New Gold Dream: Is It that Simple?

What a great album from Simple Minds. Ahhh, the 80’s. Their title track New Gold Dream should get you in the mood for the next letter in our F.I.N.E.R. mnemonic – a convenient way to remember what makes a good research question. We covered I for Interesting last time and today we will go over N for Novel

Your pocket protector in place and armed with an interesting research question that you think is feasible, you are now stuck wondering if the research path you are about to take will satisfy the next criteria: is it novel?


The whole idea behind research is to contribute new information. 


No need to 
reinvent the wheel. You want to save your precious energy and time for answering a question that will move you forward in your area of science. 

So, how do you know it is novel? Here are a few suggestions you can try:
1- Review the scientific literature. And then review it again. Not sure how to get started? Talk to a librarian at your institution.
2- Get out there and talk to people about your research idea. Experts in the field will be happy to chat (most of the time anyway!) and may give you insider knowledge about the area of research. How about having lunch with friends/colleagues and ask them what they think. I did exactly that yesterday (shout out to Sindhu Johnson!) and what did I find out? That my ideas were well received and that there is at least one person who thinks I am on the right track. Perfect. Who’s next?
Now though you want your question to be as original as possible don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Often building on previous work or simply confirming it can be important. For instance assessing whether findings in one population also applies to others. This is often the case in pediatric research.
Having the new gold dream is always a great way to start. Just keep in mind what makes a good research question. Next time we take on ethics…

See you in the blogosphere,

Pascal Tyrrell

Gwen Stefani Has No Doubt… Do You?

So, in my last post I introduced F.I.N.E.R. as a convenient way to remember what makes a good research question. We covered F for feasible and today we will go over I for Interesting

What is important when dreaming up a research question is to make sure that you are interested and engaged. This is what will provide you with the energy, drive, and determination to overcome the many hurdles and frustrations that will invariably stand in you way on your path during the research process.

Gwen may have No Doubt about what she is interested in. But do you? How will you gauge how interesting your question is? Easy – talk to people about it. One of the problems new researchers have with their research questions is that they Don’t Speak (great song!) with others during the planning process. Ask as many mentors, experts, family members, friends, colleagues as you can about your question. All that feedback will help you determine whether it is worth your precious time and effort to pursue that research.

Don’t be shy to ask people their opinion and don’t be take it personally if you get negative feedback. It is all part of the process. You can’t expect to have everyone interested but you can certainly try your best to have many. 

Try early on in your research career to find a Person of Interest (well maybe not that kind of person) or someone who you value their opinion and are friendly with to act as a sounding board to your ideas before you move on outside the “inner-circle”. You can even repay the favor to them for their research endeavors. Hint: choose wisely…

Next is N…

See you in the blogosphere,

Pascal Tyrrell

The Key to Research: (Key)Words

Do you ever hear a good song on the radio, catch some of the lyrics, and try to type in those lyrics into Google or Youtube to find that particular song you rocked out to on the way home? When that happens and you Google it, do you ever count  how many options you need to pass until you hit the right song? 

Yes, you are not the only one, many people use Google to further explore some of the things they have come across throughout daily encounters. For each instance google is used, whether it be for a song or for neuroscience research and analysis, one thing remains in common: keywords. 

Keywords are essential when searching for various types of information, and the options appearing on any search engine are dependent on the keywords given. How does one establish appropriate keywords for a search engine entry? 
For instance, if one wants to find out more about medical imaging, perhaps using those exact words would give one a head start in finding information. If one wants to find out about the modalities of medical imaging, typing in ‘modalities of medical imaging’ may also be helpful as well. The tricky part becomes when searching for specific uses and studies of the use of those modalities, in medical papers. In any medical search engine, like PubMed, keywords can make or break a search, and are very specific, as the many sections of medical imaging involve many specific factors and details that differ from each study. So next time you decide to search something, whether it be as general as ‘medical imaging’ or specific as ‘cost effective analysis of CT scans,’ just remember that those keywords may give you what you need, or lead you to a place you don’t want. 
Keep (re)Searching!

Faith Balshin 
Follow us on Twitter! @MiVIP_UofT  

Researcher’s Dream: Katy Perry Edition

What happens when you put a famous pop superstar with various Billboard number one hit singles as an endorser for a medical field involving teeth, mouth and gum surgeries? 
A Katy Perry-odontist!
And no, I am not insinuating the likelihood of Ms. Perry giving up her “Hard Candy” tour and making her way down to Harvard Med for a doctor of dental surgery specializing in periodontistry, but in reality, when researching, there are a lot of weird combinations of research that actually lead to a plausible conclusion!
Take cost effectiveness of MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds. There are many variables pertaining to which machine is more cost effective, but in order to find that out, the research being done with regards to the cost involves stepping OUTSIDE THE BOX and figuring out unique key factors that all contribute to the cost, timing, and effectiveness. One must observe not only the actual cost of the machine, but also the condition the patient is in and the situation of the effected area. In order to look at that, maybe some family history must be dug up. And there you go! A whole research perspective on family history of certain patients, just to figure out cost effectiveness of a certain machine. Weird combination of research if you think about it, but in the end, very effective in reaching somewhat of a conclusion to the research question, just like the medical imaging equipment should be doing in the first place! Do not underestimate the lengths in research it takes to solve the question at hand, and always think outside the box, because you never know what you will find, and someday, maybe Katy Perry will open up her own clinic, and sooth patients with her very own soundtrack!
Keep Researching and Singing, 
Faith Balshin 
Don’t forget to check out MiVIP’s twitter account, @MiVIP_UofT! 
Comment on what you think are weird research combinations if you dare! 

REsearch and Destroy!

Why do we need to find out things, shouldn’t we be content with what we have already, why does research matter? Well, simply put, we conduct research because we are eager human beings looking to seek further knowledge into any task or question presented to us. Human beings in general are inquisitive beings that become fulfilled when they accomplish something and the information spectrum is broadened. To accomplish almost any goal, whether it be recreational or academic, information through research is required. Research essentially helps humans, be human. We question, research and come up with an answer, and that in itself is a true accomplishment.

Research, like any other entity, has its ups and downs. You can follow the processes, look in the right books, but come up with the wrong information. When that happens, do not give up your search, rather organize it another way. Even if that seems to be time wasted, it was not, because the amazing thing about seeking knowledge is even if it’s the wrong knowledge found, one still learns from ANY obtained information. Research is a definite experience, and something valuable is ALWAYS learned when conducting research, whether it be the information being searched for, or a bit of self growth. And the best part? There is no time limit to knowledge. So get started. Just remember your keywords.

Faith Balshin
Check out MiVIP’s official twitter account! @MiVIP_UofT

Interview with the (research) Devil

Interviews, the most loved and hated type of activity for all, from the powerful, skeptical, God-like interviewers seeking information to the innocent, intimidated and incapsulated interviewees, seeking a break. So many emotions happen when two people meet for the first time, in the interview setting. I definitely know what it’s like to be put in the hot seat, as the one word I felt coming into my own interview with the University of Toronto for this program – terrifying. I was completely terrified. New offices in the heart of Toronto, I felt like a small town girl moving to the big city alone. It was almost a coming of age experience – one small step into the building, yet one giant step for the adolescent-adulthood phase I am now transitioning into. 

         As I went up the elevator and pressed the fourth floor button, I almost could not contain myself. But the scariest part of the whole ordeal was probably the moment before I found the right office. Of course, I stumble into the wrong office, and when asking the woman working there for Dr. Tyrrell, the interviewer, when I saw the look on the woman’s face that I was in the wrong place, my heart dropped. Of course, when finally meeting with Dr. Tyrrell and discussing the program, all of this fear and anxiety disappeared at the drop of a hat, but the point is, interviews are a type of research, so research can be quite adventurous! 

Stay Adventurous and Keep Reading!  

Faith Balshin 

Ogive? What the what? Oh, “jive”… right!

Ahhh, the 80’s. Interesting years to be in high school. I think I never quite fully recovered. I don’t wear Corduroy pants anymore but the acid wash jean jacket… maybe. Not sure what I am talking about? Have a peek here:  80’s-fashion.

So in my last post we talked about the concept of expectation (see Great-expectations) and the importance of organizing our data. Ask me what I think is the most important step to understanding your data? Organizing and graphing it – always. It is such a simple thing to do and yet it gives you crazy perspective and insight for any analysis that may follow. 

The concept of a frequency distribution in statistics is paramount. By organizing your data values into an appropriate number of classes we in fact make more explicit the information that is there in the data. The resulting frequency table can then provide us with some basic summary statistics such as class frequencies and proportions. By the way, classes have end marks. The upper and the lower. The average of these two marks is the mid-point and the interval is the difference between adjacent class mid-points. Lastly, the class mid-point plus or minus half the interval gives you the class boundaries… Boring? Maybe you need a break. Watch the trailer for the epic 1980 movie Airplane! to decompress a little: Airplane! movie trailer…

So what now? We need to present this data graphically. The first chart to think of is the bar chart. It is simply a plot of the frequency against class, where the class frequencies are represented by bars. Classes in this case are made up of SINGLE readings. How about an example using radiation counts?

If your classes are made up of a GROUP of readings than you would consider a histogram as in this example using velocity of light measurements.

Now if you were to join the mid-point of each class by a straight line you would obtain a frequency polygon. This would allow you to easily compare several distributions on a single graph.

Finally, if you were to plot the CUMULATIVE frequency against the upper class boundary you would produce a cumulative frequency polygon – AKA the “ogive” as it has the characteristic arch-like shape found in architecture. 

If you ever find yourself using the term ogive in a public setting and getting blank stares from your friends then refer to the funny “jive” scene in the infamous movie Airplane! to diffuse the situation: Airplane! – Jive Scene.

Hopefully, everyone will say: “Oh, jive. I get it!”…

Let’s talk a little about data types next time. Ok?

See you in the blogosphere…

Pascal Tyrrell

Great Expectations and What the Dickens is Probability Distribution Anyway?

If you are feeling like Pip in Charles Dickens’ wonderful novel Great Expectations every time you think of statistics, you are not alone! Not sure who Pip is? Have a peek at the latest of many movies based on this book: Great Expectations trailer

Pip started life in a poor community raised by a much older cruel sister. He did, however, grow up to be a gentleman (and a scholar?) and come to realize that our great expectations in life won’t necessarily come true. We instead work hard all of our lives and ultimately have to accept what is. Getting too serious? Have a gander at Diggy Simmons music video “Great Expectations” to relax a bit: Diggy Simmons music video

Ok we’re back. So what is the link between Pip and statistics?

As a researcher we are often interested in “what to expect” in future experiments or trials. The methodology used to perform the research and analysis of results will help to obtain an estimate of the answer to your question – see my previous post if you are in the dark about this one (Allegory of the cave).

In statistics the term “expectation” is given a precise definition in terns of probabilities (the chance that something will happen – how likely is it that some event will happen). Thus, if we consider an experiment or trial as taking a variable x at random from some population of readings and recording its value then the value to expect for x is the mean µ of this population.

Here is the rub: the population mean is usually a quantity whose value we can NEVER determine exactly – it is the value to EXPECT. This is a VERY important concept in statistics.

*** Caution: stats talk below – skip if already feeling dizzy…

When we make predictions about future trials we have to keep in mind that we are working with a sample of results that will necessarily have a measure of uncertainty associated with them. By organizing our data into frequency tables we can then present its distribution graphically (ie: frequency curve, histogram) and get our first appreciation of where the center is (mean, median, mode) and scatter (variance and standard deviation). Finally, if we convert our frequency distributions to probability distributions (divide each class frequency by the sum of frequencies) we can obtain expected values from these distributions. Plural? There are different types? Yes, and we will chat about these in future posts…

*** Safe re-entry here:

I am ok with having to work with estimates and never knowing the truth. You? As Socrates once said (a long, long time ago!): “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

So what next? Maybe watch the movie “Great Expectations” this week-end and tell everyone that you were studying for your stats class. Let’s talk about organizing data next.

Enjoy the movie.

Pascal Tyrrell

Research Read-ables: Library Edition

How in the world does someone actually get to researching something, it seems too complicated! Well, fear not my friends, research comes in all letter shapes and information sizes! For a beginner researcher, an easy and effective start would be to go to a library. The library holds a haven of information, from fictional stories for experience to non fictional magazines, dictionaries and novels. The library is a great place to start looking for answers, the librarians are able to guide anyone to the right factual source of data that will provide good information, and no, they aren’t from the dinosaur era (even though you may think you’re in that era while searching through books).. 

Many educational researchers use books and even textbooks to help with research projects, papers and various journals. I know I can always trust my school librarian, she always gave me the best books and information, even if she didn’t remember my name.

 Even though libraries are ‘so 90s,’ it wouldn’t kill you to walk into one, you definitely will learn something.  

Keep Reading!
Faith Balshin 
Follow us on twitter for the latest updates of the program! @MiVIP_UofT