Disappointing response

Unfortunately, I only got 65 survey responses from the 220 students in the introductory psychology class. These students were the main focus of my research, and I was going to follow them over 3 years, measuring both what they know, do and feel about information literacy (IL). IL instruction is integrated throughout the semester for this class, and I was going to compare them with other students who get more traditional “one-shot” instruction in IL .

But now, since only 65 students participated in the survey, my results will be much weaker statistically. And not only that, there will be very few students left by the end of their three years who are willing to answer the last survey. This is incredibly discouraging, and I felt my motivation dwindle, like air escaping from a balloon. Will I get any meaningful results? Will my research have any impact in the field of IL? Will I be able to publish anything?

I’d put lots of effort into presenting the survey and encouraging the students to take it. I offered prizes (gift cards at Amazon) and waffles, but it wasn’t enough. (I guess they don’t like waffles as much as I do!) What a let-down! 🙁

When it was apparent that participation was low, I was prepared for having to change the course of my research totally, which would’ve meant several months of “wasted” time and effort. But in the meeting with my supervisors yesterday we decided to use the data we have. Perhaps my results won’t have as much power, but they’re sure to be informative and interesting anyway!

As we proceed, plans and goals will change constantly depending on the data we can collect, my supervisors say.  So I’ll just go with the flow and continue trying both to collect as much data as possible and to keep my motivation up. That’s the way it is with research in the real world…

Advice from a recent PhD graduate

Lucy A. Taylor, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Oxford, wrote an interesting career-column article in the Nov. 6, 2018 issue of Nature. With the title, “Twenty things I wish I’d known when I started my PhD,” this article obviously appealed to me! (Thanks for the tip, Curt Rice!)

Luckily it’s not loo late to implement her suggestions, e.g.:

  • “Invest time in literature reviews.” I did a literate review early on, but didn’t use enough time reading what I’d found. That’s why I missed a recent study where another researcher created a survey very similar to the one I’m making.
  • “’I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember it’ is the biggest lie you can tell yourself! Write down everything you do — even if it doesn’t work.” How true! Right now I’m struggling to recount exactly how I performed a factor analysis – I should’ve written a more detailed account of the process as we proceeded.
  • “It’s never too early to start writing your thesis.” In fact I was doing just that when I got the tip about this article, but I probably should’ve written more by now.
  • “Break your thesis down into SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goals. You will be more productive if your to-do list reads ‘draft first paragraph of the results’ rather than ‘write chapter 1’.” This is brilliant, and I never would’ve thought of it myself. Hurdles become smaller, making it easier to start on tasks.
  • “The nature of research means that things will not always go according to plan. This does not mean you are a bad student. Keep calm, take a break and then carry on. Experiments that fail can still be written up as part of a successful PhD.” How true that things won’t go as planned. I’m experiencing this right now, in fact. The deadline for collecting survey data from my main informants, a class of 220 students, is in one hour! I’ll be following these students for the next 3 years, so they’re incredibly important to my research, but as of right now, only 65 have answered! 🙁  I was hoping for at least 150! I have a meeting with my supervisors tomorrow, and we’ll decide which changes now need to be made. I have no idea how to proceed from here. (Argh!)

In addition to Taylor’s 20 tips for new PhD students, I have 3 more bits of advice that may also be useful:

  1. Record all of your sessions with your supervisors. When you listen to the recordings later, even if it’s just later on the same day, you’ll realize how much you’ve forgotten, or just didn’t process then and there. This is SO useful, and if you have supervisors like mine, you may find yourself smiling throughout the entire recording.
  2. Strap yourself in, and get ready for the roller-coaster-ride of a lifetime! Ups and downs are the norm. On some days you’ll feel like giving up, but on other days you’ll feel on top of the world. If you hang in there, even on the worst of days, you’ll get through it! (So I’m told?) I’ve talked to people who have “wasted” over a year on experiments that didn’t work out and couldn’t be used, but they still completed their PhD’s.
  3. Realize that being a PhD-student is as difficult psychologically as it is intellectually. Stay positive and try not to worry about things that you have no control over. (That’s what Tove tells me, but not many are as positive as her. 🙂 )

(photo taken today)

So wish me luck with somehow collecting about 90 more survey responses in the next hour! I’ve tightened the straps just in case, and am prepared for the roller-coaster plunge of the year…

Seminar in Svalbard

Just returned from a 3-day seminar in Svalbard, with 58 others in the Department of Psychology (IPS). Since my main supervisor, Tove, is a professor in this department, I also am affiliated with them. I therefore have 2 “homes” – IPS and the university library.

Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago far north in the Arctic Ocean, stretching from 77 to 80 degrees north latitude, with more polar bears than people. I felt quite privileged to travel there with IPS. Besides the important aspect of getting to know faculty, staff and other PhD-students, the program also included presentations from the departments’ research groups, an update from the library about new agreements with publishers for open access publishing (thank you, Torstein!), job safety in the Arctic, changes in psychology courses and programs, and other news from the administration.

We also had time for an exciting boat trip to Barentsburg (a Russian coal-mining community), and some delicious meals.

Thank you IPS for the exotic seminar!

With Tove and Torstein on the boat to Barentsburg. 🙂



What I contribute to at UiT, besides my own research

So far I’ve mostly written about my own information literacy (IL) research here at the university, but I’m actually a part of many other groups and activities (see list below). Our meetings and the work we do is educational, rewarding, enriching, challenging and useful. It’s wonderful to be part of such a stimulating learning environment, with such intelligent, articulate and devoted – not to mention NICE – people! 🙂

1) EPIC research group for cognitive psychology. This group is led by my supervisor Tove Dahl. Like other research groups, we talk about our research, discuss problems we’re facing, give feedback to others, work on applications, articles, presentations with each other, etc. Although psychology isn’t my field, I enjoy these meetings, and get a lot of good advice (and sometimes chocolate) from these wise, brilliant researchers.

2) Library “support group” for teaching and learning. We are “teaching librarians” at the Tromsø campus who coordinate IL-teaching at all levels (bachelor, master, phd). The group is responsible for the iKomp MOOC (on IL) and the plagiarism MOOC, both developed by the library at UiT. Led by Helene Andreassen, who is one of the first people from UiT who I met at an international IL conference (and who, together with Torstein, encouraged me to apply for this PhD position!).

3) IL principles and values UiT. A 3-person group, led by Helene Andreassen. My supervisor Torstein Låg, another of those I met long ago at an IL conference, is also a member. We 3 have compared many frameworks and models for IL, and are now making an IL curriculum for UiT. Learning outcomes from this overarching curriculum can be embedded into individual course curricula, assuring that IL is adequately addressed in all university courses.

4) iKomp workgroup. We have responsibility for creating, updating and administrating the iKomp MOOC, a freely available online IL-course taken by many UiT students and others. It’s available in both English and Norwegian. iKomp is obligatory for several studies at UiT, and students must pass an electronic test at the end of the MOOC. The MOOC can be combined also with classroom teaching. The group recently made a version of iKomp for high school students, which will soon be released. Led by Torstein Låg.

5) PSY-0700 is composed of the 4  teachers (plus me) who have an obligatory introductory course for freshman psychology students, called Thinking, learning and writing in higher education. Students learn basic study skills, critical thinking, academic writing, and of course, IL! It’s a “flipped classroom” course, where the students read and view the video lectures online before meeting together for weekly seminars where they do exercises and ask questions. This course prepares students for the rest of their academic studies, and is well-designed and useful. Led by Morten Øvervoll.

6) Creating Knowledge 2020. We’re planning an international IL conference in Tromsø on June 4-5, 2020! (What a way to celebrate my 60th birthday!) We’re finding keynote speakers, calling for papers, evaluating abstracts, finding sponsors, making a budget, planning the program and social events, and all the rest of the million things one does when planning a conference . Led by Helene Andreassen. (Um – Helene, do you ever sleep?)

Are you starting to see why being here at UiT in Tromsø is  intellectually stimulating (and fun) for me? 🙂 Working with brilliant, devoted and enthusiastic people, on a subject which interests and motivates me, is not a bad way to pass my time. 😉

The evolving project

I had a “milestone meeting” with my supervisors last Friday, since I’ve been a PhD student for nearly a year now. We discussed progress and challenges so far, using Tove’s checklist. Here are the major points, with short conclusions in parentheses:

  • competence and resources (we ask others when we need to)
  • the project (problems with data collection and continued evolution of article plans)
  • supervision (good so far, got tips for working more efficiently)
  • duty work (not quite at 25% of my hours yet)
  • practical considerations (all’s well)

We used quite a while discussing a revision of the plan for the articles I’ll be writing. The project is continually evolving, and the articles will likely be quite different than first imagined. For example, instead of one long article describing the development of all the measures that we’ll be using, we’ll divide it up into several shorter, more detailed articles about the individual measures.

I feel more comfortable with this, and felt so inspired that I thought and worked for most of the weekend. Today I wrote ALL DAY, detailing the steps taken in the development of the survey.

Phew! It’s good to get this all down on paper, even if it doesn’t eventually make it into an article.

Here I am with my wonderful supervisors! I have no idea how I got so lucky. 🙂