about flow only at a later time, but it immediately made sense specifically because of this literature review experience. So there are certainly synergies with Flow productivity. Consider training your brain in that as well and you may be surprised how efficient you can be during this process.

Best of luck.

Enjoy the Budapest Music Scene

I am a firm believer that life does not stop when grad school work begins. (If for you it did, you are doing it wrong. Your grad school productivity is a function of how much rest and off time your brain has. Give it the time it needs to get things done efficiently, in less time. More on this in another post.) So, sparked by a conversation with one of you, students, on the departmental trip, I asked two of the pros, Juraj Medzihorský and Natalia A. Peral who recently left our PhD program to write up some tips and tricks for you. (Many thanks for the contribution.) This is our first guest post. There should be more coming. If you think you have something to offer to students, talk to me about posting it here.

The (mostly) classical music scene of Budapest (by Juraj Medzihorský)

One of the many great features of being a student in Budapest is the chance to see a lot of great music for really cheap. There are two principal venues for classical music Müpa Budapest (Palace of Arts) and the Liszt Academy.

Müpa is where the CEU graduation ceremony usually takes place, so as a CEU student you’ll get there eventually. There’s no reason to wait for your graduation to visit Müpa.

With a student card, such as the CEU ID, you can buy student tickets for 500 HUF. (Levi: Lets hope the Hungarian government did not mess this up as well allowing only the government issued student IDs. I would not put it past them.) These tickets are sold on the spot before the concert. Usually, the tickets are for the uppermost balcony. However, in case there are still unsold seats minutes before the concert, these are sold as students tickets as well. You can guess your chances of getting a good seat by checking which seats are already sold on Müpa’s website. A note of warning: for the majority of concerts it is easy to get a student ticket, and often with a pretty good seat. However, for high-profile performers and orchestras–think Daniel Barenboim or the Berlin Philharmonic–there will be a cue for the student tickets already hours in advance, and many will still not get a ticket. Just the same, you might get lucky as your humble correspondent did on an occasion or two, and end up paying 500 HUF for a 10 000 HUF seat

You can see the list of performances at

As you can see, Müpa’s program is by no means limited to classical music. Jazz and world music is also on feature there regularly.  On some days there are two concerts in parallel–this is possible because Müpa has two concert halls. One of the biggest attractions regularly appearing in Müpa is the Budapest Festival Orchestra. BFO is often ranked among the top 10 world leading orchestras, and it has a distinct character.

Perhaps the easiest way to get to Müpa, especially if you are going from the CEU campus, is to take the tram number 2.

Finally, a note on the dress code. While most concertgoers at Müpa dress up a bit, no one is going to stare at you for wearing smart casual.

The Liszt Academy is a different type of venue, with a central role in Hungarian musical education. It is also placed in the center of Budapest, about 20 minutes walk from CEU. Alas, the Academy does not offer student tickets of the same type as Müpa. However, performances there are often priced reasonably (think 1-2 thousand Forints), and quite a few of them are for free. That being said, tickets at the Academy often sell out days if not weeks before the performance. So plan ahead. You can find the program here.

Just like at Müpa, it includes also jazz and occasionally other genres as well. And just like at Müpa, you can do no wrong attending in smart casual.

For Opera Lovers (by Natalia A. Peral)

Do you love Opera? Budapest is your place!

In Hungary, the costs of the tickets are a bargain for the quality of the Opera you will see. You must know that the Opera season runs from September to May every year, June being mostly a month with a program for kids, specific events and one or two Gala nights. By early March the Opera also launches the season tickets so keep this mind if you are willing to get those!

As for the season 2017/2018 the Opera house will be closed and a shorter program will take place in Erkel Teather.  The Opera building is under renovation so you will have to wait until 2018/2019 season to really enjoy the full spirit of Opera in Budapest.

Do you want to know how to access to cheap tickets, even free performances? Here are some tips.

  • The cheapest seats are not necessarily the cheapest option.  Although there is a fixed price you can see online (my favorite website is hereor at the cashier in the Opera house, sometimes you can also access to even cheaper tickets through the following options
    • Get the ticket just few minutes before the Opera starts. I have done that many times paying 1000 HUF for a ticket that normally costs 17,000 HUF. Yes, it is possible and you need to be lucky! Generally, in every Opera day there are some empty seats of the seasonal tickets (people goes on holidays, get sick etc.!). People with seasonal tickets donate them to the Opera house so for the house to be able to re-sell them and collect extra money.
    • Ask for rehearsals and morning Opera performances: there used to be some at 11am, and rehearsals timing also varies. Just ask for these options at the cashier at the Opera house. I know, you have to be a true opera lover to find any charm in an Opera at 11am! Yet, tickets are very cheap, I recall paying 400 HUF, and even nothing at all!
    • Know a dancer, a staff member, a singer!  They are not only the best people to hang out with but also sometimes the best and only option to get access to performances that are easily sold out.  This is a win-win option, you not only will learn a lot and turn into a great fan of your talented friend but also you will be able to access to tickets for a very decent price, or to gain access to tickets that are not available otherwise!
  • The most expensive seats at best prices are lately more difficult to find since Erkel Theater opened its doors again. However, you can still try some options:
    • Ask for a last minute season ticket or last minute specific seat that you know is expensive due to its better location.
    • Check the various cultural events that take place in Budapest: for example, in September each year the official buildings are opened to the public and the Opera house sometimes distribute tickets on first come first serve basis for any performance on that specific day. This might change this year as only Erkel Theater is running the Opera performances!
    • Buy Season Tickets as early as possible. Know that most of them are sold out on the very first day they are announced, that happens on the same day that the Opera house announces its program for the year. This requires that you stay in tune with the cultural life in Budapest, or the Opera website! Remember that is generally in March when this takes place.

The dress code in Hungary is extremely free so don’t let the prejudices related to dress code and the Opera of the 19 century traditions deter you. However, keep in mind that the holders of season tickets in Hungary are generally traditional families and well experienced Opera lovers. So if you plan to get a seat that is part of the season tickets then, be aware that some might make you feel uncomfortable with their gaze – if you are just reaching the opera with your sport clothes, for example. Traditional season tickets holders are very protective of Opera traditions, everywhere, not only in Hungary! Nevertheless, except for the specific gala nights with specific dress code (generally thematic as well), you are free to reach the Opera with any outfit you want.

Whether is your first time at the Opera or not, there are two main performances I will always recommend in Budapest “La Boheme” and “La Traviata”. Performance, music and scenography are of an impeccable taste and level! This is just a personal viewpoint. I still truly believe that the best performances I have seen in the world of those two pieces are from my beloved Opera in Budapest!

Nevertheless, the Opera in Budapest is of high quality so keep exploring anything there is in the program until you build your own favorites!

If this is indeed your first time at an Opera performance, keep in mind that no necessarily you will get the flavor of the whole art-form in one opera day.  I particularly do not enjoy much Wagner but I do love Verdi and Puccini. So, I was very lucky that my first time at an Opera house was to see Tosca. My advice, your first time deserves the company of an Opera lover, so get someone next to you with the right passion to make of this an unforgettable memory!

As a disclaimer, keep also in mind that if this is your first time at an Opera performance, do not prejudge it through your experience at the Erkel Teather this year. Opera performances at the Opera house are sublime!  However, that might not necessarily be the case at Erkel Theater. I still resist returning there after it ruined the acoustic of “Aida”. I can tolerate the ugly building but I cannot tolerate the bad acoustic!  I haven’t returned since then, 2 years ago, maybe this has been fixed already!

Again, this is just a personal taste, do not let it deter you! Try it out! The quality of the Opera in Budapest is supreme and the cheapest in the world! No kidding!