All 5 entries tagged PhD

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October 21, 2005

Google Scholar (Advanced Search)

Writing about web page http://scholar.google.com/advanced_scholar_search

I'm just starting my PhD and so am lost in the Fangornian forest of potential reading materials. There are many ways to locate material but I'd like to share a method I am increasingly favouring over others because I find it produces a tighter focus.

  1. Think of a seminal paper pertinent to your area of research
  2. Go to Google Scholar's advanced search page
  3. Enter the title and author in the corresponding boxes
  4. Click search
  5. Assuming your paper appears click the "Cited by" link

That produces a list of (possibly less well known) papers likely to be helpful. No doubt there are other ways to locate citations but it works for me and led to an extremely useful paper that other methods missed.

I'd be interested to know if others have found stategies to help "filter" their literature hunts.


October 12, 2005

The vaccination approach to presenting research

Researchers often acknowledge the likelihood of distortion, bias or flaws in their approach and data. This is commendable of course, except that they then typically continue unabated. It seems merely listing possible gremlins in the works immunises conclusions from any ill-effects. All manner of things can be vaccinated against in this way – contextual factors, unrepresentative test subjects, inexhaustive trialling, suggestive questioning and so on and so on.

Well, now I've said that I'm permantly protected against being accused of glossing over problems in my own research. Funny thing is I had a flu jab today too.


October 10, 2005

From naive clarity to informed fuzziness

As I start my doctorate I have much reading to do into the nature of social science research and how to go about it.

There seems to be a prevailing notion of starting out foggy and unsure and, as the object of study is painstakingly constructed, becoming increasingly focused. Initial ideas and research questions can be expected to change and should not be set in stone. A continuous convergence emerges as one refines the problem until finally it is crystallised and clear.

But that's not how I'm feeling as I take the first step on a journey of 1000 miles. Instead I see myself as starting out with a sense of naive clarity and fairly precise ideas. I hope and expect, after three years, to have moved towards a sense of informed fuzziness. Neither do I feel the need to ensure my current naive clarity be flexible. I prefer to think that it is brittle and inevitably going to be smashed to bits when tested in the field. From the rubble will emerge the phoenix of a new set of ideas – less sure, less clear and all the better for it. Ideally this process will continue iteratively with each working hypothesis getting smashed against the rocks to make way for the next. The whole thing will be messy, discontinuous and painful – but hopefully thorough.

Then again perhaps I should get off Warwick Blogs and go do some reading instead.


September 28, 2005

As sure as eggs is eggs

The colloquial expression as sure as eggs is eggs, meaning absolutely certain, probably comes from the mathematical expression x = x.

It's hard to argue against such an expression. If I were to take place in a debate I wouldn't fancy fighting the corner for eggs ain't eggs.

But then I am not a child. When some researchers asked a 12 year old girl to explain what was meant by '3 = 3' she told them it was incomplete and suggested that perhaps it means '3 minus 0 = 3'.

So eggs ain't eggs after all – eggs with no eggs taken away is eggs.

And that's as sure as eggs is eggs.


September 27, 2005

Another 3 years of voluntary poverty

Yesterday I enrolled as a full-time PhD student and I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy it very much. Friends tell me that doing a doctorate suits me down to the ground. I certainly hope so considering the financial hardship that will come with it. It seems I am putting my faith in the adage that if you enjoy what you do, you'll never work another day in your life.

When I tell people what my PhD proposal is about they often laugh.

My PhD is about the equals sign. I guess it's the apparent lack of scope that is funny. Someone suggested yesterday I could spend the first 18 months on the top line and the final 18 months on the bottom line. (Obviously that's ridiculous – I'll also need time to consider the space between the lines.)

But what I love about spending 3 years intensely studying = is the limited scope. Where other students worry how on earth they will slim their proposal down, I have the luxury of deciding how I will broaden mine. And no doubt somewhere along the road I will discover that those harmless looking parallel lines are a can of worms unto themselves.


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