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Adelaide9216

Being a new RA as a master's student

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Hello,

I am a new RA for my master's thesis supervisor. I've been working with her since the beginning of my undergraduate studies. I started this new work this week along with her research coordinator. We're supposed to do some kind of lit review (scoping study/scoping review) and publish an article something in the next couple of months. The thing is that I have never done this before, I am unfamiliar with the topic we're working on (even if it does interest me). I am feeling quite confused about what I am supposed to look for in the articles I find. They both told me to not pressure myself too much, but I still feel confused.

Anyone been in this situation too? 

Edited by Adelaide9216

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I spoke with my supervisor and research coordinator and apparently, my feelings of not knowing where I must go with this research are normal since it is an area that has little literature on it. But still. It makes me anxious to not have a clear/cut step-by-step way of approaching this topic, I have never done this before and it makes me feel a little bit insecure of my ability to work for my supervisor and my research coordinator. 

Edited by Adelaide9216

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When you begin new research, nothing will ever be "clear/cut step-by-step" unless maybe you're doing a very specific and delicate scientific experiment or test. I have no idea what your project is, but if you're starting with a lit review, that should be fairly straightforward. Find publications relevant to your topic and read through them for information that relates to your current project, then summarize and evaluate those publications. I'm not really sure if anyone will be able to give you very clear advice without knowing what the goal of your publication will be--is the publication itself going to be a literature review? Is it a presentation of new research findings? 

Lit review can be difficult mostly in the way that it is time consuming and it can be hard to find material on a subject that has not been researched extensively. I wrote an honors thesis during undergrad (pretty much like a Masters thesis) on a very under researched area of archaeology. I spent 3 years on the overall research, and I spent an entire semester during one of those years doing an independent study that was only lit review. If you're working on a topic you're not very familiar with, then you should be using this lit review as an opportunity to learn as much as you can about it. Consult academic journals in your field, and whenever you find a relevant article or other publication, look through the references to explore other sources that could potentially be useful. I always find that my specific research goals become more concrete and clear once I've familiarized myself with all of the existing information related to my topic. You'll figure it out. 

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I might have read wrong, but it felt like you aren't clear about what the project is about-- and it is really hard to do a focused lit review without that first step. If you're trying to figure out what project to do, I think @hantoo's description is a good place to start. Try to get a sense of what literature exists, and what its general findings are. I keep a running excel doc with columns for the citation, the gist of the findings, things that are particularly relevent to my current project, and notes. This might be overkill for where you're at right now, but an idea. 

If you already know what project you're doing, it should be a little easier. You have a general sense of the story you need to tell to justify your research. Usually why the general problem is important, and how your work is filling some gap. I usually start with google scholar or a field-specific database and find some relevent articles then follow their citations / the papers that have cited them to grow the circle outward. 

Also, your advisor probably expects to have this be an ongoing convo/discovery process. They sound understanding and realistic from what you posted! 

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Thanks to both of you for your answers. Things are a little bit clearer now, my supervisor clarified the process for me and the research coordinator during the meeting we had this morning. And we're going to have meetings all throughout the summer. Hopefully I'll do better! I've never done this before so that's why I was a little insecure at first.

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10 hours ago, rising_star said:

If you can find published review papers on your topic or aspects of it, that would be the ideal place to start IMO.

I am presenting at a conference at the end of this month and am preparing a paper for a student contest and both will be related to my master's thesis topic.

The research project that I am working on as a RA was out of my supervisor's initiative. It wasn't my idea. She wanted to offer me a paid research internship for this summer and until the end of my master's studies and I have accepted the offer. It's just unfortunate that it isn't closely related to my master's topic, but I am willing to learn something new so it's fine on my side. 

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We're doing a scoping review, which is kinda of like a review paper for this project if I understood well the purpose of this type of review.

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1 hour ago, rising_star said:

Right, and to write one, you should read the ones which have already been written on similar topics.

And I think this is especially important if you're writing a review, as opposed to just trying to get into the area. Your review article needs to address the topics either content or approach-wise in a different way than what's already out there. 

So reading other reviews on the same/related topics will help you pick out the current threads of discussion as well as clue you into the seminal literature, and lets you see how to place your review among the other similar works and argue for it's impact as a unique take on the subject. 

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Hello,

we're almost at the end of the process. We were supposed to finish the review in early September, but it's going to be extented to January. We'll do the writing during the Fall. Apparently, it was ambitious for my coordinator to believe that we would finish the entire process of the review in 4 months. Things are a bit clearer now but I still feel sightly insecure about this and what I am doing (which my supervisor and research coordinator already know). But I am not giving up. It's my first time doing something like this and I can tell that my supervisor believes in me and my abilities, so I try to hang on to that when I get discouraged. 

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On 2017-05-08 at 9:46 AM, rising_star said:

Right, and to write one, you should read the ones which have already been written on similar topics.

Hello, that's what we did but there is only one systematic review we found on the topic. Our topic is getting "trendy" but doesn't have much litterature on it, and when there is, there isn't a lot of consensus or agreement on it as well. So it's complicated. But I guess that's the whole point of doing research on it and I am assuming that this is very typical when you do research. I'm just not used to it yet.

 

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Hello everyone,

so this whole process is taking longer than expected (but it's very normal according to my supervisor and research coordinator) but I feel much better about it all now. I feel less intimidated by the process even if it's taking longer. I feel like I have a better understanding of the topic in itself and of the research process, so I feel less incompetent. My research coordinator told me that she saw a great improvement on my part which is encouraging. I'm glad I did not give up even if I found it very hard in the beginning. It was a big learning curve but I now trust that I can do this.

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