March 2009


As the time to submit something for the scientiae carnival draws nearer, it was very difficult to decide on the challenge I want to share. Partially, this is because too many details and anonymity is out the door. Partially because it looks like my biggest challenge is now.

There’s only a couple of months left for me to finish my PhD, and a part of that is resolving around 4 datasets that should give the same results but – very frustrastingly – aren’t. Let me explain.

Dataset 1A was gathered in 2006 and gave very interesting results. Another student was engaged to follow up and this and ran a partial replication, giving us Dataset 2A (2007). However, results from 1A and 2A turned out to be opposite. This was rather distressing, since I’d published about dataset 1A by then!
After much hemming and hawing, I decided to do a full replication of both 1A and 2A. The data were gathered last year, so now I have also datasets 1B and 2B.
And while 1A and 1B are reassuringly similar (down to having the same fit problems due to a one-dimensionality assumption), 2A and 2B are not similar. Considering that 2 is already a partial replication of 1, it is rather difficult to explain WHY neither 2A nor 2B give the same results as 1A or 1B. But wait… it gets better! 2B also doesn’t replicate 2A! So the past couple of months have been soent with looking at other ways to analyse these data: some very in-depth explorative data analyses and some new ways to try and find out about the possible multi-dimensionality of these data.

The data have my tearing out my hair (almost literally), because in my planning I’d already finished this off by now and moved on to another dataset. And while all this hassle may prove to be the connection that I’m looking for, and while it is very interesting, I’m also on a deadline.
There’s another meeting with my supervisor in two weeks, let’s work so that there’s progress to report by then.

Also, before I added this sentence, word count was 333.

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Recently, all my supervisors and I came together to discuss the direction, planning and work-in-progress of my PhD. While knowing that my supervisors are good people and would have notified me earlier if something really wrong was going on, I still have been dreading this meeting. Why? Because I felt I would be ‘outed’ as having done nothing relevant over the past year. Even though I know bloody well I have… but somehow it didn’t feel like enough. I still feel like a slacker.

The outcome of the meeting was quite positive, but now there’s a rather ambitious planning and if I can’t stick to that I might feel like I’ve let everybody down (again).

When teaching a course that includes students from different years, should one take experience into account? Judging from the article FSP referred to, the students would probably much prefer this. That way, when grading assignments, second years are only compared to second years. However, they could learn more by being compared to third years. Climb up a level they didn’t consider yet… Not to mention that third years can also learn from second years.

Yes, a year of extra experience can help when the main point of the assignment is to write a structured argument, but it is by no means certain that everybody has learned this so far. At least, judging from the handed in assignments, years didn’t make a lot of difference. Paying attention probably counted for a lot more, and rereading the given literature. I don’t know how much effort students put in their assignment, but it is not possible for me to grade them on that anyhow. Of course, it is possible to have put in a lot of effort while not executing the assignment as asked. Is this a lot of effort down the drain? No, learn from it!

Admittedly, none of the students have really complained about being in mixed groups after the course started. Probably it isn’t as difficult as they thought to find time nobody has other commitments, or the topic is interesting enough to keep them coming back for more. At least two students mentioned that so far they find the reading material interesting and fascinating to discuss about so that’s good news for next year. Let’s hope it’s also reflected in the course evaluation, by the way. It would be nice to be able to show 2 positive evaluations from teaching positions.

The most fun part of this course is to see the students grow in experience, knowledge and self-confidence. It’s good to know that I can realise that!