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Successful MSc Projects. Student guidance for 2012-13. Improving health worldwide. www.lshtm.ac.uk. Successful MSc projects. Based on material and slides provided by:

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successful msc projects
Successful MSc Projects

Student guidance for 2012-13

Improving health worldwide

www.lshtm.ac.uk

successful msc projects1
Successful MSc projects

Based on material and slides provided by:

  • Stuart Anderson, Rory Donnelly, Jane Falconer, Anna Foss, Helen Hogan, PunamMangtani, Michael Miles, Dorothea Nitsch, Doug Parkin, and Cathy Zimmerman
  • This presentation is intended to be applicable School-wide, for both F2F and DL projects – it may be further adapted by individual MSc courses
outline of this session
Outline of this session
  • The project as a learning experience
  • Project approval process
  • Main project work
  • Key sections of the report
  • How projects are assessed
outcomes knowledge and understanding relevant to your course
Outcomes: knowledge and understanding (relevant to your course!)
  • show understanding of a substantive area of knowledge (including prior literature and project context)
  • apply, deepen and develop concepts & skills learnt during the course – gaining specific real-world experience
  • analyse data or literature, and form clear conclusions or recommendations (while being aware of any limitations)
  • show ability to think critically and develop original ideas
  • where appropriate, reflect on relevant social, ethical or scientific issues
outcomes skills and competencies relevant to your course
Outcomes: skills and competencies (relevant to your course!)
  • demonstrate independent research skills (inc. awareness of practical issues and potential pitfalls, ability to plan and organise time)
  • apply an appropriate range of investigative and analytical methods
  • show competencies relevant to your project type (whether literature review, data collection or analysis; desk-based or fieldwork; in UK or abroad; working with an organisation; etc.)
  • present your findings as a clear and coherent long-form report, carefully structured in a professional style, with accurate and systematic referencing
examples of competencies
Examples of competencies
  • For Epidemiology (linked to allowed project types):

i) Data analysis

ii) Protocol for epidemiological research project

iii) Critical review of epidemiological hypotheses/methods

    • Modelling
demonstrating your abilities
Demonstrating your abilities

...and many alumni tell us that doing the project has been very helpful for their professional/career development

project process vs product
Project processvsproduct

The process – doing the work, e.g.

  • a literature review
  • study design/research proposal
  • data collection / analysis etc.

This is main work – but also leave enough time to write about it!

The product – communicating the results, i.e.

  • report in an academic professional format (as per School criteria)

This is the content that will be marked!

A ‘write as you go’ approach is advisable to combine these elements

And good time management is key throughout

project handbook
Project handbook
  • The project handbook – available on Moodle – contains all key guidance from the School and your MSc about doing a project
    • Aim to at least skim-read the whole thing so you have an idea of what it covers
    • Then go back to specific sections as a detailed resource during different stages of the project
key sections of project handbook
Key sections of project handbook
  • What you can expect from your supervisor
  • Guidance on developing your proposal – including specific types of project for your course (see Part 2 of the handbook)
  • How to complete the CARE form and get it approved
  • Risk assessment
  • Ethics
  • Required format for project report, and typical structure
  • How to reference appropriately and avoid plagiarism (also see the Academic Writing handbook)
  • Deadlines and how to submit final report
independent learning
Independent learning

Complex learning is messy, uncertain and ambiguous...

As an independent learner, you should aspire to –

  • live with (and ideally enjoy!) this
  • show resilience when faced with setbacks
  • produce your own results and conclusions
  • update and change your conclusions as you continue work
  • know what support you need from others throughout (and not always expect your supervisor to tell you what to do)
your supervisor
Your supervisor
  • For fairness, there is a School-wide limit (10 hours max over the summer) on the time a supervisor can spend supporting each student.
  • Input from personal tutors is also constrained during the period of project work.
  • Support from your supervisor should be to:
    • guide you in the right direction
    • boost you over hurdles
  • It should not be to:
    • carry you over the finish line
identifying project topic
Identifying project topic
  • Some LSHTM MScs offer a ‘menu’ of potential project topics – but most don’t. Vital to start on this early!
  • Think about things like:
    • disease area or methodological area of interest
    • geographical area
  • Talk to tutors and possibly Course Directors
  • Examples of past projects can be helpful to give you ideas about what’s possible in a project – see www.lshtm.ac.uk/library/collections/mscprojects.html
  • Search for relevant literature on PubMed / Medline etc. (check there’s enough out there to support work, e.g. at least 5 results on a quick search)
identifying supervisors
Identifying supervisors
  • Your supervisor should be able to provide academic support relevant to the project topic, and be in a position to have regular contact with you during it.
  • As well as an academic supervisor from LSHTM, students may also work with external supervisors or technical advisors – e.g. staff of an NGO or other body working at the project location.
  • LSHTM website is a good way to identify staff with research interests in the same area (www.lshtm.ac.uk/aboutus/people )
  • If working overseas, it’s particularly crucial to ensure you have adequate local support in place.
proposal development
Proposal development
  • Your initial project proposal (put it together using the CARE form) should give at least a short description of:
    • overall aim and specific objectives
    • methods of investigation
    • how to analyse and present results
    • likely outputs and significance
  • Also develop an outline project plan and timetable
  • Identify key risks and have a back-up project in mind in case things goes wrong or off-track
  • Budget for travel, accommodation, visas and other expenses, materials, etc.
the care form
The CARE form
  • This is the Combined Academic, Risk assessment and Ethics approval form – available on Moodle
  • Should be a comprehensive summary of the work you intend to do in your project, so staff have sufficient information to give approval
  • It should also help you develop your proposal, prompting on a number of key points to think about
  • Examples of past forms are available at www.lshtm.ac.uk/edu/taughtcourses/studentforms/careforms.html
main sections of the care form
Main sections of the CARE form
  • Section 1 – Student and course information
  • Section 2 – Approval and submission status (sign-off)
  • Section 3 – Academic proposal
  • Section 4 – Risk assessment details
  • Section 5 – Ethics details

You cannot start main work on your project until the CARE form has been fully approved (especially for Ethics)

staff input to care
Staff input to CARE
  • Make use of input from your (potential) supervisor and other relevant staff like tutors or Course Directors, as well as using the literature, to ensure your project design is as good as can be
  • You should expect to have some dialogue with staff, prompting revisions to the form, before a final version is ready to be approved
approvals from outside lshtm
Approvals from outside LSHTM
  • Vital to confirm whether your intended project needs local approval, normally for ethics
  • If needed, prepare and submit an application for approval by the appropriate local body
last preparations
Last preparations…
  • After the CARE form has been fully approved, you can start main work (data collection/analysis) on your project – though most F2F MSc students will wait until after the summer exams
  • But April and May (alongside last module work) is always a key time to do last preparatory work – e.g. Literature Review section, expanding Background/Context section, developing proposed Methods, conceptual framework, plan for presentation of Results, outline structure of whole report
  • Also crucial to prepare a project plan for doing all main work – timetable (key stages through data collection, analysis and writing-up), travel & accommodation, materials, budget, etc.
project planning and landmarks
Project planning and landmarks
  • Your project plan should ideally set out clear ‘landmarks’ to be achieved by different stages
  • Undertaking sufficient preparatory ahead of the summer exams is particularly key, so you can then start main work without delay
  • An example of preparatory landmarks for a data analysis project:

“By May 2013, I expect to have

    • Finished the literature review
    • Cleaned the data
    • Outlined a project time-table
    • Outlined methods section according to aim/objectives
    • Derived empty tables”
project planning and landmarks1
Project planning and landmarks
  • An example of preparatory landmarks for a systematic literature review:

“By May 2013, I expect to have

    • Defined my search strategy
    • Set Inclusion/Exclusion criteria
    • Set quality grading criteria
    • Have an overall total of papers to review/score”
    • And of course the ‘final’ landmarks for every project will be to get the research completed, written-up, revised based on supervisor feedback, proof-read, and submitted by the deadline...
travel
Travel
  • If you are travelling overseas, make sure your passport is up-to-date, arrange necessary visas, vaccinations, prophylactic medicines (for malaria etc.), and insurance
  • LSHTM provides insurance cover for London-based students carrying out projects overseas – need to complete a form
  • Investigate air travel options early (for good value from UK, try STA Travel, Trailfinders, Journey Latin America, Scotts Travel) and make preliminary travel reservations. But beware of cancellation fees if last-minute changes have to be made...
resources for literature searching reviewing
Resources for literature searching & reviewing
  • Library help pages at www.lshtm.ac.uk/library/helpinclude:
    • accessing databases,
    • running an effective literature search
    • citing references properly
  • Information Skills tutorials on topics like literature searching, using databases & the internet effectively, referencing & citation and avoiding plagiarism.
    • www.librarydevelopment.group.shef.ac.uk/isr.html
presenting a literature review
Presenting a literature review

Methods

  • Details on how the search was undertaken: search terms, search strategy, databases used, inclusion/exclusion criteria, how quality was assessed
  • Justification of the methods used (e.g. reasons for including or excluding specific studies) and consideration of the limits associated with the approach (e.g. confounding, emphasis on hypothesis generation)

Results

  • Overview of the quantity and quality of the literature included
  • Present the results in a systematic way, including critical appraisal and a synthesis of the evidence (not just a description of findings from each study) – it is about ‘making the whole into something more than its parts’

Discussion / Conclusions

  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of the literature and discuss the implications of findings for future research/policy/practice
  • Conclusions should be grounded in the evidence reviewed
work with supplied datasets
Work with supplied datasets
  • Many students will make use of datasets collected/supplied by others (even if they are also collecting their own data)
  • Some may be fully public domain – e.g. DHS data
  • Other data may be supplied by LSHTM staff (e.g. your supervisor) or external parties (e.g. a contact at an NGO)
  • It’s vital to ensure you get written permission from the owner to make use of any dataset that is not fully public domain
  • Check the ethics implications of using such data – ethics approval originally granted may not cover your intentions
  • Also get advance agreement on when and how the data will be supplied to you – particularly so you can start work in time, and work with security restrictions e.g. not being allowed to make a personal copy of electronic data
  • Avoid using data that requires extensive cleaning!
analysis work
Analysis work

Introduction

  • Give a brief description of the specific population, country or region, if applicable – for example, location maps may be helpful

Methodology

  • Literature review, focusing on current knowledge and identifying any research gaps
  • Description of statistical/modelling methods used (including software tools)
  • Description of datasets (existing datasets or new data appropriate to a pilot study): sampling strategy, data collection methods, data analysis, representativeness, QA/QC, etc

Results

  • Good description of quantitative results, including tables & figures (with appropriate labels) where graphs (scatter plots, histograms, pie charts, etc.) should be readable and any units clearly indicated
supervisor input
Supervisor input
  • Your supervisor should be able to provide feedback on one full draft of the report
  • Make sure you get it to them in time for them to give feedback, and for you to update it based on this
  • Even better, take a ‘write as you go’ approach to send them a series of draft sections as your work progresses
  • Also make sure you are aware of when your supervisor may plan to be away (doing their own research, or even on holiday) during the summer
submission deadlines 2012 13
Submission deadlines 2012-13

The following final deadlines (all UK time/BST) apply:

  • London-based PHP MScs: Mon 02 Sept 2013, 12 noon
  • London-based EPH MScs: Tues 03 Sept 2013, 12 noon
  • London-based ITD MScs: Weds 04 Sept 2013, 12 noon
  • Distance learning MScs: Mon 30 Sept 2013, midnight

Any extension (e.g. by a few days) or deferral (e.g to the following year) must be approved in advance by the relevant Faculty Taught Course Director. This will require supporting evidence, e.g. re. medical issues.

structure of report
Structure of report
  • Title page, Contents, Abstract, Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Aims and objectives
  • Materials and methods
  • Results
  • Discussion, conclusions and recommendations
  • Reference list
  • Appendices
introduction section of report
‘Introduction’ section of report

Introduce the broad topic and its context

  • e.g. disease, geographic setting, changing relevance, politics
  • give definitions of key terms
  • what is known to date, and what is not known?
  • how has it been addressed (e.g. concepts, methods, policies and programmes)?
  • in which populations and settings?

State the problem, e.g.

  • gap in knowledge on the subject area
  • an operational or analytical problem worth examining
  • a contested issue for which there are different ‘solutions’
aims objectives section of report
‘Aims & objectives’ section of report

Aim [preferable to just have one overall aim]

  • overall aim should be a clearly stated and answerable research question
  • what aspect of the ‘problem’ will your project examine?
  • what contribution will this make? e.g.
    • ‘to determine’
    • ‘to explore…’
    • ‘to investigate’
    • ‘to better understand…’
    • ‘to review…’
    • ‘to inform...’
    • Be careful not to over-reach in what you are trying to do – your own aim should be to get an MSc, not write a paper or a PhD!
example aim
Example aim

Overall aim of project:

  • To determine the relationship between dengue fever incidence in Malaysia with social and cultural variables using statistical and geographic information systems analysis
aims objectives section of report1
‘Aims & objectives’ section of report

Objectives (what the project will do to meet aim)

  • should emerge clearly from the background (what you know at this stage on the topic), and be in line with your overall aim
  • state as research objectives, not methodological objectives
  • typically have 3 to 5 main objectives supporting overall aim
  • can break main objectives down into smaller sub-objectives
  • As you conduct the main project, you may find you need to adjust aims and objectives from those originally proposed (but be careful about ethics...)
example objectives
Example objectives

Specific objectives of project:

  • To access incidence data on dengue fever from the Ministry of Health
  • To develop a geo-referenced map with incidence of dengue per region in Kuala Lumpur
  • To develop and conduct a questionnaire to determine social and cultural factors that may influence dengue incidence, including human dwellings, awareness/knowledge, mosquito protection patterns, sanitation, water collection and storage and waste disposal
  • To assess spatial social risks related to dengue incidence
  • To develop a model that can be used as a predictive tool to forecast the occurrence of dengue cases in metropolitan Kuala Lumpur for preparedness and control efforts
distinguishing aims from objectives
Distinguishing aims from objectives
  • Which of the following is phrased as an aim and which as an objective?
    • To assess whether the rs17384213 DDAH1 GG genotype is associated with blood pressure in 5-year old children.
    • To establish whether genes associated with chronic kidney disease (CKD) in middle age cause high blood pressure in children.
methods section of report
‘Methods’ section of report

Methodology (how you sought to achieve objectives)

  • should suggest an appropriate and feasible study design given scope of topic, type of analysis and duration of study
  • methods should be consistent with, and appropriate for, addressing your objectives (or sub-objectives)
  • will vary depending on project type, e.g.:
    • for literature review: search terms, search strategy, exclusion criteria, databases used, etc
    • for interviews/questionnaires: sampling strategy, data collection methods, data analysis, etc
    • for monitoring data: sampling strategy, data collection methods and data analysis
    • for modelling: description of models and justification of tools used
  • make clear how you considered ethics issues
results section of report
‘Results’ section of report
  • Results should have emerged from the methods described
  • Format of results section will depend on type of project
  • (review examples of past projects, available on Library website)
  • Results are the key evidence to inform discussion/conclusions

Markers will be looking for:

  • Overview of the quality and quantity of information / data
  • Summary of findings from literature that shows a reasonable understanding of the topic
  • Good description of qualitative / quantitative results
  • Appropriate use of tables / figures
discussion conclusion recommendations section s of report
‘Discussion/conclusion/recommendations’ section(s) of report
  • This should bring your findings together (often useful to summarise findings briefly at the start of this section)
  • Give commentary on the value and applicability of findings
    • Review the strengths and weaknesses of your work
    • Link to original research question(s) – can you now give answers?
    • Integrate theory into your discussion
    • Bring in (more?) literature for comparative purposes
  • Make overall conclusions
    • Again, link conclusions to the original research questions
    • Give implications of your findings for research, policy, or other audiences/purposes
    • How realistic/feasible are your recommendations to implement?
referencing
Referencing
  • You must give clear and consistent citations in a standard referencing style throughout your report
  • Full details of each cited work must then be spelt out in the reference list (bibliography) at the end
  • Further guidance is available in the Academic Writing handbook and separate presentation on referencing
appendices to main report
Appendices to main report

Your appendices should always include:

  • The final CARE form and any additional forms (all anonymised!)
  • Other key documents e.g. participant information sheets, copies of questionnaires and interview schedules, etc.

Appendices might also include:

  • Table of studies reviewed, including nature of the population studied and quality of the study
  • Datasets, including detailed quality assurance information (although this may not be appropriate if the dataset is large)
  • Mathematical description of models, statistical techniques, etc
project submission
Project submission

Full requirements given in Project Handbook, including:

  • Recommended length 7,000 words, with an absolute maximum of 10,000 words
    • Word count covers from Introduction to Conclusions, and INCLUDES tables (as they should be in the text)
    • Word count does not include: Abstract, Acknowledgements, Reference list, and any Appendices
  • London-based students must provide electronic plus 2 paper copies.
  • Distance learning students can submit electronic-only
project deadline
Project deadline
  • Deadlines are set out in the project handbook
  • Make sure you meet the deadline – any projects submitted late will receive an automatic fail grade
  • Contact your Faculty Taught Course Director urgently and ahead of the deadline if you are having problems – only they can authorise an extension or deferral
project marking criteria
Project marking criteria

Each MSc has specific marking criteria relating to each different type of project it allows

But all MScs should mark in a manner consistent with the School’s grading scale

The marking of the project report counts for 30% of the overall MSc

criteria for a project pass
Criteria for a project pass

General criteria for marking against the LSHTM grading scale: 

  • 5 (outstanding achievement, distinction level) – A comprehensive treatment showing in-depth critical understanding of the topic, giving wholly relevant information, with excellent critical evaluation going beyond conventional answers and bringing in further relevant ideas or material
  • 4 (very good pass) – A comprehensive treatment showing in-depth critical understanding of the topic, with wholly relevant information and very good critical evaluation
  • 3 (good pass) – A reasonably thorough treatment but which may omit some (less important) considerations, and/or have less extensive critical evaluation
  • 2 (satisfactory pass) – A sufficiently relevant treatment but which omits potentially important considerations, and with limited critical evaluation and/or some errors of interpretation
criteria for a project fail
Criteria for a project fail

General criteria for marking against the LSHTM grading scale: 

  • 1 (borderline fail) – A flawed or superficial treatment which shows lack of understanding along with use of irrelevant points
  • 0 (outright fail) – A deeply flawed or superficial treatment which shows serious lack of understanding, does not address crucial elements, and includes many irrelevant points
  • 0 (not submitted) – projects not submitted by the deadline will be given a fail grade, unless an extension or deferral has previously been granted

One re-sit attempt is allowed for failed projects – normally to be submitted for the following year’s deadline

questions markers will ask 1
Questions markers will ask… (1)
  • How clearly does the abstract represent the content and outcomes of the project?
  • How effectively does the introduction summarise context and relevant literature?
  • How clearly and coherently are the aim and objectives stated?
  • How appropriately were investigative and analytical methods applied and explained?
  • How rationally were the findings interpreted?
  • Does the student demonstrate sufficient understanding of the limitations of the current project work and show insights into ideas for future research?
questions markers will ask 2
Questions markers will ask… (2)
  • How clearly were conclusions, implications and recommendations made and discussed?
  • Have the aims and objectives been met?
  • How well has the student sought and identified relevant references (e.g. to position project within context of broader research), and cited these appropriately?
  • How competent and accurate was the presentation of the report overall, including structure and the use of tables / figures / illustrations?
  • How much independent and original thought was displayed throughout the project?
common problems
Common problems
  • Poor report structure, inadequate headings/sub-headings
  • Confusion between aim/objectives and methods
  • Over-ambitious aim or too many objectives
  • Very broadly described literature review methodology (or not enough articles in lit review), statistical methods lacking detail
  • Not all objectives (sufficiently) addressed in results & discussion
  • Inconsistent datasets, figures / tables without appropriate labels, units, etc
  • Too general recommendations, not entirely justified by the results & discussion
  • Limitations, strengths & weaknesses of methodology not discussed
  • Data / information quality & quantity not discussed
  • Inconsistent or mis-used referencing style
  • Lack of proof-reading
what makes a good report
What makes a good report?
  • Well written and well structured throughout
  • Abstract / Summary that briefly summares key points from the methods, results and conclusions
  • Good choice of Headings and sub-Headings
  • List of abbreviations at the beginning (a glossary in the appendices may be necessary if there are lots of technical terms)
  • List of tables at the beginning
  • Conventional use of referencing
  • Any tables and charts well laid out and labelled
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