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Doing a systematic review  2

One of my papers is going to be a systematic review, so for the past few weeks I have been busy searching and selecting articles. Of course I encountered some problems, because it would not be a PhD if everything went right the first time! Saskia thought it might be interesting if I share some of my experiences with you guys.

 

Search terms

So I don’t know about you guys, but the subject of my research has many synonyms. While I usually refer to my topic as being “intermediate assessment” other researchers have talked about frequent testing, continuous testing, or I don’t know how many other combinations. The problem with topics that have a lot of synonyms is that you can miss some very relevant articles, just because, for example, you only searched for testing and not for exams.

To avoid this I re-read some articles I have used in my research before to see what terms they used. Another smart strategy to define your search terms is looking for other reviews about the same subject and see which search terms they use. Of course if you do find other reviews, make sure that yours is an interesting addition!

After going through some articles I read before and thinking of common synonyms myself I decided on a list of six words that could all signify assessment and seven terms that could indicate some form of intermediateness.

 

Digital illustration of magnifying glass

Searching

So you’ve decided on search terms, now it is time to search! There are so many different search engines and I do not pretend to know them all, but I have used the ones that are most common in the field of educational science, which are ERIC, PsycINFO and Web  of Science. Your professor or librarian may know which are most suitable for your field.

Fun fact. When I asked Web of Science to search for a combination of my 13 search terms, it found almost FIVE.HUNDRED.THOUSAND. results. Even after refining by saying I only wanted articles related to education and educational research, there were still over 8800 relevant articles. As you can imagine this is too much to go through, so I decided to switch to search term pairs. This means I had to do several searches and for now I have only combined my seven adjectives with “assessment”. In the future I may expand my search into the other synonyms for assessment, but for now I’ve decided to go and see how many articles I can select from this.

 

 

Selecting

After running a search you are left with a long list of articles that you need to check for relevance. To make efficient use of your time this first check for selection is usually done based on the title and abstract of an article. Of course this is where you run into problems if titles and abstracts are not informative enough for you to make an informed decision. For these doubtful cases you may need to read the full article.

Furthermore, selecting is a human task, meaning that it is not totally objective. I supplied my daily supervisor with one list of search results and my criteria for selection to check my process. Whereas I selected 33 articles, he only selected 24 and of course he selected some articles that I didn’t and vice versa. So now we need to sit together and see why we chose such different articles.

If you’ve selected articles you need to download the full text for reading. Fortunately, I found 260 full text articles, out of 281 selected search results.

 

required-reading

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading

After selecting the articles you can start reading and extracting the relevant information for your review. This is what I am starting to do today, so I cannot provide any tips or experiences yet, but maybe you guys have some top tips for me? For example how I am going to survive reading 260 articles in the coming months!!

PhD Side-quests: Teaching  0

Tweet Tim

A while ago, my co-worker and fellow blogger Tim posted a tweed likening getting you PhD to a MMORPG. I thought this was a funny and also pretty accurate description and today I want to write about one of my favourite PhD side-quests: Teaching.

 

For context, I write this as a full time PhD student who is not expected to teach that much. About 10% of your appointment is a normal amount of teaching for PhD students in the Netherlands. This may be very different from the situation of some of you. Some of you may be teachers/PhD candidates whose main quest is actually teaching.  If it is, my post may not be that useful for you, but hopefully you have some nice tips to add for those of us who are inexperienced teachers.

 

Before I started my PhD I worked as a Teaching Assistant in various courses for two and a half years and I’ve been involved in the teaching of two different courses since I started my PhD. I love teaching and think it is very rewarding, but it is also very tiring and time-consuming. Today I share some tips to make your teaching experience as good as possible:

 

Educate yourself

If you’re a new PhD student teaching a course or tutorial may seem intimidating. Especially if you have never taught before! There are several ways to educate yourself.

You can try and see if your university offers workshops or courses for teachers to improve their general teaching methods. You can also talk to more experienced co-workers and see how they approach their teaching. This can be in general, or related to the specific course you’re expected to teach. Experienced teachers hopefully will have hands on information that you can use while preparing for teaching.

 

Be well prepared

A thorough preparation is vital, especially if you expect that you will be teaching a course several times. Of course preparation is time consuming, but it is a timesaver if you are able to take your slides from previous semester. A thorough preparation can also help with nerves on your side. If you are really well versed in the subject you will be teaching, you will feel more secure standing in front of the students.

 

Plan!

Teaching can be a serious time consumer. Especially if you have to grade student work and provide individualised feedback. One tip that a co-worker gave me is to set aside a specific moment during the week for these type of activities.  That way you know how much work you actually have to do and you have some control over the amount of time you spend. Try to be realistic in your planning. I for one know that I cannot go straight from teaching to being focused on my research, so I’ll plan for some transition time as well.

 

What’s in it for you(r research)?

When your teaching duties consist of thesis supervision it may be possible for you to combine teaching and your own research. Often, the students will get involved in your project and (hopefully) collect some of your data. But even when your teaching is not that directly linked to your research there may still be links. Maybe the content of the course you’re teaching is closely related and you can use your theoretical insights during instruction. But even if there is no way to connect your teaching to your research, teaching a course is relevant to your personal and professional development.

 

Enjoy it

Whatever you do, enjoy your teaching experience!

Happy questing and hopefully this side-quest will help you level up!

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Have you been teaching and what are your tips for PhD students who are starting to teach?

 

A week in the Life of a PhD student  0

Like I promised in my last post, this time I’ll tell you a little about how I spend my days. Since it’s Monday today, I’ll talk about what I did last week. I even kept some notes on a little post-it!

 

Monday

I actually started my Monday by doing some very useful tasks. I cleaned my desk and my outlook inbox. Even though I try to stay organised, my desk usually gets pretty messy. The picture below is a photo of my desk today, so my cleaning effort was futile. I’ll try again soon. IMG_1507

 

Monday is also teaching day at our institute. I wasn’t teaching last week, but because I supervise the research projects of student-teachers, there were plenty of research plans for me to provide feedback on.

 

The third big thing I did on Monday was think about an elevator pitch about my research subject and why it is interesting. My supervisor asked a few of us to prepare a pitch for a presentation on Friday. We also spent some time discussing what the presentation would look like.   Read more

What does a PhD student do all week?  1

Whenever I tell people about my job as a PhD student they tell me that they could “never work on the same thing for four years!”.

Like doing your PhD is mindlessly slaving on one specific task, non-stop, for four years. I guess it’s one of the most common misconceptions about doing your PhD. While it is true that I am spending four years working towards one thing: my dissertation and defence, I am not working on one thing at all.

In fact, being a PhD student is a very diverse job with a lot of possibilities and quite some freedom to choose. After four (or three, or five) years, your dissertation needs to be finished, but it’s not like you can decide to start writing it on your first day.

 

Things that need to be done before you can finish your dissertation:

  1. You need to read about your subjectrequired-reading
  2. Your research needs to be planned
  3. Data needs to be collected
    1. Instruments should be developed (or found somewhere)
    2. You will spend time finding participants
  4. Data needs to be analysed (maybe you even need to spare some time for data cleaning)
  5. Results need to be interpreted
  6. And of course those results should be written down
    1. You will have to spend some time researching journals that you want to publish in
    2. You will spend endless hours polishing your text until it is perfect (although it never will be)
  7. You’ll have numerous meetings with your supervisor(s) to discuss all these different steps

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