Building Bridges to Reduce the Gap…

MicrophoneI am going to do something that has never been done before…

… atleast that is what my supervisors tell me!

Am I worried about the consequences?

Not really!

I have reasons to justify what I am about to do…

I am about to bridge the gap between us (researchers) and the research participants.

See, my research is centered on Technology accessibility for blind people.

Of course, I am grossly simplifying 4 years of research into 5 words. In terms of what I am about to do…

…The focus lies in understanding and involving research participants in my research, and not merely “using” them as data sources.

Why do this?

Because I believe that when it comes to understanding their daily life, research participants will tell me many things I need to know – much more than what they tell me within a ”semi-structured” interviews. So if I can interact with them outside the confines of an interviews or case-studies, I could substantially improve my understanding of the technology accessibility issues.

The problem with many research studies is that they consider participants inside a pseudo-natural environment. Within this setup, the participants are likely to have their guard-up, and might not share all the information they might otherwise share in a more natural and self-regulated setting.

Moreover, by limiting interaction with the participants to formal interviews, we tend to restrict the bonding and trust-building (at least that is the mistake I was making). Relationship between a researcher and the participant should not be limited to formal interactions only (unless of course the research is of a sensitive kind, or the research parameters make it necessary for the interaction to be limited, in that case, discretion must be exercised).

Instead, we as researchers should focus on taking interactive steps beyond the initial interviews. While I wouldn’t recommend dinners and house-calls, something can still be done to communicate openly…

…and here is what I am doing…

I am going to communicate with everyone:

  • who I have interviewed,
  • who is interested in, and
  • who is otherwise related to my studies.

This communication will take place through broadcasts to an email list

Last week, I compiled this list – 16 people as of now (if you are interested in my research, feel free to email me at neesac@utu.fi, I can add you to the list!)

I will be sending regular updates (every 3 months) to all the people on this email list. Everyone on this list (at least verbally) has consented to know more about how my research progresses (it is important that spam compliance is in place). In fact, many of the participants who have already been interviewed wish to provide further assistance!

Communicating with research participants (and interested parties) through an email list has been unheard of within the academic community (so I am told). By opening up these channels, I wish to keep participants interested in my research, so I can get their feedback and ask them questions to improve my research outcomes (after all, the research will affect them directly!)

Maintaining a list will also take less time and effort than mailing everyone personally! Yet with a well-worded email, I can create a semblance of exclusivity! (At no point will the participants’ details be shared!)

Emailing regularly has many benefits. It will

  • Allow me to stay accountable,
  • Stay up-to-date with my research plan, and
  • Keep interested parties informed

This format of communication will also help me in getting valuable and timely insight from participants who I have interviewed before (and perhaps strengthening of bonds through trust-building exercise)

I aim to keep the language in the emails semi-formal and non-technical in nature. The format of the emails will be suited to both staff members at the Turku School of Economics and others who are not directly involved in academia.

So, tell me…

…have you ever tried to communicate with your research participants and talked with them regularly about your research? Did you have good or bad experiences?

I would like to know what you think about communicating with participants regularly through email…so please comment below! Have you ever tried to bridge the gap in this manner (have you tried any other means?)

If you would also like to try out something like this, I would be happy to advise.

To me – my research is more that just what ’I’ do, and it is my hope that with this idea, I can successfully affect lives of people beyond my immediate research team.

P.S: While this is not an advertisement for my email list, if you wish to learn more about my research and stay in touch, you can sign up here:

http://eepurl.com/vhwJD

Everyone is welcome!

The list will be built and managed using Mailchimp, and as previously mentioned, I will not spam 🙂 You can unsubscribe to the list using links within the emails I send. 

Final words: Your thoughts on this matter are welcome!

Mainokset

Ethics and Hindsight – an Interesting Dilemma

Author’s Note: Any characters (including myself) referred to in this article are fictional, and scenarios have been slightly modified in order to distance this piece from reality.

This article is borne out of a simple conundrum (mind the oxymoron) – can information collected for one purpose be used, at a later stage, for another? What happens to the context?

And if information is used, what usage restrictions should apply?

Moreover, will these restrictions mean that conclusions drawn are after-all limited or inconclusive?

Let me explain…

Lue loppuun

Pensar Research Workshop – May 14th to 16th 2012

Most of us have to suffer the consequences of getting lost in emails – one after another hitting your inbox, daring you to respond or delete. But how often do we lose emails?

Well, I did, and almost didn’t make it to Pensar!

Due to the TSE migration, of which I shall mention no more, my email for invite to Pensar research workshop never arrived. So on the Friday before our Monday morning departure, I was made aware of my participation by a colleague – and I am glad I was informed. Or else, I would have missed the boat – literally!

The organizers of this workshop could not have chosen a better location. Pensar Island is serene, beautiful and very interesting history.

We arrived in Pensar on Monday morning (the journey from Turku took 90 minutes), and even in the unforgiving chilly weather, the island felt warmly welcoming. After a quick cup of coffee, some snacks and nature-admiring, we (the organizers and the participants) got together for the first part of the workshop.

Within the first 2 hours, Professor Hannu Salmela had clearly broken down the essence of a good research paper. Having analyzed various papers within high-ranking publications, Hannu provided us with a good structure for writing abstracts. The enthusiasm and eagerness to learn meant that we all participated within this session, understanding and appreciating the ingredients that are central to a strong paper.

The content of Hannu’s presentation was easy to digest and provided valuable insights into the structure of a high-quality abstract (and consequently, a paper).

Following the seminar, the participants were recommended to rework their abstracts. Rest of the day involved individual writing, followed by a visit to the sauna in the evening. The dinner served at the Pensar Syd was typically Swedish, and complimented the beautiful surroundings.

On Tuesday, we all continued to work individually, expanding on the abstract to restructure and improve rest of the paper. The weather on this day was calm, sunny, and perfect for sitting outside in the sun – which we did! In the evening, the local tour guide took us for a small excursion around the island, fascinating us with the history of Pensar – especially during the times of war.

Some of the participants left on Tuesday evening, but others continued to the sauna, followed by a nice barbeque on an otherwise cold evening!

On the final day, Wednesday – all of us presented our new abstracts for assessment and discussion. While we were offered a few tips for enhancing these abstracts further, the final work was much better in comparison to the initial abstract.

The workshop was a success, and we all feel that another workshop on the island would be welcomed by most of us!

(Picture credits: Jose A. Apolinario Teixeira)

Common Errors Made In Research: A Student’s Perspective

Preparing for your research can seem overwhelming – your supervisor gives you a list of papers to read and suddenly you have a long-term goal, which like many doctoral students, one might not achieve. Knowing this, carrying out research can be a difficult task, especially if you are not clear in your research fundamentals. If you are lucky, your supervisor would have recommended you to attend a course on research methods, something that is done every year at University of Turku. This kind of course is essential for new Doctorate students, who were previously involved in result-orientated Masters or an industry project.

You can find many books which detail best practices on research methodologies and recommend dos and don’ts. Read those. However, in the interim, here you will find information on common errors that should be avoided in your research. You will come across most of the highlighted issues in the beginning of your research period, and it is important to understand and take precautionary measures to ensure that your research is not hindered.

Perseverance is the key

Perseverance is the key

Full disclosure: these pointers are written from my perspective, from the perspective of a young researcher and this list is by no means exhaustive.

Literature Reviews:

When your supervisor provides you with a list of 10 papers to read, what he does not mean is: Here is a list of papers that will tell you all you need to know about your research subject. Instead, he is providing you with a starting point in your research, some interesting material to read. As you start devouring this limited list, you will come across acknowledgements and references that point towards similar papers in your field of study. Make it a point to get hold of them and read them.

Researching a new subject can be daunting, and the worst thing you can do is to limit your resources. As a researcher, I would recommend reading one scientific paper a day for the first 6 months, even if it does not deal closely with your subject area. This will seem difficult at first, but start skim-reading these papers if you don’t wish to go in depth. As a young researcher, you will gain important insight into how scientific papers are crafted, and understand benefits of thorough research. When you are done reading over 150 scientific papers in these 6 months, you would have brainstormed more than 10 ideas for new research papers, ideas that have never been fully explored before.

Learn to read, and appreciate what you read.

Presenting analysis:

As a researcher, I often confuse ‘What I know’ to be ‘What everyone wants to know’. Unfortunately, as proud of our research and its results we may be, they can sometimes make for incredibly tedious reading for someone who is merely reading our  paper to check out the ‘latest releases’. A casual reader will first glance at the abstract, and if that holds the reader’s interest, he/she would jump onto the conclusion. Only if the conclusion presents something of value and consequence to the reader, he/she would read the rest of your paper. So when you are done presenting your analysis and information – try and read your paper with an outsider’s perspective. Is it useful? Is it interesting? Would you read your own paper?

Before starting our research, we are used to writing creatively, reading newspapers and occasional fiction novels. Unfortunately, none of the writing styles represented in these print media correlated to how an academic paper is presented. Academic papers are the epitome of intellectual learning resource, providing cutting edge research details in about 10 pages, a research that took many months to complete. As a researcher, you will be challenged to re-develop your style, change it to match that of academia. Changing writing styles is a difficult skill to hone, but keep working on it. This will take some time, but the efforts will be rewarded.

Facts and Assumptions:

During the course of our research preparatory period, we read numerous papers and meet different researchers and professors. Learning as part of our research is a steep curve, an exponential curve that keeps on going. My professor told me that at the end of the research, I will be an expert in my field. That is partially true. At the end of my research, I will be one of 100 people in the academia to know expertly about my subject area, but I still won’t be an all-knowing expert. Learning never stops whether you are an undergraduate, postgraduate or a doctoral student. If you start your research with this attitude, you will appreciate and leapfrog any challenges that your research throws up.

This brings me to the point of facts and assumptions. As we gain experience within our subject area and as a result, gain confidence – it becomes easier to make careless mistakes. We start assuming that since we are leading ‘experts’ in a subject area, our assumptions are more likely to be correct. This is one of the biggest reasons why scientists are belligerently challenged for their research based primarily on assumptions. Obviously we have to make a few assumptions, but when you do, run them by someone – maybe your supervisor or a colleague. Research should be based on facts, and it is easy to assume some aspects of a long research in order to positively affect its outcome. However, this is bad practice and something that should be avoided at all costs. Considering the vast impacts of your research on the scientific world, ensure that you base your research (and subsequent academic papers) on facts and not opinions and assumptions.

Acknowledgements and referencing:

As previously mentioned, you will come across numerous academic journals within the course of your research. Much of the work you undertake will most likely be inspired by one of the papers in these journals. It is good practice to acknowledge work that has been done before and relates to your research. This has two benefits – 1) You are respected for your wider research skills and 2) The scientific community appreciates new researches that are inspired from and/or rely on old researches. Think about it: 10 years later, would you not like someone to look at your work and acknowledge it in a cutting-edge research? Remember, the legacy lives forever.

This brings me to the point of referencing. There are many different referencing techniques and guides in the market, read those. Ensure that your referencing fulfills all criteria as requested by the journal. Some journals prefer APA style of referencing, others prefer Harvard style and then there are other referencing styles too. Make sure that any unreferenced facts or opinions have not been represented anywhere else before. Use plagiarism-checking software online to make sure your unattributed work is unique. If not, your paper could be rejected, or worse still, you could be reprimanded for using someone else’s work without proper attribution.

Have I missed something important? What advice would you give to a young researcher? Please share your advice here.