Category Archives: phd

A modern take on how to formulate and answer a research question experimentally and empirically

Science is there to answer questions, and it is a powerful tool at that. However, the scientific method cannot answer all questions. In this post I outline how I approach the task of coming up with research questions, how to answer them and how to create a publishable manuscript describing this procedure. It is very idiosyncratic, but I hope that it might be useful for some readers, especially students.

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Using RStudio and Git version control

lIt is fairly easy to link Github or Bitbucket with RStudio, in order to enable version control, or in order to work collectively on a data project, science article, or book. It can also be used to make your data or project publicly accessible (however, there is no guarantee that it will be accessible forever, and also it doesn’t get a DOI, so e.g. OSF might be a better alternative).

Github and Bitbucket are web-based filehosts that support the version control Git. Git allows you to track changes to files, to revert files to earlier stages, and to work on files in groups. This makes it especially important for work among programmers, data analysists, and also researchers. Github and Bitbucket store all the information on different versions of your project on their server, so that others can see exactly what others on the same projects worked on, or changed.

This post will explain to you how to set up Github and Bitbucket with RStudio in order to enable version control and storage in an external repository. In nerd-speak, it explains how to “push your commits to an external repo”. Note the main differences between Github and Bitbucket relevant to this post are that the former allows you to create a public repo free of charge, while the latter allows you to create a private repo free of charge. Choose one of both platforms (or both) so that it suits your needs.

I am not going to explain how to download, install, or set up Git on your computer. I expect that you did all that and now want to link it to RStudio.

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Nudging or coercing people to protect the climate?

Even though there is some disagreement as to who is responsible for climate change, it is beyond substantial scientific doubt that climate change is a major threat for humanity in the 21st century. However, there still is doubt among the public. Why? There is an intuitively appealing theory why this is the case: Solution aversion. The theory attempts to explain why Republicans are much more likely to deny the reality of man-made climate change, while Democrats tend to accept it as fact. The model proposes that people deny the existence of a problem partly or primarily because they disagree with the solutions that have been proposed to solve the problem. In the case of climate change these proposed solutions would be regulations that disagree with what conservatives favor: market solutions.

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mean differences or mean changes?

While analyzing data from an experiment, I found myself writing things like “The treatment changes the outcome variably by…” or “the treatment leads to changes in the outcome variable”. However, I often thought that talking about changes sounded too ‘dynamic’. After all, I was referring to two different groups of subjects (between-subjects design). What I was doing was to statistically compare means of the outcome variable of different groups. I was ok to talk about changes when referring to within-subject differences, i.e. changes in outcomes for the same subject due to an intervention, but for the between-subjects case, shouldn’t I rather talk about differences instead of changes? Continue reading mean differences or mean changes?

start of phd

When I started my PhD in April 2015, I almost instantly felt that I wasn’t accomplishing anything substantial, even before I had the chance to do anything substantial. At that time I was convinced I was the only one feeling that way. At least by now I know from talking to several other people that just started their PhD that, I am no exception.

It took me a lot of hard thinking in order to apply for a PhD after finishing my Master. I didn’t just wake up one morning and knew that I was going to do it. Even though it had been an option for me for a long time, I was never really sure whether I was good enough to accomplish this. It felt more like a dream than a reality. My application for a fellowship was more a way of finding out whether I would be accepted for something like this. As it turned out, my grades were good enough.

Eventually, through some inspiring talks with my then-roommate (plus a bottle of cheap absinth) and my then-colleague (no absinth, because too much of it makes you blind), I decided to accept the scholarship. This happened four hours before the deadline. Afterwards: more absinth, and moving to Hamburg.

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