Don’t get too ambitious
It’s easy to get excited about doing your own first research project, and you might want to answer EVERY question and test ALL. people. Remember that you have little time. Your final grade won’t depend on whether you achieved a particular outcome, the complexity of your project, or the number of participants you tested, so be tactical and keep it as simple as possible. If you’re having trouble, try some of the following steps:
- Simplify your search question or narrow the scope of your search so that it’s manageable. For example, instead of “What factors determine the development of children’s theory of mind?” ask a more comprehensive research question such as “Does a child’s family structure affect their development of theory of mind?”.
- Remember that everything will probably take twice as long as you think – this is especially true with data collection!
- Ask your supervisor early if you will get help (e.g. from research assistants, other students, or your supervisor) with data collection, or if you need to do it yourself -even. Plan accordingly.
- Set a realistic recruitment goal for your participant sample. If possible, do a power analysis after finalizing the project or ask your supervisor for help. Power analysis will help you determine the minimum number of participants you will need to recruit to ensure that your statistical tests have sufficient statistical power to detect the desired effect. A basic power analysis course can be found here. Remember that you won’t be penalized if you don’t recruit a certain number of participants, so set yourself a reasonable minimum goal.
- Reduce the time it takes to collect data by testing participants online instead of in the lab. Whenever possible, online experiments are a viable alternative to laboratory experiments. Classic effects seen in psychology studies have been replicated with online participants, and recent research suggests that the quality of data that can be obtained from online samples is no different from the quality of data from student populations that have been tested in the laboratory (Peer, Brandimarte, Samat & Acquisti, 2017; Barnhoorn, Haasnoot, Bocanegra & van Steenbergen, 2015; de Leeuw & Motz, 2016; Reimers & Stewart, 2015). There are great tools available to help you set up your own online experience. For example, you can use Gorilla to set up your experiment, send a direct link to potential participants, or post it on social media to encourage people to conduct the experiment on their own device online. You can also use participant recruitment platforms such as the University Participant Pool (e.g. Sona System) or Prolific Academic (www.prolific.ac).
These tools are very useful if you need to recruit hard-to-find participant communities, e.g. people with disabilities, speakers of a particular language or a particular purpose.
- If your experiment cannot be run online, you can check if your lab layout and trial design allow you to test more than one participant at a time. You can also see if there are other students in your group or lab cohort who are also recruiting from the same population as you. Could you combine your efforts and test the same people on two experiments at the same time?
- Maximize the quality of the data you collect. It is frustrating for many participants to test unusable data because some people have not taken the task seriously. To avoid this, keep your experience as short as possible and make sure it’s engaging and, if possible, fun for your attendees. This way, you increase the likelihood that people will complete your task and that you put in the effort for their performance.
- Ask research questions that you are sure you can answer with the statistical techniques you know. There won’t be much time to learn fancy new statistical methods, so it’s best to design your experiment with a particular method of analysis in mind that you feel comfortable with.
Set your “thesis clock”
Don’t snooze your alarm clock for 10 hours and finally get to the office at noon.
During the first months of a thesis period, many students think they have a lot of time. Then for the last few months they’ve been going to work like zombies because they don’t get enough sleep to try to finish everything in time (me too!). A lesson I’ve learned over the past 6 months is that your life will be much easier later on when your thesis is professionally handled. If you decide to stamp your thesis from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during the week, make it a routine. Do not repeat your alarm clock for 10 hours and finally arrive at the office at noon. Work productively during the thesis hour and after that give yourself free time to do whatever you want, hang out with friends, play sports or be as lazy as you want.
Step 1: Check the requirements
The first step is to check the program requirements. This determines the scope you can search.
- Is there a minimum and maximum number of words?
- What is the deadline?
- Should the research have an academic or professional orientation?
- Are there methodological conditions? Should you work in the field or use specific types of sources?