Let’s Simplify Our Language, Shall We?

Let’s Simplify Our Language, Shall We?

There are these things called “policies”. This is a term that loosely means “the rules we should follow”.

If you’re a nurse, you should wash your hands after working with a patient. If you’re a teacher, you will do X-Y-Z for tests when you have a student who is dyslexic in your class. If you wish to build a bridge, you must get an environmental assessment done to measure the impact of your project on the surrounding ecosystem. These are “policies”. Sometimes they are formally written up in legal documents. Sometimes, as in “clean up your dishes when you are done with them”, they are evidenced only by a note on the fridge in the staff lounge.

There is movement in the research world to ensure that more formalized policies are not only developed, but also dynamically evaluated, leading to such models as this one, the classic policy cycle:

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I have a bit of a beef with the presentation of models like this one. I find it too dense, all nouns and academic-y jargon, which I have talked about in a previous post fittingly titled Reading Academic-y Jargon.

And I am presumably an academic yet still find this dense. I need a second to process the words and phrases, analyze their meaning, and create examples or definitions in more common language in my head as I read.

Why do we add this degree of obtrusion?

I would like to appeal to the academic masses to please label models and flow charts such as this one with more digestible language and a clear point to each stage.

I have adapted the above to something that makes more sense to me:

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 8.59.49 PM

Is it too unofficial? It is certainly a slight simplification but do we not need to read further into the assigned labels anyway for clarification? Does the de-abstraction cause it to lose some of its officious academic appeal?

I prefer to think not but feel free to judge for yourself.

 

Image from http://xboxaddict.com/Article/297/Tablo—A-solution-for-an-OTA-DVR-for-Xbox-One.html

The Poetic Sequel: Jobs Where You Can ‘Get Your Research On’ as a Clinician

The Poetic Sequel: Jobs Where You Can ‘Get Your Research On’ as a Clinician

Once your PhD reaches completion, sights set on employment

A place to produce, to collaborate, to earn

Is academia the sole destination for your research enjoyment?

Why no, no indeed, there’s so much you did learn!

 

As a researcher, it’s clear, study design becomes easy

Your sharp mind can envision, can ensure data’s collected

You can arrange data points in a way that is pleasing

To analyze, report, present, publish as expected

 

But there is so much more, like your ability to organize

To lead and train others, solve problems, no sweat!

Your ability to communicate, collaborate and advise

 

You can write, write, write, write!

 

So the jobs you could get:

 

Of course there’s Professor, which gives much flexibility

To break new theoretical ground with the utmost agility!

 

Be a Clinical Researcher and start your own business

See your own clients, run studies, you must be ambitious

 

Or step up and be Head Scientist in a hospital

Daily inspiration surrounds you, knowledge translation is critical

 

 

Prefer to not be the boss? Clinical Associate might suit you

Be the star clinician you are, with a flair for peer review

 

How do you feel about Clinical Research Coordinator?

Stay behind the scenes, mastermind, like a knowledge creator

 

Perhaps Clinical Services Manager is your future role

Clinicians appreciate evidence-based protocol

 

Finally, you may work in Industry with a PhD

Make your skill set work for you in a career externally

 

Wherever you choose to go with your PhD, your vocation

I hope it is worth every darn grant application!

 

Image credit: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

 

4 Tips for Getting Through Your Comprehensive Exams

4 Tips for Getting Through Your Comprehensive Exams

Early this week, I completed the written portion of my comprehensive exams. In the PhD in Health at Dalhousie University, this process involved taking exactly 6 weeks to write three 15-20 page essays (plus references) on three questions that are directly relevant to my proposed study. In about two weeks, I will meet with my comps committee for the oral defence of my essays.

Before starting my comps, I found pretty much zero tips to guide me in getting through it. So I fumbled around and, guess what?, I made it happen. As will you! But, in case you like to have ideas in advance, below are four tips that I figured out along the way.

Tip 1. Get a reference manager and fill it

Collect articles in a reference manager that will let you cite in-text and automatically generate a reference list. I used zotero because I really like the Chrome extension that lets me easily clip any article I find online directly to zotero. I know that other PhDers are using Mendeley and loving it. Some labs use RefWorks with Write-n-Cite.

The only downfall I’ve seen with using a reference manager to automatically generate your reference list is that you really need to make sure that your references are properly entered into the ref manager in the first place. The biggest issue that I had to keep fussing with was the title needing to be all in lower case except the very first word, the first word after the colon, and proper nouns (APA style).

Another issue was that the author’s full name needs to be consistently entered. For example, you couldn’t enter my name as Squires, B.J. and Squires, Bonita for two separate publications, or it will cite the author in text with the first name or initials to show that it thinks they are two different people.

Tip 2. Use a time tracker app

I knew that I needed something to motivate me to write every day. I also knew that I love looking at pretty data (what researcher doesn’t!). So I realized that I wanted a visual representation showing me how much time I spent on my comps every day.

I ended up using a simple, free online time tracker called Toggl. It’s designed for businesses to have employees track the time they spend on different projects but it was perfect for my purposes.

Toggl_bar graph.jpg

So motivating! I even did some of my own calculations and figured out my mean number of hours per day and the standard deviation…

It also spits out how much time I spent on different tasks if I’ve been diligent about identifying them (I was). So now I can look at how much time I spent on each essay doing the readings versus writing the paper itself and compare across all three essays! Doesn’t that sound exciting! Below you can see my breakdown for the last week of my comps:

Toggl_task breakdown.png

Maybe you don’t want to use a time tracker app? Fine, but find something that motivates you that taps into the tried-and-true motivators that game theorists have known for decades: we like to see progress. We love it. Even the littlest accomplishment can be motivating. Maybe you would prefer to stick a star on your wall for each half hour you spend working on your writing. Or perhaps you plan to report to a friend every day on what you’ve accomplished. Whatever it is, commit to it.

Tip 3. Give yourself time to think

On my first day after I received my comps questions, I hacked out a simple outline for each paper based on what I knew already. In the end, I didn’t use any of those outlines.

As I delved into readings and tried to write, I would constantly realize how certain ideas tied in to other ideas, or how the literature lent itself to a certain storyline that I hadn’t thought about.

Sometimes I would pace my apartment, thinking, “Does that argument really make sense?“. Or wake up and lie there, thinking, “How come no one’s studied that yet? How will I argue my point now?”. Or walk my dog, thinking, “Somehow I need to tie in that other idea, where should it go?”.

The important thing that I realized was that I couldn’t stress out while I was thinking. I couldn’t let anxiety build up over not being in the midst of adding words to the page. I can’t even tell you how much I wrote that I ended up erasing… it was probably equivalent to the amount of writing that I ended up submitting. Some of that could have been avoided if I had let myself think more first.

4. Own your writing time

Find the best and most productive times for you to write and stick to them. I happen to be most lucid and productive late at night. By the time 10:30pm rolls around, suddenly I get a razor-sharp focus and tappity-tap goes my keyboard. But of course, that means I’m writing until at least 2am. Clearly, I was not getting up at 7:30am to be ready to write again at 9am.

I found it really hard to try to justify to people why I wasn’t getting up early in the morning (edit: in the morning, period) to “be productive” because “that’s the best time of the day to get things done” and “by the afternoon you already have so much under your belt“… No.

I won’t be shamed. There are plenty of personal and brain-based reasons as to why I go to bed so late and would really prefer to get up late too. Early mornings are just not how my brain or my life works. I finally decided to just own it.

If you’re an early morning person then kudos to you. Own that. If that’s when you’re most productive and that means people try to shame you about why you need to go to bed so early (“but the night is young!“, “live a little!“), don’t listen. Find your sweet writing time and own it.

All in all, I managed to submit my essays on time without undue stress and I feel proud of what I pulled together. I also learned a lot. My writing improved, my writing process became more efficient, and I feel so much more comfortable with the literature in my field.

It was a dynamic and rewarding process and I can honestly say that (assuming I pass the written portion…) I truly am looking forward to the oral defence!

 

Jobs Where You Can ‘Get Your Research On’ as a Clinician

Jobs Where You Can ‘Get Your Research On’ as a Clinician

This article was originally published on Speech-Language & Audiology Canada’s blog, Communiqué, on December 5th, 2016. It has been republished here with permission.

Part 4 of the blog series Finding the PhD in Me. Read part 3 here.

By Bonita Squires, M.Sc., S-LP(C)


I have been thinking a lot about where I could work once I graduate. How can I leverage the skills I develop through my PhD into a career? Where can I combine both my skills as a researcher and my skills as a clinician? I have done some searching and I’d like to share seven types of positions I have come across where you, too, could one day ‘get your research on’ as a clinician.

PhD Skills

Before we go through the positions, let’s look at the skills you can acquire by doing a PhD. First and foremost, I think of my PhD as an opportunity to develop further training in research. This may seem straightforward, but what skills do you gain when you become better at research?

Research-Specific Skills

  • Selecting the appropriate study design
  • Controlling variables, so you are studying what you think you are studying
  • Data collection for research instead of clinical goals
  • Data organization for analysis
  • Statistical analysis with quantitative data
  • Analysis of qualitative data (e.g., interviews, survey results)
  • Sharing research results with academia (e.g., posters, abstracts, talks)
  • Writing articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals and books
  • Writing grant proposals

Transferable skills

  • Project management (this is a big one!)
  • Leadership and training
  • Giving presentations to a wide variety of audiences
  • Problem identification and analysis
  • Collaboration with other researchers and professionals
  • Self-management and positive work habits
  • Fine-tuning logical arguments

Great, but what employers out there are looking for individuals with these skills? Quite a few, in fact! If you’re someone with clinical experience who went to all the trouble of obtaining a PhD, you could be eligible for any of the positions below.

1. Professor/Researcher in Academia

The majority of PhD students enter their programs with the goal of becoming an academic. In this setting, you have the flexibility to define your own research questions, potentially redefining our current understanding of theoretical and/or applied knowledge! This is a good position for a person who is interested in breaking new ground and who enjoys collaborating with others on a variety of projects. There are fewer opportunities to flex your clinical chops, however, professors can use clinical experience to make their research and teachings more relevant.

2. Clinical Researcher in Private Clinic/Institute

Of course, you can always create the job and setting that suits you best by starting your own company! As an example, Dr. Joanne Marttila Pierson and Dr. Lauren Katz started their own institute, the Literacy, Language and Learning Institute, where they provide speech-language pathology services and conduct research studies.

3. Clinical Investigator/Head Scientist in Medical Setting

A clinician with a PhD is a good fit for hospitals and clinics where research is valued. For example, Dr. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, Aud(C) conducts research as head scientist with the CHEO Research Institute in Ontario alongside her position as an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

4. Clinical Research Associate

If you prefer hands on work over research design, you may be the perfect fit for a research institute looking for clinical associates. Your deep understanding of research design would make you an ideal assessment/intervention administrator who will adhere closely to the research goals of a study while your clinical background will help you to understand how best to share research results with working clinicians.

For example, a job posting for a clinical research associate position with the National Center for Evidence-Based Practice in Maryland stated, “The purpose of this position is to participate in the Association’s efforts to promote evidence-based practice among its members. This will involve development of educational initiatives as well as projects to make scientific research more accessible to clinical audiences.”

5. Clinical Research Coordinator/Research Project Manager

If you enjoy the administrative side of clinical work more than being on the front line, you may be more suited to coordinating and managing research studies. In this position, you could be coordinating research studies that fall within any area of health or education and working for a research lab within the government, industry, non-profit or health sectors.

For example, this past summer the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute was looking for a research project manager in the area of immune regulation. The qualifications regarding educational background specified only “Undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline. PhD in a life science discipline is an asset. Minimum of three years experience or the equivalent combination of education and experience.”

6. Manager of Clinical Services

You may not work in a position directly connected to a research lab but use all of your fine-tuned transferable skills (listed above) as a programs manager. For example, the Children’s Treatment Network recently advertised an opening for a programs and services manager on the SAC website. With clinical experience, highly developed project management experience AND a clear understanding of the meaning of ‘evidence’ in ‘evidence-based practice’, you could be a shoo-in for the job. In fact, the above position required knowledge of statistical data analysis, which most clinicians don’t acquire without advanced research training.

7. Industry Work with a PhD

Finally, we cannot forget that many, many people have obtained PhDs and not used those research-specific skills in any apparent way. They have become consultants, directors, CEOs, entrepreneurs, educators, inventors, authors… and the list goes on. There is an increasing amount of information available to doctoral students regarding positions with industry, for example, popular conferences such as Beyond Academia, Twitter accounts such as @withaphd or @cheekyscience, and websites/blogs such as Next Scientist. Using all these tools, you can find plenty of advice on how to adjust your resume and sell your skills in a job interview for a non-research-related position.

I hope that I have given you some points to ponder regarding careers for communication sciences clinicians with PhDs. Perhaps one of the most important skills that you must develop as a research trainee is the ability to adapt to the constantly evolving nature of research projects, which will be the topic of my next post. As I progress through my PhD and develop my research study, this need for flexibility is something I am presented with daily…


Feature image caption: Bonita sits with other students, many of whom are also health professionals enrolled in the PhD in Health at Dalhousie University. Back row, left to right: Jeffery Zahavich (exercise physiologist and physical education teacher), Sara Limpert (health policy analyst), Peter Stilwell (chiropractor), America Cristina Fracini (physiotherapist), Logan Lawrence (studies health policy and knowledge translation). Front row, left to right: Crystal Watson (recreational therapist), Bonita Squires (speech-language pathologist), Neda Alizadeh (occupational therapist).

Photo Credit: Daniel Abriel.

The Poetic Sequel: Get Working on Networking

The Poetic Sequel: Get Working on Networking

Is it enough to just lower my head into the wind?

Stand, alone, as the breeze streams through hair desperately pinned

Must I lean, strain, block out the din

Of expectations and writing and perfection so as to win

 

Actually…

There are many attempting to break through the din like me

Who also want that sweet, sweet position as a clinical researcher who is free

To explore the questions that come to me

It’s time to get to know my fellow wind-breakers and them, me

 

Let truth be told,

One, I must know who is fighting the fight

I must listen to their stories, their needs, do for them what is right

I cannot push through a wind that is not their plight

Do I seek a truth that need not be told?

 

In fact,

Two, a researcher cannot act alone or she’s trapped

Into a solitary quest when so many are willing to interact

On similar thoughts and ideas, towards a common pact

At a time when teamwork is what earns the contract

 

It is true,

Three, others must know about me, like you

As you read of the journey I am mingling through

On the chance that you know of a post with a better view

Where all of our questions are the very ones I may pursue

After the dissertation is due

 

Those who have trod the ground before me

And broken the wind ahead of me

And look back to see me

Pushing through

 

Students and fellows,

Knowledge-seekers and gurus,

You with experiences lived, you who manage the crew

Share this journey with me, get to know me as I meet you

We must get working, on networking

For the real world to know, be known and break through.

 

 

 

Get Working on Networking

Get Working on Networking

This article was originally published on Speech-Language & Audiology Canada’s blog, Communiqué, on September 19th, 2016. It has been republished here with permission.

Part 3 of the blog series Finding the PhD in Me. Read part 2 here.

By Bonita Squires, M.Sc., S-LP(C)


Before I decided to start my PhD, I envisioned that doctoral studies would look something like what is often portrayed in the very funny PhD Comics: staring at a computer screen for hours at a time and an occasional meeting with a supervisor. It turns out that I was incredibly wrong, or at least I have been so far. I also need to get out and make connections with new people, a.k.a. ‘networking’.According to Isaiah Hankel, “In today’s economy and academic environment, networking with more people is not an option. It’s a must.“ Why is this?

1. To make research more relevant

There is a growing need to actively ensure that our research is relevant outside of academia as well as within academia (for more on this topic, see my last blog post, Lost in (Knowledge) Translation). In order to conduct relevant research, we need to collaborate across fields and professions to discover what administrators, educators, policymakers and clients are interested in. By attending a variety of conferences, talks, workshops and wine-and-cheese type events at the university and in the community, I have chanced upon several people whose ideas have helped me to redefine my study and even my future research program. Knowing what is currently relevant and needed also helps me make a stronger case for my research in funding applications.

2. So that I know about other researchers

Networking with others is allowing me to seek out interprofessional collaborations and find new perspectives on my work. When I chat with other researchers, working professionals, policymakers and community members, I become familiar with the people whom I can contact when I have questions, need support or would like to collaborate on a project. As a graduate student, I read a lot of literature and am becoming increasingly familiar with the names of researchers in my area of study. Seeing these experts speak about their research is not only helpful to better understand their findings, but is also motivating; it is inspiring to meet others who are passionately pursuing similar research questions.

3. So that other researchers know about me

On the flip side, if those other researchers are familiar with me, they will think of me if they have a project planned where they think I could be a good fit. They may even think of me for one of their colleagues’ projects. Several times in the last year, a new contact has met me and immediately referred me to a colleague or a friend as a potential contact.

If other researchers know about me, I may even find my dream job one day. This is an important motivation for meeting other like-minded people. In 2011, only 18.6% of Canadians with doctoral degrees were working as full-time university professors, the typical career goal of most doctoral students. If I decide that I want to work for a company or organization after I obtain my PhD, I must accept that my resume may be stacked in a pile with hundreds of other applicants with PhDs. All qualifications being equal, an applicant who is known to the hiring committee will get the job over one who is unknown.

Why so early in my PhD?

Some people may wonder why I am so focused on networking when I am only just beginning my second year of doctoral studies. The thing is, creating a solid network takes time. It takes years. I don’t know where I will end up working when I graduate. I could be conducting research within academia, industry, government, at a non-profit, in the health sector… I need time to develop connections in all of those areas. I can’t wait until the last year of my PhD to think about where I want to go next and who I need to know.

To use myself as an example, I am in the unique position of nurturing a hazy vision of a dream job that may or may not exist when I complete my PhD. I would like to work as a clinical researcher, also known as a clinician scientist. Furthermore, I would like to work with the small and spread out population of individuals who are d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing. If I don’t start putting out the feelers now, I may never find a position where I can work clinically AND develop my research program, and potential employers may never find me. However, if I am known in my field, a position may even open up with me in mind. That can only happen if people know me and have faith in what I can offer to their organization or institution.

As a working clinician, you may be thinking about incorporating research into your practice or further developing the research that you have already begun. If that is the case, keep your eyes open for my next post; I will explore what it could look like to work as a clinical researcher where research and practice productively coexist.

Further Resources

For the most up-to-date tips on how to network as a graduate student, take a look at posts by Wajihah Mughal in RE-SPECT Science and Dr. Nana Lee in University Affairs. 

Open Access Conundrums

Open Access Conundrums

I have been thinking a lot about open access lately (note the brief discussion in a recent post of mine). Who hasn’t? It is a hot topic, with all sorts of organizations popping up that advocate for it (e.g., Open Access Button, OOO Canada Research Network) and entire conferences devoted to it (e.g., OpenCon).

There are overwhelmingly fantastic arguments for it, as are convincingly laid out by high-profile proponents such as the passionate and fearless Erin McKiernan. For the full run-down by an expert, check out an excellent talk of McKiernan’s on the issue here; I remained enthralled throughout its entire 45 minutes.

In response, I have been taking note of open access journals for my own future submissions. In fact, I even went so far as to tweet my relief upon realizing that the journal of our own national organization, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Canada (the journal is CJSLPA) is entirely open access.

But the issue does not seem so straightforward as to say that all journals should become open access.

I am and have always been a law-abiding, authority-respecting person, to a fault. I was raised to assume that the police and government were doing everything in the best interest of the public and have only in recent years begun to question this logic. This has also lead me to assume that the journal authorities who set prices for their product may have good reason for doing so. I continue to have this niggling concern: people need to be paid for their time and companies need to be paid for the resources that they provide. Everything can’t be free in this world.

This was highlighted for me recently when I contacted a small journal asking about open access. I wanted a potential submission to be accessible to teachers, clients, and people in several different fields but a paywall would have likely prevented that. The journal editor replied that, no, it is not open access because there are costs to running a journal and they cannot afford to do it for free. So who pays?

A part of the issue may be that journals have not traditionally expected individuals to pay. Institutions pay and if you’re not affiliated with an institution then too bad.

However, this model may need to change with the increasing uproar for accessible research output and knowledge translation directly to those who may apply the knowledge, the “end user”. If open access is not a financially feasible option then at the very least prices need to be reduced for individuals. Do we not bemoan the fact that policymakers and professionals don’t refer enough to evidence during decision-making and practice?  Currently, if one of these individuals actually chose to seek out interesting, current and relevant articles to support decision-making and practice, this is what they may be faced with:

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One article for US$40, which translates to a hefty CAD$52.34! Or how about this for the right to download the PDF of one article in a small Canadian journal:

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Let’s be honest. We really don’t think too hard about spending a few dollars online. Look at the recent Pokémon Go craze. The game is making $1.6 million a day through in-app purchases that start at $0.99. The low prices are made up for by the large numbers of people all around the world doing the purchasing. This is how these free games make money (not to mention the advertising revenue). I will admit that I have spent a few dollars here, a few dollars there, on mindless games. It gets me nowhere in my life but it provides a bit of entertainment. The same applies to music. I occasionally spend a whopping $1.49 to download a song that I enjoy and I don’t think too much of it.

This does not only apply to entertainment. There are countless free websites and apps out there that we can use to be more productive, organize our documents, and collaborate more efficiently. The way many developers earn money is by offering limited functionality for free and charging small monthly or yearly fees for more features. If I really like an app, I will certainly cough up the $5/month to upgrade to better features. However, when the cost of something goes above $10 the purchase becomes harder to justify. Why aren’t academic journals getting on board with this high volume, low cost payment model? 

The latest great idea offered by journals is that if authors would like their article to be available open access, they pay an exorbitant $1000+ fee. In other words, the onus is on the researcher to pay for the accessibility of their article to non-academics. Just because some people or departments can afford it doesn’t mean that it is the right model.

Software developers have figured out that the end users of their products will not pay the prices set for institutions. In fact, this high volume, low cost model has proven to be quite lucrative. If our goal is truly to have research be accessible to the end users, the public and professionals who may apply the research, then maybe we should be marketing directly to them at a reduced cost. I wonder what potential market is out there for journals if the price is right? And would reaching this market make our research even more accessible to the people who need it the most?

Would this low-fee, high-traffic payment model work for academic publishing houses? Perhaps there is a place where the financial needs of journals and greater access meet.