WAYS TO BUILD YOUR RESEARCH PROFILE

Hi all, welcome to scienceiq. In this post, I will discuss ideas to build your research profile. The most common advice you would have received as a novice researcher is reading lots of articles and practicing writing. Reading and writing papers will help you develop your writing skills, but there is more to it. I will share few ideas to build your research profile in this post.

TIPS for building your research profile

#1 Collaborate – It is the key aspect to grow as a researcher. Collaboration teaches mutual respect, teamwork, commitment, and shared-knowledge. It helps you understand a topic from a broader perspective. Collaborating with people outside your geographical area will also help you understand different cultures and practices. Collaborating with varying disciplines will help you get a better understanding of a topic. And in the end, you make good friends after a successful collaboration.

#2 Keep your social media accounts active and interact with your scientific community – I am not talking about Snapchat and Instagram, but social media accounts related to research such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Research Gate, and Facebook are helpful to build your research profile. You get updates on the latest articles, research projects, and opportunities by being active on these accounts. Plus, you will showcase your research work and get more reads and citations for your published articles.

#3 Make a timeline and stick with it – I have strictly followed setting up a timeline for my projects and adhering to it, and it has paid off every time. Building your research career requires dedication and constant effort. You can’t make it by doing something once. You have to put in continuous and regular efforts. Even though it is a standard tip applicable to all areas of life, it is still reliable.

#4 Keep learning a new research skill – There is no end to learning, especially in research. So keep updating and learning new research skills from time to time. It can be learning new software for data analysis or learning a new research design. It will always give you an edge if you keep updating your research skills.  

#5 Learn to write grants – This might look like a distant dream for people learning to conduct research, but it is essential to survive in the research field and academia. Start helping in writing grants with your seniors to get some idea about the structure of the proposal. Also, keep an eye on the “call for grant proposals” in your respective areas.

#6 Set aside time every day for personal development – You may be super busy with your work duties, parenting, and family. Still, you need to set aside some dedicated time every day or every week for your personal growth. It is not possible to grow in academia without persistence. It only requires some time management and discipline. My blogging has come down drastically after joining full-time work, but I still try to devote few hours a week to this blog.

I have incorporated all these tips in my research career, and it has proved helpful for me. I hope you can also use a few of these tips to grow and achieve your dreams. Wishing you great luck!

Cheers,

Amreen

How to prepare research protocol for beginners

Hi all, welcome back to ScienceIQ. Today we will discuss how to prepare your research protocol when you have no idea about it. Protocol writing can be intimidating especially for beginners who have no experience in research. I have been in the same shoes during my first year of graduate research. In the beginning, running a simple search looked like a daunting task.

              You can begin by learning how to search for relevant articles. I have written a post on the search strategy. You can read it here (https://scienceiq.blog/2019/01/21/how-to-develop-the-search-strategy-for-a-systematic-review/ )

I will discuss other tips to make the process easier and simplify steps for writing a research protocol.

  • Know your interest – Take up a research topic that you are curious and excited about. If you are not interested in your research topic then you will not enjoy conducting that research and will end up feeling distracted and lost. So, always go with an idea that excites you and discuss it with your supervisors.
  • Be thorough with the existing literature – I have prepared a post on how to do a literature search. (https://scienceiq.blog/2019/10/28/literature-review-a-guide-for-beginners/ ) It is one of the key aspects of the research protocol. Know when, what, and how was research done in your area. Having a thorough in-depth knowledge about your topic will give you confidence and rigor in your methodology.
  • Begin by writing your research question – The first step is to clearly articulate your research question. Write down the research question in PICO format.

Eg. Does XYZ therapy (intervention) given for XYZ dosage improves UL function (Outcome) when compared to standard UL exercises (comparison) in chronic stroke survivors (Population)?

  • Think about the methodology – Think of ways in which you can research to get answers to your research problem. It will require understanding the different study designs, sample size calculation, access and availability of your research population, and ethical clearance.
  • Dig in further – Once you have a basic idea about your intervention or research problem then develop a detailed plan for executing the research. What will you do, how will you do, equipment required, where will you collect data, for how long, what all outcomes will be measured, time points of outcome assessment and follow up. Be very clear and specific about the selection criteria of your research participants. Write down the inclusion and exclusion criteria.
  • What is the impact of your research – Think critically about the implications of your research? What will you achieve if you address the research question and how will it add to future research. Your research may not be outstanding or path-breaking but it should have some value clinically.
  • Write the protocol – when writing the protocol, first complete the methods section that should include the following sub-headings
    • Study design
    • Participants
    • Setting
    • Sampling
    • Sample size
    • Instruments
    • Selection criteria
    • Procedure
    • Outcome measures
    • Data analysis
  • Write an excellent introduction – Once you have completed the methods and literature review, you should write an appealing introduction. The introduction should include the background of your research question, what is done to date, what has not been done, the gaps in the literature and how will you bridge the gap in the literature. Emphasize the need and novelty of the study. 

That’s it. If you follow these simple steps, preparing the research protocol will be a fun and interesting process. Give your best.

Cheers,

Amreen

How to correct common pitfalls in methods and statistical reporting

Hi all, here is a new post on methods and statistical reporting in a manuscript. One of my mentors, Dr. Sundar Kumar, inspired me to write this post. For beginners like us, it isn’t very easy to understand and interpret our data analyses, which affect the way we report it in our manuscripts. Today, we will look at some of the common pitfalls while reporting methods and statistical analyses and ways to overcome them. There are multiple articles on this topic, and after going through some of them, I have tried to simplify it for you.

            Main reasons for the rejection of a manuscript are methodological flaws, including statistical reporting. So here are some of the common errors in METHODS & RESULTS sections and ways to rectify them:

  • Start with clearly reporting the aim and research questions in the introduction—state aim in the PICO (Population, Intervention, Comparators, and Outcome) format. We already know it but forget to implement it.
  • Then specify the study design. Always make use of the available guidelines for study designs and try to include all items given in it. You can easily find a guideline that is relevant for your study design on the EQUATOR network (http://www.equator-network.org/). Additionally, you can use a guide for statistical analysis known as SAMPL (Statistical Analyses and Methods in the Published Literature.) I came across this one recently, and it is quite handy.
  • Report if you have registered your trials or reviews previously in PROSPERO and Clinical trials registry.  If there are any deviations from the original protocol and then report it in the manuscript.
  • Write complete details for sample size calculation, including type I error, type II error, confidence interval, and minimum clinically relevant difference. In case of a pilot study where you have not computed a sample size, then explain it in the article. 
  • In case you have dropouts or missing data, then report the missing data, and justify if you have used any techniques to handle the missing data, especially in an RCT.
  • Initially, I did not understand the importance of this, but, always provide a detailed description of the statistical analyses and a rationale for using a particular analysis. We usually report the test used but completely forget about the rationale for using it, such as assumptions or study hypotheses. Specify which variables were analyzed with each different statistical analysis. Statements such as ‘data were analyzed using chi-square test’ is considered vague.
  • Also, provide details of statistical analysis such as specific analysis for a particular outcome and how the results are reported. E.g., distance walked is summarized using mean and SD. The results of logistic regression are summarized using the Odds ratio and confidence interval. These are a few details which we often omit.
  • Again, I learned this hack recently to make sure that all the analyses mentioned in the methods section correspond with the set of results and vice versa. We unknowingly add a ‘new’ result that we forget to describe previously in the methods or objectives of the study.
  • In the abstract, make sure that you have reported the same results as that given in the main text. Do not write additional/modified/different results that you have not mentioned in the main manuscript.
  •  While writing the methods section, write a separate detailed paragraph on outcomes. Provide details on measurement of the outcome, who measured it, when it was measured, and it was a primary or secondary outcome, units of measurement, tools for measurement, and its psychometric properties. A reviewer may ask you to remove these details during revision, but it is better to provide more information while submitting a manuscript for the first time. 
  •  There are no studies without a limitation. Be very clear about your study limitations or biases or confounders. It pisses off the editors if you try to downplay your study limitations.

So, these were some of the common reporting problems that can be easily fixed in your manuscripts. A transparent and thorough reporting of methodology will always give you an edge for getting your paper accepted. I will write another post on choosing appropriate statistical analyses. You can use this post as a checklist before submitting your manuscripts. I hope it helps.

Useful links:

  1. Harhay MO, Donaldson GC. Guidance on Statistical Reporting to Help Improve Your Chances of a Favorable Statistical Review. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2020;201(9):1035-1038. doi:10.1164/rccm.202003-0477ED
  2. Swiss Med Wkly. 2015;145:w14076
  3. Lang T, Altman D. Statistical Analyses and Methods in the Published Literature: the SAMPL Guidelines

Cheers,

Amreen

How to excel in PhD: EXPERT ADVICE

Hi all, welcome back to scienceIQ! This is the first guest blog post of scienceIQ. We have Dr. Saurab Sharma as our guest, and today we will be discussing – how to get through the #Phdlife effectively. Here are some handy and inspiring tips from Dr. Saurab Sharma.

Dr. Saurab Sharma is a pain scientist and an Assistant Professor at Kathmandu University School of Medical Sciences, Nepal. He completed his PhD, which aimed to improve pain assessment, management, and research in Nepal from the University of Otago, New Zealand. His PhD was considered a thesis of exceptional quality unanimously by all examiners. During his PhD, he published 26 peer-reviewed papers in international journals. He also presented his research in 10 countries and received nine research and travel grants during his PhD. He speaks internationally on pain-related topics, evidence-based practice and research methods, and outcome assessment, among others. You may follow Saurab on Twitter (link_physio) and Facebook (linkphysio.com), and LinkedIn (Saurab Sharma).

Question 1. What was the motivation behind getting a PhD?

The primary motivation behind this PhD was to improve the way we manage pain in a way that is clinically effective but not expensive for my people with low-socioeconomic status in Nepal. As a musculoskeletal physiotherapist and an evidence-based practice preacher, I noticed how clinical care of people with musculoskeletal conditions do not align with contemporary practice guidelines. I thought we could do better.

Every clinical encounter with my patients taught me many things, the most important of these knowledge/research gaps informed my research questions. I developed a program of research that would address the existing gaps in knowledge, with an overarching aim of improving pain research and management in Nepal.  

Question 2. How did you cope up with the stressful Ph.D. journey?

I did not take PhD as a stressor. I loved every bit of it because I was passionate about what I was doing. I enjoyed the overall process thoroughly.

This does not mean that it as stress-free. I can hardly remember stresses during the Ph.D. Some that I remember were self-imposed pressure to perform well in international conferences. Other challenges that many people in developed countries do not face are struggles related to visa applications and collecting necessary documents while continuing to do research.

If you think of your PhD research a  way of contributing to science and improving patient care and think of broader perspective of why you are doing your PhD, you will love it. If the research topic is aligned with your interest, is meaningful to a broader audience, and you work in a pleasant research environment (university, supervisors, research team), PhD is not as bad as many tell us. Unfortunately, such an optimal PhD environment is rare. When you don’t have ideal circumstances, accepting what you have, taking the situation, and focusing on the broader objective of contributing to mankind will keep you going. Smaller day-to-day challenges will be meaningless. In fact, they teach you to be stronger. I took all of these challenges as opportunities to bounce-back and grow.   

Question 3. What is the secret behind your exceptional numbers of publications?

The first and most important key to this “planning.” As I planned my research project before my PhD enrolment, I knew what projects I will do, when I will do, and how I will do. I knew the submission date of my thesis before I started, meaning I did not give myself an unlimited time to complete it. I started with the deadline in mind and worked during my three years sensibly. On day 1 of my PhD, I created a three-year work plan and scheduled each project in the time table. The time table was so detailed that I knew what exactly I would do on a weekly basis. This was the foundation of my success.

Second, sticking to the plan! As simple as that. I worked sincerely “for” myself. I wrote to train myself to be better writing, not to complete the PhD. I gave myself deadlines, which I respected (if I don’t, no one else will). I revised my weekly schedule with some objectives of the week. Some examples of the objectives are completing data analysis, completing the first draft of the paper for supervisors’ review, or submitting the paper for publication.

Once you do things, you get better at it. If you see the list of papers I published during my PhD, it took me 1 year to publish the first one (although I wrote 4 during year 1), and I had 9 or more in the second and third year. I led about half of these papers (as the first author), and later I was invited to co-author papers, which is an important opportunity to collaborate and learn from outside the core PhD supervisory team. The point I am going to say next could be controversial, not many people will take this as a good idea, but I always considered others’ work more important than mine. This helped me clear my desk from coauthored work and allowed time to focus on my own work. This reciprocates, and others’ will start taking your work as their priority.  

My advice would be to do things right away. If you keep holding things and procrastinating, it increases stress and anxiety, which is detrimental to learning. Clear your “to do list” as early as you can. Focus on things that are important but not urgent before they become urgent. This helps improve the quality of your work.

Question 4. Do you have any tips (do’s and don’ts) for PhD students and those undertaking research in times of COVID-19?

Some tips and advice for PhD students which will also apply outside of the COVID-19 crisis. Some relates to my previous points.

  1. Don’t rush to do a PhD (it may be too late for some of the readers). It is better to do a PhD late than doing it with a wrong team, on an unimportant question (or sometimes wrong question).
  2. Don’t do PhD just because everyone is doing it. An analogy is “marriage.” If you marry a random person just because all of your friends are marrying, married life can be disastrous. So can PhD.
  3. Don’t procrastinate. Do it now.
  4. Plan you PhD, if you don’t know how, start by learning how to plan. There are plenty of online resources. Read books on how to do PhD. Read that is available online or in your library or you can purchase.
  5. Plan your weeks and days and hours. Have a weekly schedule.
  6. Take the lead in your PhD. It’s your PhD, no one else’s.
  7. Have your PhD learning objectives. Learn what you think you should learn. This may evolve overtime.
  8. Be a proactive learner. Don’t wait for others to teach you what/how you should do (or learn).
  9. Connect with “good” people in your area of research. It can be by following them on social media. I learned so much from Twitter, just by following researchers whose work I admire. Learning should not be limited geographically (or within a team). Embrace the technology we have sensibly.
  10. Establish good relationships with your supervisors and research group/team.
  11. Have timely meetings with supervisors to discuss your problems.
  12. Have clear expectations from each member of the team. Example, when will the supervisors provide comments or feedback for your work, or the role of each authors in the paper before you start writing them.
  13. When there is a problem, discuss and solve it before it gets complicated.  
  14. Invest in good books, including books on writing. Before starting to write, learn key principles of writing. Which you can then use when writing your manuscripts/thesis. If you start writing without knowing how best to write, you will only get better at writing poorly.
  15. Don’t start too many things at one time. Two or three is fine. Invest your time on the ones that are closer to completion. 
  16. Learn how to read. Reading differs for different purposes. Identify differences.
  17. Read critically! Learn critical appraisal skills. Read “good work” based on critical appraisal of the papers, discard poor ones. Read papers from good writers. You should know who good writers and researchers are in your area of research.  Reviewing papers for reputed pain, rehabilitation, and physiotherapy journals helped me with the critical appraisal skills during the later stages of my PhD. I was able to critique my own paper after I did it on others.
  18. Speak about your research passionately with others. Both who understand or don’t understand research. Speaking to lay audience teaches you so much more about your research.
  19. Learn when to stop reading and start writing. To me, the best form of reading was writing. It is quite philosophical, but try it, you will know what I mean. The gist is that, when you write (following the principles of writing), you will learn what lacks in your understanding in the topic, give them a place-holder (e.g., xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx), then go back and read what key information you require to fill that gap.
  20. Give back twice as much as you take from others.
  21. Lastly, even if your PhD was arranged (like an arranged marriage), try loving what you are doing. Focus on positive aspects. Follow the above advice. Despite all your effort, if it does not work; maybe it is better to find another one!

That was it. I thank Dr. Saurab for taking out time to write this wonderful post. Hope you all enjoyed reading it. Good luck with your PhDs.

Amreen

An (emotional) journey of publication

Hi all, today we will talk about an interesting topic that is not very prevalent among research students. You would have read materials on the publication process, how to publish, writing to impressing editors, etc. But, we will discuss the psychology and the emotions that are associated with publications, especially for beginners.

In this post, I have shared my personal experiences and learning in the process of publications. It might not be the same for you, but you can relate to a few instances and get some ideas. I have spoken more about failures/rejections in this post, not to demotivate you, but because failures teach us more than success.

The first publication is the most difficult

My supervisors used to tell me that getting the first article published is always tricky, and I have also experienced it. When you first submit a paper, you are thrilled and expect a positive reply, but most of the time, the first paper gets rejected. The main reason is that initially, our writing style is not well developed; hence, more chances of rejection. Once you have published a few papers, then you get the hang of writing scientific articles, and the publishing process becomes smoother.

Disappointment, frustration, and desperation

No one can deny that every time you get a rejection mail from editors, you tend to get disappointed. I used to be so sad with each rejection. With each rejection, my desperation to publish used to rise exponentially. There was a time when I was unhappy all the time, impatient, frustrated, and just wanted an article to get published. But let me assure you that it is a phase, and it will pass once you have published a few articles. You won’t feel that frustration for long.

Find the right journal

My first paper got rejected seven times! Yes, SEVEN. We had almost given up trying to publish that data, thinking it will never get accepted because even lower impact journals started rejecting it. But I tried again, and it got accepted in quartile one journal. The reason for the seven rejections was that the journals were out of scope. I was so focused on submitting the manuscript that I never really thought about the right journal. That time, I used to believe that sending it multiple times will get the article accepted. A better idea would have been spending more time in identifying the right journal and understanding the aims and scope of the journals before trying to submit a manuscript.   

Don’t quit

I had prepared a manuscript, and it was well written, so I submitted it in one of the best journals in my field with high expectations and enthusiasm. To add to my expectations, it went for a peer review. Every day, I used to check the status of that article. I was very anxious and wanted it to get accepted somehow. Then after three months of peer review, it got rejected. When I emailed the editor asking if I could revise and resubmit the paper, the answer was a definite NO. It was embarrassing, and I lost confidence in that manuscript. It took me three more months to resubmit that article to the next journal.

Develop resilience

This advice is often understated in academic publishing. If you have to survive this long, frustrating process, then you have to develop resilience. No matter how many times your paper gets rejected or revised – you should be ready to resubmit it with the same rigor and enthusiasm. Many times you will not find a logical reason for the rejection, but there is nothing you could do about it. So learn to let it go. Now, I don’t feel that disappointed after rejections. I think it is a part of the process. Remember that every paper has a home.

No quick fixes

This is one point that you must remember from this post. Publishing in scientific journals is not a joke. Considering the emotional and physical effort required – I felt it was one of the hardest things I have done to date. It really is a difficult thing to achieve, and there are no shortcuts. Patience and perseverance is the key. You will learn the art of writing – very slowly with practice and with multiple rejections and revisions. Trust me; there are no easy solutions for it. Consistently reading and writing will make you better. My supervisors used to make me write one manuscript at least 15-20 times before sending it to any journal, and that improved my writing skills. 

Being on cloud 9

Finally when your paper gets accepted after all the madness and rejections, then you will be on cloud 9. It is such an amazing and gratifying feeling. I used to jump in excitement whenever I got a manuscript accepted.

So, in a nutshell, scientific publishing is indeed a complicated process, and it involves not only your intellectual effort but also your emotional strength. It has highs and lows and very lows. But in the end, you will be proud of your accomplishments. Don’t give up!

Hope you enjoyed reading it,

Amreen

How to stay productive and calm during the quarantine in academia – 10 tips

Hi all, I am writing this post on tips to maintain productivity during the quarantine period. Many people are staying alone, and away from their families, so it is likely that they feel anxious, worried, distracted, or even bored staying at home. Social media makes it challenging to stay focused and also leads to loss of productivity. We feel that we will accomplish more targets while staying at home, but that is not the truth.  When I heard the news about the Corona outbreak and how things are shutting down, I felt extreme fear and helplessness. I was lost and disturbed thinking about the uncertainty in our future, our career, our families – it is too overwhelming to handle.

So,

My first tip is to STOP!!! Don’t be glued to Whatsapp messages and other social media content about panic and rumors and rising number of cases.

The first thing to remind ourselves is that we are safe in our homes, and so are our families. We have to let only positive thoughts enter our mind and block all negativity.

I will discuss some tips to help improve our focus and productivity:

  1. MEDITATE: I can’t emphasize enough on the power of meditation, especially during this time of chaos and panic. It instantly calms and relaxes our mind and gives us more energy to focus on our work.
  2. EXERCISE: Any form of exercise – yoga, Pilates, strengthening, or even dancing. It is especially useful when we are sitting at home, and our physical activity is low. It boosts our concentration and makes us more productive
  3. ORGANIZE/PLAN: Most of us feel lost because now we don’t have a structured routine. So write down your timetable and ‘things to do’ for each day. You should make an effort to complete those things before going to bed. Don’t keep targets for weeks or months. Instead, keep it day-wise.
  4. DECENTRALIZE– It is a technique in psychotherapy in which we have to shift our focus from something negative/disturbing to something neutral or not to elicit emotions.  So the best way to decentralize is to share ‘non-corona news/non-corona memes/non-corona jokes’ and instead watch a comedy movie, play games with roommates, or cook a healthy meal.
  5. START SMALL – If you are finding difficulty in focusing at work, then take tiny steps and keep small goals. Even if you read one page of an article or write one paragraph in a day is fine. Just keep moving forward, no matter how small the steps are. It will make you confident in achieving your daily goals.
  6. ENGAGE IN YOUR HOBBIES: Not because you have the time for your hobbies but because it will keep you focused and positive. It will set a positive tone, and you will feel a sense of accomplishment.
  7. STAY CONNECTED: Stay connected with your Ph.D. friends and supervisors to get motivated in your goals and to update your progress time-to-time. It will also help to develop a sense of belongingness to your research community.
  8. PSEUDO OFFICE: We tend to think that we are at home, so there are no rules, but, to boost our productivity, create a pseudo office. Imagine as if we are still at our workplace and follow the same timings and office routine. Don’t take the liberty of skipping your work routine.
  9. PRACTICE GRATITUDE: It is an effective technique to beat the blues. Either reflect on things that are good in your life or try journaling. Feeling thankful is a shortcut to feeling positive. It is also a good time to write down the acknowledgments for your Ph.D. thesis 🙂
  10.  SELF-CARE: Self-care is essential for a healthy body and mind. Take out time every day for self-care activities such as eating healthy, sleeping well, taking care of your pets or plants, taking a hot bath, or anything that makes you happy.  

This post is NOT on ‘Things to do at home when you are bored’ but on how to improve our productivity and maintain our mental health while actually #workingfromhome

I hope you find it useful. Have a safe and productive quarantine. Remember, we are together in this!

Amreen

Qualitative data analysis – step by step guide

Welcome back to scienceIQ! Qualitative research explores the quality of the situation/phenomenon. It has nothing to do with p-values or mean differences. The purpose of qualitative research is to understand the phenomenon and NOT to generalize the findings.  Qualitative research is not so popular in the health sciences. It originated and developed from social sciences. In this post, I will be discussing a few simple steps to analyze qualitative data.

We tend to think that conducting qualitative research is easier compared to quantitative research, but, in my experience, it is the opposite. A qualitative study requires a much deeper understanding of the data. It has to be supported by theoretical background. The analysis of qualitative data does not happen with a click of a button. Instead, it requires a lot of brainstorming and visiting and re-visiting the data. You need to be intellectually involved and accountable for your findings. It is more like art, where we attempt to draw a somewhat realistic picture of the phenomenon. I have talked more about it in my last post on qualitative research (https://scienceiq.blog/2019/08/14/qualities-of-a-qualitative-researcher/)

So, here I would be discussing a few simple steps to kick start your data analysis:

STEP 1: Transcribe your data – The most common methods of qualitative data collection are focus group and interviews, which is audio taped. So, as a very first step, we need to transcribe the interviews/focus group discussions into our laptops.  The transcription has to be word-to-word, as told by the participants. You can’t change the sentences or meaning of the data while transcribing. It is called as ‘verbatim’ – exact words of the participants. I must tell you that transcription is a verrryyy lengthy and tedious task. You have to listen to each sentence carefully from the audio recording and type it as it is. It may take days to complete the transcription of one interview. So, you have to type, type, and type.

STEP 2: Read and re-read your transcripts – What I learned during a data analysis workshop was to read each transcript (the transcribed interviews) thrice. Once you should read superficially to have an idea about the content, then read twice with more details and understanding before starting to code your data. It is known as ‘deep hanging out’ with your data. Read and think and then think and read. It involves a lot of cognitive processing.

STEP 3: Start coding – Codes are the summary of the phrases and sentences of your interviews. Through coding, we are trying to condense the large chunk of information that we have collected in our research. It means labeling the text. E.g., If I have a verbatim such as “I was satisfied with the treatment, it made me recover better. I keep telling my friends about it,” so I would condense this piece of information by labelling it as ‘patient satisfaction.’

GOLDEN RULES OF CODING:

  • Be as close to the text as possible.
  • Don’t be too broad or too specific while developing codes. Codes have to be repeated in other transcripts as well, so keeping it very specific will not make it reusable in other transcripts.
  • The context of the text is equally important.

Thus, a better code would be ‘patient satisfaction with treatment.’ 

STEP 4: Data analytical cycle – Once you have completed coding of all the transcripts, then start the analysis. It is a cyclic process that involves going back and forth to the data. Data analytic cycle consists of the following components:

a) Description b) Comparison c) Categorization d) Conceptualization and e) Theory development.    

Description is often called ‘thick description’ in qualitative research because it has to be as explicit as possible. When describing, we give a detailed account of the phenomena. It includes describing a) breadth (range of experiences & different dimensions), b) depth (what & why) and, c) context of the phenomenon (where, when who.)

Comparison means comparing the data between cases. Here you compare the information provided by different categories of participants, e.g., young versus old, rich versus poor, acute versus chronic, urban versus rural, so on, and so forth. You have to compare and contrast the perceptions/experiences of the participants and develop meaning out of it. You should know the reason for the difference (if any) in their opinions.  You should also know if there is something which is left unexplored in your study.

Categorization is a relatively simpler task in the data analytic cycle. It involves grouping similar codes into broader categories or themes. E.g., if I have codes such as anger, anxiety, frustration, etc., then I would group it as ‘negative attitude.’ Remember, the code groups have to be based on your research objective and the primary question that you aimed to answer. Once you have categorized the codes, you can start writing the details of each category/theme.

Conceptualization is a very crucial aspect of qualitative data analysis, and new learners often miss it. It involves making links between categories and finding a bigger picture from your data. You have to summarize the core concepts that were derived from your data. It includes telescoping – that means zooming in and zooming out of your data to understand the concepts. I know it sounds a little daunting, and it is… but you will be able to do it with sound knowledge in your research area.

Theory development is the last and eureka moment in qualitative studies. We usually do not develop theories from every research we conduct. But with years of experience and research in a particular field, you may develop a new theory, or verify an existing one or contradict a current theory or even add to an existing method.

So, in summary, transcribe your data, code it well, group codes into categories, compare, and conceptualize. Some of the software programs that can help in qualitative analysis are:

  • Open Code 4.2
  • ATLAS.ti
  • Nvivo
  • MAXQDA

Many people have asked me about the software for qualitative analysis. They think that using the software will analyze the data, just like SPSS. But you should know that software doesn’t analyze qualitative data. Your brain, your experience, and reflexivity during data collection help in data analysis. It is you who can explain your qualitative findings and not the software. The software just manages the data and helps in organizing it.

That was all on qualitative data analysis. There are several other ways and methods to approach qualitative data, but I felt these were a few simple steps to begin with. I hope you found it useful.

Happy learning!

HOW TO IDENTIFY PREDATORY JOURNALS AND CONFERENCES

Hi all, welcome back to scienceIQ. Today we will discuss an interesting and important topic on publishing in predatory journals/conferences. The term ‘predatory’ literally means exploiting someone for their benefit.  It has a similar meaning when we talk about predatory journals.

What is a predatory journal – Predatory journals are money-making journals that compromise science by skipping the peer review process and publish for the sake of money collected from the authors. They lure young researchers and students with their fast publication and no-rejection policy. Naïve researchers are most likely to fall into this trap of super-easy publishing. It completely skips the scientific evaluation of a paper that defeats the purpose of publication.

Before we submit our research to any journal or think of presenting it in any conference, we should thoroughly analyze the quality of the journal or conference. It is like solving a mystery or puzzle. We have to be extra alert and cautious. Here are a few tips to help you make the decision.

  • Journal indexing – I feel the first thing to check in a journal is its indexing. You can consider submitting your paper if the journal is Scopus or Web of Science indexed. PubMed is also good, but there is a rise of predatory journals in PubMed too. You can also go and check the quartile to which your journal belongs in Scopus. Quartile 4 should be a red flag sign.
  • Journal title – Journal title is the first thing we see before submitting a paper, and predatory journals know that. That is why the title of predatory journals will generally be “International journal of something” or “World Journal of something else.” It may not provide a detailed idea about the journal, but it may give you a hint to investigate further.
  • Fees transparency– Look at Article Processing Charges (APCs) before submitting your paper. Usually, good quality journals state their APCs outright and show transparency in publication charges. Open access journals have APCs for publication. Predatory journals will not provide any details or structure for APCs, and they claim the money after you send your paper to them. I was also a victim of one such journal but we (my supervisors and I) decided to withdraw the paper after they asked for the money, which was not disclosed anywhere on the website. So thankful for that decision.
  • Publication time – The next thing to identify is the time taken from submitting the paper to its publication. Usually, journals take six months to 1 year for publishing after submitting the paper. A very fast process should be critically analyzed because it shows a lack of peer-review, which is the hallmark of a predatory journal. If a journal is readily accepting your paper without any corrections or revisions and publishing articles within a week or month, then be very cautious. You may be trapped. 
  • Editorial board – Another important aspect to look for is the credibility of the editorial board. Are they professors in a University or hold a permanent academic position? What is their expertise and years of experience? Check their profile on their university website and even their H-indices. Everything matters.

By now, you would have decided on the standard of the journal, but if in doubt, go ahead and analyze it further.

  • Grammar errors – If you read between the lines, you may find few typo/spelling errors. You can also look for grammatical or English errors on the journal website. If you are easily able to find such flaws, then there are high chances of it being a predatory journal.
  • Personal email ids – Another important area to explore is the email addresses of the editors. Mostly, the editors provide their university email addresses but, if you find their personal email ids such as Gmail and yahoo, then double-check the credibility of such a journal.
  • Website homepage – Check the website homepage and see it is too catchy or attractive – colorful styles, huge fonts, and flashy links. It may not look like a scientific journal. Also, check the previous volumes and issues of published articles. Reading articles published in a predatory journal may also give some form of a clue – fraudulent or spurious articles.  
  • Scope of journal/conference – Another peculiar thing about the predatory journals is that they cover diverse topics and areas. They may publish articles related to agriculture, social science, or medicine, and almost everything. So, always look for streamlined and focused journals in your field.
  •  Publication by invitation – This is a trending style of predatory journals/conferences. You will get ten invitations per day in your inbox to publish in such journals. We recently got an email from some conference stating that we will be awarded for our previously published paper. When we read further, it stated that we need to register for the conference and pay 8000 INR to receive the award! We don’t have to spend money to get such awards.

So, these were a few tips for identifying any predatory journals/conferences. I came to know about it by attending various seminars and conference sessions. Remember, it is very easy but FOOLISH to publish in a predatory journal. You will never become the scientist that you want to become by publishing in these journals.  Be careful.

Happy Learning,

Literature Review – a guide for beginners

Hi all, welcome back to scienceIQ! I am writing a post after a long time, but I will keep posting as and when possible. So, stay tuned. Today we will discuss Literature Review. Yes, it is the most disliked process in conducting research, and it is the first challenge that we all have to face before starting our research project. We know that literature review is MANDATORY for any proposal submission. So, we cannot escape from writing pages and pages of literature review. In this post, we will see why we should do a literature review and few tips for doing it well.  

Benefits of a Literature Review:

I know that it is a daunting work, especially for beginners, but I cannot emphasize enough on the importance of a thorough literature review. Firstly, literature review helps you to understand the intricacies of your topic: what has been done, what has not been done, which method is evidence-based, which methods/techniques do not have any evidence, lacunae in literature, how a method/treatment can be simplified or improved, what is the need of the study, and how can you approach a problem in a novel and feasible way. You can never get the answers to these questions until you have reviewed the literature thoroughly. It not only gives you the knowledge about your topic but also makes you confident in it. Secondly, it will provide a scientific basis for your study. Also, it will prevent you from unnecessary duplication of the existing studies.

Tips for conducting a literature search:

Here are a few tips that will simplify your literature search:

  1. Use keywords and set an alert for your keywords in different databases: you will get an email on the latest articles published on your topic, so you are never missing any relevant article.
  2. Read the papers superficially before downloading an article, so that you have some idea about articles stored in your library.
  3. Categorize in separate folders – It is one of the lifesaving steps in a literature review. As you must be knowing that literature review is not only done at the beginning of your proposal, but you will have to keep reviewing articles throughout your study period, so please categorize the articles into separate folders. Be as specific as possible in creating folders for different sets of articles. E.g., articles on the prevalence of the problem, articles on one-type of intervention, articles on latest techniques, feasibility articles, systematic reviews, so and so forth. This tip will also help in writing the literature review better.
  4. Use tables to summarize the articles when it gets too overwhelming to deal with the humongous amount of published articles.
  5. Never forget to screen the reference lists of the relevant articles for finding more articles on your topic.

Tips for writing a literature review:

Here are a few easy tips for structuring your literature review:

  1. The first tip for writing a review is to start broad. Briefly explain the topic to the readers, and what is interesting about it. Introduce relevant terms and definitions.
  2. Write about the history of the topic, i.e., what has been done previously and identify gaps in the literature.
  3. Explain about your hypothesis and how it will help in addressing the gaps in the literature.
  4. Justify your theoretical framework and your approach for solving the research problem.
  5. Critically appraise the literature. Do not summarize the existing literature; instead, be critical and provide deeper insights into the topic. E.g. write about conflicting findings, or the methodologies used, uniqueness of the studies or its limitations.
  6. Do not forget to write in a logical flow. When we are writing details on a particular topic, then we are likely to get deviated but maintain a logical flow even if you have to skip few ‘not-so-important’ studies.
  7. Don’t be boring and monotonous. I know it is difficult, but it will come with practice. I have not achieved it yet 😛
  8. Keep reading published literature reviews. It will help you understand the writing pattern and will improve your writing skills.
  9. Do not plagiarize; do not let it become your habit.
  10. Ask your friends to read your draft and see if they can understand it.
  11. Proofread.

Here are a few other references on literature review:

  1. Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review by Marco Pautasso (Pautasso M (2013) Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review. PLoS Comput Biol 9(7): e1003149. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149)
  2. Davies, W. M., Beaumont, T. J. Design and layout: Pesina, J.  The University of Melbourne

That was it. Even if you have completed your review, you can use a few tips to improve it further. Happy writing! 

Qualities of a Qualitative Researcher

Welcome to the post on qualitative research. Qualitative research is relatively new in the field of health sciences, so, I thought that it would be good to discuss a few characteristics of qualitative researchers. Qualitative research differs from quantitative, and so do the qualities of the researchers. Here are a few qualities which a qualitative researcher must possess to carry out research efficiently.

  • Bricoleur – Qualitative researcher collects information from experiences, life stories, observations, interview, historical monuments, etc.  Qualitative researcher is considered a ‘Bricoleur’ which means ‘quilt maker’ who brings together bits and pieces of cloth to create a beautiful quilt or bricolage. Similarly, qualitative researcher joins pieces of information from various sources to create new knowledge, or find meaning in a given phenomenon.
Bricolage
  • Researcher as an integral part of context – Qualitative researchers know that their presence influence the context and their gender, race, caste, background, etc. has an impact on the phenomenon being studied. The qualitative researcher is not separated from the context but becomes an active part of this interactive process.
  • Multi-tasking – A qualitative researcher does multiple tasks together, such as observing a phenomenon, interviewing or asking questions, self-reflection, analysis, and interpreting the data. Unlike quantitative research, qualitative data analysis occurs inside the mind of the researcher. Making meaning out of the information collected cannot be done by any software but by the researcher himself.
  • Research as an art – Qualitative researchers know that research is a complex and refined art wherein the researcher uses different patterns and colors to bring out the true meaning of a phenomenon. Qualitative researchers bridge chunks of information to create a dense collage-like masterpiece.
  • Phenomena in a natural context – Qualitative researchers study a phenomenon in its natural setting – as things are and not as it ‘should be’ in fixed laboratory conditions. They study a situation as an ‘insider’ and interpret events as it is occurring naturally. They understand that context is dynamic, ongoing, and are receptive to changes in the natural environment. Context is given the highest priority in qualitative research.
  • Importance for stakeholders – Qualitative researchers understand that the finding of the research applies to people and has social and political implications, so they conduct research more conscientiously. They understand, accept, and acknowledge that qualitative research is storytelling about a phenomenon studied from different perspectives.

These were the few abilities of a qualitative researcher. I did not aim to compare qualitative with quantitative but to highlight the nuances of qualitative research. For further reading, I suggest Denzin and Lincoln 1994 if you are interested to know more about qualitative research. Hope you found it useful 🙂