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Doing REAL research: discover your research talents


Admission requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an honours elective in the Honours College programme. There are limited spots available for non-honours students. Admission to the course will be based on motivation and admission to the first meeting will be based on uploading and reviewing all introductory presentations.

Upon enrollment, participants will receive preparatory online questionnaire that is part of the intake and learning process. The questionnaire will cover the following topics:

  • initial self-assessment as a researcher (affinity with roles and skill level of competencies);

  • choice of competence to be developed in this course;

  • research topic (curiosity and/or questions);

  • initial sources of inspiration.

Deadline for submitting the intake questionnaire is Monday sept 24th, 8 am.
Participants will receive instructions to prepare a short oral pitch (based on the information in the questionnaire) for the first meeting on Monday 1 October. The Powerpoint file or link to Presi for this pitch must be uploaded before Monday October 1st, 8. am.


'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?

This course offers you the opportunity to do real work as a curious researcher in a multidisciplinary team. You will design an (applied) scientific research project, execute your plan, and present the results for a mixed audience in a seminar. The general domain of the subject will be our increasingly digitizing society, the increasing power of tech firms and possibilities and dangers of big data. 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 behaviour 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, 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 behaviour.
Any of the following triggers can be a valuable initial inspiration source for your research endeavour:

  • 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. and reading the online tutorial on crafting questions that drive projects:

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 as a starting point. Your creativity and flexibility will be required to keep the project proceeding smoothly. As a team you will deliver 5 milestone products and one final product. The final product is YOU as a researcher. The milestone products are:
1. a topic, demarcation and research questions
2. theory or models, presuppositions and approaches, hunches or hypotheses
3. method, expected outcomes and procedures (literature study and survey are the other two, predetermined methods)
4. instruments, phenomena and results
5. data, conclusions and open questions

What is your role?
You will act as an explorer of topics, a conceptualizer of theories, a designer of research methods, an observer of phenomena and an interpreter of datasets. You will pursue your own interests, but also peer review your fellow students’ milestone-products. Furthermore, in the first meeting, you will take editorial responsibility for one of the five milestone products. In the course of 12 weeks, every one of you will also develop a specific academic competence of your own choice (in terms of personal effectiveness, communicating or influencing)

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 milestones, referring to the Research Exchange - Accelerated Learning (REAL) model. You will use an interactive peer-review system to give each other feedback. 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.

Course objectives

At the end of the course:

  1. You will have acquired insight in your profile as an (applied) scientist: your affinities with the five researcher roles, strengths, weaknesses and skills to be developed;
  2. You will have practiced with the following competencies: decisiveness as an explorer of topics, conceptual capacity as conceptualizer of theories, planning & organization as designer of methods, accuracy as an observer of phenomena and analytical capacity as an interpreter of datasets (using the VSNU Competence Instrument that all Dutch Universities employ).
  3. You will 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 pitch, and immediate feedback on your final presentation.
  4. You will 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)


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

  1. Monday October 1st, 2018 (Pitches, formation of research teams)
  2. Tuesday October 16th, 2018
  3. Tuesday October 30th, 2018
  4. Tuesday November 6th, 2018
  5. Tuesday November 20th , 2018
  6. Tuesday December 4th, 2018
  7. Tuesday December 18th, 2018 (Final presentation)
    Deadline for submission of all milestone products and final individual reflection: Friday, Dec 21st, 5 pm.


Pieter de La Court Building, room 1A22


0: Before September 24th: Online preparation of participation
1: Monday October 1st, 2018 - Formation of research teams
2: Tuesday October 16th, 2018 – From topics to theories
3: Tuesday October 30th, 2018 – From theories to methods
4: Tuesday November 6th, 2018 – From methods to instruments
5: Tuesday November 20th , 2018 – From instruments to data
6: Tuesday December 4th, 2018 – From data to conclusions
7: Tuesday December 18th, 2018 - Final presentation: research , researchers and their competencies

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

  • 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

  • 40% Five milestone products (team achievement, edited under responsibility of one five team members, 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 ‘voldaan’ (accomplished) 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.

Please note: Attendance is compulsory.

Blackboard and uSis

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

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

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.


Enrolling in this course is possible from August 21st until September 6th 23:59 through the Honours Academy, via this link.


Dr. M.P.H.D. Cleiren