Word

I created a simple word cloud based on the text of the recent anti-diversity manifesto published by a now-disgraced former Google engineer. The visual speaks for itself, but I wanted to share some thoughts on the sentence where I simply stopped reading:

“Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.”

There are many statements I disagree with throughout this diatribe–and if you haven’t read it you’re not missing out on much. But this sentence rubs me raw.

Where do facts come from? The author should note well that emotional engagement is central to what propels science, research, and the people who choose scientific careers.  We gain nothing by separating so-called “matters of fact” from the emotional human contexts in which those facts exist, profligate, and influence human action.

Not only do we observe this artificial separation of reason and emotion throughout this manifesto, we frequently observe this separation used to justify the mythos of innate male and female skills and virtues.  Here is the link to the Gizmodo article containing both the original anti-diversity memo as well as the corporate reply from Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance, Danielle Brown.

What do you think? Let me know!

Dear Lorelei,

Nearly 5 years ago, Stella Ng and I decided to organize the process of nominating you for the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry’s Distinguished Leader award. We brought the idea to Mark Goldszmidt and he was quick to get the ball rolling, whatever we needed he would make it happen.

As it goes with these types of awards, it was a layered process and we knew it would be a big job. Many letters of endorsement would need to be written, documents signed, etc. We were, of course, glad– but unsurprised–that everyone we approached enthusiastically agreed to write a letter. In fact, it came to a point where we had too many offers and needed a backup list. Physicians, research scientists, and even a former Dean wrote on your behalf.

As it also goes with these types of awards, you would not have read my letter, but with the news you have won yet another mentorship award–the 2017 Meredith Marks award!–I thought I would post it online for you in a de-identified format.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dr. Lorelei Lingard for 4 years, first as a part-time research assistant through the University of Toronto’s Wilson Centre, next as a full-time research associate at the Centre for Education Research & Innovation, and today as a PhD student in the Faculty of Health Science Department of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences. In the medical education research universe, Lorelei is the sun: faculty gravitate toward her ability to support their research, residents are drawn to her ability to connect them with ongoing medical education and surgical education research projects, and graduate students gravitate toward her brilliance, positivity, and poise. She is the best possible ambassador for graduate and post-graduate education at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and worthy for consideration for the Distinguished Leader Award.  

When I met Lorelei, I was in the second year of my Masters degree. Although she was a researcher with a major international profile, she welcomed me onto one of her research projects with kindness and understanding. Being so novice, I was intimidated by her confident, expert approach to a research project involving residents’ comfort-levels with end-of-life care communication. While I could tell Lorelei was extremely busy, I left each meeting with her feeling empowered that I was capable of contributing to her research program and inspired that I was collaborating with someone so generous and knowledgeable.  

As luck would have it, Lorelei was hiring a full-time research associate to begin working with her at Western University at the time I completed my Masters degree. As the successful candidate, I have seen first-hand the impact she is having on the medical education community at Western. I have had the privilege of seeing her work with residents and faculty who come to her with problems and leave with research questions. She never declines to consult with any faculty or student, regardless of their level of understanding of research methods or the stage of development of their research project. Further, no matter how busy she is, she never cancels meetings with her colleagues. Lorelei enables the residents, students and faculty she works with to transform their half-baked ideas into feasible, rigorous, research programs–often projects that end up being funded! She is an inspiration to me, her colleagues, and the students and faculty who work with her.  

I am routinely reminded by others of how fortunate I am to have Lorelei as my PhD supervisor. One colleague has confided in me that they have received more mentorship working with Lorelei for two months than they received from supervisors during their entire doctorate. A recent visiting researcher from [outside Canada] told me that she received more face-time with Lorelei in three weeks than she had received from her doctoral supervisor in six months. These are two simple anecdotes from dozens I’ve observed during my years working with Lorelei. 

Lorelei is world-renowned for her research, but her graduate mentorship, post-graduate student mentorship, and faculty development deserve recognition. I sincerely hope you will select her as the top candidate for this award.

5 years past but the words ring true today. Congratulations (again), Lorelei!

Sincerely,

Allan

McMaster UniveGeoff Normanrsity’s Professor Geoff Norman is a prominent figure in the Medical Education/Health Professions Education community. Along with co-authoring one of the most popular handbooks in Biostatistics, Norman is also a long-time editor for the Advance in Health Sciences Education journal.

In his journal’s most recent issue Norman offers up some tips on how to not get your paper published. I’ve highlighted my favourites–sound advice for academics and graduate students alike:

  1. Support your problem statement with the best available evidence (“Nice ideas finish last”)
    • Your paper must provide sufficient theoretical and empirical justification for why its problem statement is an important one.
  2. Conduct a thorough literature review early (“The world doesn’t need another mousetrap”)
    • Before beginning your study, ensure the same work has not been conducted before. If it has, ensure your problem statement and study design sufficiently expand past findings.
  3. Ensure data are consistent with the journal’s/disciplines expectations (“We don’t really care if your students loved the course”)
    • Norman reminds us that studies involving self-assessment as data are consistently uncorrelated with performance measures. (Eva and Regehr 2005)  While another journal may publish self-assessment data, Norman begs authors to consider whether their data is appropriate for journal/disciplinary conventions before submitting their manuscripts.
  4. Ask whether your findings are applicable in another context (“We are scientists, not inventors”)
    • In studies where a costly simulation device or complex intervention is designed, Norman warns authors not to presume that their findings should be of interest to a wider audience–taking special care when the research is aligned with an commercial interests (e.g., a device manufacturer)
  5. Ask whether your findings are interesting in another context (“The only people who care about education of pediatric gerontologists in Lower Volga are pediatric gerontologists in Lower Volga”)
    • Norman reminds us to think about an international audience for our work. It is incumbent on authors to figure out why researchers in different countries will care about their work.
  6. Disclose other venues in which your study has been published (“Salami slicing belongs in butcher shops”)
    • Salami slicing is the colloquial term for publishing the same study in multiple journals. While Norman admits that this is sometimes an appropriate practice, he reminds researchers to avoid self-plagiarism by writing the second study de novo rather than cutting and pasting swathes of text.
  7. Represent quantitative value with appropriate detail (“P values tell you whether it’s zero but little else”)
    • While a research team’s findings may be statistically significant, simply displaying an appropriate P value is insufficient. Norman reminds authors to include standard deviations, confidence intervals and effect sizes, best represented by good figures and graphs.
  8. Leave room for future research (“More research is always required”)
    • Avoid overstating the universal applicability of your results. Be specific about other research questions that remain to be answered in your work.

Leave your thoughts

What do you think? Am I missing anything obvious? Do you find the advice pedantic? I’d love to read your commends below.

 

A recent post on the LinkedIn NVivo users page inspired me to write this post on collaborating with NVivo. This is a topic that has been an important component of my work for the past 4 years. I’d surmise that pervasive communication technologies and increased interdisciplinary research mean that NVivo is being used on more research teams now than ever before. This post captures 6 key ideas when collaborating with NVivo. An early caveat is that this post does not discuss the implications for teamwork offered by NVivo Server. With the understanding that I’m excited to see how NVivo Server will develop, I’m not convinced it’s widely available enough to warrant an expanded discussion here.

1. NVivo 10’s collaborative functions

As it stands, only one team member at a time can edit an NVivo project file. However, team members’ identities are recorded when working in a project file at different times. Alternatively, each team member can work on a copy a project file that can later be imported back into a “master” file using the import project dialog box. The “master” file is the main copy of the NVivo 10 project file that contains the most up-to-date source data and data analysis. Crucially, the “master” file should be stored on a computer that is frequently backed up. Anyone who has ever suffered the loss of a project file would likely encourage multiple back-ups on your NVivo project. I use Dropbox as a solution for backing up my NVivo projects, but this solution isn’t perfect as I will expand on below.

Assuming that the work has come to a stage where different members have submitted contributions to the NVivo project file, make sure that the team uses easily identifiable standardized user profiles when they work with their respective parts. User profiles, represented by each individual user’s initials, are an important function when the time comes to compare coding.

Coding stripes can be a useful features for NVivo projects where multiple team members are coding data. Coding stripes allow a team to visually identify how data has been organized into Nodes. NVivo also allows coding stripes to be filtered by team member in order to visually identify how an individual coded the data.

When reporting data analysis findings, a more comprehensive summary of the variance in team members’ coding may be needed. In this case, Coding Comparison Queries allow multiple team members’ coding to be quantified in metrics of inter-rate reliability (e.g., Kappa coefficient).

2. Team roles & responsibilities

Beyond the technical features available for NVivo 10 users, team roles and responsibilities should include some attention to data analysis. On any research team on which I work, I advocate the team appoints an NVivo coordinator for the research project. The NVivo coordinator is the team member responsible for maintaining the team’s “master” project file. The coordinator role entails 4 primary duties:
◆ Ensuring that each team member’s independent data analysis is routinely imported into the “master” project;
◆ Backing up the”master” project;
◆ Importing new data into the “master” project;
◆ and Distributing up-to-date copies of the “master” project.

3. Team workflow plan

Create a team workflow plan that includes how to manage your team’s data and analytic findings. The team workflow plan is a document that capture the team’s shared understanding of filenames, read-only and read-write file access, storage and backup locations, and rules for file distribution and archiving. For example, when it comes to audio and video files, what file formats will the team use? Will those files be embedded items or linked as external items?

The workflow plan should include the team’s approach to creating and maintaining nodes. I always recommend that team members write ‘instructions’ in every Node’s Description field (max 512 characters). Unless using In Vivo Coding, creating a new node results in a new node dialog box that includes a blank description field. What better place for a researcher to capture their thinking at a given moment? A team member’s definitions or reflections on coding and nodes can also be written as a linked Memo, which is easier to write, read, print and code.

4. NVivo and cloud computing

I use cloud-based file sharing services like DropBox, SkyDrive and Google Drive as a working solution for backing up and sharing collaborative NVivo Project files. In theory, these services also allow changes to a NVivo project file to be made across several computers using the ‘cloud’.

I recommend you turn off the live syncing features of these programs while you are running the NVivo 10 software client. Most of these services allow you to toggle live-syncing on a folder by folder basis so that you can sync all other folders but the folder containing your NVivo project. I learned this the hard way by losing hours of coding time due to an error caused by simultaneously using NVivo and syncing its attendant .nvp file in a cloud-based utility. Other colleagues of mine have had similar experiences. Cloud-based utilities can be useful for team collaboration, but taking the proper precautions can avoid costly loss of analysis time due to software crashes.

5. Team meetings

Finally, add the NVivo project file as an agenda item team research meetings. While the meeting agenda will no doubt be packed with discussions of the research process, briefly talking about the tools of your is a good idea.

These insights and many more are contained my technical manual on QSR’s software, “NVivo 10 Essentials” (co-authored with Bengt Edhlund).

In debriefing with some colleagues about my recent trip to Montreal for Qualitative Health Research 2012, we agreed it would be a good idea for me to post my summary of a fantastic talk given by Prof. Mary Ellen Macdonald. She focused her talk on career planning for qualitative health research graduate students, and based the key points on an e-mail poll she sent to 26 qualitative health research professors across Canada.

I was particularly excited by Dr. Macdonald’s talk because I’ve been writing about professional development for years – starting with posts about my own professional development, and moving on to posting about career advice for Arts grads, resume writing, and, more recently, academic PR (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).

What I found particularly salient about Dr. MacDonald’s talk was her outline of the ‘unofficial curriculum’ for qualitative health research graduate students. I’ve taken her advice and structured it into 4 career planning tips for qualitative researchers: graduate student’s need to foster mentorship, develop communication skills, be good citizens, and stay on the radar.

Career tip #1: Fostering mentorship

A graduate students’ success is directly related to the mentorship structure they receive from their supervisor. I have seen students suffer in highly dysfunctional research supervision relationships. To avoid this, before beginning any graduate program a graduate student should select their mentor first and their topic second. mentoring

Your research topic will not matter if your supervisor is not working with you to develop other crucial professional skills. Don’t expect every supervisor to be a strong mentor; mentorship is a mutual process, with formalities that should be respected by graduate student mentees.

Dr. Macdonald recommends students take a proactive role by establishing a supervision contract with your mentor. This contract could state that a discussion has taken place identifying the frequency of individual and committee meetings, the nature of verbal/written feedback, the funding that is available for conference travel, research assistantships and stipends, and the appropriate timeframes allotted for feedback and letter writing.

Career Tip #2: Developing communication SkillsCommunication

The ability to communicate your ideas is as important as the ideas themselves. For example, writing well is an overlooked skill for graduate students, and most programs provide no formal writing instruction. Are you struggling with your writing? Hire a tutor, join a writing group, or research online. In a career where written communication in the form of peer-reviewed articles is crucial to career success, graduate students must write well.

Strong public speaking skills are also an important skill for graduate students who want to make a mark. Spend time learning to design effective slides. Practice your talk before you get up in front of an audience. Learn to be a good public speaker (consult with toastmasters if need be).

Further, your CV can be a powerful communication strategy. Dr. Macdonald recommends that you keep your CV up to date. She also recommends you maintain two versions of your CV, official and unofficial. Your unofficial CV is sometimes called a dossier. Researchers keep sanctioned, conventional achievements in their CV: employment history, publications, and conference presentations. But why not keep everything you do in your unofficial CV? Dr. Macdonald recommends recording ALL contributions to your research community: important meetings, rejected research papers, and even unsuccessful grants. You worked on those tasks, so why not record them?

Career Tip #3: Being a good citizen

Citizenship is behavior based on the duties and functions of a citizen. So what does it take to be a good citizen of your graduate program or research centre? One way to be a good citizen of your graduate program is by being a strong representative at conferences. Good conferencing means more than presenting research talks/workshops/posters. Effective networking is a must! Attend others’ talks, meet new people, greet colleagues, and ask GOOD questions (these are questions that make the speaker look good; citizennot, as some folks would have it, questions that make the speaker look good.) Further, do as much as you can to show off your work and the community from which you come. You will look even better if you are current in your research area when chatting with your peers.

Career Tip #4: Staying on the radar

Stay on the radar with your supervisor. While your research project is, or at least should be, your most important occupation, the same is not true for your supervisor. Keep copious notes when you meet with your supervisor; it is your job to remind your supervisor about things you established during past meetings. radar

Stay on the radar with important people you meet as well. Along with being you supervisor’s keeper of memories, work with your supervisor to develop an “elevator pitch” – this is the 20-second description of your research project when you find yourself in an elevator next to the Dean. But you might need different pitches for different audience: nurses, physicians, policy-makers, etc.

I’m on the train returning from Qualitative Health Research 2012 (#QHR2012). I’m feeling inspired watching the beautiful Fall colours of rural Quebec pass by my window. Perfect time to write.

Many moons ago I started a series of blog posts on a concept I termed Academic PR. My first post in this series was me waxing poetic about my observation that academic programs don’t teach students how to network, disseminate research, and discover funding opportunities, especially using the web and new media. My second post in this series was about the academic social networking website academia.edu (a site that I think has been largely subsumed by LinkedIn, but I’ll write about that another day).

BirdThis post has taken me months to write. My excuse has to do with my previous conception of what I am calling academic PR, a set of strategies for academic professionals seeking to network, disseminate research, and discover funding opportunities. I was stuck believing that academic PR has to be an individual endeavour. Yet I realized successful professionals in every field need to engage in an ongoing dialogue with others – whether that dialogue is an argument, an agreement, or, more likely, a little of both. Rather than finding ways to output your ideas to the world, successful professionals in many contexts must listen as much, if not more, than they speak. And it’s this dialogic nature of networking that makes Twitter an essential tool for academic PR.

So with those reflections in mind, I give you the five key concepts that researchers ought to know about Twitter.

Five key concepts for academic PR using Twitter:

1. I know many academics who are apprehensive about joining social networking websites. Unlike sites like Facebook and Academia.edu, Twitter content is largely public. You don’t need to create a Twitter account to know what’s happening on Twitter.

2. Twitter is searchable. Twitter stores information in a database each time a user posts content. Keywords and proper names can be used as Twitter search terms any time by any user.

3. Twitter users use hashtags (keywords followed by #) to create communities and streamline searching. For academics, the most apparent use of hashtags is to follow conversations at academic conferences (e.g., this week’s conference hashtag was #QHR2012). Learning about relevant hashtags can be a powerful way for users to plug themselves into relevant community dialogs (e.g., #cdnpse is a hashtag used for academics interested in discussing Canadian post-secondary education.)

4. Twitter data often contains hyperlinks to blogs, news stories, academic articles, or online photos and videos. Further, Twitter users often link one another’s usernames to create connections and conversations between users.

5. Twitter is a venue for enhancing the discoverability of you work or the work of others in a community that is meaningful to you. You can link your work, join meaningful conversations, and meet other users who are interested in the same things you are.

Please feel free to leave feedback, comments or concerns.

This is my second post about Academic PR, the practice of PR by academic professionals seeking to network, disseminate research, and discover funding opportunities. Today’s post is about Academia.edu, a social networking website for academics. I love the site because it leverages powerful techniques from the social networking web in a way that is easy and accessible for academics. But I hate the site because it overlooks some the most fundamental social networking techniques as well. Before I get into the details, first let me begin with the caveat that I’ve been in touch with the developers of Academia.edu about my concerns, and I was told that they are working them out. So by the time you’re reading this, things might be all better, in which case I’ll edit this post or write a new one. But for now, it’s a love-hate relationship.

Why I love Academia.edu

The reasons I love this website far outnumber the reasons I hate it. Most importantly, Academia.edu has an obvious understanding of their audience: academics. When you want to communicate with academics, you really need to cut the flack. Academics want simplicity and efficiency, not flash and complexity. So I love academia.edu because they’ve succeeded in appealing to their audience. And they’ve done so in three primary ways: the functionality, the database, and the interface.

Functionality

Academia.edu is a free and easy way for academics to publish their bios, publications, contact information, and Twitter-like status updates for the entire world to see. Further to that, users can use specialized search terms like research interests and departmental affiliations to find like-minded individuals and forge potential connections. I briefly mentioned that users can post publications, but I want to emphasize what an easy way this is for academics to highlight the work they feel best represents what they’re currently interested in. Furthermore, the Academia.edu site allows users to easily write blog posts that become part of their online profile.

Database

The information about thousands of post-secondary institutions has been populated into the Academia.edu database. So when a new academic user first registers, the site intuitively auto-populates the information about their academic institution and department. A simple example of this is the fact a PhD candidate from, say, the University of Waterloo’s English department (my alma mater), can choose the appropriate departmental title, the “Department of English Language and Literature,” instead of simply a generic title like the “Department of English.” Academia.edu achieves this by allowing users to populate the database as they register. So the first registrant of a given department paves the way for subsequent registrants to easily select their department from a list of options.

Interface

In terms of user interface, Academia.edu has done everything right. The layout is clean and clear with solid web architecture. And one of the most noticeable aspects of the site is the visual layout of academic departments. Once a user has chosen their institution and department, they can see the other faculty members, graduate students, and staff who are also Academia.edu users (see my screen shot).

Academia.edu screen shot

I think this is a neat way to visualize the hierarchy of a given academic department, although I have to admit it’s rather unremarkable if a department only has four Academia.edu users. The site uses a similar visual approach for laying out users according to their research interests.

The is also comprised of four primary feeds: News, Papers, People, and Status Updates. Which leads me to the next part of my post . . .

What I hate about Academia.edu

In its current iteration, I despise Academia.edu because users can’t filter the site’s feeds. The feeds are scrolling updates about users posting papers, status updates, profile changes, etc. You’ll be most familiar with this user interface from Facebook (and I can only assume you’re familiar with Facebook if you’ve read this far.) Academia.edu claims . . . CLAIMS that the site uses your reported research interests to populate your feed with information you’ll find relevant. Well this is just not true.

Like many others, I’m an interdisciplinary researcher with interests reaching from Linguistics to Medical Education. Perhaps this diversity is the reason my feed is constantly clogged with information about academics who I am not interested in and papers that I don’t want to read. Although the site allows you to “Follow” the work of some academics, this doesn’t occlude the work of academics you’ve never heard of from appearing in your newsfeed.

Everytime I log into Academia.edu I find myself having to sort through a wealth of unnecessary information. While I can perhaps see the logic insofar as the site’s organizers hoped to foster previously unknown research connections, it’s completely unacceptable that I my Papers feed contains a graduate student research paper about Islamic poetry when the closest Research Interest that may link me to this topic is “Illness in Literature.” This site desperately needs filters for their feeds and right now they don’t.

So maybe I was a little off when I said the site’s designers fully understood their audience. After all, while academics are particularly good at cutting the chaff from the wheat, we need to be in control of WHO’S work we want to follow, and WHICH papers we want to read. Anyone who understands academics knows that while we appreciate recommendations, we don’t want them forced on us.