How to find your tools of the trade

In this blog post Patricia Herterich, the Research Repository Advisor in the University of Birmingham Library, provides a summary and reflection of the Writing Summer School session “Navigating the maze of research and writing tools”…

Using the right tools is crucial to make your research and writing processes as efficient as possible. There are plenty of tools to choose from to support the full research life cycle from discovering literature related to research to publishing and promoting your own works. To get a better understanding, Bianca Kramer and Jeroen Bosman surveyed the tools used by researchers around the world for 9 months in 2015/16. The more than 20,000 survey answers can be accessed for detailed research and inspired some workflows based on e.g. services offered by the same provider or services that support the ideas of Open Science.

In general it can be said that the more of these systems work together, the easier your work. Thus, the first part of the session focused on getting attendees to think about the tools and systems they use and which of them can exchange data. Some examples were shared on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/Coralfrog/status/877534652625539072

https://twitter.com/Fi_na21/status/877505738700148736

The second half of the session was filled by group discussions about the participants’ favourite tools, and criteria that make us choose certain tools or stop us from using them.

Writing Tools Photo

Important criteria for workshop attendees were that tools were free (or cheap) to use or licensed by the university, come with a friendly user interface, and work on several operating systems and are thus compatible with private and university computers. Furthermore, students counted on recommendations by others (e.g. in their research group) so they can share knowledge with other people in their department and collaborate more easily. Tools should also be open source, be easily connected to other programs, and allow for content to be exported to other systems. Even better if there’s training available on campus or online!

Some of the attendees’ favourite tools included the reference manager Mendeley because its user friendly interface outweighs occasional synchronisation issues between desktop and cloud hosted versions of the software. Quirkos was mentioned as it supports qualitative analysis in a visual way, but do not underestimate more traditional tools such as NVivo or Excel.

Still looking for the right tool to use? A full database with tools you can use (that can be filtered by e.g. discipline) can be accessed here. Why not set yourself a challenge and use one of the next shut up & write sessions to try and familiarise yourself with a new tool?

Most important however is to back up whatever you do and regularly export your work in open file formats in case you lose access to the tools. While Dropbox and GoogleDrive might be great, we recommend using the University of Birmingham’s BEAR DataShare service, especially if parts of your work cover sensitive and personal data that needs to be stored in line with the Data Protection Policy.

Do you have favourite tools or advise to share? Let us know in the comments below or comment on the slides from the session or notes from the group discussions.

Finding your way in the foggy road of data collection…

This week Coralie Acheson, a 2nd year PhD Researcher in the Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage, shares her experience of collecting data for her research…

Iron Bridge Blog

My research is on how tourists encounter and negotiate the values of Ironbridge Gorge, a World Heritage Site in Shropshire; part of a collaborative AHRC-funded project looking at the communication of value to different communities of interest at the site. This was my first serious foray into the academic world of cultural heritage following years of studying and working commercially in archaeology. When I started, I knew I had a steep climb in terms of raising my knowledge base in terms of thinking about tourism theory but I hadn’t realised how much I also needed to learn about the actual practicalities of carrying out the research.

I am using a mixed-methods approach – my research involves trying to pin down something both intangible and ephemeral, the ‘communication of value’ to a difficult to define, constantly changing and incredibly varied group of people – so I needed to form a sort of research ‘pincer’! I am using:

  • Interviews – semi-structured, with both those working with tourists, and the tourists themselves;
  • Observation – both remote and participant;
  • Qualitative media analysis of materials produced for and by tourists – think Instagram, guidebooks, signage etc;
  • Visual field notes – a developing collection of imagery which tells a story about my site.

I am currently right in the middle of collecting all of this data and feeling rather swamped. It is like a juggling act trying to process already collected data into initial analysis of some form, carry out more research and preparing for things happening over the next few months. A complex and colour coded diary has become essential! I have found that writing things down has helped me get my head around where I am with my research – not so much for the output but the process of doing it helps me organise my thoughts and get control of the stress!

I have massively benefitted from research training from lots of different sources including an ‘interview for researchers’ course (AHRC), free online courses in social media analytics, one-to-one skill sharing with other PhDs as well as courses available through the university on Endnote and data management. This was all absolutely essential, particularly as I am effectively a social science researcher with an arts background and who is based in the College of Arts and Law. Ultimately, though, the best way to figure out how to do things is just to try them out – go to conferences and present, try different analysis methods you’ve only read about in books – just go for it (within the remit of your ethical approval!) and it will get easier!

Do you want to share your PhD experiences with other postgraduate researchers on this blog? Get in touch with Dr. Eren Bilgen to become one of our guest bloggers.

*NEW* Web of Science Citation Connection

This week Vicky Wallace, our Library Subject Advisor for the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, introduces us to the new ‘Web of Science Citation Connection’

University of Birmingham researchers now have access to ‘Web of Science Citation Connection’.  This package includes a wealth of databases, allowing you to retrieve a great deal more than journal articles; namely information on:
Books:  offering book and book chapter literature searching, and the option to browse within a book to its book chapters, to see where the chapters have been cited.

Data: Search for datasets used by others and gain credit/citations for your own.  The Data Citation Index links the data behind the research to the literature.

Patents: Read accessible summaries of patents written by experts, linked to the original patent.  You can see citations to the patents to help you identify potential competitors/collaborators.

In addition, the package also includes Specialist Subject Databases including BIOSIS Citation Index, Current Chemical Reactions, Index Chemicus, and Zoological Records.

The new package gives us access to these databases for 2010 onwards.

Making the most of Citation Connection

Not sure how useful these resources will be to you?  Use FindIt@Bham to select ‘Web of Science’ (All Databases), undertake a search on your topic, and then use the “document types” filter to see the range of resource types returned alongside the usual journal articles.  Refine and explore the results.

Search Core Collection (Web of Science Citation Indexes) to check citation metrics – calculations will be based on citations in journals and books.   More information about metrics is available on our Bibliometrics website.

Discover the data behind the literature by using Data Citation Index.  Data from stable, up-to-date, peer-reviewed and high quality repositories are indexed; the repositories can be searched or browsed.

Explore patents literature on Derwent Innovations Index.  Consisting of 3 sections (Chemical, Electrical and Electronic, Engineering), patents are harvested from patent offices worldwide, and Derwent’s specialists produce summaries, deciphering the technology to make it more understandable and more accessible.  As well as topic searching, you can search by institution, derwent classification codes and a range of other identifiers.  Explore the links between patents to see patents that share the same technology.  Check citations to the patents, and identify competitors/collaborators.

For further advice and guidance on making the most of these resources, contact your Subject Advisor in Library Services http://Intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/library/subject

 

Visualising your PhD using a Gantt chart

Any project, whether it’s a substantial project such as your PhD thesis or a smaller-scale project like organising an event, will benefit from proper planning.  Project planning is a big topic, but here we will look at one planning tool that you use to help you understand and visualise the relationships between the component activities of your project and time:  a Gantt chart.  Gantt charts are named after Henry Gantt, a mechanical engineer and management consultant who developed the charts in the 1910s, and are very widely used for simple and complex projects, to communicate visually the timescale for a project and to monitor progress against that timescale. Continue reading “Visualising your PhD using a Gantt chart”