It’s been a day since I handed in my Research Methods report and I feel buzzing right now.
Never have I felt such a huge relief on hand-in day I sat there and just closed my eyes to soothe the dryness of my eyes from staring at the laptop for 3 weeks. I struggled way too much for this module and put in WAY too many hours. It was a big change after coming from studying two really fun and really engaging AI modules in a row (loved them so much) to this awful one that tried to kill me. It made me realise that if I enjoy the module dam it will be all sunshines and engagement even if it’s tough – but if I don’t enjoy it then it becomes the most excruciating thing to endure. Worse than public speaking. 😭.
In this review I will talk briefly about what I learnt, useful tools, tips on how to focus and a guide on how to write a report!
This module walks you through HOW to conduct the research part of an academic study or research. I was going to make up the entire approach to my final thesis and to be fair I did not know there were specific methods and processes for research. Luckily… THERE IS!
The course guides you on what you need to know to design and conduct research to answer your question or hypothesis. It will cover things you may have already learnt about: qualitative, quantitative and mixed-methods. You also learn about how having different philosophies of belief feed into the research approach. Then you learn step-by-step how to get from the research question to choosing your method, to sampling, collecting data, interpreting your data and then analysing your data. As I always mention in the previous blog posts you don’t physically DO the research you just learn the concepts and HOW to plan the research and all by reading this book 💀.
Each step of your entire research you have to weigh up the purpose for each method, all the limitations and biases by reading lots and lots and lots of research papers. Only when you have gathered enough information will you understand what to do. Almost to the point, I had no idea when I should stop researching! It’s a hole man and if you’re me you can be in that dark hole for weeks.
In every single module, we learn the skills and understanding of the different ways to conduct a research project so that when we do our thesis we have all these different areas to draw from and use.
What is Wrong with York Uni’s Methods?
If you compare York’s course with high-quality online courses like cs50 you will see that the structure is reversed in comparison. cs50 teaches you the complete concepts in abstract ways linking it to daily things we can relate to: harry potter, Mario, your uni locker, a deck lamp whatever. And then once you understand the concept the lecturers start to bring in the keywords – evolving that knowledge into Computer Sciencey things. But York? They feed you a list of chapters from a book and after you read 20 pages of each chapter every other day they expect you to soak in that information and know how to answer the task at the end of each week. I am almost a bit too ashamed to share these blogs since I slate my own Uni and course so bad.
So I recommend my future self to go through each week and fop off everything they teach, note down the topics and then go on youtube to find a video about that topic. Watch it, print out the weekly reading material, then as you start the assignment go back to the reading material to guide. Learning from multiple sources is much better as it isn’t repeated. Oh and move reading to the end so that I am reading for a purpose and for a goal to understand WHY I need to use a specific concept in my assignment or HOW to do something that my assignment requires. Learning to just learn is just not engaging for me and wastes time because I learn something but I don’t ACTUALLY learn it – I read it.. and forget what I’ve read straight after. 💀
I have been struggling so much with reading, writing, learning, focusing, studying and time management. I always thought it was due to anxiety but recently I discovered that I may be dyslexic and have ADHD and it totally makes sense. It is weird since I’ve always had problems that my mum would just brush off. She would say I was flipping letters backwards because I was left-handed, or I was getting confused with having to speak two languages which made me “mute” , or I was took on her clumsy and forgetfulness… or I was just being a kid – so I never got diagnosed.
I kind of feel lucky we are in the age of tech so there are many tools (Grammarly ,Google Calendar, Evernote) that can automatically help with these areas so I’ve managed to find my own ways to aid the struggle. Anyways I went to the GP and I have an assessment soon so hopefully when I get diagnosed I can get a Psychiatrist that specialises in learning and behaviour difficulties… it feels such a relief to have potentially a reason and solution. I just assumed that I came out like this and no matter how hard I tried nothing ever changed.
It’s not like I can’t read or I can’t write it’s the amount of effort that goes into just producing minimal requirements and the small attention span for things that don’t interest me. I have to put all my energy into just focusing, for one, and then deciphering meaning from that is another. On the other hand, when it comes to something I love I am HOOKED and can’t stop until the early hours of the morning until I’ve debugged or written something that works. It’s like on opposite ends of the spectrum and really tiring. TBF I’m pretty proud I’ve made it this far in this course 🤣
Midway through the module I started to read about techniques and advice for dyslexic/ADHD focus issues and IT’S A GAME CHANGER – I have some of those tips in the tools & advice section but I think some are pretty generic for anyone struggling to focus to use.
- Writing an academic report: This one helped so much with understanding what an academic report involves. I did not know how to write an academic report until I saw this. I wish I had been linked to this in my first few modules. Alas!! Better late than never.
- Using evidence to write an argument: This one is a great one to know how to back up any statements you make.
- Critical Writing Help: As you can see I am not well versed in critical writing or any sort of academic writing so a lot of writing a good research design is combining research, pitching them against each other to form new ideas and understanding those limitations. The slideshow walks through how to think critically.
- My uni friend linked me to these and they really helped a beginner like me – so give them a click and have a read-through.
- Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. This is the course book which I struggled to understand during study weeks. When I actually started writing the assignment BOOM instantly useful and suddenly became really helpful 😅 . I used it throughout writing the assignment. First of all, I had it printed out and was highlighting to read but once that was not helping, I uploaded it on Zotero to highlight and that made a huge difference.
- Use a Citation Tool – Using Zotero was a massive TIME SAVER (I previously used to use BibGuru and then Mendeley ) but Zotero was so much more efficient. It looked really complicated but I am so glad I gave it a go. It has really helped my writing process and made organising and referencing all the reports and citations a complete breeze. I recommend downloading the app and then combining it with the Zotero Google Chrome Plugin where if you press the icon and it would automatically loads that specific paper into the Zotero app (where it automatically fills in all the required info), then yo can open that paper within the app and highlight everything. Then you can use Zotero within Google Docs to add citations which automatically builds your References AND updates the numbers in order as you go along!!!!
Advice on How to Study/Focus
Before… if I was having to study or do work on anything I did not find remotely interesting I would procrastinate. This is why I would get anxious as suddenly I found myself with only a weekend left and no report and wondering what I had been doing on the laptop for the past 2 weeks with a page with only 3 paragraphs to show for it. These tips helped me so much in focusing on topics and areas that I did not find interesting which is can be a struggle for anyone.
- Plan your study times and plan your days off – When you know you have time off you are most likely to keep to those study periods and have something to look forward to. You may also have certain hours of the day where you’re more energised, for me it’s in the mornings and late at night so I work super early in the morning then I resume late at night – on weekends anyways. This is because during the day I have too many distractions like my dog and my partner and I just can not focus when there’s anyone around me any noise or moving things like the tv.
- Pomodoro + “ADHD” Music – Using the Pomodoro time management method alongside “ADHD” music has been an absolute GAME CHANGER. The Pomodoro technique is where you get a 5-minute break for every 25 minutes of work. I used it at my old job and for studying but I found I could never keep to it. I’ve also tried so many different types of music Classical, Lo-FI Beats, K-Pop, Foreign Rap all sorts of music without any distinguishable lyrics which also help but again they work for a bit but then wavers. But for now I’ve found the wombo combo. ADHD Music + Pomodoro timer I can be engaged for 12 hours straight. I’ve been reading up on binaural beats and some research shows having it on low volume can help with focus.
- Reward yourself – I once read this book called The Power of Habit and it talks that having the Cue -> Action -> Reward system is what creates those habits. This theory is similar to the Pomodoro timer where those 5 minutes of freedom are your reward for studying for 25 minutes. TO boost the reward feeling I spend those 5 minutes off doing as much procrastination stuff I love. I take my headphones off, start tweeting, window shopping on aliexpress and then BOOM. I’m back to studying again. Knowing you have a break coming up helps you stay focused in a structured way. Knowing you have a reward keeps you going. Sometimes when I finish a whole section I have an item I have in mind I want to buy and then I go and buy it as an achievement. It’s embarrassing to admit but AliExpress has been one of the main things keeping me going 😅
- NO distractions – Find a space where either everyone is also working or studying (library) or you are alone with nothing and no one else is there. The more foreign the space the less you will get distracted. I worked in a hotel lounge area on my last day and I managed to study for the full time I was there as apposed to being distracted by… the food in my fridge, my dog, going to the toilet, and twitter.
- Break Your Assignments Down Into TINY Chunks – Start early and start as soon as your task is released. Writing an essay can be really overwhelming to the point you don’t start at all. Writing something little every day even if it’s just 1 paragraph can really help move along. That’s breaking down your approach too and timeboxing it. Then whatever time scale you give yourself DOUBLE it – I am not kidding if I had more time I’d TRIPLE it. Then breaks your assignment into chunks. The preparation part, the free-flowing writing part into paragraphs, and then the refinement part (This one took me 4 drafts).
- Systemise your entire process – I think this point has been THE MOST beneficial thing I’ve managed to implement. I struggle with starting projects because I don’t know how to break it down to know what to do and if I don’t know exactly the process or order of things – I get overwhelmed, and anxious and I don’t start. I wish I had put in a system from the start but I’m glad I have something now at least. Many people already have automatic systems that they don’t realise they do to tackle projects they’ve never done but I realised direct systematic steps that are defined and clear was SO HELPFUL. As you go through the process of studying it is helpful to reflect and understand your own behaviours and the steps that you take to tackle a project – even if they are wrong or take you a while, try to record it. What I found useful is to also research other systems others have put in place. Copy their ones and then figure out my own actual process of systemising studying. Once this is done you wont have to think – you just follow the order of tasks.
How to Approach Your Assignment
- Understanding the assignment is initially the most important part. I answered questions completely wrong because I did not know what it was asking me to do. So dissect the keywords – is it a describe, evaluate, or analyse? Then rewrite your task into a series of questions with the full definitions.
- Understanding the reports – go through each report and use the chapters from the book uni provide. Highlight the methods and methodologies as you go along. Highlight all the reasons why they did what they did and also Highlight the limitations, biases etc and any other bits you find interesting or important and then highlight the results/outcome and their concluding views.
- Reading literature – this is a MUST. You can not write your assignment without understanding how others have approached similar projects. You never know you may find something that changes your view on a topic. Note all this down. You can go on researchgate, google scholar, NCBI , and I think York has other links. This is where Zotero comes in SUPER handy. I’ve been downloading the papers and uploading them to Zotero, highlighting them in the tool and then adding the Citations even to bullet points. Use Google Docs as Zotero plugin automatically updates your references/bibliography and numerically orders your citations 😱!!!
- Building your point – this is a report so use the literature you find and don’t take it for face value.. you may have queries about what you are reading and so find more resources to either counter the point or support it. Then you have to show this and show your process of how you come to the conclusion you have come to about the approach you have decided to go with.
- Writing your plan – Once you have sufficient research start writing your plan. Write your headline break it down into paragraphs and then the points you want to make for each paragraph that you have found from literature research, add the Citations as you go along using Zotero that support each point.
- Freewriting – Split the task into sections and do a section per day. Don’t try to do it all in one go. Ignore the word count. Ignore even validating what you are saying is correct and just write whatever comes to your head on the basis of your memory (even if it’s poor) and what you think and your specific points. Don’t worry if what you write is inaccurate or doesn’t make sense just put your ideas down. If you find yourself getting stuck just move on to the next paragraph. Once you know how many paragraphs you need you can split these tasks into days and schedule better.
- Refining + More Literature – I ended up with 6500 words on my last day and I PANICKED. Refine your free writing into another draft. By reading what you’ve written and putting those into bullet points and grouping your “ideas” into sections. Then check it against the literature to support or counter what you’ve written.
- Refine and iterate – Sometimes your points will completely change or sometimes you’ve written WAY too much. To narrow it down, after your group similar points together you have to give each one importance of hierarchy. This way you can see if you’ve repeated any concepts. If you have too many words then just remove the weakest point. Uni tells you to read chapters from this book Writing For Computer Science that walks you through how to write “better” and more “direct” by removing pointless words and rephrasing your sentences to read easier – use it at the end to help.
- The Final Draft – Make sure it flows, reads well and your CITATIONS are all in there. Add a front cover with the word count and don’t forget to upload your report at different points of the draft not just on the last day in the last hour – even if it’s not finished upload it just in case you have some malfunctions with your tech last minute.
I would first check through these tasks and put them into a checklist of bullet points with exactly what to do and then schedule it. I would spend 1 day per task and if you struggling with the focus like me DOUBLE or TRIPLE that time. I had to have extra time because I have anxiety and struggled so much with this report 🙁 Now I feel like I have a process in place for the next one. I hate not knowing what to do and I felt like I didn’t have any guidance for a while but now I feel like doing this module has given me a process/order and speaking with my uni friend who is good at assignments has produced this step by step process which I can copy and tweak for next time. It’s annoying that no one shares their process or methods but I guess everyone is different and they are only helpful for beginners like me.
This is the process I would do which might not work for you as each person may approach their assignments different but if you’re stuck then it’s a good guide to start building your own processes. If you do this module and have other tips and tricks please do comment and share with the other students!!
Now it’s safe to say I feel a little bit more confident in conducting my thesis as I understand the basics involved in research planning but I also wish they had made us do this module at the beginning so all those badly written reports I did could have been fixed by learning how to write one in the first place. I come from a design background where I wrote 1 assignment in 3 years about Hello Kitty (no joke) and just made up most of my graphic design degree. It’s been a struggle to just learn … how to learn… how to study…how to write… and also Computer Science. lol
It seems every single module you learn you always have this sense of feeling oh I wish I had learnt this one > before that one. So jumping directly into this module at the start would have been difficult anyways since it talks about areas we hadn’t learnt yet like data analytics etc so it doesn’t matter what module you learn first you’ll always just have gaps in knowledge.
And I guess because the structure is built in a way you can study the modules in ANY order…. concepts are scattered around each area so it reinforces the stuff we learn as we go.
Anyways I’m so glad I made it through this module because it was worth learning it to prepare me for my final thesis which I have a vague idea of what to do for it. My next module is Computer Architecture and Operating Systems which I am not looking forward to. The one after that one is about Networks which I AM looking forward to… but hey…at least I now have 6 weeks off!! BOOOO YAAAAAA!.
Thanks for reading x
I just wanted to add a disclaimer since I’ve been receiving lots of messages about people joining the degree because of my blogs and it has left a funny feeling in my stomach. It’s great that you’re excited but I really want to express how BAD this course is structured, delivered and supported in every way. I wanted to write these blogs to express true experiences to help those currently studying (because its such a struggle) but at the same time serve as a warning. Please do not do it to yourself. I am only continuing it to finish what I started. At the start of this course, there were not many options but I think there are more of now. I urge you to do your research and look at all the alternatives before deciding to enrol.