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Wrapping up Research: Presentation Time!

After a couple of months of discussing how to do research from start to finish, it is now time to wrap up this series by discussing how to present your research. Looking back at everything that I have written about in this series of posts, I feel very privileged to have been able to share some of the knowledge I acquired over the past year of my life. Thus, this is a bittersweet end.

The timing for this last post is basically perfect, though. A couple of weeks ago the culmination of over six months of hard work came to fruition when I present my research at the Appalachian College Association Annual Summit. Because I was there as a Ledford Scholar, for undergraduate research, I presented a poster of my research instead of a speaking presentation. I actually had a blast!

When I got to the conference, the ACA had prepared a Student Summit for all of the Ledford Scholars. We first introduced ourselves and our projects to the other Scholars, and then we had presentations on job hunting and applying to grad school that I found incredibly helpful! I’ll share a couple of the best tips about applying to graduate school that I had never thought of before:

  1. Make a connection with one of the professors in the program you are applying for. One good way to do this is to read a couple of their publications, and then email them about your interests and possible research opportunities with them. Here is a link that can tell you more about that!
  2. Ask one of your professors/references to let you teach a lesson in one of their classes. This way, when they write a letter of recommendation they can touch on your teaching abilities. This will help you to stand out in acquiring a Teaching Assistant position that could potentially pay for graduate school.

After the Student Summit, it was time for the poster session. I got my poster set up, and then people began to come to my poster and ask me questions about my research. I found that I really enjoyed this! I got tell people what I did, bout my results, and even have a couple of goodhearted debates about the validity and outcomes of my project. It felt really rewarding for people to actually be interested in my project, and have acknowledgment for all the work I had done.

As far as tips on research presentation, there are just a couple of things I can say:Keep-Calm-and-Research-On

  1. Stay calm. I was so nervous leading up to the conference, but once I got there it was easy. It turns out, I am a complete expert on myself and my project, so questions were easy and discussion was fun!
  2. Listen to your advisor. Let them help you with formatting your poster, and finding endless grammatical errors, and figuring out where to print the giant thing. Most of all, my advisor was my biggest cheerleader and I am not sure I could have done it without her humor, help, and support.
  3. Practice talking to people about your research. Whether it is a poster or a speaking presentation, you’ll be glad you did. Suddenly the words “assisted-living facility” won’t get so jumbled.

I hope you all have enjoyed this series! Look out in a couple of weeks for my new adventure!

Research Step Two: Topic Selection

Ok friends, let us recap here. In my last post I discussed the first step to the research process, which is finding your purpose. Now, with a fuel behind our fire we are ready to move on to the second step! The second step of research is, of course, picking your topic. To be honest, I don’t have any mystical guru magic to help you pick your topic, but I will inform you of my own personal process.

I picked my topic about a year ago, and that is really hard to believe. Looking back, from start to finish, my project has taken me a year to complete. So here I was a year ago, with a senior thesis and a grant application awaiting me, and I had to pick what I was going to do. The first thing I did was come up with a few ideas which I was interested in researching. I think that the best way to think of ideas is to find a question that you would like to have an answer for. That is what research really is: having a question and putting in the time and effort to get an answer.

imagesWhen coming up with my ideas I knew I wanted to study something associated with the elderly (gerontology minor, duh!), so I came up with a list of ideas that looked something like this:

  • Study whether giving residents in nursing homes a pet/plant would lower depression.
  • Do a meta-analysis on the percentage of people that pass away within a few months of entering a nursing home.
  • Study whether playing music to residents in a nursing home would lower their depression.

So as you can see, a common theme was lowering depression, and I had also thrown in the meta-analysis because I thought that looking at the percentages would be interesting. A meta-analysis is when a research compares and contrasts results from several different studies and look for patterns within those studies.

I took my list of ideas to my advisor, and she helped me to narrow down my project. We talked about each idea in length, and eventually picked the most doable/interesting. We ruled out the meta-analysis almost immediately because, though I could have done it, it was the least fun and interactive. Next, we ruled out the pet/plant idea because there would be too many other factors to consider (such as the residents state of living, dementia, etc.) and we decided the study would not yield accurate results. That left us with my music-listening project!

As you can see, picking my topic was a process of thinking about what I was interested in, and then consulting my advisor on what was practical. No matter what you are studying, the process for topic selection should be very similar. Next week I will discuss general obstacles in the beginning of a project, including the dreaded IRB application process. Feel free to comment below on how you chose your research topic!


Research Step One: Finding Your Purpose

Believe it or not, sitting down at a computer and putting my thoughts on paper can sometimes feel like the monster in the closet that every five year old is afraid of. Despite the fact that I love to write, and that I generally feel like I am good at it, it is the time in between gathering my thoughts and actually typing them out that beats me up. I dread having to sit down at the computer and put in the work. It may be due to laziness, or fear of getting it wrong, but at the end of the day I’m never excited to write something until I’m actually finished with it.

I share this because I’m about to embark on a series about the research process, and the past six months of work that I have put into my senior research project have been the most terrifying, and exciting, moments of my college coursework. In the next few posts, I will be discussing how to apply, conduct, and present research. I will share my personal experiences of my research and also try to inform my readers how to do everything from start to finish. So we begin!

While most people might think that the first step to beginning a research project is picking a topic, I am here to disagree. I believe the first step to starting any serious research is to find a purpose. Having a purpose for your research will guide you in finding a topic, deciding on a timeline, working with a budget, and generally giving you momentum throughout the project. For me, my project actually had more than one purpose.

First, as a senior in the psychology program at LMU, I am required to conduct a research project, write a paper on it, and later present my work at an academic conference. While I have been really excited for this since I entered the program, a more pressing force led me to my second purpose. My first half of my junior year, it became clear to me that I would need to supplement my income in order to be able to complete my summer internship and still have money to survive. In the middle of searching for part-time jobs, my advisor happened to send me a link to the Appalachian College Association Colonel B. Ledford Scholarship Application. It seemed absolutely perfect! The Ledford Scholarship is a program that pays students to conduct a summer research project of their own making, and then later present at the ACA Annual Summit, where research is presented. I spent the next three months working on a personal statement, a project budget, and an introduction to my research that also explained what I would like to gain from doing it. Last February I was awarded the scholarship and from there my project had purpose.

Keep in mind, anything can give a project purpose. It could be a school requirement, a scholarship, a need to share your ideas, or even just a sincere interest in a topic. Ideally, it will be a combination of all of those elements that will lead you to start with questions, and end with a new found answer. Find a purpose and let it fuel you, because I can attest that as gratifying as my research has been, it also requires dedication and commitment.

For this series, I will be posting every week, so stay tuned for next Tuesday when I will discuss picking a topic! Any questions? Feel free to comment below or send me an email!