Thing 23: It’s Time To Say Goodbye

I’m afraid the end is here as I post my final blog post of 23 Things. Despite struggling to keep up with the blog posts whilst balancing my work, I have found blogging for the first time much more enjoyable than had I expected! I’ve taken a lot from the links and information posted on 23 Things, in particular on developing my personal brand using LinkedIn and by having a website.

Going forward from this programme, I want to finally complete my online profile, as well as further exploring how I can implement the tools that I have learnt with presenting or analysing the data I have.

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Things 21 and 22: *Research and Personal Websites

You’ll agree that good academics will try to be up to date on the latest research finds in their field. However, I have wondered how do researchers, lecturers or university staff keep up to date to the constant changes to academia itself? Especially since funding for our research has to be actively sought for, but where do you begin to look?

Things 21 post introduced two new specialist sites to me that collate news, research and funding opportunities for those in academia: *Research Professional and Euraxess. I had a quick look through *Research Professional, and unlike a lot of sites I’ve tried to search for similar sort of information for, it was update with quite a large amount of articles that might be of interest to me. I am surprised that this site hadn’t been recommend to me earlier, as I will most likely need to seek travel funding for conferences.

As part of this Things posts, I had a scrolled through a couple of the professional websites. What stood out for me from the sites I thought were good was that they were generally visually interesting. They didn’t have same boring look that I feel LinkedIn profiles have. Furthermore, they didn’t appear to be a work in progress, with no missing information and had a mix of different multimedia.

This has made me think hard on what I would like to have as my
professional online website. For the meantime, I will most likely rework my LinkedIn profile or create a profile on the Surrey website, as producing my own custom website is too much of a challenge for me right now!

Speedy Summary of Things 17, 18, 19 and 20: Collaboration Tools

Thing 17: Crowdsourcing

There have been some pretty fascinating examples of using the combined power of the people to help advance research. My favourite example of crowdsourcing was the spaceship shooter mobile game that helps fight cancer, which was created by scientists at Cancer Research UK.

Players use their spaceships to zoom through space and unlock which genes cause breast cancer.

The DNA analysis gathered from thousands of breast tumours have datasets that contain peaks and troughs, which the genetic abnormalities are likely located. Computer software is not precise enough to identify these points in the data, so game developers translated the genetic data into a space adventure. Players travel through the data, present as space with obstacles, and the map they plot is sent back to Cancer Research UK to help identify genes.

Unfortunately for me, I won’t be able to do anything as exciting as this as it is very unlikely I will be needing to use crowdsourcing for my project.

Thing 18: Collaborating through Whatsapp

Whatsapp is not just popular messaging app, it is also a really useful tool for collaborative work. I’ve used it quite a lot for group work or activities as I’ve found it is the easiest way to communicate and coordinate as a group. It is much faster and less formal than email, making it useful for urgent matters or for asking questions for anyone in the group to answer. It has been continually useful for me during my EngD course for organising events and asking questions about upcoming deadlines with other students on my cohort.

Surely it was better to just talk to the person in front in this situation?

Thing 19: Doodle

Without getting political, you may have heard questions in recent history that ask if it is democratic to re-vote on a decision? My experience with Doodle has taught me it doesn’t matter either way, it would have been a lot easier not to have the vote in the first place. To be fair, the tool itself is very easy to use and is great for voting on a small selection of available times. But I would not recommend using it to try organise a meeting with 10 busy people over two months as it quickly gets confusing when they change their plans. I prefer trying to get people to confirm to a date and time using the calendar function on emails.

Thing 20: File Storage

I’ve currently been having issues sending large files to my supervisors and other academics. MS OneDrive that is associated with my university account is very useful for sending large files to others at the university, however they cannot be sent externally. I have previously used Google Drive which works perfectly fine, but after this Things post, I am going to give Dropbox go in the future.

Sharing Data, Open Access and Bibliometrics

Things 12, 13 and 14:

It is a given requirement for postgraduate students like me to be able to present my results with others. This mainly includes presenting my research to my academic and industrial at regular intervals, but also includes presenting to other students, academics, other people in industry and to the wider public.

One important aspect of sharing data is to make sure what you are presenting is appropriate and tailored to your audience. For the physical sciences and engineering, I think it is quite difficult to present without some sort of visual aid, which in my case has involved a heavy use of graphs. I’ve had a few attempts at using Tableau, however I have just stuck with the graphs produced by either Matlab or MS Office for ease.

Things 15 and 16:

One of the things I am looking forward to as part of my EngD programme is to publish my own scientific paper. Although it might be a lot of work and this might sound cheesy, but I think there is something pretty exciting about contributing to the vast collection of knowledge for the world to see. Because of this, I strongly support the idea of open access, as not doing so might hinder further understanding.

Despite wishing and being required to publish a paper, I haven’t spent much time thinking about which journal I would want to publish with. When searching for papers on Web of Knowledge or Scopus, I tend not to notice what journal the paper is in and how it is rated. I will have to take more notice of the bibliometrics of journals in the future when I start seeking to publish my research.

Things 9, 10 and 11: Finding Online Sources

I’m not denying the value of peer-reviewed journals, papers and articles but there is an entire world of information outside of the traditional publication; so our research and understanding should reflect that. Thankfully for us, most of that information has been compressed to easy-to-digest forms online on sites such as Wikipedia, Slideshare and YouTube as text, images, videos or as podcasts.

This time on 23 things, I will be discussing some of these sources of information.

Don’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia…

…but it is a pretty great way to quickly understand a topic of your choice and can act as a starting point for finding further research. For the general, popular and well-studied topics, Wikipedia will generally have well written articles on the subject with an abundant amount of references. Its when you start searching for the more specialised or technical topics where you are probably not seeing the full picture in terms of the research that is discussed in the article. And there is always the issue with of the articles appearing incomplete with broken or missing references that no longer exist but are still cited.

I had a look at the Wikipedia page on silicon carbide fibres (related to my research area) and I thought it could definitely do with updating. In my opinion, the article misses a lot of the key information in books and papers on the important uses and properties of these fibres, as well as not mentioning at all the monofilaments produced by TISICS Ltd that I work on!

Of course, my opinion (although rooted in my research’s literature review) is not going to be the definite consensus of the scientific community. This is where Wikipedia’s discussion and history pages are important to help keep articles accurate and unbiased (most of the time).

Image sharing for research

Some researchers have been able to produce captivating and amazing images that have the power to draw in a wider range of people into science than just those in academia. These images may wow people, but most often are used in the analysis of what has been pictured.

In my project, I frequently produce and analyse images that I took using a scanning electron microscope (SEM). You can see example of the monofilaments I work on taken by my colleague is shown below.

SEM image of a silicon carbide monofilament (Rix M. et al. 2017).

Shared Presentations

You can often find presentations on certain research topics posted across different online platforms. LinkedIn, in particular, has their own sharing site for people to upload their sideshows for others to view. However, I generally find the quality of these slides significantly worse than would you normally get from university lectures. These presentations are often originally created to be further explanation by a speaker, and therefore difficult to understand on their own.

Things 7 and 8: How to Reference Like a Pro

It’s often treated as the most tedious part of writing reports, papers or theses. However, neglecting your references will at best annoy readers that want to find out more information on the subject you have been writing on, or at worst carry accusations of plagiarism against you.

So we know referencing is important, but that’s not the issue. The issue is many of us think that because the bibliography is usually at the end of a document that you should write it last. But after spending ages writing pages and pages of work, the last thing you can be arsed doing is remembering what and where all the information you’ve cited comes from, what books and papers have you used and is it all to the correct referencing system.

That’s where a reference manager like Mendeley comes to the rescue!

I’ve been using Mendeley since my masters project and its the best way of keeping track of what you’ve read. The desktop application can store and backup PDFs of all the papers and books you’ve read, save any notes you have and automatically rip the metadata so you can export it in your bibliography.

I export my list of references for writing in LaTex, but you can also use the desktops app’s built-in Microsoft Word plug-in, both of which allows you to easily cite as you write. Then when you finish writing, all you have to do is select the citation style you want, press create bibliography and voila, it does it for you.

Make sure you check your references are correct! The list created by Mendeley is only as good as the metadata it has stored on the papers you have referenced and can sometimes get it wrong. Once without checking my draft masters report I had sent my academic supervisor, I got a comment back questioning if one of the papers I had cited was really from the year 9000 BC!

I also heavily suggest getting the web browser extension or plug-in. So if you come across any papers or websites that you would like to cite later, Mendeley can download the paper directly into the reference manager without you having to save and manually import it yourself. That might not sound like much of a time-saver, but it gets really annoying very quickly during the literature search.

The Research Network

The world has had nearly thirty years of the internet now and its hard to imagine life without it. But before the social media networks, Netfilx, Amazon and all the other sites that take up most of the bandwidth existed, the world wide web originally served one purpose, to share research!

Today’s research networking tools do a very good at fulfilling that purpose; allowing researchers to share publications, ideas and seek answers for their research questions. Of the popular tools out there, I would say ResearchGate would be my top pick out of Academica.edu and Google Scholar based on ease of use and presentation.

At the start of my EngD, I created a ResearchGate account so I could see papers and discussion on topics related to my project. At the moment, my profile is a bit empty, but will hopefully start looking more populated when I get writing some papers!

Annoyingly, when you work on a cutting-edge technology such as silicon carbide monofilaments (my area of research) that only a few people produce, there’s not many publications being frequently uploaded. But from following other researchers, I can see how useful tools like
ResearchGate are good at keeping up on recent updates in your research area.

One of the great advantages to ResearchGate and Academia.edu is that members are able to upload any work part of their research which anyone can request full-text of, useful if you can’t get access through the paywalls of publishers.

ResearchGate also has a questions and answers section where researchers can get help from the wider scientific community on their research problem. I know that this feature can be very useful as its helped me back when I was an undergrad stuck on a few tutorial questions!

ResearchGate perfectly combines that Facebook social networking aspect with being a professional way to share research. Although Facebook is a very popular social media platform, it wouldn’t be an appropriate place publishing papers. Furthermore, Facebook’s blatant changes to their websites algorithms to manipulate user’s content and questionable privacy practices makes their site quite hostile to free and open research, which isn’t that what the internet was supposed to be for?