By Jitske Both-Nwabuwe | reading time: 5 minutes
At one point in your PhD career you will most likely present some of your work at a conference. The first time can be scary. I know I was! It was pretty scary to fly halfway across the globe to present to people I did not know.
I had my first conference presentation at the 2nd Meaningful Work Symposium in Auckland, New-Zealand. In this blog I share my experiences and give you some tips and tricks on how to prepare and survive your first conference presentation.
Phase 1: Preparations before the conference
You got the acceptance e-mail: you are going to present at a conference! I do not know about you, but for me – after the initial thrill – I started to worry: How am I going to pull this off? Well just follow these tips:
Maybe be you have a fellow PhD student who can present very well. He or she is your hero concerning presentation skills. Well, find this fellow PhD student and ask for help.
Usually your paper, which you are about to present, contains multiple key messages. However, you cannot tell them all! A general rule: for every key message you need 10 minutes. Try to find out how much time you will actually have and choose your key message wisely. I ended up choosing the ‘wrong’ key message. So make sure you know the reason why your article was accepted. Don’t worry if you can’t tell about everything that is important. People will ask you to share more during the round of questions. They did so after my presentation, so be prepared!
Ask yourself, what do you like to see: a picture or a sheet full of words? Right, the idiom “a picture is worth more than a thousand words” is also very true for your conference presentation. Try to use pictures instead of words. The slides are there to support your verbal message. Do not write down the whole story on your slides.
Your audience members are human beings. Human beings like to be entertained. So present your main message with some fun. This can be a story, an anecdote or a funny picture. In my case I used the anecdote of President Kennedy visiting NASA Space centre.
This includes practicing in front of yourself in the mirror. Then, practice in front of your family. Most likely your family will listen and nod friendly. They will, however, not understand the message. But they can give you great feedback on the speed of your words, pronunciations, jokes etc. Also try to practice in front of your supervisors. And finally, practice in front of yourself in the mirror again. Especially when you are not a native speaker it is good to practice with pronunciations. The general rule is: practice at least three times and one time more than you think is necessary.
Phase 2: During the conference and presentation
So it is your time to present. Whether you are first or last, it does not matter. This is your moment and you should grab it. If you have practiced your presentation, you will do fine. Here are some tips if:
If your presentation does not start (like mine), do not panic. Just ask for help.
When your presentation is finished and you get a question you cannot answer: do not panic. It is a good sign if you get questions. People relate to your story and you made them think. Difficult questions are a good sign as well: you made them think deeply! If you do not know the answer, no problem, just ask a question in return. Can you explain? What do you mean? And make it interactive. You are here to exchange ideas and to get feedback on your work to improve it.
Phase 3: After the presentation
Be proud (no matter how it went). You have survived and made your introduction to the scientific community! Enjoy the rest of the conference and the pub later. Connect with the people who asked questions and the other presenters. In the end this is the main purpose of presenting at conferences; getting to know colleagues in your field of expertise.
Veni, vidi, vici
So I survived my first conference presentation. Although it did not go perfectly, I had fun, got thought-provoking questions, learnt a lot, and met interesting colleagues. I hope my experiences, tips and tricks will help you to prepare and survive your first conference presentation.
For more tips on tricks on presentations you can also read the blog: ‘how to make a successful research poster‘.
Jitske Both-Nwabuwe is a PhD candidate in the Organizational Science department. Her research focuses on ‘The role of meaningful work in the sustainable employability of nurses‘.
N.B. trip was partially funded by the VU Graduate School of Social Sciences (VU-GSSS), for which I was really grateful
By 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.
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:
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.
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’.
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.
By Socializing Science / Watching Time: 10 Minutes
On March 29, 2016 Adina Nerghes successfully defended her Phd thesis entitled “Words in Crisis: A relational perspective of emergent meanings and roles in text.“. In her own words, Adina explains her research: Can we infer rich information from `big text data’? And how can we use text-analytical methods to infer such rich information from large text collections with different characteristics? These are some of the questions that guided the aims and outcomes of her research.
For more information on Adina Nerghes, visit her website at : http://www.adinanerghes.com
Socializing Science would like to congratulate her and invite you all to watch her defense in this clip.
By Socializing Science / Watching Time: 10 Minutes
On March 16, 2016 Anouk van Leeuwen successfully defended her Phd thesis entitled “Protest! Studies on Protest Politicization, Perceived Protest Atmosphere, and Protest Policing”. In her thesis, she explores protests and their contours: How do demonstrators experience protests’ atmospheres, and why? Does such perception influence his/her willingness to join street protests in the future? And how can it be determined whether one street protest is more political in nature than others?. This are just some of the questions she addresses.
Socializing Science would like to congratulate her and invite you all to watch her defense in this clip.
By 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
Conferences may be a one-day event, or last two or three days. When you include pre-conference workshops, which are common in some fields, conferences may even cover 5 full days. Sounds tiring? It is, in a way. Still, conferences are actually quite useful (as described by Anouk van Leeuwen in ” Is participating in academic conferences worth the time and money?“). That is, if you do not drown in the overwhelming amount of sessions, lunches, dinners, drinks and/or other social events. The question is: how? How not to drown at conferences? The simple answer: chose your sessions wisely ahead of the conference’ start.
Obviously, I have learned this the hard way myself. As a fourth year PhD student, I have attended quite some conferences. Fanatically attending every single round of sessions, I oftentimes found my attention slowly but steadily decreasing, sometimes already on the first day. Yet, this would generally not hamper me to continue in the same vein the next conference day(s). The consequence: when someone would ask me which sessions I had attended, I generally had difficulty remembering their content. Of course, I nonetheless also did learn from those sessions. However, I always needed the notes that I had made during the sessions to remember what I learned and liked exactly.
During my most recent conference visit, I decided to go about it differently. After two days of pre-conference workshops, I attended only one (to be honest, actually only half a) paper session on the third day. After that, I went for a run. Why? First of all, because I felt like it. Second, because the weather was way too good to stay inside. Third, because I was in the beautiful city of Vancouver, which is surrounded by water, ‘beaches’ and mountains, and because I was staying close to the marvelous Stanley park. From all of this, I basically had seen nothing yet. My run came with some spectacular views indeed (see below)! Fourth, and most importantly, I went for a run because there were no sessions in the program that afternoon that were of much interest to me. So why stay?
I know why you might stay, and will tell you why do not have to. To start, you may be afraid to miss out on a session that potentially could turn out to be of interest to your research after all. I know I was. However, I learned that sessions that did not grapple my intention in the program in the first place, never turned out to be interesting; on the contrary. You may also feel you have to stay because your university, graduate school, or may be even your own supervisor is paying for your visit to the conference. No worries, they will not be angry or, worse, disappointed if you wisely decide to take some time off to relax and re-energize so you can gain more from the sessions to come. If you are afraid to be caught skipping sessions by your supervisor, remember that when your supervisor finds you not attending a session, s/he is not attending either. More importantly, your supervisor has better things to do than checking on you, like enjoying the city themselves. (Make sure, though, that they come and attend the session in which you present your work!)
After my run and the afternoon off, I felt re-energized, and ready for two more days of ‘conferencing’. During these two days, I met a range of interesting people and got inspired by the sessions that I attended. Why? Because I attended the sessions that were of interest to me.
Yes, I had come prepared this time: before flying to the other side of the world, I had ploughed the program and made a selection of sessions that appealed to me. You can do the latter, for example, based on the (famous) people who will be presenting. If available, you could also have a quick reading of the papers that are presented. This will help you make informed choices, and also increase your involvement in the discussions during the sessions. Given that conference presentations generally only last 10-15 minutes there is only so much presenters can tell, and you oftentimes end up with only a hint of what a paper is actually about.
When you read the paper in advance, or have a look at previous work of the presenter, you are able to (publicly!) give intelligent comments or ask questions, which is always good at conferences, or so they say. Moreover, it will help you to get in touch with the presenters afterwards.
So, instead of attending each and every session, my humble advice is to skip some, to choose your sessions wisely, prepare for those sessions, and join the discussions. To be honest, I have not actually joined in many plenary discussions at previous conferences. However, I will definitely (try again) next time… I will keep you posted!
Marieke van Wieringen is a PhD candidate at the department of Organization Science. Her research focuses on how actors within home care organizations perceive and act upon different institutional demands in their day-to-day work.
By The Graduate School of Social Sciences / Reading Time: 5 Minutes
The Graduate School of Social Sciences (VU-GSSS) is happy to announce its upcoming summer workshops which will take place in June/July 2015. 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.
And in between your hard labour you can enjoy the summer in wonderful Amsterdam.
Well, here goes a summary of the courses’ content and objectives.
(By Prof. Brad Bushman, June 15-19, 2015)
The course aims at providing you with the essential tools to conduct high-quality meta-analysis. By the end of this course, participants: (1) will be able to formulate a topic to conduct a meta‐analysis on; (2) will be able to conduct a literature review to collect relevant studies for their topic; (3) will be able to code relevant variables from the studies they retrieve; (4) will be able to meta‐analyze the effects from the studies they retrieved; (5) will be able to interpret and write up the meta‐analytic results
During the five days of the course you will review and discuss important aspects about conducting meta-analysis research. And, most importantly, during the afternoons you will apply the techniques learned on your own project!!
(By Dr. Wouter van Atteveldt, June 22-26, 2015)
R is a statistical toolkit that is becoming increasingly popular for more advanced analyses in the social sciences. R has a number of advantages over other toolkits such as SPSS and STATA. It is free of charge and open source, and it is very easy to write additional packages to add functionality.
The good news is, once you’ve learned to use R, you have access to a vast array of statistical methods and visualization techniques and to extremely versatile data processing and visualization techniques. R. This intensive hands‐on workshop will get you started using R on your own dataset. The course will provide you with both theory and hands-on practice. After having discussed the topics related to analysing in R, you will have the opportunity to use R on both provided data and your own project’s data. On the final day of course you will finally present the progress of your analyses and visualization in R: a great chance to receive feedbacks from your fellow colleagues and from the instructor.
(By Dr. Jona Linde & Dr. Camiel Beukeboom, June 29- July 3, 2015)
This course will provide you with the tools to successfully design and use experiments in your project. Experiments are a very common tool in many fields of social science (e.g. communication science; organization science, psychology) and are becoming more common in fields where experiments used to be rare (e.g. political science). This course offers you a great chance to expand your knowledge of experiments and their tailored use in social sciences’ research.
The workshop will cover the philosophy of science behind experimental research, many examples of different types of research questions and experiments, the use of experiments in different social sciences, and practical issues for designing, conducting and reporting proper experiments.
Theory and practice will go hand in hand. You will not only be taught how to successfully design and carry out an experiment, but will also have the chance to update an existing design that can be used in your own research.
(By Prof. Francesca Polletta & Dr. Jacomijne Prins, July 6- 8, 2015)
Interviewing is a standard technique in social research, yet it poses numerous practical challenges. How should you decide whether to do individual or group interviews? How many interviews do you need? How should you deal with sensitive topics? How should you make sense of your data? Can the things people say in an interview setting be taken as what they really believe?
These are the main questions which you will be able to answer to after having attended the course.
During the workshop you will you will cover four main topics: 1) deciding whether to use individual or focus group interviews, 2) choosing a method and sample, 3) conducting interviews, 4) analyzing interview data and writing up findings. For a further intensive workshop on part 4, you can additionally follow the next workshop.
Whether or not you have already set up your project, this course will help you in developing the required skills for reflecting critically on the practical, ethical, and theoretical issues involved in interview‐based research
(By Prof. Barbara Risman, July 13- 15, 2015)
As a researcher you observe, make notes of you observations, interview people, sometimes take pictures, use written and electronic archives and do ethnography. The workshop is designed to equip participants with conceptual tools for analyzing qualitative (e.g., interview) data. Participants will develop hands on skills with how to analyze qualitative data using Atlas Ti by completing in‐class exercises with data provided. Finally, the third objective of this workshop is to provide skills to successfully turn qualitative analysis into manuscripts that can be submitted to journals for review.
The main focus of the course is on analyzing qualitative data once you have collected them.
During the three days of the workshop you will be practically trained on understanding the conceptual background of computer assisted qualitative analysis thru coding data and analysis. If available you can practice on your own data.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition, there are more courses available in the Amsterdam Summer School. For instance have a look at the highly recommended course “Big Data in Society”, taught by a number of Professors from our Faculty:
Fieldwork is sort of a dating site between the data and you. Tricking your dance partner will certainly make you fall, but knowing a few moves in advance can work well.
Previously, I wrote something about how to lose your way in the fieldwork and keep it cool; and on how your research can actually gain from such uncertainty. Despite how counter-intuitive it sounds, It takes experience to be lost, and a novice spirit to keep it cool.
Since the scientific progress is cumulative, I offer below some fieldwork tips based on my humble experience (nanos gigantum humeris insidentes); and since it is collective, please share yours in the comments section.
The previous post, “Field is the answer, what is the question?” is the first tip. As I said, Sometimes you find data, and sometimes data finds you. Fieldwork is sort of a dating site between the two of you. (See, you were planning to read one post, but there happens to be one more. Keep this tab open, and please come back after a brief detour.)
Before the fieldwork, we often have to choose types of informants who are expected to give the most detailed information –the key informants. We often plan the hours we work with them, schedule interviews. We organize our time and space in the field according to the expectations we had on the desk.
You shall realize, however, that unplanned encounters can be equally valuable. The doorman can know more about the networks of people in a town than the mayor. The waiter in the local restaurant can tell you more about the habits of people than the officers of the cultural planning branch. And an unemployed young man can define neoliberalism better than the books on your desk.
Having your recorder always on and your field notebook always open will not work; it can distance the daily encounters you may have. But if you keep communicating with random people in your off-work time, you may obtain new insights that you could never have planned.
For a country where the state authorization is the sole source of legitimacy, be sure to have your permits with you at all times in the field. A piece of paper with a local governor’s stamp may mean nothing to you, but in a remote village when a suspicious person asks about it, that paper can win you the village.
Having said that, an official permit to research is not the best way to earn trust; the surest way to access people is to have someone from the community to introduce you.
In the Tugelaweg project, where I studied the low income families’ struggle in the housing market, knocking doors with the renovation company’s contact person turned out to be very wrong: neighbors who saw me with the company employee thought that I worked for the company, and this initially prevented my access to the people who were opposing to the project. Only after I managed to gain trust of an opposing group leader, I had an access to the rest of my sample.
In the Turkish fieldwork, where I took part in an origin-of-migration study, I noticed that the local community leaders are much more trusted than the province governors. Sweet talking with village heads opened more doors than official authorisation stamps would have. And, if I manage to convince the local Imam to announce the study in the village (from the loudspeakers of the mosque where the call for prayer -the azan- is made) then the open doors would certainly be welcoming.
While the results of complex logistic regression models are what counts in our papers, I actually developed the core ideas of my dissertation during my stay in a central Anatolia town for a month. It may sound surprising that the SPSS and Stata on my desk often came to the same conclusions with locals who told me about their town and its people. My analysis with thousands of respondents involved computer power, while their power in knowledge was accumulated by thousands of daily encounters.
Certainly, there are questions that a local key informant cannot answer, such as independent events that confound complex outcomes; but there are also questions that a quad-core computer cannot answer either, such as the sense-making processes of human beings with altering perceptions.
So, listen with both ears, and mark their words.
This will sound silly when you are rushing through deadlines, learning state-of-the-art statistical methods, pushing top journals and building the best CV, but…
Work to live.
Your CV may have your name on it, together with some of the good things you did, but your CV is not your whole story.
If you are best at being completely focused on collecting data in the field, and doing the best analysis possible back at your desk, you could soon be replaced with an artificial intelligence doing the best data mining possible from a remote server in China. And it will probably do it better and cheaper than you.
But if you are not afraid to err, then do something irresistibly random, and end up reaching an unexpected conclusion; congratulations, you are human.
Efe Kerem Sözeri is a Phd Candidate in the Sociology Department. His research project “Political baggage and Ideological Remittance” explores how the migration experience influences (or fails to influence) the political preferences and attitudes of Turkish labour migrants and their descendants, both in Western Europe and in Turkey. More info on his personal page
Using a good title for your academic paper is very important to attract interested readers. Yet, quite often titles are uninformative and/or anything but attractive. Authors often manage to formulate a “completely ineffective title (…) that repels and puts off potential readers” apparently “to ensure that as few as possible are motivated to look beyond the title to the abstract, or the full text.” (Writing for Research, 2014). I like to focus on one excellent way to formulate a repulsive title: Namely to use the most annoying cliché title imaginable – that is, anything derived from the Shakespearean phrase “to be or not to be – that is the question”.
In order to test my disquieting suspicion how badly milked this title really is, I ran some searches in Google Scholar and Web of science. This revealed an impressive prevalence of Shakespearean titles. Searching Google scholar for “Or not to” in titles resulted in 12,900 hits. The same query in Web of science revealed 11,487 titles. Moreover, many titles include the “that is the question” part in the title. Google scholar gave 1,830 hits including it, and web of science gave 1,662 “that is the question” titles. I even found 1160 hits in Google scholar for titles including the whole shebang (i.e., the combination of “or not to” and “that is the question”).
Based on my rough search I will now provide you with some easy ways to also include the marvelous Shakespearean to-be-or-not-to-be phrase in your title:
1. Simply replace “be” with whatever is the topic of your paper. To give you some (recent) examples:
To date or not to date, that is the question: older single gay men’s concerns about dating. Suen, Yiu Tung (2015). Sexual And Relationship Therapy.
To reheat, or to not reheat: that is the question: The efficacy of a local reheating protocol on mechanisms of cutaneous vasodilatation. Del Pozzi, Andrew T.; Hodges, Gary J. (2015). Microvascular Research.
To pill or not to pill in GnRH antagonist cycles: that is the question! Garcia-Velasco, Juan A.; Fatemi, Human M. (2015). Reproductive Biomedicine Online.
To Drink or Not to Drink: That Is the Question. Rubin, Emanuel (2014). Alcoholism-Clinical And Experimental Research
To fractionate or not to fractionate? That is the question for the radiosurgery of hypoxic tumors. Toma-Dasu, Iuliana; Sandstrom, Helena; Barsoum, Pierre; et al. (2014) Journal Of Neurosurgery.
2. If possible you could also add your topic of investigation behind “be”:
To be or not to be… stationary? That is the question. DE Myers (1989). Mathematical Geology.
To be or not to be (challenged), that is the question: Task and ego orientations among high-ability, high-achieving adolescents. DY Dai (2000). The Journal of Experimental Education.
Optimized microphone deployment for near-field acoustic holography: To be, or not to be random, that is the question MR Bai, JH Lin, KL Liu (2010). Journal of Sound and Vibration.
To be or not to be humorous in class—That is the question. V Kothari, DS Rana, AS Khade (1993). Journal of Marketing Education.
Phytosterols: to be or not to be toxic; that is the question. G Lizard (2008). British Journal of Nutrition.
3. If the above does not fit to your topic, don’t worry. The easiest thing to do, is to just attach the to-be-or-not-to phrase to whatever is the topic of investigation. This works always, even if there is no apparent particular relevance:
The role of bone marrow biopsy in Hodgkin lymphoma staging: “To be, or not to be, that is the question”? M Hutchings (2012). Leukemia & Lymphoma.
To be, or not to be: Paradoxes in strategic public relations in Italy. C Valentini, K Sriramesh (2014). Public Relations Review.
The metabolic syndrome: To be or not to be, that is the question. PJ Grant, DK McGuire (2006). Diabetic Medicine.
To Be or Not to Be, That is the Question: Contemporary Military Operations and the Status of Captured Personnel. GS Corn, ML Smidt – Army Law (1999). HeinOnline.
To be, or not to be, that is the question: Apoptosis in human trophoblast. R Levy, DM Nelson (2000). Placenta.
To be, or not to be, that is the question: an empirical study of the WTP for an increased life expectancy at an advanced age. M Johannesson, PO Johansson (1996). Journal of Risk and Uncertainty.
And finally, if you still did not succeed. Just stick to the “to-be-or-not-to” phrase without adding anything significant. This example is particularly nice, with its frisky quotation marks around “be”.
Editorial: To “be” or not to “be”: that is the question. CT Frenette, RG Gish (2009). The American Journal of Gastroenterology
The above examples unfortunately do not cover all. The list goes on and on. For me, scrolling through the lists linked above simultaneously evoked subtle seizures of helpless laughter and a strong sense of discomfort. The lack of creativity is really disturbing. So please, please for my wellbeing, but also for your own good, take my advice and stay away from Shakespearian titles. These cliché titles do not leave a great impression about the author’s sense of creativity. Neither does it augur much about the content of the paper. I will certainly not read it and definitely not cite it. Because even before I start reading the abstract I will have turned away in aversion and vicarious shame.
Camiel Beukeboom is an Assistant Professor in the department of Communication Science at VU University 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)