Post by Category : PHD

How to science?  8

Being an adult can be tough. We get burdened with all kinds of responsibilities and we’re expected to know what to do. I am probably not the only one who sometimes thinks: “Who told me to adult? I can’t adult!”. Recently, I became a PhD student. I think that doing science is one of the coolest things you can get paid for to do. Yet, often I am madly confused and all I can think is:

 

Who told me to science? I don’t know how to science?!

 

The main instigator of my confusion is my continuously growing awareness that a lot of my ideas about how to conduct science are wrong. Little can be so frustrating as discovering that what you thought was basic knowledge turns out to be demonstrable false. I will share some of the misconceptions I struggle(d) with.

 

The insignificance of p-values

Science is about many things but it is certainly about evidence; this is often where statistics comes in. Of all the statistical metrics, the p-value is certainly the most (ab)used. It quantifies the amount of evidence we have. It tells us whether or not a finding is due to chance. It tells us which hypothesis is more likely to be true. If we find a ‘statistical difference’ we can refute the null hypothesis and accept the alternative hypothesis. And finally, because we use p = 0.05 as a cut-off point only 5% of the significant findings will be false positives.

 

The (not so) funny thing is that all of these statements are false. The simple fact is that p-values cannot quantify evidence for or against a hypothesis. This is frustrating because this is how we want to use p-values. However, there is not a single metric in classical statistics which can quantify the likelihood of one hypothesis over another. Another frightening notion is that much more than 5% of significant findings are false positives (see this and this).

 

Confidence in confidence intervals?

There are of course many other metrics other than p-values, for example the confidence interval. A 95% confidence interval is commonly thought to give us an interval of which we can be 95% confident that it includes the true value. Again, this common interpretation is incorrect. It even has a name: the Fundamental Confidence Fallacy. Other typical fallacies include the belief that the width of the interval conveys something the accuracy of the measurement (the Precision Fallacy), or that values inside the interval are more likely than those outside of the interval (the Likelihood Fallacy). How common these misconceptions are was highlighted by a study which found that only 3% of researchers correctly interpreted confidence intervals, while 74% agreed with three or more incorrect interpretations.

 

Effect sizes and correlations

What about effect sizes and correlations? Certainly, they must be informative?! Yes, they can be. However, just as -values and confidence intervals, the correct interpretation and use of effect sizes and correlations can differ substantially from common practice. For example, a correlation estimate in a study with 20ish participants is often so unreliable that a correlation of r = 0.40 might just as well be .07 or .65. To reliably estimate a correlation you will need hundreds of participants, while most studies use less than 50. Additionally, there is the misconception that the size of an effect or correlation also tells you something about the size of the evidence.

 

Explorative versus Confirmatory studies

Several decades ago it was already argued for a clear distinction between explorative and confirmatory evidence. It is common practice to explore a dataset to see if there any unexpected but interesting findings. The trouble starts when you attempt to do a statistical significance test to see if the interesting finding is ‘real’. The validity and interpretation of a p-value depends on the sampling plan; without a pre-established sampling plan it becomes impossible to meaningfully interpret a -value. As such, a ‘surprise finding’ should always be backed up by a replication study which has a pre-determined plan for sampling and analysis. Only such a study provides us with confirmatory evidence.

 

Replication, replication

Although replications are extremely important for cumulative knowledge building it is not yet common practice. What is more, when replications are done the results are often not that positive. Recently, the massive Reproducibility Project finished with well-powered replications of 100 published psychology studies. Only 39% of the effects could be replicated and the mean effect size was substantially lower than in the original studies. Does that mean that the remaining 61% are false positives? Not necessarily, but this project highlights the importance of not relying on a single study to make any conclusion.

 

Now what?

We’ve seen that many common statistical measures are not what they appear to be. Should we stop using p-values altogether? Some do argue this and say that Bayesian statistics is the better alternative. Others argue that we should simply be much more careful but that we can still meaningfully use classical statistics. Surely, we should move towards making pre-registration the standard. Additionally, we should perhaps ‘slow down science’ and replicate a finding several times before we are satisfied with the amount and quality of the evidence.

 

At the end of the day, I still know little about how to science. That is why I am glad that I am not alone; I have already learned so much from researchers such as Eric-Jan Wagenmakers, Daniel Lakens, Richard Morey, and many other. Furthermore, there is you, the reader of this blog. How do you think we should and should not do science?

 

 

JURE2015 & EARLI 2015: looking back on my first international conferences  0

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Just before our summerbreak, we uploaded the post ‘useful tips when attending a conference’. In this post several PhD-students from different universities in the Netherlands provided, as the title says, tips for when you are about to attend a conference. Just last week, I attended two European conferences together with some of my colleagues, the JURE (Junior Researchers conference) and the EARLI (European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction). In this blogpost I’ll reflect on how the tips from the post mentioned above helped me and expand on them further.

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Useful tips when attending a conference  0

Last week Tessa and I gave you an overview of our experiences from a conference (the ORD2015) we recently attended. We really hope you had fun reading our experiences and maybe related to it from your own experiences. This time I would like to be more helpful with my blogpost by providing tips when attending conferences. Or, actually I should say that I am only helpful by showing these tips to you… Other people have provided them; I asked PhD students from ICLON and other institutes to provide tips for when you are attending a conference.  The idea is that everyone (presenter, non-presenter, already having a large network, in a presentation not completely on your subject, etc.) attending a conference should find some useful tips in here.

 

Before the conference

Jorine Vermeulen (PhD  student at CITO and University of Twente) told me to be sure to prepare before attending the conference: Take at least half a day in advance to check out the program and make a selection of must go to session as well as sessions you can possibly skip for an extra break, some working, or a meet up with some people you really want or need to talk to about your project.

Daniël van Amersfoort (PhD student at Welten Institute, Open University) gave a tip you should think about when signing up for the conference: Always visit pre- and post-conferences or, in case it is being organized, a doctoral consortium; most of the times these meetings are more profound than the conference itself. In addition, these are perfect places to meet people you will probably also see at the conference!

In addition he says you should not only try to schedule where you are to meet new people, but: If it is a bigger conference and there are specific people, or even ‘big names’ you want to meet, email them months before the conference. Using this approach, I have sat at a table with almost half my bookcase ;-)!

Your conference presentation
So, try to stick with how you planned it 😉

Preparing a presentation for the conference? Bas Agricola (part-time PhD student at Utrecht University) has some tips for you:

  • Use the more standard building blocks for your presentation (theoretical framework and research question, method, results, and conclusion and discussion). This way it will be recognizable for you audience.
  • Considering your PowerPoint, Prezi, or other way of presenting you use; do not use too many words on your slides. Try to prevent from writing full paragraphs, use key words.

 

During the conference

The time has finally come. It is time for the conference! Time to do something with your preparations. But also, to be spontaneous; you didn’t plan that extra break for meeting specific other people? No problem, according to Nienke Woldman (PhD Student at Wageningen University and president of VPO): Do nNetworking at ORDot only attend presentation sessions. Make sure to have spare time to talk to other researchers. Making new contacts and maintaining ‘old’ ones is at least as important at a conference as exchanging information during sessions. Most of the times the scheduled breaks are too short for this. So, be spontaneous, decide suddenly to skip a session, grab a cup of coffee and see who you end up talking to. Sometimes at these, more quiet moments, you make really good contacts!

Daniël also made this point when I asked him for tips. Although he added: Do not stick with your colleagues the whole conference. You see these people often enough; go your own way. (also hearing Fleetwood Mac in you head right now?! I am….)

By the way, if you haven’t contacted those ‘big names’ do not think you’ve missed your chance. You have something to discuss with them? Do not hesitate to approach then and ask if you could discuss your research with them over breakfast or lunch.

Of course, during conferences the prepared presentations mentioned above are being presented. Are you presenting yourself? Bas has a tip for you: Share your doubts with the audience. Being transparent on the subjects you still have questions about will provide the best input for discussion and questions. And this in turn, will provide you with new information and thoughts to take home.

The idea during presentation sessions is that the audience is not a passive listener of what the presenter as to tell. Bas says: Actually, the same I just said about the presenter counts for the audience; share your thoughts. You do not have to be fully informed on the research subject of the presentation. You can always provide some new viewpoints on methodology and share your questions, criticism and feedback. Sometimes these new viewpoints are very refreshing for a researcher who is most of the time surrounded by his own research (subject).

 

How you can do this and what you can get from being an active listener, Tim (PhD student at ICLON, also blogger here on the research blog) shares with you.

Having attended several conferences as a non-presenter I would like to share some tips about ‘that what is not being said’. These can range from implicit assumptions, logical fallacies in reasoning, leaps of faith or simply not stating the obvious. To better understand the presenter and whatever it is (s)he is presenting about it can be very useful to make the implicit, explicit. For example:

  • Make notes (mentally or physically) during a presentation on which implicit assumptions the speaker makes about any theoretical models being used. To what extent does the presented study rely on the mentioned model or theory? Is it being assumed that this is the only theory? A complete theory? Is it being contrasted with alternative theories?
  • For studies which use a sample to generalize to a population: what exactly is the sample a sample of? What are the limits of generalizing the findings of the study? How representative (in size and characteristics) is the sample of the specific population?
  • For studies which use inference statistics: to what extent are the analyses explorative (e.g. no a-priori established hypotheses were made and many analyses were performed) or confirmatory (e.g. a-priori established hypotheses were tested)? What does this tell you?
  • For the ‘conclusions’ part of a presentation: are the conclusions sufficiently backed up by what was said before or are there hidden reasoning steps? If the given conclusions would not be true, would the presented study be able to found evidence for this? What are the alternative explanations or conclusions which may also have some – or maybe more – merit?

The goal is not to be overly skeptical, but to be sufficiently critical to look beyond what is being presented and (hopefully) learn more. This does not only help you to better understand presentations at a conference but might also prove helpful for your own studies, articles and presentations. But that’s just my assumption.

 

Now Jorine, Daniël, Bas, Nienke and Tim have flooded you with tips, I wish you a very fruitful conference the next time you attend one!

Borrel

Oh, wait before I say goodbye here is a last tip from Nienke:

Never skip a ‘borrel’! Enjoying a drink together can be the beginning of  the best collaborations!

 

Do you have tips that haven’t been shared? Let us know!

Long time to write short !  1

Lately, I was asked to reduce a paper by 20% to meet the word-count requirements of the target journal. As you might except, this can be a painful task, because you don’t want to lose the body of your writing, but you’ve got no choice if you want to hand the piece in as required. Furthermore, this can be even more painful if you are not native English speaker. To me, the paper was already quite short as a literature review study, but nothing to do! Thus, I decided to consider the ways I could shorten the paper, and as a researcher I strated doing some research on it! Then I found out that I was not the only one ! 🙂 I have read a lot of ways, techniques and to do lists for shortening the academic articles.

In today’s blog post, I would like to share some of the techniques and example to shorten a paper without eliminating anything important with you.

1. Firstly, check the following that might let you reduce the word count without doing any modifications: a) Do the references count? b) Does the appendix count? c) Does the abstract count?

2. Delete, delete, delete …
When you remove some words from any sentence and still it does not change the main idea so definitely remove those words. It may seem difficult at first, but after deleting some words back and read the piece once more, I guarantee that you will see that you have deleted much more words than you guessed.

blog3a. Delete articles, adverbs, adjectives, connectives, propositions, and auxiliary verbs
Occasionally articles are essential to make something specifically clear. Though, often, they’re just fillers and can safely be eliminated if their presence isn’t necessary for clarification. Let’s look at this example,
With articles: He won second place for the best tasting pie, as well as third place for the most original ingredients.
Without articles: He won second place for best tasting pie, as well as third place for most original ingredients.
Adverbs are usually very deletable in academic writing. For example, “dropped rapidly” could be replaced with “plummeted”. Tip ! using ctrl + f to search for “ly” is a quick way to find a lot of adverbs. As an alternative of using adjectives, try to keep your prose clear and straightforward, and get straight to the point. Avoid detailed descriptions unless they are absolutely necessary for following your argument and you are sure that the reader needs the detail. Rather than having longer sentences linked with “and” or “but”, just delete those connectives and have two separate sentences. This will reduce the word count.
Remember ! Keeping everything clear and simple will make this process easier for reader.
Convert chunks of text that use a lot of unnecessary prepositions into rephrased, shorter versions without prepositions: you could replace “functions of technology” with “technology function” . The auxiliary verbs you might want to remove in academic writing are ones like “could”, “may”, “might” and so on.
Do ! Say what you mean directly and drop the extra verbs wherever you can.

b. Eliminating unnecessary spaces
Extra spaces between words, numbers and the percentage sign (%), the degree sign (°), symbols or operators and within numerical ranges and fractions can lead to word count inflation. Example: 55 % → 55% (-1 word)

c. Eliminating wordy transitions
In addition → Additionally, Moreover, Furthermore
In particular, More specifically → Specifically
As a result ,As a consequence → Thus, Therefore, Consequently
On the other hand →Instead, Conversely, Alternatively

3. Cut out repetitive chapter-linking sections
In academic writing, a lot of people have a habit to ‘tie off’ each section with a mini-summary and then ‘refresh’ the reader again in the beginning of the next one. This is redundant and wastes a lot of word count.

blog24. Two-line rule !
Do not extend sentence if you are not a native English speaker like me! The reader can’t remember how the sentence began upon reaching end if sentence is too long. Here is simple rule; don’t let sentence exceed two lines, otherwise split it. We love to use connectives so it would be end up being a very long sentence. Combined sentences turn into twisted just like caterpillars.

5. Write using active voice instead of passive voice
Active voice also typically requires fewer words to convey your ideas.
Passive voice: It was found that protein X activated transcription of gene Y. (11 words)
Active voice: Protein X activated transcription of gene Y. (7 words)

6. Reduce the introduction and conclusion
Two of the important parts of academic papers are the introduction and conclusion as their main function is to summarise the whole work. There’s no need to go into a lot of detail in these sections, that’s what the main body is for. Also remember that you should not include new information in the conclusion, keep it all in the main body.

7. Don’t rewrite data that is already presented in your tables and/or figures
It is acceptable, and typically preferred, to simply refer to your table or figure in the text instead of repeating data in the text that is also presented in either a table or figure. For example, you can simply state “Teacher demographics are described in Table 1.”

8. Review your chapters carefully to remove info or data that is defined in earlierblog4
After you have finished writing your manuscript, go through the entire text again to see if you have repeated any information in more than one section. For example, you may describe your data in the Results section and again in the Discussion. If you find this type of redundant text, it is fine to simply refer back to the original section in which the information or data is discussed. While eliminating this type of redundancy, you should be careful not to eliminate any important points, but, believe me; this helps you to reduce your word count.

9. Avoid starting sentence with “there are” or “there is.”
The phrases “there are” or “there is” are typically unnecessary and can be eliminated entirely. For example: There are no previous studies investigating the relationship between classroom management and student profile. This can be rewritten eliminating “there are” as following. No studies have investigated the relationship between classroom management and student profile.

10. Keep the mode !
Love the tenses. Yes, the study carried out in the past, nevertheless, in the article, when you describe the study using present tense seems more accurate. In fact, this issue is open to debate! But at least we can agree on ending a paragraph with the same tense as you started.

 

To sum up, there are plenty of sources for those who want to find out how to write an academic article in English language. For example, James R. Wilson’s article is the good one to start. Especially, the references at the end offer a nice selection for good academic writing, among all of the references, I definitely recommend The Elements of Style ( EOS ) !

 

Useful Resources
http://www.biosciencewriters.com/
http://www.editage.com/insights/10-tips-to-reduce-the-length-of-your-research-paper
http://www.wikihow.com/Avoid-Going-Over-an-Essay-Word-Limit
http://kurucz.ca/research/reducing.php
https://academicsuccessblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/how-to-reduce-your-word-count/
http://www.shearsoneditorial.com/2011/11/need-to-shorten-your-paper/

On talented academics, and why Sherlock Holmes isn’t one  4

Do you know talented academics? I do, or at least I think I do. Considering that you are reading a research blog you will presumably also have an opinion on who is, or is not, talented as an academic. Does ‘you know it when you see it’ apply to academic talent? And how can you become successful?

 

I could try to answer these questions myself, but considering that I have only worked as a PhD student for less than a month that might be a bit presumptuous. Instead, I will summarize a dissertation on this subject. Yes, you read that right: someone spend the first four years of her academic career to investigate what a successful academic career entails. I think that is simply brilliant, although I wonder how successful she is now.

 

The ‘grantballing’ effectGrants

Research grants, such as the Veni- and Vidi-trajectory are extremely important for starting academics. Researchers who receive any type of grant early in their career are much more likely to continue to receive grants. Those who do not get such a grant typically hop from one short-term research contract to another, or stop working as an academic all-together. Obtaining a research grant does not only allow you financially to continue working as an academic, the prestige which comes with it is just as important, if not more so. It makes it easier to expand your network, which helps you to collaborate with more researchers, which leads to more publications in top journals, which leads to… more grants. Behold: the ‘grantballing’ effect. Read more

Me & My colleagues: a WAT-relationship  0

lonelySometimes, when two people in a relationship each have their own house, their own businesses and value their independence, they could have a LAT-relationship: Living Apart Together. Sometimes, when a bunch of colleagues each have their own offices, their own projects and value their own intellectual paths, they could have a WAT-relationship: Working Apart Together. A PhD can be considered quite an individual job. Read more

How to start writing and keep it going  0

These past few weeks since my last blogpost I have been busy writing, as you probably might have guessed, considering this blogpost is ALSO about writing (is there anything else I can talk about at the moment?!). It wasn’t always as easy as I wanted to (I experienced enough terrifying moments), but last Friday I actually finished a new version of my paper 🙂 !!! Yay!

 

In order to get to that new version, I used a very productive approach and an useful app in addition to the three approaches I told you last time. Also I looked into another approach and some apps, in case the ones I chose weren’t sufficient. These approaches and apps are:

  1. Shut Up and Write (SUW)
    1. Shut up and write Tuesdays
    2. Strict Workflow
  2. Focuswriter and FORCEdraft

 

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Guest post by Francesc Esteve – 5 Interesting Things about my Research Stay at ICLON-Leiden  2

My name is Francesc Esteve, I am from Spain (SP), and I have just presented my doctoral dissertation at the Rovira i Virgili University. During the last semester I did a research stay at the ICLON Graduate School of Leiden, and I like to explain my international experience in this post.

 

I started my PhD four years ago. After finishing the theoretical framework and data collection, I thought it might be a good idea to stay a while at another European university, to share and compare my results, draw future lines of work and finish writing my work.

I’ve tried to summarize this experience in 5 points detailed below, five things to highlight, that I’ve learned or that’ve surprised me.

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Planning like a Pro  0

I am a planner, an organizer, a nit-picker. I love to plan. I love to plan dinner, I love to plan vacations, I love to plan my work. OK, so I might be a bit of a controlfreak. But planning is one of the most essential things to do while conducting your PhD, so we were told last week by The Dutch PhD Coach Arjenne Louter. While I might be over-organizing things myself sometimes (illustrated by the pictures below: (1) my “Wall of Thought”, (2) my neighbour’s wall), still I found some tips to be very helpful. Especially when you are just starting out as a PhD, just like me, planning four years into the future might make you somehow scared, stressed, or leave you completely blank. What on earth will you be doing in your 4th year when you have not even been around for 6 months yet?! Do not panic, for here are some tips for planning your PhD when you have only just started.

 

(1) My “Wall of Thought”.
(2) My neigbour’s wall.
(2) My neigbour’s wall.

 

Plan your PhD: Tips for starting PhD’s

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Keep that fire burning!  1

It has been one and a half year ago since I have started my PhD research project and although most of the time I’m in a flow, fully enjoying the work, some challenges I face along the way will prevent me from keeping the fire burning. As Anna van der Want has shown in her blogpost humor can be helpful in dealing with struggles that come along in a research project. In this blogpost I present four ideas that can brighten up your days as a PhD-student, which I’ve found during a symposium of the PhD-network from the Netherlands Educational Research Association (VPO) last week.

 

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon a group of Dutch PhD’s gathered in Den Bosch to hear not just any story about being successful in PhD-life from experienced professionals in PhD supervision and planning. Especially Joseph Kessels’ story will help me when I’m in need of a research related energy boost, since he shed light on two sides of becoming a researcher. He came up with some realizations that can help PhD-students to be proud of your work even when you lost the spark for a while.

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