Sunday, April 3, 2011

The elements of a proposal

by Frank Pajares, Emory University

I. Introduction and Theoretical Framework

A. "The introduction is the part of the paper that provides readers with the background information for the research reported in the paper. Its purpose is to establish a framework for the research, so that readers can understand how it is related to other research” (Wilkinson, 1991, p. 96).

B. In an introduction, the writer should

1. create reader interest in the topic,

2. lay the broad foundation for the problem that leads to the study,

3. place the study within the larger context of the scholarly literature, and

4. reach out to a specific audience. (Creswell, 1994, p. 42)

C. If a researcher is working within a particular theoretical framework/line of inquiry, the theory or line of inquiry should be introduced and discussed early, preferably in the introduction or literature review. Remember that the theory/line of inquiry selected will inform the statement of the problem, rationale for the study, questions and hypotheses, selection of instruments, and choice of methods. Ultimately, findings will be discussed in terms of how they relate to the theory/line of inquiry that undergirds the study.

D. Theories, theoretical frameworks, and lines of inquiry may be differently handled in quantitative and qualitative endeavors.

1. “In quantitative studies, one uses theory deductively and places it toward the beginning of the plan for a study. The objective is to test or verify theory. One thus begins the study advancing a theory, collects data to test it, and reflects on whether the theory was confirmed or disconfirmed by the results in the study. The theory becomes a framework for the entire study, an organizing model for the research questions or hypotheses for the data collection procedure” (Creswell, 1994, pp. 87-88).

2. In qualitative inquiry, the use of theory and of a line of inquiry depends on the nature of the investigation. In studies aiming at “grounded theory,” for example, theory and theoretical tenets emerge from findings. Much qualitative inquiry, however, also aims to test or verify theory, hence in these cases the theoretical framework, as in quantitative efforts, should be identified and discussed early on.

II. Statement of the Problem

A. “The problem statement describes the context for the study and it also identifies the general analysis approach” (Wiersma, 1995, p. 404).

B. “A problem might be defined as the issue that exists in the literature, theory, or practice that leads to a need for the study” (Creswell, 1994, p. 50).

C. It is important in a proposal that the problem stand out—that the reader can easily recognize it. Sometimes, obscure and poorly formulated problems are masked in an extended discussion. In such cases, reviewers and/or committee members will have difficulty recognizing the problem.

D. A problem statement should be presented within a context, and that context should be provided and briefly explained, including a discussion of the conceptual or theoretical framework in which it is embedded. Clearly and succinctly identify and explain the problem within the framework of the theory or line of inquiry that undergirds the study. This is of major importance in nearly all proposals and requires careful attention. It is a key element that associations such as AERA and APA look for in proposals. It is essential in all quantitative research and much qualitative research.

E. State the problem in terms intelligible to someone who is generally sophisticated but who is relatively uninformed in the area of your investigation.

F. Effective problem statements answer the question “Why does this research need to be conducted.” If a researcher is unable to answer this question clearly and succinctly, and without resorting to hyperspeaking (i.e., focusing on problems of macro or global proportions that certainly will not be informed or alleviated by the study), then the statement of the problem will come off as ambiguous and diffuse.

G. For conference proposals, the statement of the problem is generally incorporated into the introduction; academic proposals for theses or dissertations should have this as a separate section.

III. Purpose of the Study

A. “The purpose statement should provide a specific and accurate synopsis of the overall purpose of the study” (Locke, Spirduso, & Silverman, 1987, p. 5). If the purpose is not clear to the writer, it cannot be clear to the reader.

B. Briefly define and delimit the specific area of the research. You will revisit this in greater detail in a later section.

C. Foreshadow the hypotheses to be tested or the questions to be raised, as well as the significance of the study. These will require specific elaboration in subsequent sections.

D. The purpose statement can also incorporate the rationale for the study. Some committees prefer that the purpose and rationale be provided in separate sections, however.

E. Key points to keep in mind when preparing a purpose statement.

1. Try to incorporate a sentence that begins with “The purpose of this study is . . .” This will clarify your own mind as to the purpose and it will inform the reader directly and explicitly.

2. Clearly identify and define the central concepts or ideas of the study. Some committee Chairs prefer a separate section to this end. When defining terms, make a judicious choice between using descriptive or operational definitions.

3. Identify the specific method of inquiry to be used.

4. Identify the unit of analysis in the study.

IV. Review of the Literature

A. “The review of the literature provides the background and context for the research problem. It should establish the need for the research and indicate that the writer is knowledgeable about the area” (Wiersma, 1995, p. 406).

B. The literature review accomplishes several important things.

1. It shares with the reader the results of other studies that are closely related to the study being reported (Fraenkel & Wallen, 1990).

2. It relates a study to the larger, ongoing dialogue in the literature about a topic, filling in gaps and extending prior studies (Marshall & Rossman, 1989).

3. It provides a framework for establishing the importance of the study, as well as a benchmark for comparing the results of a study with other findings.

4. It “frames” the problem earlier identified.

C. Demonstrate to the reader that you have a comprehensive grasp of the field and are aware of important recent substantive and methodological developments.

D. Delineate the “jumping-off place” for your study. How will your study refine, revise, or extend what is now known?

E. Avoid statements that imply that little has been done in the area or that what has been done is too extensive to permit easy summary. Statements of this sort are usually taken as indications that the writer is not really familiar with the literature.

F. In a proposal, the literature review is generally brief and to the point. Be judicious in your choice of exemplars—the literature selected should be pertinent and relevant (APA, 2001). Select and reference only the more appropriate citations. Make key points clearly and succinctly.

G. Committees may want a section outlining your search strategy—the procedures you used and sources you investigated (e.g., databases, journals, test banks, experts in the field) to compile your literature review. Check with your Chair.

V. Questions and/or Hypotheses

A. Questions are relevant to normative or census type research (How many of them are there? Is there a relationship between them?). They are most often used in qualitative inquiry, although their use in quantitative inquiry is becoming more prominent. Hypotheses are relevant to theoretical research and are typically used only in quantitative inquiry. When a writer states hypotheses, the reader is entitled to have an exposition of the theory that lead to them (and of the assumptions underlying the theory). Just as conclusions must be grounded in the data, hypotheses must be grounded in the theoretical framework.

B. A research question poses a relationship between two or more variables but phrases the relationship as a question; a hypothesis represents a declarative statement of the relations between two or more variables (Kerlinger, 1979; Krathwohl, 1988).

C. Deciding whether to use questions or hypotheses depends on factors such as the purpose of the study, the nature of the design and methodology, and the audience of the research (at times even the taste and preference of committee members, particularly the Chair).

D. The practice of using hypotheses was derived from using the scientific method in social science inquiry. They have philosophical advantages in statistical testing, as researchers should be and tend to be conservative and cautious in their statements of conclusions (Armstrong, 1974).

E. Hypotheses can be couched in four kinds of statements.

1. Literary null—a “no difference” form in terms of theoretical constructs. For example, “There is no relationship between support services and academic persistence of nontraditional-aged college women.” Or, “There is no difference in school achievement for high and low self-regulated students.”

2. Operational null—a “no difference” form in terms of the operation required to test the hypothesis. For example, “There is no relationship between the number of hours nontraditional-aged college women use the student union and their persistence at the college after their freshman year.” Or, “There is no difference between the mean grade point averages achieved by students in the upper and lower quartiles of the distribution of the Self-regulated Inventory.” The operational null is generally the preferred form of hypothesis-writing.

3. Literary alternative—a form that states the hypothesis you will accept if the null hypothesis is rejected, stated in terms of theoretical constructs. In other words, this is usually what you hope the results will show. For example, “The more that nontraditional-aged women use support services, the more they will persist academically.” Or, “High self-regulated students will achieve more in their classes than low self-regulated students.”

4. Operational alternative—Similar to the literary alternative except that the operations are specified. For example, “The more that nontraditional-aged college women use the student union, the more they will persist at the college after their freshman year.” Or, “Students in the upper quartile of the Self-regulated Inventory distribution achieve significantly higher grade point averages than do students in the lower quartile.”

F. In general, the null hypothesis is used if theory/literature does not suggest a hypothesized relationship between the variables under investigation; the alternative is generally reserved for situations in which theory/research suggests a relationship or directional interplay.

G. Be prepared to interpret any possible outcomes with respect to the questions or hypotheses. It will be helpful if you visualize in your mind=s eye the tables (or other summary devices) that you expect to result from your research (Guba, 1961).

H. Questions and hypotheses are testable propositions deduced and directly derived from theory (except in grounded theory studies and similar types of qualitative inquiry).

I. Make a clear and careful distinction between the dependent and independent variables and be certain they are clear to the reader. Be excruciatingly consistent in your use of terms. If appropriate, use the same pattern of wording and word order in all hypotheses.

VI. The Design--Methods and Procedures

A. “The methods or procedures section is really the heart of the research proposal. The activities should be described with as much detail as possible, and the continuity between them should be apparent” (Wiersma, 1995, p. 409).

B. Indicate the methodological steps you will take to answer every question or to test every hypothesis illustrated in the Questions/Hypotheses section.

C. All research is plagued by the presence of confounding variables (the noise that covers up the information you would like to have). Confounding variables should be minimized by various kinds of controls or be estimated and taken into account by randomization processes (Guba, 1961). In the design section, indicate

1. the variables you propose to control and how you propose to control them, experimentally or statistically, and

2. the variables you propose to randomize, and the nature of the randomizing unit (students, grades, schools, etc.).

D. Be aware of possible sources of error to which your design exposes you. You will not produce a perfect, error free design (no one can). However, you should anticipate possible sources of error and attempt to overcome them or take them into account in your analysis. Moreover, you should disclose to the reader the sources you have identified and what efforts you have made to account for them.

E. Sampling

1. The key reason for being concerned with sampling is that of validity—the extent to which the interpretations of the results of the study follow from the study itself and the extent to which results may be generalized to other situations with other people (Shavelson, 1988).

2. Sampling is critical to external validity—the extent to which findings of a study can be generalized to people or situations other than those observed in the study. To generalize validly the findings from a sample to some defined population requires that the sample has been drawn from that population according to one of several probability sampling plans. By a probability sample is meant that the probability of inclusion in the sample of any element in the population must be given a priori. All probability samples involve the idea of random sampling at some stage (Shavelson, 1988). In experimentation, two distinct steps are involved.

Random selection—participants to be included in the sample have been chosen at random from the same population. Define the population and indicate the sampling plan in detail.

Random assignment—participants for the sample have been assigned at random to one of the experimental conditions.

3. Another reason for being concerned with sampling is that of internal validity—the extent to which the outcomes of a study result from the variables that were manipulated, measured, or selected rather than from other variables not systematically treated. Without probability sampling, error estimates cannot be constructed (Shavelson, 1988).

4. Perhaps the key word in sampling is representative. One must ask oneself, “How representative is the sample of the survey population (the group from which the sample is selected) and how representative is the survey population of the target population (the larger group to which we wish to generalize)?”

5. When a sample is drawn out of convenience (a nonprobability sample), rationale and limitations must be clearly provided.

6. If available, outline the characteristics of the sample (by gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or other relevant group membership).

7. Detail procedures to follow to obtain informed consent and ensure anonymity and/or confidentiality.

F Instrumentation

1. Outline the instruments you propose to use (surveys, scales, interview protocols, observation grids). If instruments have previously been used, identify previous studies and findings related to reliability and validity. If instruments have not previously been used, outline procedures you will follow to develop and test their reliability and validity. In the latter case, a pilot study is nearly essential.

2. Because selection of instruments in most cases provides the operational definition of constructs, this is a crucial step in the proposal. For example, it is at this step that a literary conception such as “self-efficacy is related to school achievement” becomes “scores on the Mathematics Self-Efficacy Scale are related to Grade Point Average.” Strictly speaking, results of your study will be directly relevant only to the instrumental or operational statements (Guba, 1961).

3. Include an appendix with a copy of the instruments to be used or the interview protocol to be followed. Also include sample items in the description of the instrument.

4. For a mailed survey, identify steps to be taken in administering and following up the survey to obtain a high response rate.

G. Data Collection

1. Outline the general plan for collecting the data. This may include survey administration procedures, interview or observation procedures. Include an explicit statement covering the field controls to be employed. If appropriate, discuss how you obtained entré.

2. Provide a general outline of the time schedule you expect to follow.

H. Data Analysis

1. Specify the procedures you will use, and label them accurately (e.g., ANOVA, MANCOVA, HLM, ethnography, case study, grounded theory). If coding procedures are to be used, describe in reasonable detail. If you triangulated, carefully explain how you went about it. Communicate your precise intentions and reasons for these intentions to the reader. This helps you and the reader evaluate the choices you made and procedures you followed.

2. Indicate briefly any analytic tools you will have available and expect to use (e.g., Ethnograph, NUDIST, AQUAD, SAS, SPSS, SYSTAT).

3. Provide a well thought-out rationale for your decision to use the design, methodology, and analyses you have selected.

VII. Limitations and Delimitations

A. A limitation identifies potential weaknesses of the study. Think about your analysis, the nature of self-report, your instruments, the sample. Think about threats to internal validity that may have been impossible to avoid or minimize—explain.

B. A delimitation addresses how a study will be narrowed in scope, that is, how it is bounded. This is the place to explain the things that you are not doing and why you have chosen not to do them—the literature you will not review (and why not), the population you are not studying (and why not), the methodological procedures you will not use (and why you will not use them). Limit your delimitations to the things that a reader might reasonably expect you to do but that you, for clearly explained reasons, have decided not to do.

VIII. Significance of the Study

A. Indicate how your research will refine, revise, or extend existing knowledge in the area under investigation. Note that such refinements, revisions, or extensions may have either substantive, theoretical, or methodological significance. Think pragmatically (i.e., cash value).

B. Most studies have two potential audiences: practitioners and professional peers. Statements relating the research to both groups are in order.

C. This can be a difficult section to write. Think about implications—how results of the study may affect scholarly research, theory, practice, educational interventions, curricula, counseling, policy.

D. When thinking about the significance of your study, ask yourself the following questions.

1. What will results mean to the theoretical framework that framed the study?

2. What suggestions for subsequent research arise from the findings?

3. What will the results mean to the practicing educator?

4. Will results influence programs, methods, and/or interventions?

5. Will results contribute to the solution of educational problems?

6. Will results influence educational policy decisions?

7. What will be improved or changed as a result of the proposed research?

8. How will results of the study be implemented, and what innovations will come about?

IX. References

A. Follow APA (2001) guidelines regarding use of references in text and in the reference list. Of course, your committee or discipline may require Chicago or MLA.

B. Only references cited in the text are included in the reference list; however, exceptions can be found to this rule. For example, committees may require evidence that you are familiar with a broader spectrum of literature than that immediately relevant to your research. In such instances, the reference list may be called a bibliography.

C. Some committees require that reference lists and/or bibliographies be “annotated,” which is to say that each entry be accompanied by a brief description, or an abstract. Check with your committee Chair before the fact.


The need for complete documentation generally dictates the inclusion of appropriate appendixes in proposals (although this is generally not the case as regards conference proposals).

The following materials are appropriate for an appendix. Consult with your committee Chair.

Verbatim instructions to participants.

Original scales or questionnaires. If an instrument is copyrighted, permission in writing to reproduce the instrument from the copyright holder or proof of purchase of the instrument.

Interview protocols.

Sample of informed consent forms.

Cover letters sent to appropriate stakeholders.

Official letters of permission to conduct research.


American Psychological Association (APA). (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (Fourth edition). Washington, DC: Author.

Armstrong, R. L. (1974). Hypotheses: Why? When? How? Phi Delta Kappan, 54, 213-214.

Creswell, J. W. (1994). Research design: Qualitative & quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Guba, E. G. (1961, April). Elements of a proposal. Paper presented at the UCEA meeting, Chapel Hill, NC.

Fraenkel, J. R. & Wallen, N. E. (1990). How to design and evaluate research in education. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kerlinger, F. N. (1979). Behavioral research: A conceptual approach. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Krathwohl, D. R. (1988). How to prepare a research proposal: Guidelines for funding and dissertations in the social and behavioral sciences. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Locke, L. F., Spirduso, W. W., & Silverman, S. J. (1987). Proposals that work: A guide for planning dissertations and grant proposals (2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (1989). Designing qualitative research: Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Shavelson, R. J. (1988). Statistical reasoning for the behavioral sciences (second edition). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Wiersma, W. (1995). Research methods in education: An introduction (Sixth edition). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Wilkinson, A. M. (1991). The scientist’s handbook for writing papers and dissertations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

How to cite this web page:

Pajares, F. (2007). Elements of a proposal. Available from the author.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How to Get Organized for Life

Getting organized can be very difficult for most people. Appointments, grocery lists, dance classes, work, school, gym, visits, parties and of course cleaning the house, can all get piled up until you just don’t know how you are going to handle it all. Making a few adjustments in your attitude and your daily habits can have you staying organized for life.

1) First, you have to declutter. Choose an area and work on it until it is completely done. This could be something small, like a kitchen counter, or something more substantial, like a closet. There is no skipping this step. You will never get organized if you don’t get rid of the junk. If you tend to save things, you need to set limits for yourself. Don’t keep things longer than a set length of time. If you don’t use it within that time, say six months to a year, then get rid of it.

2) Inevitably, you will want to keep your child’s precious art, or the ticket stubs from your anniversary date. There will be things that come into the house that are special to you. Prepare for that eventuality by designating a “year box” for yourself. Keep it under the bed, in the garage, in a closet, or where ever it can go. Label the box with the year that it is, and keep your mementos there. Force yourself to be choosy and don’t keep things that won’t fit in the box.

3) Have a place for everything that comes into the house.
Do your keys have a place? Does your laptop have a special storage space? Do you have an inbox for mail? Simply having a designated spot for mail can cut down on a lot of clutter. When the mail comes in, stand by the trash or shredder and go through it. Take bills out of their envelopes and throw the envelope away. Put bills that need to be paid in your inbox. Throw away everything that you don’t need and go through the inbox monthly to clear out old or outdated information.

4) Force yourself to follow small rules. You can’t expect to change completely overnight, but you can sort of brainwash yourself into behaving. When you are about to put something down, say aloud what you are doing. “I am putting the mail on the kitchen counter.” By implementing this little strategy, you will be conscious of the fact that you are making your home disorganized. When you put something where it goes, say aloud, “I am putting the mail in the inbox. Good for me!” These silly little positive reinforcements will have your brain trained to do the right thing in no time.

5) Laundry is a huge problem for even organized people. Time yourself when you fold laundry. If you fold it right out of the dryer, it usually takes between five and ten minutes. If you are a competitive person, keep a dry erase board by the dryer. Compete for folding/hanging time with your spouse, kids or just with yourself. Get that positive reinforcement by using wood hangers, like shirt hangers, skirt hangers and dress hangers. Wooden hangers keep clothes spaced nicely and the organized look is a subtle reward for your brain. You will trick yourself into wanting to hang up clothes!

Controlling your small everyday habits will save you so much time that you won’t believe that you didn’t do it before. Make it fun or silly and you will have your habits under control for life.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Motivation for Doctoral Study

The Motivation for Doctoral Study
Understanding Why You Want to Do a Ph.D.

Jul 22, 2007 Alistair McCulloch

Doing a PhD is a huge undertaking. Understanding your motivation will help you succeed and also help your supervisor support you. Five motivations are discussed here.

The Importance of Motivation

‘Doing a PhD is unlike anything else you will ever do. You must be sure you want to do one to succeed.’ That’s the advice any admissions tutor worth their salt will give an applicant for a doctoral degree. In your application form and during an interview, they will want to explore an applicant’s motivation for wanting to ‘do a PhD’.

A PhD student’s motivation can stem from a variety of different sources. Understanding your own motivation for doctoral study is important because it will dictate, in part at least, the type of research degree you study for and your likelihood of success. Understanding your motivation will also help your institution (through your supervisor) support and encourage you in the best way.

There are five main sources of motivation for the research student.

If you are doing a PhD which includes a project related to improving your employing organisation’s performance, then it is probable that you will have at least part of your fees paid and that you may be given time in which to study. The motivation here will be to complete a qualification where failure to deliver could have a potentially negative impact on your career because the qualification is tied so closely into your current occupation. Your project will be highly applied and, once started, and unless you change employer half-way through, you will have a very high chance of successful completion.


A research student whose motivation falls into this category is interested in doctoral study as a way of enhancing their employability. If this is you, you are likely to be as interested in the general skills and broad knowledge that you can pick up along the way as you are in the final qualification and the specific skills you need to complete the doctorate. You want these additional elements that the doctorate can provide as you believe they will make you more attractive to future employers. There is a high chance that you will choose to pursue a professional doctorate.

Career Change

There are a few careers where possession of a doctorate is a pre-requisite. These include university teaching and research scientist. If this is what motivates you, you will want to concentrate on completion of the qualification as quickly as possible and are likely to want to complete a UK-style ‘big-book’ type of thesis. Additional skills training will be valued only as far as it contributes to your planned career path.

Read on

* Improving PhD Completion Rates
* Choosing a Topic for a PhD Thesis
* Where Should I Do a PhD?


A student who pursues a PhD in a topic in which they are already interested and about which they want to know more, is likely to be highly focused on that topic, and will specifically seek the skills they need to complete it. If this is you, you may well be relatively indifferent to the requirements of prescribed generic skills programmes, although you may be motivated to attend for the ‘social’ benefits of meeting with other students. This will be particularly true if you have retired from employment.


If you are taking a PhD primarily as a means of self-development, then you are likely to be what has been trermed a ‘lifelong learner’. The very act of studying is its own motivator and, given the fact that you have studied successfully at the full range of levels prior to commencing doctoral study, you are likely to complete your PhD. However, given your emphasis on the process as much as the qualification, you must be careful not to run out of time.

Concluding Comment

It is true that studying for a PhD is unlike anything else you will ever do. Anything you can do to enhance your likelihood of success should be welcomed. Understanding your motivation will help you do this and also help you to choose your doctoral subject and the type of PhD for which you study.

Note: This article draws on a Guide to Postgraduate Supervision to be published later in the year by the Society for Research in Higher Education. The Guide focuses on Part-time Students and is written by Alistair McCulloch and Peter Stokes.

Read more at Suite101: The Motivation for Doctoral Study: Understanding Why You Want to Do a Ph.D.

The Body Language of Love

Do you find it hard to determine a man's body language and love? Is his body language giving signs that he is into you? How will you determine if it is already love? Body language and love is a game that is not easy to play. However, to play this game better, there are ways of knowing of a guy really likes you.

Body language and love should not be taken lightly. Most men are shy and don't know how to express their true feelings, leaving a girl like you confused and uncertain. There are times when men say one thing, but their actions say otherwise. There is a way of knowing if a guy is really in to you even if he doesn't say it up front to you. However, body language and love are still two different things. Just read his body language and you will know if he feels something more than just friendship. Here are some of them;

• Lifted shoulders - signifies that the guy finds you attractive and has taken on a more compliant side because he has found someone very exciting. This is like cooing over the latest model of sports car or motorbike. In the dating scene, this body language means that the guy is interested in you and wants to know you better.

• Pigeon toes - this toe in body movement means that the person is very much interested in you and is intimated by this feeling. By trying to make the body smaller, the person is showing that he is not threatening and is very harmless in fact.

• Palm up - when a person who is interested in you faces and talks to you, most likely that person will be talking with his palms up. This shows vulnerability and signifies his willingness to be open to you.

• Forehead bow - a person is very in to you when he uses the forehead bow. This gesture is tilting the head a little forward and looks at you under the eyebrows. The tilting head and the bedroom eyes is an old flirt move used by men ever since.

• Genuine Smile - if a person smiles at you with his eyes, then that smile is genuine and only means that he is very interested in you. Chances are, he will hold your glance a little longer, and sending signals that he wants to know you better.

• Eye Contact - if a person looks at you in the eye, look away and then make glances at you again means that he is trying to catch your attention and is very much interested in you.

• Speak very low - men talking to someone they are interested usually talks in lower tone of voice. This is a way of making their love interest to come closer so that she can hear what he is saying.

• Smoothens his hair and clothes - a person is interested in you if he talks to you and he is smoothing his hair or his clothes. This signifies that he wants to look the best in front of you.

Body language and love is somehow interconnected. However, never rush things, slow it down and make sure that what his body language means is love.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

How to Survive Our PhD

10% of a PhD is down to brains, 10% luck and 80% is stubbornness and perseverance. Unless you really, really want it, you’re going to have a tricky time.

1. The first thing, and this is really vital, is to make sure you understand the project. You need to be able to explain every single experiment to your mum/10 year old cousin and have them understand you. “Because my supervisor told me to” is not a valid answer in the viva! A great tip for getting to grips with your project is to give regular talks, plus you could try entering writing competitions aimed at PhD students, even if your writing isn’t that great.

2. Read the literature. Don’t leave that massive pile of papers till the week before your viva, as you’ll probably find out that someone else has already done the same thing as you back in 1978. And it will probably have been your examiner who did it. You have to be the world’s expert on your project, even if it is just an obscure earthworm protein that only 3 people have ever heard of.

3. Read around the literature. Keep some perspective on your project and keep in mind why it is important in the big scheme of things. A malaria vaccine is great, but if you don’t know the name of the little buzzy thing that transmits the parasite, then you’ll fail the viva! If you have an opinion on the latest news in your field, you’ll impress your examiners by showing that you care about your subject area outside of the test tube.

4. Have your own ideas. Your boss won’t think of everything and if you’re not correcting/arguing with them by the end of your 3/4 years, you might have problems when your examiners start asking difficult questions. If you read enough papers, you’ll come up with great suggestions for developing your project.

5. Be focused. Your thesis should tell a story – have clear goals in your mind and stick to them. All the proper controls and repeats are far more important than having tried to cure HIV, TB and the common cold all at once. But don’t put all your eggs in one basket – try to use different methods to confirm results and be aware of all the strengths and shortcomings of different techniques.

6. Be critical. If something goes wrong, chances are it was something you did. I demonstrated for an undergraduate cloning practical where the students believed they were cloning a gene into a vector, when in actual fact we had given them uncut plasmid and water in all the reagent tubes. Yet 20% still got no colonies on their transformation plates and blamed it on the ligase. Be 100% sure it wasn’t your fault before you claim to have disproved DNA and always look for alternative explanations.

7.Talk to others. Force your boss have regular meetings to discuss the overall direction of your work but rely on other lab members and fellow PhD students for day to day support. Not only does this mean there is always someone to sit with you in the disabled toilet while you while you cry over another failed Northern blot, but they might also be able to help with a new technique or come up with some vital control that you’ve missed.

8. Be organised. Write to-do lists and tick them off as you go along. Always write up your lab book every night (not at the end of the week), whether your experiments have worked or not. If you one day decide to sell your soul to industry, you will be forced to keep lab books in such excruciating detail that you will horrified if you haven’t got into the habit of recording everything. When you begin, start a freezer stock, primer and clone recording system and stick to it. Treat every gel as if it is a world-changing result and take its photo. Because if things don’t work out to plan, you’re going to end up writing up using those failed gels to illustrate your thesis.

9. Know when to stop. You’re boss will probably let you slog away for an extra year with no money if you give him the chance. You don’t have to do everything – one of the aims of a PhD is to turn you into an independent researcher, so have a look at the work of post-docs in your lab and use them as a gauge of how well you are doing. Remember to bear in mind that most people run over 3 years and you will have to be pretty lucky to have done enough within the scheduled time. A rough estimate is that you’ll need to work twice as hard as the post-docs in your lab for at least 3 years to be able to breeze through that viva!

10. Don’t expect too much. Everyone says this, and every PhD student refuses to believe them, but you really don’t need amazing results to pass (at least not in the UK were you can get through the viva without any positive results at all)! There isn’t any magic secret that you’re told at the end of your viva that makes every experiment from then on work perfectly. Examiners will understand that sometimes proteins just really want to turn themselves into an insoluble mess and refuse to be refolded. So long as you have done everything in a logical order and thoroughly explored each failed experiment, then you’ll be fine.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Staying Positive in Trying Times


How to maintain a positive attitude in troubled times.

The fact that these are depressing times does not mean that we have to feel depressed. This is important, as maintaining a positive attitude is a fundamental part of protecting personal relationships which are never more at risk than during difficult times. It's an old saying but true that when money goes out of the door, love goes out the window. Translate that in work terms to when the cash flow is in short supply, everyone and everything gets looked at with a magnifying glass.

What steps can we take to protect those all-important relationships, both at home and at work?

1.Recognise that times have changed and that we have to adapt to new circumstances and values. It may be that things will NEVER be the same again.

2. 20-20 hindsight is easy; forecasting the future correctly is not. Don't blame and beat up on yourself for getting things wrong: be forgiving of yourself, and, of course, your significant others, and accept that you (and they) have almost certainly done the best you can under the circumstances.

3. Instead of looking for what is wrong with others, look at what is right: it is so easy to find fault, but so much more rewarding and motivating to recognize and appreciate the good things other do, and equally important, to complement them for it. Everyone needs the following three things in their life: appreciation, affection and attention. Give those to your nearest and dearest and reap the results.

4. One negative individual can poison an entire family or team. Change the current from negative to positive: the smallest gestures can begin to defrost a cold, resentful relationship. Guru Max Kirsten says: "we have been conditioned into appreciating only the grand expensive gesture, but small acts of kindness can mean more." Practic random acts of kindness - it makes you feel so good about yourself, let alone what it does for the recipient.

5. Appreciate what you have rather than thinking about what you cannot get, if only at this time. This includes not only tangible things like money, a house, jewellery and other possessions, but intangibles such as health, family, friendships and respect. Accept that it is no disgrace to downgrade, if only as a temporary measure. It is better to be resilient and adaptable than to try to maintain an untenable status quo. Since everyone is doing it, it is far less painful and totally acceptable right now: frugality is the new buzzword.

6. Accept responsibility for what is wrong in your life rather than blaming others:
list the resentments that you carry around in that suitcase which goes wherever you go - and then think of what you have contributed to each of them. Then let them go - empty the suitcase and pack it away. You will feel so much lighter when you're not carrying that burden on your back.

7. Move out of the "I" mode and into "We". Instead of focusing on what you do for others, appreciate what others contribute to your life, and then see how, together, you are greater than the sum of your parts. Share your worries, dreams and plans - again it releases the pressure valve in you when you hear your thoughts in words and often they seem so much less dramatic than when they run around in your head.

8. You don't have to accept everything your partner/boss/employee says, but try accept their right to say it and to understand his/her experience. Again be less judgmental with people and aware that we are all flawed individuals. Once you accept this, your expectations will be lowered and you will be disappointed less often when people don't come up with what you were hoping for.

9. Stop comparing yourself or family members/co-workers with others: nothing hurts more than feeling or being told that someone else "does it better." That "someone else" is probably being told the same thing about you! Comparing is absolutely the worst thing you can ever do for your self-esteem. You are unique and special and different from everyone else.

10. What you think and what you feel matter, but what you do is what really counts. So perform positive, generous acts. Project enthusiasm, not pessimism: In fact, research has shown that maintaining a smile on one's face can actually make those around us feel happier. The converse is even more true: it is so easy to bring others down and make them soak up your anxiety and negativity. Nowhere is this more evident than in today's media - yes there is doom and gloom but spreading it doesn't help anyone.

So, why not think about what is good in your life; the job you still have, the family who love you, the co-workers who respect you, the friends who admire you, the good health that you enjoy, the beauty of nature, and the fact that spring follows winter as surely as day follows night.

For more help with seeing the sunny side of life contact Adrianne Morris, Success Coach on 07956 514714 To see Adrianne Morris's blog go to

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Keep Laziness Away

How to Keep Laziness Away?

Our behavior is a puppet of our brain. No doubt the brain is rightly located at the topmost position in our body. Psychology of the mind elevates any illness more than its actual clinical indications. Laziness is also an illness of mind and needs to be tackled with strong will power.

By Jamila Joshi message icon | Friday, May 14, 2010

"Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little, falls into lazy habits of thinking" - Albert Einstein

Lack of mind control for laziness can destroy your dreams of achieving your goals. To get rid of laziness is not an easy job but at the same time not impossible as well. There are ways wherein one can program the mind in such a way that there is no space left for laziness.

1. Avoiding addiction
Get addicted to better and constructive habits than laziness. Once you swallow the bait, you have to pay for it. Be prepared to act immediately when you get a slight sensation of laziness.

2. Think of the outcome than the difficulties
Achieving a given task is not is not a cake-walk. The bug of laziness further makes it tougher. Think of the moment when your task will be achieved, applauds and appreciations that would follow then. This dream is achievable only if you overcome laziness. So think of the final outcome rather than the problems, because focusing on the problems would stimulate laziness.

3. Too much load at a time will take you nowhere
Organize your daily routine to get rid of laziness. Set your daily tasks from morning to evening in splits to keep your brain active and keep a time span for some relaxation as well. Focused work will pay more than running after too many things at a time.

4. Develop a positive attitude
If you add too many negative thoughts, laziness will be your guest. So avoid words like 'I can't', 'I won't', 'I don't' etc.

5. Make your tasks more interesting than monotonous
Repetitive tasks lead to boredom and we tend to lazy around to avoid completing the assigned jobs. Here is where creativity comes into picture. Doing things differently every time is the solution. Example: Cooking if done monotonously can get boring and can be an invitation to laziness. If you feel lazy to cook, think how you could make it interesting. One way is to create a restaurant kind ambience in the dining room, by scattering some flower petals or lighting candles on the table and picking up a different menu to cook as a change from the routine.

6. Look around for something interesting

After long hours of work, a break is essential. There are many things around us which can refresh our mind in no time. What we need is the vision to identify these things. Pick up the newspaper and glance through the pages, solve a puzzle which can be refreshing to your mind and motivate you to switch back to your work without feeling lazy.

7. Quality sleep is a must
A sound sleep evacuates unwanted thoughts from the mind. Mental tiredness can lead to laziness. So it is essential to refresh ownself with a good quality sleep.

8. Exercise, a source of fresh air
Exercising early morning, preferably in open air would not leave any space for laziness. Exercise replenishes the lost energy and freshness of mind.

9. Look forward to meet successful personalities, not failures

Success cannot be achieved in an easy way. This fact would sound convincing only when you hear the experiences of successful personalities. Laziness is the root cause of failures, so don't keep failures in your vicinity.

The above tips to avoid laziness can be successfully accomplished only on regularly carrying out the activities and maintaining positive attitude towards the tasks assigned. Once you are into the habit of overcoming laziness then it just cannot come in your way.

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