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Doing REAL research: discover your research talents


Deze informatie is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. Third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College, have the opportunity to apply for a Bachelor Honours Class. Students will be selected based on i.a. their motivation and average grade.

Please note: Participants will receive instructions to prepare a short oral pitch for the first meeting on Tuesday October 1st. The Powerpoint file or link to Prezi for this pitch must be uploaded before Monday sept 30th, 8. am.

Key words:

Skills: Research, Self-reflection, Presenting, Cooperation, Environment orientation, Conceptual capacity, Planning and organising, Accuracy, Analytical capacity

Topics: digital society, digital transformation, social media, big tech, artifcial intelligence, big data

Disciplines: Social sciences, Information sciences, Economics, Humanities


'Scientific researcher': too often we only consider this as a possible profession in the distant future, waiting at the very end of a lengthy academic education. Why not just start out as a researcher right now, and discover your research talents?

The general topic will be our increasingly digitizing society, the increasing power of tech firms and the blessings and dangers of artificial intelligence and big data.

This course offers you the opportunity to do real work as a curious researcher in a multidisciplinary team. You will design an (applied) scientific empirical research project, execute your plan, and present the results for a mixed audience in a seminar. Students will be invited to scientifically explore their own curiosity using different disciplines.

To realize this, we use the unique 'REAL' methodology, developed within the Honours College FSW. We will guide you through a triangulated design that provides you with 1) insights in opinions and behavior of the general public, 2) expert views on your topic and 3) data to answer your central research questions.

Within 12 weeks your will, on a small scale, perform three common scientific research cycles:

  • An explorative online survey among the general public, enhancing your own exploration of the research topic;

  • A small literature study using Web of Science, enhancing your own conceptualization of your research problem;

  • A true empirical research cycle using an observational social scientific method and instruments of your choice.

The staff will help you to find answers your questions in a scientifically sound manner.

Aim of the course
Aim of the course is to develop and understand your interests and skills as a scientist. You learn to explore societal themes in a scientific way, working in a team context. You will learn, hands on, to conduct real (applied) scientific research, using various methods. At the end of the course you will have acquired knowledge and skills to quickly transform your curiosity into researchable questions, and will have experimented with tools that help you to find empirical answers. You will get a taste of what multidisciplinary research is really like.

Curiosity and initial inspirational sources
Usually a research project starts with a single observation that struck you and raised your curiosity. It may be an experience that ignited in you an urge to change: e.g. a shocking news item, an uncanny event, or surprising public behavior.
Any of the following triggers can be a valuable initial inspiration source for your research endeavor:

  • a societal topic connected to the digitization of our society, that has your concern or interest, e.g. robotics and algorithms, addiction to social media, influencing democratic processes, increasing power of tech firms, or the possibilities that digital technologies and big data offer to overcome humanitarian crises, adapt to climate change;

  • a theory that you regard as promising or questionable, e.g. on how leadership develops, how people get motivated;

  • an innovative research method that caught your attention, e.g. provocative prototyping, co-reflection, expert interview, diary study;

  • a measurement instrument you recently got a hold of, e.g. a health app, a sports wearable, a citizen science app;

  • an awesome open dataset that yearns to be explored, e.g. gapminder, ourworldindata, the LISS data archive, world humanitarian data and trends;

  • and last but not least: an open question in a scientific research paper can be a source of inspiration.

In case you encounter troubles in finding a source of inspiration regarding the digitization of our society, we suggest to orient yourself by exploring a newspaper archive like e.g. or and reading the online tutorial on crafting driving questions:

Teams, projects and products
You will work in teams of five researchers, in coupled research projects around a central topic. The first meeting will be dedicated to the formation of teams, using your inspirational sources, current level of methodological knowledge and personal goals as a starting point. Your creativity and flexibility will be required to keep the project proceeding smoothly. As a team you will deliver 5 Stepping Stone products. The final product is YOU as a researcher.

The Stepping Stone products are:
1. - a map document of the research space, consisting of a central topic, research questions with a bounded context;
2. - a framework document consisting of a central theory , hypotheses and their underlying presuppositions;
3. - a design document consisting of a method, procedures (literature study and survey are the other two, predetermined methods) and predicted outcomes under the various hypotheses;
4. - a journal, containing a description of the used instruments, data and definitions of phenomena;
5. - a findings document, containing a description of analyses , claims based on these analyses and gaps (open questions).

What is your role?
You will pursue your own interests and execute three full research cycles. You will also peer review your fellow students’ Stepping Stone-products. Furthermore, in the first meeting, you will take editorial responsibility for one of the five Stepping Stone products. In the course of 12 weeks, every one of you will also develop one specific academic competence of your own choice.

How do we help you?
The training in this course is primarily focused on you as a researcher and less on the research output. However, the 12 week course canvas provides you with assignments to write the five Stepping Stones, referring to the Research Exchange - Accelerated Learning (REAL) model. You will receive feedback on the Stepping Stones. We also provide you with a 7 step reflection-for-action program that will help you to consciously develop a competency. We will prepare a basic questionnaire in the online research tool Qualtrics, in which you can put your own questions to the general public. At the end of the research period, we will help you reflect on your affinity with the five roles of a (applied) researcher and your competence development.

Course objectives:

Upon successful completion of this course, students:

  • have acted as an explorer, conceptualizer, designer, observer and interpreter;

  • have acquired insight in your profile as an (applied) scientist: your affinities with the five researcher roles, strengths, weaknesses and skills to be developed;

  • have practiced your presentation skills: a pitch at the first meeting, scientific dialogue during the process and a presentation at the end. You will receive feedback from your peers on a recording of your initial pitch, and immediate feedback on your final presentation;

  • Have learned how to consciously develop a competence (skill) in a predetermined timeframe, by systematically preparing, monitoring and reflecting on your actions (using the SRP-A-RR method and the VSNU Competence Instrument that all Dutch Universities employ).

Programme and timetable:

There will be seven onsite working group meetings of 3 clock-hours on Tuesday evenings, 18:00-21:15 hrs.

Session 1: Tuesday October 1st, 2019 – Pitches and formation of research teams + start literature search;
Session 2: Tuesday October 15th, 2019 – Topic and research questions;
Session 3: Tuesday October 29th, 2019 – Theories and hypotheses + launch questionnaire for general public;
Session 4: Tuesday November 5th, 2019 – Methods and procedures;
Session 5: Tuesday November 19th , 2019 – Instruments and data + second round data-collection;
Session 6: Tuesday December 3rd 2019 – Data sets and evidence;
Session 7: Tuesday December 17th, 2019 - Interpretation and final presentation of findings.

Please note: Deadline for submission of the five Stepping Stone products and final individual reflection: Monday, Dec 23rd 2019, 8am.


Faculty of Social Sciences, Pieter de La Court Building (FSW). Room 1A22.

Reading list:

Literature is mainly collected by the students themselves during the course. Additional course specific literature on the REAL research reference model and the competence development method is provided through Blackboard.

Course Load:

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

The course has a blended format:
The 12 week canvas provides (online) instructions, resources, tools and assignments. There will be seven onsite working group meetings of 3 clock-hours on Tuesday evenings, 18:00-21:15 hrs.

  • Preparation, preceded by an online intake survey: 1+3=4 hours;

  • Working group meetings (onsite): 7 meetings x 3 hours = 21 hours; (attendance is mandatory)

  • Collaborating on research, writing, reviewing and editing milestone products (online): 12 weeks x 8 hours = 96 hours;

  • Preparation, monitoring and reflection on process and competence: 8 weeks x 1,5 hour = 12 hours;

  • Final presentation and reflection on profile and competence development: 3+4=7 hours.

Assessment method:

The assessment methods will look as follows:

  • 40% five Stepping Stone products (team achievement, each Stepping Stone edited under responsibility of a team member that takes the lead, assessed by instructor);

  • 20% number and quality of entries in the personal reflection journal (individual performance, assessed by instructor);

  • 20% clarity and authenticity of the final presentation (individual performance in a team context, assessed by peers);

  • 20% final individual reflection on profile as a researcher and development of competence since the start of the course (individual accomplishment, assessed by instructor).

Detailed feedback will be provided during the course, successful completion will be registered as Passed, Amply Satisfactory, Good or Excellent in uSis. Presence during workgroup meetings is obligatory.

Students missing more than two meetings will not be able to fulfil the requirements of this course.


Blackboard will be used in this course. Students can register for the Blackboard site two weeks prior to the start of the course.


Enrolling in this course is possible from Monday the 19th of August up to and including Thursday the 5th of September until 23:59 o'clock through the Honours Academy. The registration link will be posted on the student website of the Honours Academy.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally after successful completion of the Bachelor Honours Class.

Dr. Marc Cleiren: