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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!

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Step Five: Conducting the Research

Happy Tuesday, readers!

I feel as if we have packing for our metaphorical research journey together, and we are finally ready to embark! Today I would like to talk about actually conducting your research. The thing is, I have no idea what you might be researching, and since the only experience I have is in psychological research, I would like to talk about general research tips. So, based on my personal experiences, here is a list of things to keep in mind:

Give yourself as much time as you can:

In my case I did summer research, and I felt as if time just rushed past me. Six weeks into my project, I only had two participants. Two. Around week seven I cracked down, did some serious recruiting, and things really took off for me. That being said, I don’t advise procrastinating, but rather being realistic about how long research might actually take.

Get all of your ducks in a row:images

Have a plan for the who, what, when, and how of your project. I dedicated myself to visiting the assisted living facility every Sunday, for at least one hour of recruiting and any additional time it took to conduct the actual research. On average, I was at the facility for around three to four hours every Sunday, and then I would go home and work with my data. Having a plan will help you stay on track and motivated.

Adapt to the demands of your project:

As I mentioned above, I had decided to do research every Sunday during the summer. It took me about three weeks to figure out what time to go on Sundays. If I went before 10 a.m., the residents would be sleeping. Yet, they had lunch at noon. Then, if I went in the afternoon they had Sunday service at 3 p.m., and then dinner directly after. Through a process of trial and error, I figured out that the perfect time for me to go was at 10 a.m., then take a break for lunch, and then continue from around 1-2:30 p.m. Obviously, your project is going to pose different demands, but the point is to mold yourself to what needs to be done.

If your original plan doesn’t work out, just go with it:

There were multiple aspects of my original research plan that just didn’t work out. I didn’t have as many participants as I had originally wanted. I didn’t conduct a post-test 4 weeks later as I had originally planned. I also had to add in participants that weren’t necessarily depressed. My point is, when conducting research, you have to adapt to the situation. At first I really beat myself up because I felt as if I was failing at my project. Luckily I have an awesome advisor that said, “Ashley, the fact that you’re out there doing the research is the important part. Everything else will work out.”

These are just a few points that I hope will aid you in your research. Really, the overall theme of this post is to persevere in whatever your research throws at you. If you have any questions or would like to share your own experiences, please comment below!

Research Step Four: Overcoming Obstacles

Hello lovely readers,

Over the past month we have talked about quite a bit of the research process! At this point, our project has metaphorically been accepted by the IRB, and we are ready to proceed with our research. For this post, I’m going to talk about overcoming general obstacles throughout your research.

Possibly the best way for me to share how to recognize and overcome obstacles is to share my own. When I began my research, it was already a challenge deciding on my population. Originally, I wanted to work with nursing home residents, but then I recognized that it would be incredibly hard to gain informed consent. From there I decided I had a better chance at working with assisted-living residents, because generally they are moving, cognitive and independent.

While I was working on getting IRB approval, I began calling assisted-living facilities in Knoxville to gain permission to do my research at the facilities. I probably called ten places, at least three never got back to me, three flat-out said no, and that left me with four options. For the next two months, I consistently called and emailed these facilitates, and by around April I had a facility that said yes. From there, I had to get written approval that I could do my research there, so I received a polite email from the activities coordinator giving me permission. I was so relieved to not have to make any more calls or badger any more people that I let the issue slide for around a month. At the beginning of May, the IRB told me I had to have permission from the director of the facility as well. I emailed him, and when he got back to me I was floored. Apparently, the activities coordinator that had given me permission had found another job, and he told me she had no authority to have given me permission to do research there, and furthermore he told me I could not do my research there.

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Being desperate, I emailed him basically begging that we sort something out. He agreed to meet with me, so a week later my advisor and I went to Knoxville and met with the director of the facility. I presented all my paperwork, forms I had developed, and my research goals. He was very understanding, and told me he would contact his superiors to get permission. Later that week, I got written permission to do the research, with stipulations. I was not allowed in any residents rooms, and I had to be supervised. I was so OK with this!

I am telling you guys this long crazy story because I can’t predict what might go awry in your research, but I can encourage you to overcome it. As long as you maintain of level of professionalism and genuineness, you will be able to get your research on track. Next week, we will talk about getting out there and conducting research! If you have any questions or concerns, please comment below.

Research Step Three: IRB Application

Hello readers!

So far in the past two weeks we have talked about finding your purpose and choosing your topic for your research project. Today, I would like to walk your through how to do an IRB application. Every University will have an IRB Board, which is a panel of judges that will assess your research project. You must get the approval of the IRB before starting your project. This ensures that everything is legal and safe for both you and your project participants. Because the application can be a little daunting, I’m going to upload an example of a blank application will all of my comments on how to fill one out. So here it is:

IRB Application Guide

IRB

With all of my comments and directions in mind, I would still recommend taking your application to your research adviser with any questions or issues you may have. Feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments below!

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!