Tag: Education

How to successfully supervise your student’s research project

Postgraduate students in universities across the UK will currently be undertaking their summer research projects. How can academics successfully support their students and ensure they have a good learning experience and successfully complete their research project?

The first meeting with the student sets the foundation for a successful supervisory relationship. It’s essential for academics to establish clear expectations, foster effective communication, and provide the necessary guidance to support the student during their research project.

1. Introduction & Background: Begin the meeting by introducing yourself and providing an overview of your research expertise and experience. Ask the student to introduce themselves and their background, including their research interests and motivations for pursuing the project.

2. Research Project Overview: Provide a detailed overview of the research project, including its objectives, scope, and any specific research questions that need to be addressed. Ensure that the student understands the broader context of the project and its significance in the field.

3. Project Timeline & Deliverables: Discuss the expected timeline for the project, including key milestones and deadlines. Establish a clear understanding of the deliverables expected at each stage, such as literature review, research proposal, data collection, analysis, and thesis writing.

4. Roles & Responsibilities: Clarify the roles and responsibilities of both the student and yourself as the supervisor. Discuss how you will provide guidance, support, and feedback throughout the project. Establish a regular meeting schedule and preferred communication channels.

5. Research Methods: Discuss the proposed research methods and any specific techniques or tools that will be used. Provide guidance on the selection of appropriate research methods and data collection techniques. Address any concerns or questions the student may have.

6. Resources & Support: Inform the student about the resources available to them, such as research materials, databases, software, and equipment. Discuss any potential collaborations, access to lab facilities or data, and funding opportunities that may be relevant to the project.

7. Ethical Considerations: Discuss the importance of ethical conduct in research and ensure that the student is aware of the ethical guidelines and regulations that apply to their project. If applicable, provide guidance on obtaining necessary ethics approvals or permissions.

8. Literature Review: Emphasize the importance of conducting a thorough literature review to understand the existing knowledge in the field. Provide guidance on how to search for relevant literature, critically evaluate papers, and organise the findings.

9. Expectations for the first stage: Discuss the specific tasks or goals that the student should focus on initially. This may include conducting a literature review, refining the research questions, or drafting a research proposal. Set clear expectations for what should be achieved by the next meeting.

10. Questions & Concerns: Encourage the student to ask any questions or express any concerns they may have. Create an open and supportive environment where they feel comfortable discussing their research project and seeking guidance.

11. The evaluation process: Discuss how the student’s work will be evaluated and how they will be graded. Explain what is needed to achieve a good outcome from the assessment by the dissertation markers.

12. Create a positive and supportive environment for the student. Let them know that you are there to help them succeed and that you are interested in their work. Be respectful. Listen to the student’s ideas and be open to their suggestions.

Writing your student dissertation: Some tips on how to do it well

It’s the time of year when academics – including myself – are marking MSc and MPH dissertations. Once again, I see many errors in how students write their dissertations. What are these errors and how can students avoid them to make their dissertations more readable?

  1. Most importantly, spend time planning the outline of your dissertation with chapter headings and subsection headings for each chapter. Decide what key tables, figures and graphs you need to include to reinforce what is in the main text of your dissertation.
  2. Many students assume that longer words are “more scientific” and therefore preferable than shorter words. For example, using terms like perspiration rather than sweat or haemorrhage rather than bleed. Imagine if Churchill had written his speeches in this “more scientific” way.
  3. Use shorter sentences when possible. Longer sentences are more difficult to read and can lead to the examiner missing the key points you are trying to make. The same applies to paragraphs – don’t make them too long and look for natural breaks when you can start a new paragraph.
  4. Use active voice rather than passive voice in your text. For example, “I reviewed the literature” rather than the “literature was reviewed by me”. Active voice is easier to read and makes it clear to your examiner that you were the one who carried out all this work.
  5. Remove superfluous words. For example, “based on” is better than “on the basis of” and “even though” is better than “despite the fact that”. Getting rid of superfluous words gives more space get across the work you have done and makes it easier to stay within the allotted word count.
  6. Avoid using cliches and colloquial expressions. These are not often used in scientific writing and may be difficult for some examiners and readers to understand, particularly if they are not native English speakers. They can always be replaced by other terms that are clearer.
  7. Spelling, punctuation and grammar. When you are writing your dissertation is not the time to be learning how to get these correct. If you need help, most universities will offer some tuition. Do these courses early in your course and also get yourself a guide on good grammar.
  8. Spend some time trying to improve your scientific writing. Many journals offer the opportunity to reply online to their articles. You can use this facility to improve your critical thinking and ability to collate your arguments. Working in a writing group can also help.
  9. Read examples of good scientific writing. Seeing how others have achieved this task can help you in your own writing. For example, read “From Creation to Chaos: Classic Writings in Science” by Bernard Dixon for some excellent examples.
  10. Check your spelling, punctuation and grammar before you finally submit your dissertation to your examiners. It’s surprising how many errors remain the text of a dissertation that could have been pick up by running the spell and grammar check options in word processing software.

My technological journey as a student and academic

I was explaining to a student recently how we did literature searches in the 1980s and 1990s. We had to look up articles in a printed copy of Index Medicus, and then pushed a trolley around the library to collect the journals so we could photocopy the articles. There was an incredulous look in her eyes. We had to pay for the photocopies, which made us very selective about the articles we used in our literature reviews.

And when we got to the photocopier, we had to hope that it had not broken down or that the queue to use it was too long. Arriving well before library closing time was also important. Online articles did not exist then and sometimes we had to wait for weeks for articles to arrive using the Inter-Library Loan Service if they were not in the library’s own collection. Eventually, printed copies of Index Medicus were replaced by a CD-ROM version (which you have to book a slot in advance to use) and then eventually by online bibliographic databases. And now, we have immediate access to online journal articles.

I then went onto explain that the terms ‘cut’ and ‘paste’ in modern computer programs are there because that is once what we had to do. We cut out graphs and diagrams with scissors and then pasted them into documents using glue. More incredulous looks followed. When we presented our work, we used hand written acetates on an overhead projector. Moving to printed acetates was a big step forwards (or so it seemed at the time). Presenting at professional conferences meant using (expensive) slides. Errors that you couldn’t correct were common. Eventually acetates and slides were replaced by PowerPoint projectors.

When I was a student in the 1980s, all our course work was hand-written. Most of us did not have typewriters and very few of us could type. When word processing software became common later in the decade, it meant no more Tippex or retyping whole documents to correct errors.

My first printer was a 9-pin dot matrix. It was noisy, slow and the quality of the print was poor. But it produced much more legible output than hand-written documents. Moving to 24 pin dot matrix printers was a big advance in the quality of printed documents. Eventually, affordable ink jet and laser printers became common.

Moving from cassettes to floppy disks and then hard disks for storage were big advances. My first hard disk was 20MB in capacity. Such was the size of computer programs and their data files in the 1980s, I couldn’t come close to filling it. Now a word document with some embedded images can often be larger than 20MB.

My student clearly thought I had grown up in a technological stone age. In many ways, her reaction was like mine when older people used to tell me what life was like in the 1930s and 1940s during the Great Depression and World War Two. But although the 1980s and early 1990s were a more technologically-backwards era than now, there were benefits in being a student then. We had our course fees paid and received a grant to cover our living costs, so we did not graduate with the vast debts that current students have.

Digital Education in Health Professions: The Need for Overarching Evidence Synthesis

Synthesizing evidence from randomized controlled trials of digital health education is challenging. Problems include a lack of clear categorization of digital health education in the literature; constantly evolving concepts, pedagogies, or theories; and a multitude of methods, features, technologies, or delivery settings.

The Digital Health Education Collaboration was established to evaluate the evidence on digital education in health professions; inform policymakers, educators, and students; and change the way in which these professionals learn and are taught. In a paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, we presented the overarching methods we use to synthesize evidence across our digital health education reviews and to discuss challenges related to the process.

For our research, we followed Cochrane recommendations for the conduct of systematic reviews; all reviews are reported according to the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidance. This included assembling experts in various digital health education fields; identifying gaps in the evidence base; formulating focused research questions, aims, and outcome measures; choosing appropriate search terms and databases; defining inclusion and exclusion criteria; running the searches jointly with librarians and information specialists; managing abstracts; retrieving full-text versions of papers; extracting and storing large datasets, critically appraising the quality of studies; analyzing data; discussing findings; drawing meaningful conclusions; and drafting research papers.

The approach used for synthesizing evidence from digital health education trials is the most rigorous benchmark for conducting systematic reviews. Although we acknowledge the presence of certain biases ingrained in the process, we have clearly highlighted and minimized those biases by strictly adhering to scientific rigor, methodological integrity, and standard operating procedures. our paper will be a valuable asset for researchers and methodologists undertaking systematic reviews in digital health education.