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Successful MSc Projects

Successful MSc Projects

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Successful MSc Projects

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  1. Successful MSc Projects Student guidance for 2012-13 Improving health worldwide

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. The project as a learning experience

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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

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

  9. 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

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. 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)

  13. 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

  14. Project approval process

  15. 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 • 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)

  16. 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 ( ) • If working overseas, it’s particularly crucial to ensure you have adequate local support in place.

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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)

  20. 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

  21. 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

  22. Key milestones for CARE

  23. Main project work

  24. 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.

  25. 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”

  26. 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...

  27. 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...

  28. Milestones for main project

  29. Resources for literature searching & reviewing • Library help pages at • 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. •

  30. 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

  31. 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!

  32. 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

  33. 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

  34. 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.

  35. Key sections of the report

  36. Structure of report • Title page, Contents, Abstract, Acknowledgements • Introduction • Aims and objectives • Materials and methods • Results • Discussion, conclusions and recommendations • Reference list • Appendices

  37. ‘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’

  38. ‘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!

  39. 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

  40. ‘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...)

  41. 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

  42. 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.

  43. ‘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

  44. ‘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

  45. ‘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?

  46. 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

  47. 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

  48. 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

  49. 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

  50. How projects are assessed