Tips for a Successful Thesis AmarKhoukhi Systems Engineering Department, KFUPM firstname.lastname@example.org
Outline • Selecting a Research Topic • Research proposal preparation • Research topic and title • Literature review • Research questions • Research proposal writing
Some definitions Research : The process of searching, carefully, to answer a question using a method, Many types of research • Theoretical • Theorems and proofs • Experimental • Design related experimental results, engineering new products, • System development • Algorithm development, Coding, testing, … • Basic research skills don’t differ much
Some definitions • Most of the skills can be learnt or improved over time, if one wants • Some talent is needed, but alone it is not enough • People with great talent and no skills obtain much less than what they could do • Not only technical skills Research Skills Skill: The learned capacity or talent to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, or both. Wikipedia.com
Starting a thesis? • ‘‘A thesis for the PHD must form a distinctive contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality shown by the discovery of new facts and/or by the exercise of independent critical power’’, (University Of London Regulation) • An argument • An exposition of an original piece of research • The product of an apprenticeship • Something that could be published: • e.g. at least one paper in a scholarly journal • But you will probably never publish the whole thesis
The Process of Research Identify the Research Problem Review the Literature Report and Disseminate Research Interpret the Research Specify a Research Purpose Analyze Data Collect Data
Selecting a Research Topic What are some considerations when selecting a research topic? Answer: • Personal interest / Passion, Curiosity • Importance / Contribution to the field • Newness / Relevance • Feasibility • Time constraints • Ethical constraints • Organizational support • Availability of equipments • After graduation employment possibilities
Sources of Research Topics • Discussion with faculty • Faculty ongoing projects (KACST, DSR, RI, …) • Previous student projects (B. Sc. M. Sc to PhD) • Peer-reviewed journals in your field • Personal experiences • Existing literature “Recommendations for future research…”
Refining Your Topic • Refinement needed for effective and efficient research • Narrow your topic • Identify a theoretical framework • Specifically and unambiguously define terms • State research questions and hypotheses • A literature review will help you • See if your idea has been tried • Include all relevant constructs • Select instruments • Anticipate common problems
Research proposal preparation A good proposal is a good idea, well expressed, with a clear indication of methods for pursuing the idea, evaluating the findings, making them known to all who need to know, and indicating the broader impacts of the activity. Source: http://www.nsf.gov/
The Proposal: Part 1, Purpose of the research proposal 1. To inform the reader of nature of your proposed research. • What is the problem? • What is its extent? 2. To convince the reader, especially supervisors and reviewers, of the value of your proposed research. • Is this project worth the time and money? • Will it make a difference to the world? • 3. To demonstrate your expertise and competency in a particular area of study. • Do you have the qualifications to conduct this research? • Have you informed yourself of the existing theory and data relevant to your topic?
Purpose of the research proposal 4. To plan the research project and provide a step-by-step guide to the tasks necessary for its completion. • What are the key stages of the work? • How do the various components fit together? 5. To request support from individuals and agencies who provide supervision, oversight or funding. • What kinds of support does the project need? • Are all participants properly protected? • 6. To contract with the agencies and individuals involved, (e.g. supervisors, foundations and participants). • How will tasks be assigned and resources expended? • What does each contribute to the collective endeavor?
Parts of a Proposal • Cover Page and Title • Project summary or Extended Abstract • Table of contents • Project description • Introduction • Literature review • Problem statement • Research objectives • Research methodology • Project tasks and milestones • Budget • deliverables • References cited
Project Summary • Intellectual Merit • Describe the scientific/engineering/education problem and why it is important • State the overall objective of the project • State the specific aims • Describe how the aims will be achieved • Broader Impacts • Educational & outreach activities; infrastructure; dissemination of results; underrepresented groups; benefit to society
The Proposal: Part 2, LR What is a Literature Review? review of the literature “is a written summary of journal articles, books and other documents that describes the past and current state of information, organizes the literature into topics and documents a need for a proposed study.” (pp. 79) Creswell, J.W. (2005) Educational Research: Planning, Conducting, and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research
What is a Literature Review? The LRis not a “list” of found research but a coherent and articulate account of past and current research findings • Brings a readerup-to-dateon what is known on a given topic • provide fresh insights that advance knowledge • Resolve conflicts between studies • Identify new ways to interpret research results • Creating a path for future research Master’s Is summative, Covers methodological issues, research techniques and results topics. Doctorate analytical synthesis, Covers all known literature on the subject, Links ideas conceptually across and within theories,
What is a Literature Review? • The LR should be exhaustive and as current as possible. • How many articles? • There is no set number. As long as the search is exhaustive and focused on the research topic, the review will be acceptable. • How far back should one search? • widely accepted timeframe past 10 years, • Pioneer and seminal works even if these go beyond.
Preliminary Literature Review Guidelines on Style, Mechanics, and Language Usage • Does your draft follow the logic or idea that is presented in your intro and title? • Avoid overusing direct quotations, especially long ones • Check style manual for correct use of citations • Avoid using synonyms for recurring words • This is not creative writing and stay consistent with terminology • Group I, Phoenix Cohort, Experimental Group • Spell out all acronyms when first using them • Traditional - American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) • Non-traditional - Collective Efficacy (CE) • No – Don’t use contractions • Avoid the following: • Slang – “cool” • Colloquialisms – “thing” >> “item” or “feature” • Idioms – “rise to the pinnacle” >> “to become prominent” • Use great care to avoid Plagiarism
Maintain Good Research Practices Throughout the Search • Maintain your search record. • Keep your research journal. • Make copies of all sources. • Be sure that the copy has full bibliographic information. • Check the reference list of every source you have located. • Back up all computer files (Every two weeks Time!!!) • Get expert help whenever you need it. • Keep your dissertation chair informed about progress and problems. • It is useful to set up and maintain a home page on the Internet.
Writing Your Research Question(s) From Topic (& Problem definition ) to Research Question • A good research topic asks a clear, concise question. • They, dictate what type of statistical analysis is needed, and what type of research design may be employed • Can be formulated based on theories, past research, previous experience, or the practical need to make data-driven decisions in a work environment • A research question should address only 1 concept • Question must be measurable (answerable)
Research Questions Directed and Independent Research ; Get one or two questions that will serve in your Theses as a chapter paper • From your course term projects • Design projects that fit with your research topic • Authorship vs. Ethics: • Give Credit when Credit is due!
How do you read a statement of the problem passage? FLOW OF IDEAS Deficiencies in Knowledge about the Problem Audiences that May Benefit Topic Research Problem Evidence for the Importance of the Problem • How will addressing • what we need to • know help: • researchers • educators • policy makers • individuals such as • those in the study Subject area • A concern • A problem • Something that needs a solution • Evidence from • the literature • Evidence from • practical • experiences • In this body of • evidence, what is missing? • What do we • need to know • more about? An Example • Gap in the literature • Reports of violations Description identifying and characterizing violations • Assessing violations • Helps recruiters develop better ethical standards • Helps athletes • understand ethical issues Ethical issues in colleges Ethical violations among football recruiters
Differences among the Topic, Problem, Purpose, and Questions General Topic Distancelearning Research Problem Lack of students in distance learning classes To study why students do not attend distance education classes at a community college Purpose Statement Does the use of Web site technology in the classroom deter students from enrolling in a distance education class? Research Question Specific
Differences among the Topic, Problem, Purpose, and Questions General Topic Mobile Robotics Multi-objective motion planning Research Problem Time and energy are conflictual criteria . However both will contribute to high efficiency of the robot Purpose Statement How limitation on motor torques can be handled for such a minimum time and energy planner? Research Question Specific
Getting Started, Keep In Mind That • No study is perfect • “All data is dirty in some way or another; research is what you do with that dirty data” • Measurement involves making choices • You can refine or change your plan Read to learn; ..read to analyze…; read to write… • About research methodology • Studies on similar topics • User repair strategies
The Proposal: Part 3, Methodology “A methodology is not just a list of research tasks but an argument as to why these tasks add up to the best attack on the problem” (Przeworski & Salomon, 2004, p. 1) “The methodology section serves to convince the examiner that you really knew what you were doing and that you knew how to do it properly” (Parsons & Knight, 2005, p.128). • A description of the general methodology and procedures • The research context or site • The plant or the subjects • The instruments and materials used • Explain (& justify) adequate the procedures followed and tools for data collection and analysis and problem solving • Establish scope and limitations
What Makes a Proposal Competitive? On the start • Original ideas that go beyond the commonplace • Succinct, focused project plan • Realistic amount of work • Sufficient detail provided • Rationale and evidence of potential effectiveness • Potential contribution to knowledge • Capacity to disseminate findings
Tips for Success 1. Follow Instructions • Follow page and font size limits and other guidelines • Have a strong evaluation plan with timelines and benchmarks 2. Write and rewrite : • Rewrite and rewrite again • Get critiques from: • Mentors and colleagues • Previous members of review panels
Tips for Success 3. Be reasonable • Be aware of the scope: “too ambitious” vs. “too narrow” • Anticipate problems • Address possible difficulties • Acknowledge possible experimental problems and have alternatives • Simplify and streamline: • Make sure you get your overall idea across! • Pay attention to details: • Run a spell checker and proof-read • Have someone else read the proposal • Spell check; grammar check, clear photos, graphs, etc. 4. Make it easy for the reviewers
Write With an Efficient Process A good writing needs a lot of reading Science and research writing is largely made up of sentence structures (templates), used to particular areas of science for many different areas. Once you understand this concept you will probably find it easier to read articles from areas of science with which you are not completely familiar
Conclusions Many research skills you will develop You can learn/improve your research skills You can produce sustained great research results if you are enthusiastic, honest, work hard, open, and committed And Have An Excellent Thesis !!