7 small things you can do for science in 2017

The new year is here, and many of us start off with some resolutions. Following this trend, I thought it would be fun to share some things I’ve been doing and will continue to do that mostly (with the exception of point 3) require only little effort on my side and which positively impact my sciencing and that of those around me.

1. Preregister

I cannot emphasize enough how much preregistration can change how we do science, and it does that by just making sure we do what we think we are doing anyhow. In other words, we think we know what our dependent and independent variables are and how we want to analyze them, but as soon as the details have to be spelled out, many still have to stop and think. We also might forget our plans in the chaos that is data collection. Don’t forget: No additional labor is necessary to preregister, it just changes the time when we think about our analyses, and that’s a good thing, because we should have done that much earlier, probably.

2. Talk about preregistration

Preregistration is not something that’s typically announced, but when you present your plans or data in the lab or at a conference, mention that it’s preregistered. First, why not. OK, I can think of a few scenarios where colleagues have already condemned the very thought of preregistration, but even in this case constant dripping might wear away the stone. Second, you’re spreading the word and also signal that you’re someone colleagues might turn to when they want to discuss this cool new science thing.

3. Meta-analyze at least one topic you’re working on

It sure depends on your field, but where I work meta-analyses are still really rare. I’d never thought about doing a meta-analysis if I hadn’t on one hand been puzzled about seemingly inconsistent findings on the same phenomenon and on the other met some people already meta-analyzing other questions. It turns out that this was a really good decision, because I now have an exhaustive literature overview (and since I update my meta-analysis, I am also staying on top of the evolving literature) and a better feel for my field. It has also changed how I teach and read/review papers.

4. Pass on the meta-analyzing torch

Once you think you figured out how to do meta-analyses, find a colleague and join them in a meta-analysis of a question you both are interested in. All the benefits of having meta-analytic experience are now being passed on as well, it’s magic! A colleague just told me that she thought she knew a portion of her field inside out, but it turns out that so much detail is missing from papers and there is a lack of analysis and reporting standards. It’s hard to spot these details when you’re reading papers to get to the conclusion-the typical mode of researchers-but when you really want to know what happened, they are suddenly crucial.

5. Talk about best practices

Every few months, it can be fun to meet with other labs working with a similar population (in my case babies and children) on comparable questions in an informal setting to ask questions and exchange knowledge that doesn’t make it into conference talks or papers. A few examples from the Paris Baby Lab (PaBaLa) meetings include how to minimize and de-bias participant exclusion and how to implement experimenter blinding. I’ve heard from colleagues that these very productive discussions have directly impacted their work, because it showed them the necessity of good practices in experimental research. This is not an example of peer pressure, quite the contrary. Noone is being judged, we’re just exchanging experiences and opinions, and it’s perfectly fine to just sit and listen.

6. Ask for help and offer it

This point might be a small version of the CV of failures, because it shows that we’re not perfect. I think that’s a really important message to spread, especially to junior researchers, and I think that’s also why asking for help appears in Sho’s list of things she would have liked to have known before grad school.

I myself tend to get stuck in trying to solve something myself because I think I should be able to do it. But sometimes an expert who can solve the problem much quicker, and at times even more appropriately, is just around the corner. So you don’t just win time but arrive at a solution that is probably better than the one you would have found on your own.

This all holds the other way around as well, and sometimes problems of colleagues can be quite interesting, and it helps you to get a deeper insight into what they are working on. Maybe you have a cool project idea together based on this exchange? Who knows, but even if not, your karma will be really good in 2017.

(Of course, it’s also educational to find the solution yourself at times, but this didactic tradition might also stand in the way of asking for help when it’s appropriate).

7. Be nice

The discussion about tone in academia is never ending. Some think the harsh tone that we probably all experienced at one point is an inherent part of academia, but especially the last weeks have taught me that it is very much possible to be critical and constructive, and still smile and be kind. We’re all busy and easily frustrated and all that, but we’re also all human and being decent to each other makes everyone’s life easier. 

 

So, will you adopt a few or all of those 7 suggestions? Most don’t hurt (much) but they can help make 2017 a great year for science and scientists.

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