Friday, August 9, 2013

How to Write an Excellent Technical Conference Paper

One of my roles as an ECE PhD candidate is to write and publish IEEE conference papers. If you've been accepted to an engineering PhD program, your advisor will expect you to publish conference papers on your research. Now, I've seen great conference papers that tell good stories, and I've seen papers that I've tossed aside because they have little merit because I can hardly make head or tails of them. Today, I will give you tips on how to write conference papers that will be excellent because they tell your research story clearly and succinctly.

To begin, you should understand that many technical conferences exist, and some conferences need papers so badly that the technical chairs will accept almost any paper. In other words, you need to choose your conference carefully. Even the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) has poor quality conferences even though the IEEE is regarded for publishing excellent technical content. As you begin writing your paper, ask your PhD advisor to what conference you should submit your paper. He/she will have ideas on which conferences demand excellent papers. For example, in my research field of antenna arrays optimized with genetic and other stochastic algorithms, excellent conferences include

  • IEEE Antennas and Propagation Symposium
  • IEEE Microwave Theories & Techniques Society International Microwave Symposium
  • IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation
  • ACM Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference
  • IEEE-APS Topical Conference on Antennas and Propagation in Wireless Communications
This list is certainly not complete, nor may it be relevant to your research areas. However, each of these conferences expects high quality papers, and paper submissions are peer reviewed. If your paper is accepted, that means your paper is good.

Second, you need to understand how a conference paper is organized. A conference paper is not the same thing as writing an essay for an english class or a final project report for a capstone course. Conference papers are divided into clear sections as shown in the figures below. 

Diagram showing first page of a sample conference paper 

Diagram showing a final page of a sample conference paper

Conference papers are typically double columned and single spaced with page limits ranging from two pages to eight pages. Each conference has their own paper formatting rules, and you can find those rules on the conference's website. In general, conference papers have several ordered sections following the title and authors lines:
  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction / Background
  3. Methods (Alternatively: Experimental setup, Theory)
  4. Results (Alternatively: Experimental results, Simulation Results)
  5. Conclusion
  6. Bibliography (i.e., references list)

Tip: Download the appropriate paper template from the conference website

Tip: Use LaTex instead of Microsoft Word to write your paper

As you notice, a conference paper will typically have several diagrams and/or figures. I've found Microsoft Word to be tricky when formatting papers because my figures would not stay in one place when I added text to my document, and it's very easy for Word to mess up font formatting even when I used the conference's Word template. Instead, I've found paper formatting to be much easier by using LaTex (pronounced "Lay Tech").  LaTex is a type-setting program commonly used in academia. If you do not already know how to use LaTex, I've found a thorough Latex Tutorial. A version of Latex called MacTex is available for the Macintosh, and MikTex is available for Windows PCs. Once you've installed LaTex on your computer, I suggest that you also install and download TexMaker which is a cross platform LaTex editor that works on top of MacTex / MikTex. I've found TexMaker easier to use that MacTex and MikTex by themselves.

Regarding the paper outline, the abstract summarizes the paper in 100 to 150 words. Second, the introduction / background tells why your research is important, what other researchers have done in that research area, and what you have done previously (if this is not your first paper on the subject). Remember to cite any papers or books you reference in your introduction. You might also include a diagram explaining your research at an upper level. This may be a picture of your project. Third, you describe your test setup or simulations methodology in your methods section. You can name this section differently as noted above. This section typically includes a picture or diagram explaining your research's methodology. It might be a block diagram, an algorithm flowchart, etc. The important thing to note is that this section contains the theoretical meat of your paper. 

Fourth, you discuss your test and/or simulation results in the results section. You must show clear diagrams of your results. Interpret your results and explain why and how they matter. In general, you want to show results that support your research hypotheses. It is acceptable to publish results that disprove your hypotheses, but it's more interesting to prove your own points rather to disprove yourself. Fifth, the conclusion summarizes your paper. Your conclusion can be similar to your abstract, but some authors include future work in their conclusions. Finally, the bibliography lists all of the literature your referenced throughout your paper.

In closing, you must tell a story when you write a conference paper. Have your PhD advisor review your paper before you submit it, as your advisor will know the level of quality required for conference acceptance. In most cases, the conference reviewers will also give you feedback on your paper after you submit it but before they accept it. Do not let their comments get you down, as the reviewers do not know your research as well as you do. Anyway, your paper will be much better after you integrate their comments and suggestions into your revisions.


Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Textbook Review: Antenna Theory Analysis and Design by Constantine A. Balanis

In this post, I will review Antenna Theory: Analysis and Design, Third Edition by Constantine A. Balanis. This book is a must have for engineers who want to learn the theory behind antenna design. This textbook assumes that the reader has a fundamental theory of electromagnetics and Maxwell's Equations. The book is aimed at graduate engineering students. However, senior level undergraduate students would be able to understand the material provided they've already taken courses in electromagnetics. The front cover of the book is shown below.

Antenna Theory: Analysis and Design by Constantine A. Balanis

Balanis is well known in the antenna theory, design, and engineering fields. Although his textbook does not cover every aspect of antenna design, he goes into great detail on the theoretical concepts one needs to understand in order to design antennas. For example, Balanis covers the following topics in good details in the second chapter of his text:

  • Definition of of reactive near-field, radiating near-field, and far-field (Fraunhofer) regions
  • Radiation power density and intensity derivations
  • General derivation of directivity for antennas with arbitrary sources
  • Derivations of equations defining antenna efficiency and gain
  • Definitions of linear, circular, and elliptical polarizations
  • Derivation of the Friis transmission and radar range equations
As I mentioned above, Antenna Theory: Analysis and Design covers many aspects of antenna theory. As such, Balanis has an entire chapter devoted to derivation of vector potentials and how they are used to derive the radiated fields E & H. For example, Balanis explains that it is generally easier to derive the radiated fields based on electric current density J and/or magnetic current density M by deriving the associated vector potentials and taking their derivatives. The more direct path of integrating J or M to obtain the resulting electromagnetic fields is much harder in comparison because the integrals do not always exist or are hard to solve based on the problem. After deriving the vector potentials, Balanis derives general solutions for the inhomogeneous vector potential wave equation, and he derives basic far-field radiation field equations based on the electric and magnetic vector potentials. Lastly, Balanis derives the equations that explain antenna reciprocity. His solutions incorporate circuit theory by modeling the antennas as sources with equivalent voltages and currents.

In Chapter 4, Balanis derives the equations that define the radiation patterns for linear wire antennas. This includes the electromagnetic fields for several types of dipole antennas such as the infinitesimal dipole, small dipole, and half-wavelength dipole. Balanis also gives detailed derivations for the far-field (Fraunhofer) and the radiating near-field regions. Next, Balanis defines the current distribution on dipole antennas and derives their radiation resistance as a function of length. This chapter is very important for understanding antenna theory, as the dipole antenna is considered to be a very basic antenna element, and they are often used in wireless communication systems.

Tip # 1: If your goal is to get a basic understanding of dipole antenna theory, read and thoroughly understand the materials that Balanis covers in the first four chapters. 

Tip # 2: Read Chapter 5 if you want to understand how loop antennas operate as well.

Next, Chapter 5 derives the equations for loop antennas. The loop antenna is considered a dual to the dipole antenna, as both antennas have similar radiation patterns. Whereas the dipole antenna has an electric current density J as its radiating source, the loop antenna has a magnetic current density M as its radiating source. I strongly suggest that you read this chapter if your position or research involves loop antennas.

In addition, the following chapters in this textbook are dedicated to specific subfields within antenna theory. The subjects include but are not limited to

  • Antenna arrays
  • Antenna synthesis
  • Integral equations and the method of moments (MOM)
  • Broadband dipoles and matching techniques
  • Broadband antennas
  • Horn antennas
  • Microstrip (including patch) antennas
Finally, the last chapter in Balanis' textbook is one devoted solely to antenna measurements. Balanis explains several methods of measuring an antenna's radiation patterns such as reflection ranges, free-space-ranges, and compact ranges. He also explains how a test range can be made more compact by making near-field measurements, and he derives methods for extracting far-field data from near-field measurements. Furthermore, Balanis describes the equipment necessary for measuring antenna fields as well as radar cross sections (RCS) of various targets.

In conclusion, Antenna Theory: Analysis and Design (Third Edition) is an excellent textbook for learning antenna theory. It is certainly not the only textbook one should read on antennas. However, this book is certainly a great start for understanding how antennas operate.


Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, August 2, 2013

Behind the Scenes Roles of a Graduate Student Teaching Assistant

A graduate student teaching assistant has several responsibilities, and I previously wrote a post explaining how one can be an outstanding TA. Today, I want to explain the roles that the TA has behind the scenes before, during, and after the semester. Yes, it is important that the TA do well in front of the students, and the TA has responsibilities to help the professor as well. I have made a diagram that shows the typical timeline for an undergraduate course. You will notice that the TA's responsibilities start before the semester begins, and the TA's responsibilities continue after the semester ends.

A Typical Timeline for an Undergraduate Course.

Actually, the TA's responsibilities start well before the semester begins with course preparation. Although the professor will prepare a syllabus, the TA will review it for mistakes and make sure that it clearly conveys the material that should and will be covered during the course. The amount of preparation required for a class depends on the course itself. However, all TAs should be prepared to follow requests made by the course's professor before the class begins. These responsibilities may include:

  • Writing course project summaries.
  • Writing solutions for the first homework assignment.
  • Preparing laboratory instructions and questions.
  • Making sure that laboratory test equipment is available and completely operational.
  • Ordering hardware through the department's lab director.
  • Bringing any issues to the teaching professor's attention.
As an example, I am TAing a RF / wireless capstone course. This is a laboratory and project based course that is designed to wrap up Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) courses that the undergraduate students took within the last several years. I already wrote a project summary per the professor's request, and I made sure that the lab vector network analyzer (VNA) is fully operational. In addition, I am currently updating the course lab instructions. Although these instructions were available from last year, previous students complained that the instructions were confusing. I've rewritten them to explain the subjects better, and I hope that my instructions will add value to the students' education.

In addition, I've previously written about the TA's responsibilities during the semester. Namely, the TA needs to write & grade homework assignments, maintain office hours, and give guest lectures. Of these responsibilities, the TA must keep a record of student grades. Some Universities give midterm grades or a mid-semester progress status to the students, so the teaching professor will need homework grades to prepare these items. 

Important: Remember to keep grades confidential. You will be removed from your TA assignment if you tell other students a particular students' grades. Universities and colleges value their students' privacy after all.

To maintain academic integrity, the teaching professor may ask the TA to aid in administering exams, as the TA serves as a second pair of eyes to prevent cheating. If the professor travels to present papers during the semester, the TA will also need to proctor exams.

Furthermore, the professor must assign grades to all of the students after the semester ends. Every professor in every department in every college/university has a deadline for submitting grades. Therefore, it is very important that the TA assist the professor in tallying the final grades. Again, the TA must keep track of all grades given during the semester. These grades always include homework / lab assignments that the TA graded. Sometimes the professor will give you a copy of the exam grades and ask that you keep a record for bookkeeping purposes. Always make a back up copy in case you (or the professor) make a mistake or a computer crashes.

Finally, remember that a TA assignment is a learning experience in and of itself. Dedicate yourself to doing an outstanding job, and meet with the teaching professor on a regular basis. Learn from your mistakes, strive to continually improve yourself, and be proud that you're helping undergraduate students learn new materials. You will do well, and I wish you best of luck in your TA assignment.


Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Visit the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, PA

One of my favorite places to visit (other than PNC Park) in Pittsburgh is the Cathedral of Learning. The Cathedral of Learning is a landmark building with the University of Pittsburgh. It is not an actual cathedral but is a real University building with classrooms and a great views from the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh floors. I've included a picture of this cool building below. It is the tallest building in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.

University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning
The first floor really looks like a cathedral with its tall, vaulted ceilings and open spaces. You can see a panoramic view (see picture below) of the first floor. There are several tables around the first floor where students can study alone or in groups. Anyone can walk through the building and explore it. You can do this by yourself or in a group. Just pay a visit to the gift shop, and speak to the person on duty. I believe the tour costs money although I'm not sure how much. 

Panoramic view of the Cathedral of Learning's first floor

A very cool thing about the Cathedral of Learning is that it has over thirty classrooms that are modeled after classrooms located in different countries including Great Britain, India, Israel, Germany, France, and so forth. The International Classrooms, as they are called, are located on the first and second floors. Some of the classrooms are open to visitors on different days. I wouldn't expect to see a specific classroom open when you visit the Cathedral of Learning, as different classrooms are chosen at random to be open on different days. However, all of the entrance doors have small view holes, so you can look inside closed classrooms. I've included panoramic views of the Israel and India International Classrooms below.

Panoramic view of the Israel International classroom in the Cathedral of Learning

Panoramic view of the India International classroom in the Cathedral of Learning

As I mentioned above, there are really great views of Pittsburgh from the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh floors. The Cathedral of Learning has forty-one floors, but the highest floor you can access is the thirty-seventh floor. You can reach the thirty-sixth floor either by elevator or by walking up thirty six flights of stairs. The only way to reach the thirty-seventh floor is by an old and rickety elevator that you enter via the thirty-sixth floor. The thirty-sixth floor has a really nice reception area, and you can see many part of Pittsburgh through its windows including Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Museum on Forbes, Phipps Conservatory, downtown Pittsburgh, UPMC Oakland, and the UPMC Children's Hospital in Bloomfield. You can even see the Monongahela River through the south facing windows.

Panoramic view of thirty-sixth floor reception area in the Cathedral of Learning.

Carnegie Mellon University viewed from the Cathedral of Learning

Phipps Conservatory viewed from the Cathedral of Learning
The next time you visit Pittsburgh, or if you live in Pittsburgh and need to take a break from your work and/or studies, I highly recommend that you visit the Cathedral of Learning in your spare time. It is open seven days a week during daylight hours. You will enjoy the International Classrooms and the spectacular views of Pittsburgh from the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh floors. If you're up for some serious exercising, you can walk up thirty six flights of stairs and take a break in the thirty sixth floor reception area.


Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Textbook Review: Antenna Engineering Handbook, Fourth Edition by John L. Volakis

As a PhD Candidate, I read multiple textbooks related to my research in antennas and antenna arrays. I've found a few textbooks that contain fundamental antenna theory that are written by authors people consider to be experts in the fields of electromagnetics and antennas. Today, I will write a review a textbook by John L. Volakis titled Antenna Engineering Handbook, Fourth Edition. See the picture below for the cover.

Front cover of Antenna Engineering Handbook, Fourth
by John L. Volakis
Before I review the book, you should be aware that this book has prerequisites that are required for you to understand the material that Volakis covers because it his material is directed at electrical / electronic engineers and graduate students interested in antenna design:

  1. You need a solid understanding of electromagnetics including Maxwell's equations.
  2. You need to know Calculus and differential equations.
  3. A basic understanding of physics would also help.

An interesting part about this book is that its 59 chapters are written by various authors including Volakis, Douglas H. Werner, Frank B. Gross, Leo C. Kempel, and Steven R. Best. In addition to writing two chapters, Volakis edited the text. In essence, the fourth edition of this text brought in multiple experts in various aspects of antenna design and theory together.

The chapters are organized into four parts:
  1. Introduction and Fundamentals
  2. Types and Design Methods
  3. Applications
  4. Topics Associated with Antennas
I will describe the four parts of the text book below with brief descriptions of sample chapters within those four parts. For the sake of space, it is not feasible for me to summarize all of the chapters in this book. The interested reader is welcome to check out a copy of this book from a local library and peruse chapters not summarized in this review.

Part 1: Introduction and Fundamentals

The first part of the text begins with a review of antenna fundamentals, arrays, and mobile communications. Volakis briefly describes topics important to antenna theory such as Huygens' and Equivalence Principles, antenna directivity, power transfer, and infinitesimal dipole antennas. If you want to learn about basic antenna theory in detail including derivations of electric and magnetic fields of the infinitesimal dipole antenna, you will find this text lacking.

The second chapter discusses frequency bands for communications. For the most part, this chapter can be skipped, as this topic is more or less regulatory. However, the author of this chapter gives nice tables that show frequency bands, so it is a good reference none the less.

The third and final chapter in Part 1 was writen by John N. Sahalos and gives a detailed overview of discrete antenna antenna array theory. The coverage is not as detailed as what Balanis discusses in his textbook (Antenna Theory: Analysis and Design, Third Edition). However, I understood the theory that Sahalos discussed including the array factor equation, uniform linear arrays, and Chevyshev arrays. Like Balanis, Sahalos assumes that the antenna elements are infinitesimal dipoles. This means that the theory discussed here does not include interelement coupling and detuning. Again, this is basic antenna theory, and more detailed discussions of antenna arrays are saved for later in the book.

Part 2: Types and Design Methods

This part of the book discusses various types of antenna designs. The antennas include dipoles, circular loops, small antennas, microstrip antennas, frequency independent antennas, horn antennas, and helical antennas. In essence, if you're looking to design a certain type of antenna, you will find it in one of the twenty chapters in this part. Whereas Part 1 gave a one chapter introduction on antenna array theory using the array factory equation, Part 2 includes three chapters on phased arrays, conformal arrays, and ultra wideband arrays. The chapter on phased arrays gives a more detailed discussion on accounting for mutual coupling between elements, and it discussing designing phased array feeds as means of connecting the antenna elements to a common source (i.e. transmitter or receiver).

A nice aspect of this part is that you do not need to read all twenty chapters of this part, nor do you need to read them in consecutive order to understand theory covered in a later chapter. One should note that the dipole antenna chapter focuses on practical dipole antenna designs including folded dipoles, sleeve dipoles, and monopole antennas. As such, the chapter lacks detailed derivations of the equations used to design such antennas, and the author refers the interested reader to other published literature. For the reader interested in understanding how the electric magnetic fields for a dipole antenna are derived, I highly recommend Balanis' Antenna Theory textbook.

As noted, Part 2 of this text also chapters covering frequency independent (i.e., wideband) antennas. Chapter 13 discusses frequency independent antennas in detail starting with a mathematical explanation of how an antenna can be designed to obtain gain and impedance that are independent of frequency. This chapter also discusses several kinds of spiral antennas, log-periodic antennas, and sinuous antennas.

Part 3: Applications

Having covered fundamentals and various antenna designs, the text now turns to how these antennas can be used in the real world as well as more complex antennas such as fractal antennas. I would say that this part of the text is a mixture of theory and practical applications. The practical chapters include the ones on mobile handset antennas, antennas designed for particular frequency bands such as UHF, and automobile antennas. Below is a partial list of the chapters contained within this section:
  • Chapter 32: Active Antennas
  • Chapter 33: Fractal Antennas
  • Chapter 36: Mobile Handset Antennas
  • Chapter 37: Broadband Planar Antennas for High-Speed Wireless Communications
  • Chapter 42: Antenna Tracking
  • Chapter 46: Seeker Antennas
  • Chapter 47: Direction Finding Antennas
I will discuss Chapters 32 and 33 only to limit this post's lengths. To start, the topics covered in Chapter 32 include antennas integrated with RF amplifiers and rectennas. The term "rectenna" is an amalgamation of the words "rectifying antennas."In its simplest form, a rectenna consists of the antenna, a rectifying device such as a diode, and a low-pass filter. The general idea is to convert high-frequency RF energy into DC voltage and current when attached to a load. One would use a rectenna as an energy harvesting device, as is the case with passive RFID tags. The author explains the mathematical concepts behind rectennas and gives design examples of both narrowband and broadband rectenna design.

In addition, I found Chapter 33 (Fractal Antennas) very interesting. The authors explain how wideband antennas can be synthesised using fractals. They also describe wideband fractal antenna arrays with theory on how infitesimal dipoles can be layed out in a semi-random fashion using polyfractals. They note that an issue with uniform linear arrays is that wideband operation is not possible because the periodic nature of the array causes grating lobes (i.e., undesired sidelobes with same directivity as the main lobe) to appear at higher frequencies of operations. The antenna elements also interact with each other causing them to detune and have poor impedance matches. Hence, the idea is to layout the elements in a semi-random fashion such that the elements are not uniformly spaced throughout the length of the array. The authors also give examples of planar arrays based on fractal and aperiodic tilings. Like the linear areas, the idea is to make sure that elements are not uniformly spaced when layed out in a plane. This also prevents grating lobes, and it antenna elements from detuning each other at higher frequencies.

Part 4: Topics Associated with Antennas

This part of the text does not discuss antenna theory and design per se. Instead, the various authors discuss different topics that are important corequisites for antenna designs. For example, Chapter 51 discusses transmission lines, and Chapter 52 discusses impedance matching techniques. If the reader, like myself, has a detailed background in electromagnetics and RF/Microwave engineering, these two chapters will serve as a review. There are plenty of textbooks devoted separately to transmission lines (including waveguides) and impedance matching. However, it is good that Volakis chose to include these chapters, as they provide useful information for engineers or graduate students who do not have sufficient knowledge in those topics. After all, a good antenna design is useless if it is not properly connected to the rest of the communication system.

Regarding communication systems, Volakis also included chapters on propagation models, multipath techniques, frequency selective surfaces (FSS), radomes, materials design data, and computational electromagnetics. Again, there exists many books on each of those topics. However, it is convenient that they are included with the text for those wishing to get a brief introduction or review of said topics. 


Volakis' fourth addition of his Antenna Engineering Handbook is a great textbook to read and keep in your antenna engineering / design reference collection. Volakis gives a brief review of antenna fundamentals, but the reader needs to have an understanding of electromagnetics (including Maxwell's Equations) because Volakis assumes that the reader understands that topic a priori. The book focuses on many types of antenna designs with plenty of examples and design graphs. I gave a summaries of a few of the chapters in this review. Finally, the fourth part of the textbook is optional reading because it contains chapters that are corequisites for antenna designs. The reader does not need to read these chapters in order to understand antenna design and theory. However, these chapters are useful reads nonetheless to understand how to integrate different antenna designs into wireless communication systems.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Enjoy Nature by Exploring Pittsburgh's Panther Hollow Lake

I believe that all work and no rest makes a PhD student worn out. That's why I believe it's important to go out and explore nature in the city that you call home. Although I can easily ride the Pittsburgh Port Authority buses, I usually choose to walk to and from Carnegie Mellon. Earlier this week, I decided to explore the Panther Hollow Lake by taking side routes off the Panther Hollow (hiking) Trail. What I found was really nice, and I should have explored this area much sooner. It's nice that there's nature within a big city.

Small waterfall underneath one of the pedestrian bridges
One of the first things I discovered was this small waterfall underneath one of the Lower Panther Hollow trail bridges. I clearly was not the first person to discover this, as there were some young adults getting their feet wet in the stream and taking photographs of one another. I decided to risk getting my feet wet, and I snapped a picture of the lovely little waterfall shown above.

Of course, the Panther Hollow Lake itself is brown and mucky. Still, it is nice to go walking around the lake, and I saw parents with their children fishing with small fishing poles. I walked around the lake and saw several blue dragonflies. I felt it was too bad that I didn't bring my iPhone telephoto lenses attachment, as I could not get descent pictures of them with my phone alone.

A panoramic view of the Panther Hollow Lake with the Panther Hollow Bridge in the background (on the left)
Of course, the lake freezes up during the winter. I imagine that people used to ice skate on the frozen lake in years past. I don't think anyone does that any more because there is an iceskating rink in Schenley Park. I certainly wouldn't want to go swimming in this lake either, but it was nice and relaxing to walk around the lake, as I had never done that before. I've lived in Pittsburgh for almost three years now. I've walked over the lake via the Panther Hollow Bridge, but I never took the time to go down to the lake itself. I guess I was too busy previously, but I'm glad I finally visited it.

Stairs leading to the Upper Panther Hollow Trail from
Panther Hollow Lake
After I finished walking around the late, I decided it was time to go home. Instead of following the Lower Panther Hollow Trail, I decided to take the steps (pictures above) to the Upper Panther Hollow Trail for a better workout. The first rungs of steps were made out of wood, but the rest of the steps were these old slabs of stone. I could tell that the steps had been in place for many years.

In the end, I really enjoyed my long walk with my detour around the lake. Whatever type of work you may do, I highly suggest that you take time out from your busy days from time to time, and explore your city. You'll never know what kind of nature exists within the confines of your city, and your exploration would certainly recharge your batteries for another busy day.

I hope that peace, good health, happiness, and harmony finds you. Take care of your body and soul, and you will be focused to do well in your career and your personal life.

Yours truly,

Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, July 22, 2013

How to Think Positively During Difficult Times

I've been through great times during my life, and I've been through some really nasty times as well. I've impressed the importance of thinking positively in a previous post on success. It's easy to think positively when your life is going well for you, as you are on the top of the world. However, what about when your life is in a downturn? How do you think positively in those situations? Although it may seem difficult, thinking positively during difficult times is not that hard to do. I will explain in this post.

Regardless of how bad your life may be at this moment, you need to focus your mind with positive thoughts. OK, I know that this sounds nonsensical. After all, if you've experienced some kind of negative event in your life (like a job loss, death in the family, etc.), your mind is likely overflowing and racing with negative thoughts. However, here are a few points you should keep in mind:

  1. You had periods of happiness as well as periods of sadness in your life. Both are finite, as one is bound to begin as the other ends.
  2. Think back to the times you were happy and remember what made you happy back then.
  3. Get out a pen and paper, and write down your most current negative thought. You should also write down what made you think this way, and then you should write counter thoughts.
  4. Remember that everyone has bad times in their lives. You're not alone.
  5. Likewise, you might not be able to improve your situation alone. Find and form a support network (whether they be friends, family, colleagues, doctors, etc,) of people who can help you.
I believe that most people don't want to be stuck in a rut. It's just that they get stuck in their negative thoughts and start moping around. It's OK to mope around for a short period of time. However, if you continue moping around, you will not do anything to make your situation better. (Yes, there are lazy people in this world, but if you're reading this post, I doubt that you are lazy.) The third bullet point above is an important technique that I learned and applied myself in my own life. Why? By taking one negative thought at a time, breaking it down, and countering it with positive thoughts, I was able to slowly retrain my mind to think positively. You could think of it like taking a fast spinning movie reel and slowing it down, so you can see the movie frame by frame.

Tip: If you're having suicidal thoughts, seek professional help immediately! Your life will get better, and they can help you get your life back on track.

In addition, I suggest that you find something that makes you feel better. For example, I love reading graduate textbooks on antennas, computational electromagnetics, and computer algorithms. Of course, I enjoy reading science fiction and other types of books. However, I'm going through an uncertain period of my life in the sense that I don't know if I will have funding for my PhD by the end of August. I've recognized that reading books in my field of study makes me feel better because it will help me earn my PhD in the long run, and it will help me find a temporary job (i.e., an engineering internship) in the short run. After all, I enjoy being knowledgeable in my field of research, and my knowledge will add value to whatever company I may do an internship at this fall. Because I enjoy adding value to other people's lives (as well as my own), this makes me feel much better about myself. Of course, I don't spend all of my time reading, as I have other ways to make myself happy, and there are many times that I don't feel like reading. It's just that reading engineering textbooks really helps me feel better because that activity helps me get positive thoughts flowing.

What am I saying? If you're feeling down, find a hobby that will not only make you happy, you should find one that will add value to other people's lives as well as your own. It has been said that you can make yourself happy by being in service to others. You don't have to read engineering textbooks like me. Perhaps you could volunteer at a local food bank or tend a community vegetable garden. Find something that you enjoy doing with a passion. Who knows, as you might find something that you could write about, or you could make a strong and personal connection with someone in your support network. Whatever the case may be, it will add positive value to your life and others around you.


Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University

I find happiness in reading engineering textbooks. After all, I am an engineer and
an academic. Reading is something I love doing.