Blog Archives

Links page update

Just posted a fairly major update to my links page, including new sections on Neuropsychological/Cognitive testing, Neuromarketing/research businesses, and Academic conferences and organisations, plus lots of other links added to the existing sections, and occasional sprinkles of extra-bonus-added sarcasm throughout. Yay! Have fun people.

New ‘Links’ page

Just a quick notification to say that I’ve just put up a ‘Links’ page, accessible from the top-level menu on this site, or by clicking here. There’s a couple of hundred categorised and (more or less) colour-coded links there, all more-or-less relevant to psychology and/or computing. Hope it’s useful to someone, because it took me bloody ages… ;o)

More to come on the links page as I find more stuff/get around to it.


How many social networks do researchers really need?

I realised the other day that I now have profiles on about eight different sites which have some kind of social networking functionality. Facebook (mostly for personal stuff) and Twitter (mostly work-related stuff) are the ones I tend to use the most, but I also have profiles on LinkedIn and Google+. I also have profiles set up on a number of more specialist academic/researcher networks –, BiomedExperts, ResearchGate and Mendeley. The only one of these I use regularly is Mendeley, and that’s almost entirely for the reference-management features, rather than the social connectivity side of it. For most of them I signed up to see what they were about, and then hardly ever looked at them again.

Keeping track of them all is starting to become a major headache. When I publish a new paper, in theory I should go to all these separate accounts and add it to my profile on each one. In practice of course, I rarely bother and so my accounts languish mostly unused.

The reason why I’m not more actively using my accounts on, say, or ResearchGate is that they offer me very little that I can’t get elsewhere. Each one offers a slightly different feature-set, and they all seem to be reasonably well-built sites, but if I want to talk about research, then I’m more likely to do it in seminars, conferences or in the pub than on social networking sites. The exception to this rule is of course Twitter, which I’ve found to be an incredibly powerful way of sharing, discovering and talking about new research with more and various interested and expert conversants than I ever imagined.

The killer feature (as with any website these days) is of course content, and in the case of social networks the content is the people that use them. Facebook is now pretty much essential to my social life because almost all of my friends actively use it. If a network existed which included almost all of the people that I was interested in talking to about research, then actively using it would be well worth my while. Unfortunately, none of the specialist academic networks seem to have taken off in terms of their user-base in the way that Facebook has for a more general audience. There was a brief flurry of excitement (ironically, mostly on Twitter) about Google+, and particularly its ‘hangout’ feature, for academic collaboration, but that all seems to have died down, and after a couple of weeks of playing around with it, my Google+ account is now as moribund as all the others.

So, where can we go from here? There seems to be a lot of optimism (and investment) around the idea that a specialised social network for researchers might be a useful thing, but so far no-one seems to have cracked it yet. As this article notes, the only way researchers will start using these tools regularly is if they fill some kind of currently un-met need. My motivation for using facebook is that it makes my life easier – instead of feeling guilty for never e-mailing or calling my friends I can just read their status updates and at least maintain the illusion that I’m in touch with their lives. Researchers are generally busy people and would probably welcome some online tool which could make their lives more efficient. Unfortunately, most of our needs seem to be pretty adequately met by relatively simple tools which are currently available (e.g. RSS readers for keeping track of the latest publications/blogs). Until a network comes along which has a) a really killer feature-set and b) a sufficiently wide user-base, these specialist academic networks are probably destined to struggle, and many will likely fail once their start-up funding runs dry.

Behavioural/Experimental software for psychology… A teaser.

When I started this blog, one of the main reasons for doing so was to talk about how to program and run psychology experiments. I’ve made a couple of low-level forays into those areas in the past, but I’ve always intended to put up some reviews, handy hints, and maybe even some completed programs related to particular pieces of specialised experimental software.

Unfortunately, this post is not going to do that. I started aimlessly browsing a load of websites this morning looking at the options available for this kind of software, and quickly realised that a) I needed to do a lot more reading and work if I was going to write anything which could hope to be even moderately comprehensive, and b) that there are already some really rather good sites that already exist and can serve as an introduction to this sort of thing.

For instance, as a starting point, you could do a lot worse than this wikipedia page, which lists a bunch of the more well-known behavioural software packages and includes some helpful information about platforms, interface, and cost. This little snippet of a page on the Cambridge MRC-CBU website is also of interest, as it shows the results of a survey of researchers and what packages they use (quite old though; 2006).

Lastly, I urge you to check out this heroically comprehensive collection of information and links curated by Hans Strasburger, who works at the universities of München and Göttingen. There is an awful lot to digest on this web-page, but it’s packed full of solid-gold nuggets of greatness. It’s mostly skewed towards visual psychophysics-type experimentation, but there’s an awful lot of value here for any kind of psychology researcher.

At some point, I’ll do a ‘proper’ post (or more likely, series) on experimental software with reviews, examples etc., but these links should keep you busy enough until then.


Just found a new blog…

…by a fMRI researcher in Dundee named Akira O’Connor, find it here. Lots of deeply cool academic/tech-related stuff on there, but in particular I really enjoyed his presentation (done using Prezi) on internet tools for academics, and the post on student e-mail etiquette.

That is all.

How to do research on the internet – Google Scholar and other databases

So, you’ve got a lovely juicy essay/paper or research project to write, and instead of spending hours going through card catalogs in the library you obviously want to get your research done in the fastest way possible – on the internet. Here are my best tips for finding material for a paper or essay using online databases. In a nutshell – there’s more to finding information on the web than just typing some keywords into Google and using what pops out on the first page of results.

As a general rule, you should familiarise yourself with what databases are available to you – some are totally open-access, while others require some kind of subscription. Most universities and colleges subscribe to a lot of them, and you can usually find links to available databases on your college’s library website.

The way I usually start is with a couple of really general search terms on Google Scholar. You could start off searching on Google’s regular web search page, but all you generally get there is the wikipedia page, and you wouldn’t be stupid enough to reference wikipedia in an essay, would you? Of course not. Say your essay is on working memory – so stick “working memory +review” (without the quotes) into google scholar. This gets you about 2.2 million hits! Change the middle drop-down box at the top to restrict your search to the last, say, five years and then you have less than half a million references to go through – easy. Of course you don’t have to look through half a million papers – the great thing about Google Scholar is that it ranks things in order of ‘influence’ – which roughly translates as the number of times that paper has been cited by other papers. While there’s lots of arguments about exactly what this means in terms of a paper’s genuine influence, influential papers tend to get more cited than others, so it’s a reasonable metric. Hopefully you’ve got a couple of good review papers there on the first couple of pages that will get you into the topic. The other really great thing about Google Scholar is that it links directly to PDFs of the papers (when they’re available on the net) which enables you to directly download the papers with a single (right-)click. Of course if you use reference management like Mendeley (and if you don’t, you’re an idiot)  you can also import references from Google Scholar directly into your library. Here’s a nice page which talks about some advanced tips and tricks for getting the most out of Google Scholar. Read the rest of this entry

The student essay as an assessment technique – an obsolete technology?

This post is a bit of a diversion from normal service, but it’s been inspired by some things I’ve been reading recently on essays (or ‘papers’ for my North American readers) and student assessment. The first was this piece on plagiarism and essay-mills, and the second was this piece here. Both highlight some current issues with assessment methods at university/college level, such as plagiarism, something which I’ve also covered before.

So anyway, in keeping (vaguely) with the theme of this blog I thought I’d take a look at the essay/paper as a technique (or ‘technology’ if you will – see what I did there?) for educational assessment and try and determine whether it’s still up-to-date, or as obsolete as a 5-inch floppy disk. Or a 28.8K modem. Or leaving your goddam twitter account alone for five minutes and giving someone your undivided attention during a social interaction. You get the idea.

So, the essay* as a literary format is a curious one. Canonically it has its origins in the 1580s with Michel de Montaigne; probably the first person to describe themselves as an ‘essayist’, although he was apparently inspired by Plutarch. Interestingly, a similar format existed in the Japanese literary tradition since its very early period. It first became formalised as a standard way of assessing students in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Read the rest of this entry

Computer skills checklist for every (psychology) student.

I decided to put together a computer skills checklist. A lot of the things on this list are not specific to psychology and should be part of the training of every student. I would advise students to work through the list and note down any entries that you’re not comfortable with – finding out how to do these things and ticking off every item on the list will definitely advance your knowledge and help you out in future. Some of the things on the list have already been covered on this blog, and some I’m planning to cover in the future. Let me know in the comments if you think I’ve missed anything!

Green text denotes a basic/essential skill, orange means intermediate, red means it’s an advanced skill. Most students should be able to tick off all the green ones straight away – if you can’t you’ve got some work to do! Read the rest of this entry

Psychology and cloud computing – Google Docs, DropBox, iCloud.

My favourite cloud-type - you can't beat a nice bit of cumulonimbus.

Following Apple’s announcement of ‘iCloud‘ last week, I’ve been thinking about how the current trend towards cloud computing might have an impact on psychology students, teaching and research. Not so much about the psychology of cloud storage itself (although I definitely think there’s an interesting discussion to be had there) but more about how as psychologists we can use the cloud to make our lives easier. Read the rest of this entry