As you all might have noticed, we went offline for a little while. As much fun as we have when blogging about our PhD-lives, we need ideas for interesting blogposts. So, we took a little break, allowing ourselves to have experiences we could later write about. And look, here we are, back with new blogposts :-).
This week, I am taking you with me in a flashback to my stay in Berkeley. The previous time I wrote, it was mainly about my preparations for and my first experiences in Berkeley. Now, I have been back for a little over two months, and will write about what useful knowledge and experiences I gained. Because even though I was there for ‘just’ six weeks, what I brought back will last me months! In this blogpost I will focus on two of those insights I’ve gained. Read more
As an educational researcher, I focus on the bèta science subjects in secondary education. Internationally, these subjects are also often referred to as STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Some time ago, I heard the suggestion to add a letter to this formula: the A of Art.
This is food for thought. In my research, I tried to briefly determine what people thought that an engineer, or a designer needed. Among other characteristics, I heard that a lot of people associated these professions with being creative, and being able to build things. Also, when designing, you often go back to your previous steps and adjust your choices to optimize the result. Some people even mentioned they thought of a designer (or engineer) as an artist. These qualities are not only used by designers and engineers, but often also by artists. Qualities that are considered to be important in STEM, appear to be important in the arts as well (or vice versa!).
I think Arts and Sciences are a good match. For one, you can communicate science through art. I remember a conversation I recently had with my peers, about valorisation of our research and letting people know your results. Getting into the headlines of newspapers is hard. Why not use art to communicate scientific research? Art can be a great way of enhancing one’s experience with science, not only addressing their ratio, but also their emotions end feeling for aesthetics. And why not use art in science? A creative infographic could really light up your paper. Art is also valuable in science education: as a trained Biologist, I drew hundreds of plants, animals, cell structures… Drawing enhances the amount of detail in which you look at things, which ultimately leads to a greater understanding of that what you’re studying. Art, in terms of music, could help you better understand the scientific content of a message: for example in this Dutch DNA song I made with peers during a Science Communication course.
In my opinion, arts and sciences can enhance each other when combined. Please comment below if you know more ways in which they might enhance (or possibly hinder?) each other. Do you think there is a future for STEAM? Feel free to share your thoughts (and let off steam).
Iedere professional heeft ruimte nodig om goed te kunnen functioneren, of niet?
Van sommige professionals wordt zelfs verwacht dat zij deze ruimte zelf creëren en benutten. De beginnende docenten in het Eerst-de-Klas traject en het OnderwijsTraineeship zijn hiervan een voorbeeld. De overheid heeft deze speciale leerwerktrajecten van de lerarenopleiding opgezet om excellente academici te enthousiasmeren voor het onderwijs. In het voortgezet onderwijs zouden deze academici een optimale ruimte dienen te creëren en benutten om hun baan uitdagend te houden voor zichzelf en een innovatieve wind te laten waaien in de school. Mooie woorden worden gebruikt in de omschrijving van deze programma’s. Zo is er bij het Eerst De Klas traineeship een leiderschapsprogramma ‘dat is vormgegeven door de meest toonaangevende organisaties in Nederland.’ Het OnderwijsTraineeship biedt naast de lerarenopleiding ‘masterclasses die je internsief laten kennis maken met de volledige breedte van het onderwijsveld’.
Toch lijkt er een belangrijk mechanisme over het hoofd te worden gezien. De docenten in beide trajecten starten namelijk als beginners in schoolorganisaties en hebben tijd nodig om de organisatie te leren kennen en de eigen positie binnen de ‘gevestigde orde’ te zien. Een begrip als enculturatie past goed bij deze fase. De balans tussen ruimte creëren, benutten en krijgen is daarmee een belangrijk onderdeel van deze initiatieven. Wij (Jacobiene Meirink & Anna van der Want) zijn heel benieuwd naar hoe de huidige docenten in het EDK en Onderwijstraineeship de balans tussen creëren, benutten en krijgen van ruimte ervaren! In een door ProBO gesubsidieerd project onderzoeken we deze thematiek.
So, last Friday two weeks ago I left the gray-skied Netherlands for my big adventure to the United States. I was going to visit UC Berkeley for six whole weeks! I would be able to meet faculty from UC Berkeley and talk to them about my and their research. Before my departure I was, of course, nervous:
I had a wish-list made for what to get for my research from this trip, would I be able to cross off everything on it?
I would have to talk to many new people, every time explaining my research all over again and have it open for discussion
In this blogpost I want to share some of my experiences with you regarding these two points I just made.
It all started for real last Monday. I had my first meeting with my contact at UC Berkeley. In the 45 minutes I was in her office things went really fast; names of people I should really meet flew by, we discussed what I wanted to get from my stay at UC Berkeley, and I was suggested a book to read. After this meeting I soon realized that I probably won’t have to worry about checking off everything on my wish-list; it will probably get done. For, all the people whose names were mentioned during the meeting, would be told of my visit at UC Berkeley, which gave me an opening of contacting these people myself. Of course, this still gave me the, sometimes difficult, task of introducing myself a little over email, thinking of the reason why I would meet that specific person, and asking whether the person would have time to meet with me. Luckily, up until now everybody has responded positively. In addition, I have also visited some classes in the teacher education programs. And I am visiting some research group meetings. Thus, even after only two weeks, I can honestly say much on my wish-list has already been crossed off. I can start looking for some extra wishes :-).
I think what really helped in getting so far with my wish-list, is that I communicated it and I keep communicating (parts of) it to the people I meet with. For, they are the ones who can help me getting everything done. And although I now use this strategy on a visit abroad, I think this is very helpful in many different situations, also. I mean, if there is anything you want to do during your PhD, communicate it with the people around you. It is good if you want to find stuff out for yourself. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that. But you will notice that with some help from others, you might get a little further, maybe the person you’ve just communicated your wishes to, knows just that specific person who can help you in achieving your goal.
Meeting new people everyday
The fact that I am crossing wishes off my wish-list, means that I have to meet new people everyday. That also means that over and over again, I have to explain my research. You would say that if I have to do that so often, it becomes easier and I can just hit the replay button that makes my brain tell my mouth to talk about my research. If only. It means that every time again, I look critically at what I am explaining and to whom. First of all, for almost everyone around here, I have to tell more about the context in which my research is taking place, than I would have to in the Netherlands; not everybody is familiar with the Dutch educational system. Second, you have to think about who you have in front of you and what his/her research interests are. I have experienced that the meeting will follow a much more natural course, if you find some common ground to talk about. For my meetings up to now, I didn’t have a whole set of questions prepared. I did some research about the person, came up with two, for me important, questions and went to see the person. Sometimes, I haven’t even used the question I had made up before, but it was good I had them. We would just find concepts to talk about that have kept both our interests and the meeting would just go. Still, I find it every time a challenge to think about how I am going to talk about my research with the next person, and what questions I want to ask him/her. So far, however, it has really paid off; at the moment I am really thinking over some concepts and my theoretical framework. But, the story behind that will follow in a later blogpost.
Well, this blogpost has been a lot about my experiences, but what message do I want to bring to you with this?
Make a wish-list (about what you want to achieve: during your time as a Phd-student; at a conference; when visiting another university, etc.) and communicate it
Look up people you are meeting and think about how you want to tell your story to them
Think beforehand of some questions to ask the person you are meeting
And, if you are going abroad, don’t forget to have fun too 😉
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:
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.
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.
Whatever you do, enjoy your teaching experience!
Happy questing and hopefully this side-quest will help you level up!
Have you been teaching and what are your tips for PhD students who are starting to teach?
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 p-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 p-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.
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.
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?
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.
About 5 months ago Anna van der Want wrote in a blogpost how she had planned NOT to finish her PhD, so she could continue doing the things she loved. If you decide in contradiction to finish your PhD, you might find some difficulties in pursuing that goal. Jorine Vermeulen (PhD student at Cito and University of Twente), you might remember her from the previous blogpost where she gave a conference-tip, is currently in that finishing-your-PhD-phase. She was kind enough, when I asked her how she kept on going in that phase, to provide some tips that I share, in her name, here:
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 ;-)!
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 not 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!
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!
Usually we upload a new post every two weeks. However, last week the yearly ORD (Dutch Educational Research Days), a three-day conference, took place and we thought this conference deserved an extra post. Every PhD-student will go to at least one conference and you might therefore either recognize some situations depicted below, or use some of the experiences when preparing to go to a conference.
In this blogpost Tessa and I will give your our experiences from the ORD2015. Tessa, as a non-presenter who visited the ORD for the first time. Me, as a presenter of my first paper and who has visited the ORD now for the second time.
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