Annual PhD Day ’17

Friday afternoon May 19th from 14.00-17.00pm, we will have our annual PhD day! This lively afternoon is filled with a variety of research conducted by PhD candidates of the Faculty of Social Sciences from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. We would like to welcome you all to drop by at the Department of Organization Science (3rd floor, Wing A).

PhD’s can join the PhD day by oral or poster presentations, you can register your contribution in a google document. Please provide:

  • Your name
  • Your department
  • A preliminary title (50 words max.)
  • A short intro of your topic (100 words max).
  • Select one option: A poster presentation or an oral presentation.

Previous PhD days were a huge success thanks to the large number of faculty members paying a visit to the presentations and we look forward to an even higher attendance this year.

Facts or myths about the brain? Check your knowledge after March for Science!

By Ewa Międzobrodzka | Reading Time: 4 Minutes

On April 22nd scientists around the world went out of their university labs and offices and joined the March for Science. They marched to show society how important evidence-based research is. I joined the March in Amsterdam.  As a young brain-researcher I would like to raise people’s awareness about popular fake information about brain that many people consider to be true. I decided raise awareness about brain facts and myths, because according to the international report (Howard-Jones, 2014) many teachers believe in neuro-myths and that may negatively influence the way they teach students at schools, or even at universities… For that reason, I prepared a short quiz about the brain for the March for Science. I shared it with the March attendees. Here you can learn more about popular neuro-myths and re-take the quiz!

Did you select your answers? Now you can check them: Only statement 3,7 and 10 were correct! All other statements are neuro-myths – popular fake believes about the brain. How many correct answers did you have? Are you curious how many teachers from different countries mistook brain-myths as brain-facts?

In 2014 Paul Howard-Jones published his report about neuromyths among teachers from the UK, the Netherladnds, Turkey, Greece, and China in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Recently, together with my colleauge, Krzysztof Cipora, we replicated the findings from Paul Howerd-Jones in Poland among a group of teachers, as well as undergraduates, high school students and adult readers of a popular-science Polish online portal (Badania.net).  Despite different countries, the most popular neuromyths are number (2), (3), and (4). Below, you can find detailed information about the percentage of people who agreed with false statement about the brain.

Does it matter?

Perhaps you’re wondering now “Well, I’m not a neuroscientist… does it matter at all if I believe in myths of facts about brain?”. Yes, it does matter. For example, if you’re a teacher or a student your misbeliefs about brain may affect the way you’re teaching or learning. Moreover, you could save a lot of time and money by not spending them on “brain-trainings” like Lumosity that may actually NOT train your brain according to the research.

Take action and march for science!

As a (young) scientist I feel responsible for good quality of science communication and science popularization. I personally think that our scientific research findings should be shared with society in a way more accessible manner to lay audiences. Perfect opportunities for that are science blogging (like the Socializing Science blog), popular-science presentations (e.g. TED), and popular-science books (e.g., see Kijken in het brein – book in Dutch about brain). I hope that thanks to scientists’ involvement in science popularization, we could limit the misbeliefs about science, for example in myths about brain. That is why we should take action and march together, march for science!

 

Below you may find a few pictures from March for Science:

 


Ewa Międzobrodzka is a psychologist and a PhD candidate at the Department of Communication Science at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. In her PhD project she investigates possible effects of violent video games on social and cognitive skills of adolescents. Her passion is neuroscience and science popularization.

 

Dealing with the review process – The artist and the PhD

Thijs WillemsBy Thijs Willems / Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Imagine you’re an artist. You’re a painter currently carefully transforming an empty canvas into a magical landscape. No less than eight months you spent inside your musty little attic room to paint. But without complaining for a second, as you believe to be creating what will become your masterpiece. Autumn passed, as you were convinced that the colors of the leaves falling off the tree would be inspiration enough to turn the white canvas into a mosaic of playful colors. Winter was spent inside, to reflect the shadows and contrasts in the sky onto your painting in order to give it that necessary touch of drama. The summer passed and, instead of enjoying warm, long evenings in the park with your friends and a bottle of wine, you spent hour after hour to capture the right hue of color for the sunbeams behind the clouds.

Picture1

Eight months passed and, after much deliberation, you decide the time has come to show your masterpiece to the public. You invite an eclectic bunch of experts, big names and hotshots in the world of art, to give their initial thoughts and suggestions. They seem to love it! “Amazing colors, I can see you put your heart in it”, says one. “This is really interesting, it tells the Big Story of Life”, another adds.

The conversation continues for a while, and after all the compliments have been shared, the Cubist starts: “But…” As an artist you’re used to critique, so you recognize this word as the start of some, hopefully constructive, commentary.

“But… you really need to add some straight lines to make it more contemporary.” The others nod. The Minimalist: “I agree, but I also think you’ve painted way too much. Too much is happening on the sides of the painting, way too much.” Finally, the Impressionist adds: “I agree with the aforementioned comments. And yet… You haven’t captured the true essence of the sun. There’s too much detail and I’d rather see short, thick strokes of paint.” The experts leave and, slightly blown away, you start redoing your masterpiece with care. To satisfy the Minimalist, you cut off three inches from the sides of the painting; for the Impressionist to be happy, you transform the subtle colors of the sun into thick, broad patches of yellow and red; to make your painting more contemporary, as the Cubist requested, you fill the sky with random squares. You slowly step back to ponder your masterpiece and in awe you come to realize that this is not your work anymore.

This story could easily be told in a different context, where the PhD is the artist, the painting his/her paper, and the experts the reviewers of a journal. Getting your work published may be a daunting task, especially for new scholars. You spent a great deal of time, energy, and sometimes even love, in writing about your research. You are the proud artist of this text and you feel it is a worthwhile read for others in your field. You know you will have to reach this broader public by getting your paper published in one of the journals in your field. You finish the paper, submit it to a journal, wait, wait some more, wait a bit longer, and then you finally receive the review reports. It may be a desk rejection (the most common response of journals), a major or minor revision, or a straightforward acceptance (that seldom happens).

In my opinion, the major revision is the most challenging kind of review report to deal with. It often implies the editor and reviewers see, somewhere hidden between the lines of your text, the merits or contributions of your paper. The reviewers, then, often ask questions, critique your argument or provide suggestion on how to make the still implicit contribution of your paper more explicit. This may often involve serious and even impossible requests: “You position your paper in the context of Theory A, but we think it is more appropriate for Theory B, C or D. Please write a new paper”; “The theoretical point is really interesting, but the research is not convincing enough. Do the research again”; “We need much more detail in the theoretical and empirical part of the paper. Also elaborate your discussion further and include points 1 to 7. Oh… and please shorten the paper with at least 2,000 words”; “I don’t like your chosen methodology. Can you make a survey study out of your ethnographic data?”

I exaggerate a little bit, but the point I’m trying to make is that the review process is challenging, especially when you realize ‘your’ paper turns into a text that is different than you had intended. Below are some suggestions that may help you deal with this process:

  1. Even in case of a major revision, realize the reviewers and editors see considerable potential in your paper. Congratulations!
  2. In case of truly rigorous revisions you need to deal with a dilemma: re-write your paper to satisfy the reviewers with a chance on publication, re-write the paper and still end up with a rejection and a paper that only remotely looks like yours anymore, thank the journal and find another outlet (although the chances are pretty high the process at the other journal might be quite similar)
  3. When do you submit your paper? It might be easier to re-write a paper that was good enough but not yet perfect than a paper in which every word or punctuation mark has been deliberated at least three times. Maybe write a paper that is good enough to be taken in review? The perfect paper does not exist and reviewers will always have certain demands for a revision
  4. Make a careful choice about the fit between your paper and the journal you plan to submit to. Be aware of the current debates, what interests the readers of this journal, what is their writing style, etc. The reviewers need to understand why they should publish your paper instead of one of the other 50 submissions.
  5. Turn the problem around: journals have a ‘problem’ too (see Hollenbeck, 2008). They often have very limited space to publish interesting work, so the role of editors is to find the right paper to attract readers.
  6. Use footnotes. Sometimes, the reviewers want you to expand on certain concepts while you simply do not have the space to do so. You can still acknowledge their comments (and show the readers of your paper you have considered alternatives), without taking up too many valuable words.
  7. Treat the reviewers as experts, as in most cases they will be (provided you chose a respectable journal). So, their suggestions are not meant just as critique but are actually potential ways to make your paper more interesting.
  8. However, do not follow all suggestions religiously. Show some guts and refuse certain points of critique if you do not agree with them. However, always write an extensive cover letter when you submit the revision. Here you can explain choices made, how you went about revising the paper, and carefully argue why you did not follow some of the reviewers’ suggestions. In the end, this is all of help in constructing a more convincing argument.
  9. Leave the review report for a while. The moment you receive a report that contains more pages than your initial submission, it is quite difficult to digest it all at once. Read it, leave it, and then read it again after a week or so.
  10. Read the reports together with colleagues. They are a little more distanced than you are and will probably be able to distinguish the reviewers’ main points from only minor remarks.
  11. If all still does not go well, ventilate your aggression. I highly recommend the Facebook page ‘Reviewer 2 Must Be Stopped
  12. There may be many more tips… Please share your tips below!

In the end, the goal is to end up with a paper that has become better. A part of becoming a scholar is, perhaps, to learn how to deal with critique and use it to your own advantage. Even Albert Einstein’s applications have been rejected.

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Thijs Willems is a Phd candidate in the Organizational Science department. His research projects focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’.

References:

Hollenbeck, J. R. 2008. The role of editing in knowledge development: Consensus shifting and consensus creation. In Y. Baruch, A. M. Konrad, H. Aguinus, & W. H. Starbuck (Eds.), Journal editing: Opening the black box: 16 -26. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Congratulations to Andrea Bandelli

By Socializing Science / Watching Time: 10 Minutes

On April 18, 2016 Andrea Bandelli successfully defended his Phd thesis entitled Contextualising Visitor Participation:Science Centers as a Platform for Scientific Citizenship”.

Andrea Bandelli examined how science museums support this scientific citizenship from the perspective of the museum and its visitors. He found that these museums are places where the public is encouraged and empowered to talk about science, especially the less educated visitors, who have few other opportunities to get involved in science.

Science centers and science museums are not just places where visitors can learn about science; They are also a forum for discussions and debates on the role of science in society. They are, as it were platforms where visitors are “scientific citizens”: places where visitors learn about science and participate in the discussions that shape the role of science and technology in our society.

Bandelli notes that science centers play an important role in the “democratization” of public participation in science. At the same time however, there are barriers that keep them from fully engaging the involvement of the public. For example, fear of doing it wrong, which may block further action.

For more information on Andrea Bandelli, visit his website   at : http://www.bandelli.com

Socializing Science would like to congratulate him and invite you all to watch his defense in this clip.

Early Summer Workshops at the Graduate School of Social Science

socscivu

The Graduate School of Social SciencePh.D. Comic 1s (VU-GSSS) is happy to announce its upcoming (early) summer workshops which will take place in May 2016. The intensive workshops focus on specialized qualitative and/or quantitative methods, and provide you with hands-on experience. Summer workshops are a great way to develop and/or strengthen your skills in between busy semesters of study and work. This year VU-GSSS gives you the chance to start planning ahead with (early) summer workshops.

  • Conducting Meta-Analyses

    (By Prof. Brad Bushman, May 17-20, 2016)

Meta-analyses have become an increasingly important method to summarise a body of evidence on a specific question. More so than traditional narrative reviews, a meta-analysis allows you to objectively combine and test the result of several studies that focus on the same hypothesis. This hands-on workshop is aimed at researchers with general knowledge of conducting quantitative analyses, but who want to learn how to conduct a meta-analytic review.

  •  Programming and Analyzing in R.

     (By Dr. Wouter van Atteveldt, May 23-27, 2015)

R is a statistical toolkit that is becoming increasingly popular for more advanced analyses in the social sciences. Getting started with using R, however, can be quite challenging. This intensive hands-on workshop will get you started using R on your own dataset.

So, what are you waiting for???  Check the Summer Workshops Manual for more information on the courses, credits, fees and timetable here.

Remember to spread the news to fellow colleagues at the VU and at other universities.

To sign up for the courses, or to ask questions and request additional information, email the VU-GSSS at graduate.school.fsw@vu.nl

 

 

How campaigns for the good can adversely strengthen negative prejudice and stereotypes.

camiel photoBy Camiel Beukeboom / Reading time: 7 Minutes

Sometimes attempts to do good have adverse effects. Despite our good intentions we may do more harm than good. Some recent campaigns – all aimed at disproving negative stereotypes and prejudices – unfortunately appear more likely to strengthen negative stereotypic associations than to reduce them. Here is why.

I’m black, but I’m not…

One of these campaigns, published by BuzzFeedYellow and widely shared in social media, shows film clips of individuals from various social categories. One film clip shows black individuals, saying “I am Black, but I’m not…”. Another film clip shows homeless individuals saying “I am homeless, but I’m not…” and there are similar film clips about Muslims, Asians, Latino’s, fat people, and more.

The videos present us with Black people saying they are not “aggressive”, “ghetto”, “violent”, “on welfare”, “lazy”, etc. We see homeless individuals saying they are not “evil”, “drug addicts”, “committing crimes”, “homicidal maniacs”, or “trash”; and we see Muslims saying they are not “angry”, “dangerous”, “terrorists”, “hating America”, or “forced to wear a headscarf”.

black but not aggressiveNow, the tricky adverse effect that the negated messages in these film clips likely produce follows from our research on the negation bias. This research (and other) suggests that negations (as in “X is not aggressive”), are processed as if they were affirmations (i.e., X is aggressive). Even though the link is denied, the message strengthens rather than suppresses thoughts about X being aggressive. Thus, hearing “I am Black, but I am not violent” consequently most likely reinforces a mental association between Black and violent in an audience.

Second, the negated messages communicate what is typically expected for the social category – in other words the apparently existing negative stereotype. Watching the film clips thus teaches these negative associations to people who were still unknowing about them. People who already had (faint) awareness of these associations will have them confirmed.

The attempt to change the stereotypic views occurs in the second parts of the film clips. Here, the same individuals mention characteristics that are stereotype inconsistent (“I am Black, but I am actually …”). They contrast themselves to the generic stereotypic view. This presents them as exceptions to the rule, who happen to have some unexpected other (i.e., positive) characteristics. Unfortunately, this likely conveys that they are outliers; they can be set aside as odd individuals in the context of what everyone stereotypically expects. Such exceptions will more likely have the effect of proving the stereotypic rule in an audience, rather than changing it.

Not a joke (#geengrapje)

This week Dutch minister Jet Bussemaker launched another campaign in the Netherlands aimed at reducing sexism against women. The goal of this campaign says Bussemaker is to create awareness of daily sexism as expressed in denigrating remarks, jokes and ironic remarks. The campaign website (http://geengrapje.nl) presents a film clip in which a number of women provide examples of sexist remarks. These remarks imply that women should smile pretty, be sweet, take care of kids, have their period, serve coffee, become pregnant etc.

Indeed, our research on the irony bias shows that such jokes and ironic remarks have a stereotype confirming and maintaining effect. Just like negations, ironic remarks are most likely used in situations in which a person’s behavior deviates from what is stereotypically expected. For instance when a woman shows dominant behavior in a high status job, an ironic remark (“Well, she sure has a sweet pretty smile”) can function to introduce what is expected for a woman instead. The stereotype expectancies surface in such remarks and thereby have the effect of maintaining them.

#geengrapjeThe adverse effect of this anti-sexism campaign, however, lies in the fact that it confronts its audience with an abundance of the sexist remarks it actually aims to combat. Consequently, the campaign has the same negative effect as the sexist remarks: it activates and maintains negative stereotypic associations with women.

Moreover, the campaign website explicitly notes that making sexist remarks is very common behavior. Unfortunately, depicting an undesired behavior as occuring very frequently (i.e., the descriptive norm) has been shown to be a strong motivator of human behavior. Simply because people tend to do what many other people appear to do (Cialdini, 2003). To make it worse, the campaign invites people to show the unwanted behavior by sharing examples of daily sexism on social media using a hashtag (#geengrapje; not a joke). The consequence: social media are bombarded with sexist jokes with all their detrimental effects on impression formation of women.

The intended message of the campaign is that we should not make sexists jokes. Yet, simultaneously the undesired and stereotype maintaining jokes are demonstrated to us, and both implicitly and explicitly encouraged.

Resisting stereotypes

I realize that the campaigns I discussed stem from good intentions, and they may certainly have positive effects. One positive aspect of these campaigns is that they create awareness of both subtle and blatant forms of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. Creating awareness is obviously good, as it may instigate public debates and brings unconscious forms of discrimination to the surface.

It is, however, frustrating to see that these campaigns simultaneously likely backfire to produce the opposite of what they intend to achieve; feeding negative associations. Stereotypes are highly resistant to change. This is partly due to biased language patterns (only some of which I described here) that serve to maintain them. Campaigns aimed at changing stereotypes must therefore be carefully designed in order to prevent potential unwanted and adverse side effects.

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Camiel Beukeboom is an Assistant Professor in the department of Communication Science at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He is also Program Director of the VU Graduate School of Social Sciences and initiator and editor of the Socializing Science PhD blog. (@camielbeukeboom)

 

References

Beukeboom, C. J. (2014). Mechanisms of linguistic bias: How words reflect and maintain stereotypic expectancies (Chapt.). In J. Laszlo, J. Forgas, & O. Vincze (Eds.), Social Cognition and Communication (pp. 313-330). New York, NY: Psychology Press. Link: http://hdl.handle.net/1871/47698

Beukeboom, C. J., Finkenauer, C., & Wigboldus, D. H. J. (2010). The negation bias: When negations signal stereotypic expectancies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(6), 978-992. Link

Burgers, C., & Beukeboom, C. J. (in press). Stereotype Transmission and Maintenance Through Interpersonal Communication: The Irony Bias. Communication Research. doi: 10.1177/0093650214534975 Link

Cialdini, R. B. (2003). Crafting Normative Messages to Protect the Environment. Current Directions in Psychology, 12, 105-109.
Link

Women’s suffrage: structural conditions & the suffragettes

PalmBy Trineke Palm / Reading Time: 6 Minutes.

Last December Suffragette was premiered in Dutch cinemas. The movie is a penetrating account of the hard fight for the introduction of women’s suffrage in the UK at the beginning of the 20th century. The movie is centered on the role of Emmiline Pankhurst and her suffragettes who strive to acquire this basic political right. Moreover, it provides insights into the societal circumstances of the UK at that time. The movie gets you thinking about (women’s) suffrage in general: how come some countries have been much quicker than others in introducing (women’s) suffrage? What are the factors that influenced this process? And, finally how to put the UK’s stance in a comparative perspective?

SuffragettesAlthough universal suffrage is usually meant to include suffrage for both men and women, well-known and established democratization theories, like the one of Samuel P. Huntington, take male suffrage solely as proxy for measuring democratization. In contrast, as soon as the bar is raised to include women’s suffrage, Huntington’s . Table 1 shows that the timing of male suffrage is not a proxy for the introduction of women’s suffrage. For example, France, Belgium and Switzerland were early in the introduction of male suffrage, but “late” with the introduction of women’s suffrage. In contrast, Austria and Sweden were relatively late in introducing male suffrage, but introduced women’s suffrage “already” just after the First World War. This reveals that an early introduction of male suffrage does not imply an early introduction of women’s suffrage.

As the table shows, both World Wars created a momentum for extending suffrage to women. However, a war cannot as such explain the timing of women’s suffrage as some countries introduced it after the First World War and others only after the Second World War.

Table 1 Introduction of women’s suffrage relative to male suffrage

quella giusta

Although the democratization literature focuses on male suffrage, suffragettes did not escape academic attention, focusing in particular on the success of women’s movement. For example, in her research Lee Ann Banaszak compares the women’s movements in the US and Switzerland. She focuses on the tactics used by the women’s movements in these two countries to explain their (lack of) success; while the US suffragettes were more confrontational, the Swiss movement used a more consensus oriented tactic. While these studies point at the agenda-setting role of suffragettes, they underestimate the constraining or enabling importance of structural conditions. Suffragettes did not emerge and did not operate in a political vacuum. To understand the conditions under which women’s suffrage was introduced early or late,, we have to look at the structural causes. To this effect, I have used Stein Rokkan’s cleavage theory, about fundamental divisions in society. These cleavages concern fundamental conflicts between different societal groups, which played an important role in the process of nation-building.

Political WomenRokkan distinguishes between 4 cleavages: 1) ethnic-linguistic, 2) religious, 3) sectoral (agriculture vs. industry), 4) class. It is expected that ethnic-linguistic fragmentation will delay the introduction of women’s suffrage, because the “women’s issue” is swallowed by other political conflicts. The same applies to the presence of a class conflict. With regards to the sectoral cleavage, we would that in a society with a relatively large agricultural sector women’s suffrage is introduced relatively early, because women stand on more equal footing with men than in an industrial society. These cleavages are not mutually exclusive – rather, it is the combination that matters.

In my research of 13 West-European countries the absence of an ethnic-linguistic cleavage is a necessary condition for an early introduction of women’s suffrage (with the notable exception of Finland).

Table 2 Early introduction of women’s suffrage

table 1

This is in line with the expectation that either suffrage is extended first to the men of the minority population (at the expense of extending suffrage to women), or this ethnic-linguistic cleavage divides women, preventing them to act as a united front. This absence of the ethnic-linguistic cleavage, however, is not sufficient – see France and Italy (table 3). In these countries a religious cleavage, combined with a class cleavage, result in the late introduction of women’s suffrage.

Table 3 Late introduction of women’s suffrage

table 3

Moreover, in contrast to Teri Carraway claims, my study shows that the class cleavage does not necessarily delay the introduction of women’s suffrage; it all depends on the presence of a religious cleavage.In short, to explain the timing of the introduction of women’s suffrage in Western Europe we have to take into account the societal conditions of a given country. However, this does not play down the importance of the agency of women to put the issue of women’s suffrage on the agenda, as highlighted by Lee Ann Banaszak.

Glass cealingA lot has changed since the introduction of women’s suffrage – the legal and actual position of women in the public realm has been much improved. Nevertheless, the discussion about the position of women in the public domain is still a matter of debate, e.g. the “glass ceiling” in academia and business.

The fight for formal political equality was just a start!

Which structural cleavages play a role in these “new” fights for equality?

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Trineke Palm MSc is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration. Her research is funded by a NWO Research Talent Grant and deals with the character of the EU’s foreign policy.

Comparing conferences – different crowds, different questions

testBy Tamara Bouwman / Reading Time: 5 Minutes / 

After so many years of being a PhD-candidate I’ve seen my share of conferences! In 2015 I attended three completely different conferences: one before summer, and two after (so I had time for a vacation IN summer 😉 ). ‘Different how?’ you may wonder – well, there are three main differences that I will point out in this blog: size of the conferences, topic (or field) and presentation-type.  I will briefly tell you about the three conferences and extract the best aspects of each of them. By doing so, I will be better prepared  for future conferences and make sure I get the most out of each conference visit!

phd052202s

The first conference was the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics – European Region (IAGG-ER) Congress in Dublin, Ireland (23-26 April). The theme of the conference was ‘Unlocking the Demographic Divided’.  This conference was a large gathering of scholars from all over the world. The size of the conference meant that sometimes there were up to 10 sessions parallel to each other. I was in one of these sessions and had about 10 minutes to tell the audience all about my work. A seemingly impossible task, which I somehow managed.

The second conference took place in mid-September (17 and 18 September) in Warsaw, Poland. This was the European Society for Research on Internet Interventions (esrii). The theme of this conference was:  ‘Internet Interventions for People and for Science’. At this conference, I gave a presentation of approximately 15-20 minutes. A funny thing was that I met a group of colleagues there from our own psychology department. Apparently, you have to go to the other side of Europe to meet people who actually work across campus from you.

The third conference was a Dutch conference held in Ede on October 2nd. This was the NVG-KNOWS conference – the conference of the Dutch association for gerontology- during which I presented a poster. The crowd that attended this conference was very mixed: there were fellow scholars, but also a lot of practitioners and other professionals.  It was a one-day conference, so a lot had to be done in one day and sessions were scheduled closely after another. The poster session was scheduled during the morning coffee break.

Conference Size:

I will now tell you about the differences. The first difference that I would like to discuss here is conference size. The IARR-ER conference was a large conference. Compared to this, the other two were small-scale, the internet intervention-conference (esrii) especially. It was hosted at one of Warsaw’s universities instead of the usual large-scale conference venue. Instead of 10 sessions parallel to each other, this conference consisted of only 10 presentation sessions and some additional (poster) sessions. A great advantage of this was that there was more time for the presentations. There was less hurry than at the IARR-ER, and I was allowed 15-20 minutes for my talk.

Presentation-type:

Considering presentation-type, I really enjoyed the set-up of the poster presentations at the Dutch gerontological NVG conference. Instead of leaving the participants just wander among the posters, the organization decided to make it a bit more structured. The posters were grouped into four topics so that interested participants could join one of the four topics for a pitch with each of the posters. I found this was a nice set-up, because in addition to one-on-one sessions, you also got the opportunity to talk to larger group all in once. Of course, later on there was also room for more in depth one-on-one discussions.

Topic:

And, finally, the topic (or field) of the conference. The first and the last conferences were gerontology conferences, whereas the middle one was (mainly) in the field of psychology. I did notice quite some differences between the questions I got asked by the different audiences. While at the Dutch gerontology NVG conference I got some more practical questions on the benefit of the research for people in ‘real-life’, the questions at the other two conferences focused a bit more on theory and especially on methodology.

phd082704s

In sum, I know more about my own conference preferences now.  As for size of the conference I must admit that the smaller conferences allow for more interaction with people you don’t know. At the big conferences, on the other hand, you can easily feel lost, both due to the huge amount of participants and the huge amount of content that comes flying at you (For survival tips read Marieke van Wieringen’s blog on how not to drown at conferences). All in all, I would advise (starting) PhD’s to try a bit of everything! So you should try to attend both big and small-scale conferences.

If you have the chance, I also strongly suggest you to participate in conferences in different fields, like I did by attending the very psychological focused conference on internet interventions. The different focus and questions you get asked will give you new ideas! Finally, If you haven’t done a poster presentation at a conference yet I can highly recommend it! It allows for a whole other type of interaction with interested people!

I’m very curious about you experiences – have you been to different conferences? And what differences (or maybe similarities) did you notice?

helpful tips

(If you want to know how to make a good poster read these two blogs: How to make a successful research poster? and  The aesthetics of science)

 

 

 

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Tamara Bouwman MSc is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Sociology. Her research project is about developing and testing a multifaceted, web-based, friendship program for adults aged 50 years

A plea for boring research (and how to make it interesting)

Thijs WillemsBy Thijs Willems / Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

A widely cited article from 1971 by Murray Davis starts as follows:

“It has long been thought that a theorist is considered great, not because his theories are true, but because they are interesting[1] (p. 309).

Although Davis’ claim might be provocative to some, I will not throw down this gauntlet here in this blog. Instead, I want to show how I discovered in my research that the interesting stuff is sometimes found in what at first sight may seem utterly boring or mundane. By means of pursue and persistence, the interesting can be found in the boring.

My research is about collaboration between the different railway organizations in the Netherlands. These organizations have had a rather turbulent history (see, for just one example out of many: http://bit.ly/1HVeJ2X) and with all the current media-attention and public opinions about the performance of NS and ProRail, it is hard to see what exactly is boring about my research. Nonetheless, not long after I started my fieldwork I took interest in the work of train dispatchers, who are responsible for the safe and efficient coordination of trains through stations. In practice, however, most of their work is automatized and dispatchers are mostly busy with the task of monitoring. Monitoring means: lean back in your chair and watch the computer systems do your work.

this3At first sight, I hardly considered to study these monitoring practices into more detail. It was difficult for me to believe that it would be of any significance for my research. However, after observing the dispatchers for quite some time and hearing them talk about their own work, I soon realized that perhaps it is exactly these apparently boring practices that may reveal  a very interesting world of railway employees. In the end, monitoring actually became one of the topics of my research*.
Instead of ‘doing nothing’, monitoring revealed how dispatchers, by means of their computer screens, ‘see and sense’ the railways. Whereas I saw dots, numbers and lines that apparently supposed to represent the actual train service, dispatchers saw an actual, concrete railway world.

This seeing and sensing is based on the fact that many dispatchers have been working for the railways for decades and gained a massive amount of practical knowledge. This may be knowledge ranging from how railway switches work to contextual details of the landscape adjacent to the tracks. John, one of the dispatchers I studied, told me how he once guided  the police (by phone) to a location very close to the tracks where one train driver saw a group of children playing with a ball. At first instance, the police could not find the exact location, but John was able to tell them that “they had to approach the area from the other side, just in front of the sawmill, as there’s a big viaduct blocking easy access”.

Claire, another dispatcher, told me stories about her previous work as a train driver,and how this helped her in being a good dispatcher. Every other day, someone in the Netherlands commits suicide by jumping in front of a train. This can have a tremendous impact on train drivers. The dispatchers are a drivers’ first point of communication after witnessing such a horrible situation. According to Claire, she is capable of having this conversation with the driver in an efficient way (to reduce the impact of this incident for other trains) because she does so emphatically. In other words, her experience as a train driver and witnessing what it means to see someone ‘jump’, is of great influence how she does her job. These stories that lay beneath the ‘boring’ practice of monitoring, taught me how collaboration between the different organizations during disruptions is much more than what I would ever read in handbooks or manuals.

Boring stuff may make you yawn in the first instance.But, there are several strategies through which you can possibly make the boring more interesting:

  • Persist! Whenever you notice something boring, don’t walk away. It may take some time before you can appreciate your observations as more than dull. Always remember the saying: ‘Ambition is the path to success, persistence is the vehicle you arrive in’.
  • Zoom in! From a distance, boring stuff is boring. Make it more interesting by getting up and close. I can guarantee you that even the 50 most boring things in the world will eventually reveal some very unexpected insights.
  • Breach! There have been numerous scholars studying the boring and mundane after Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), ranging from how people queue in supermarkets to how people greet each other on the streets. One of the ways these scholars reveal the interesting in the mundane, is by breaching the social norms and implicit rules to which these actions are organized. So, the next time someone asks you ‘How are you doing?’, do not reply with the standard ‘Great’ but try the following: ‘What do you mean, how am I doing? Do you mean mentally? Physically?’. I can assure you an interesting conversation will emerge.

Here you have it, my plea for boring research. I highly recommend Davis’ somewhat provocative article and hope that you will value the generation of ‘interesting’ new theory as much as the testing or verification of ‘uninteresting’ existing ones.

References

Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall.

Davis, M. S. (1971). That’s interesting. Philosophy of the social sciences, 1(2), 309.

[1] Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall.

* The paper I wrote about monitoring was presented at the Process Symposium on Kos, Greece. I would like to thank the Graduate Fund for the financial support to go there.

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Thijs Willems is a Phd candidate in the Organizational Science department. His research projects focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’.