The hard work of the research lifecycle doesn’t end once the data has been collected and analysed. The next step is equally vital to get right, and no less challenging.
That step, interpreting the results, must validate the hypothesis or question that inspired the research and solidify the study as accurate, logical and unbiased. Credible research depends on it.
If that sounds daunting, that’s because it is.
A difficult process that researchers must get right
To interpret results is to build a plausible scientific argument that explains the data. It’s a tenuous stage that requires a delicate balance for researchers, between objectively describing their findings and subjectively surmising about the meaning.
Properly interpreted results have dual benefits: they give the researcher a sense of certainty and confidence that their work can be shared with fellow researchers for review, and can help advance the understanding in the field of study and even result in a breakthrough discovery.
The alternative is less rosy.
Results that are interpreted in an unorganised or biased manner put the entire study into question. The time and energy that went into the project will go to waste.
Even more worrisome, inaccurate research compromises the replicability of future studies, and can do long-lasting harm to the reputation of the researcher and their affiliated institution.
It’s a make-or-break piece of the analysis process.
With stakes this high, resources that help researchers cultivate and refine their skills in this area are of immense value. These learning opportunities can boost individual careers, and promote the attainment of scientific discovery and excellence.
Important tools that have been hard to find
Despite the need, researchers have had a difficult time growing these skills.
According to a 3-part international survey of researcher training needs performed over 2020 and 2021, 90% of researchers (total n = 427) indicated that data analysis skills are important to being a successful researcher.
Digging deeper, participants were then asked to rate specific data analysis skills; 95% of end-users (total n = 271) said interpreting the results of their analysis was important to their success, while 70% (total n = 470) found interpreting results to be challenging.
This top-priority skill involves numerous demanding facets, as researchers in the survey made clear.
When asked to name the most difficult aspects of interpreting results, researchers (total n = 260) listed providing an explanation for when results don’t meet expectations (51%), reflecting on the data to see the bigger picture (42%) and dealing with conflicting interpretations (40%) as particularly challenging.
Based on the detailed feedback of researchers, a training tool has been crafted to meet their specific needs.
Practical skills for a crucial research phase
Interpreting Scientifc Results is a new Nature Masterclasses course to help researchers navigate a complex and critical stage of their work.
Designed and delivered by a panel of experts in the field, this training provides data analysis tools researchers need, across all natural sciences research.
The course will teach researchers:
- How visualisation techniques can help them gain a better understanding of their results
- How to prioritise their findings to identify their most robust results
- The risks posed by confirmation bias and how they can avoid this
- The importance of assessing their findings in relation to the hypothesis or research question they set out to investigate
- How to use previous work in the field to contextualise their research and identify what their findings add to the field
- How to formulate an interpretation and adapt it for different contexts and audiences.
The curriculum features 4 topic lessons; The lessons are:
Understand your findings
- Address your research claims
- Put your findings into context
- Build your interpretation
The course was created by an international team of researchers and Nature journal editors with expertise in data analysis, biostatistics, bioinformatics, editing and publishing.
The panel of experts includes:
- Mark Gardener
Ecologist, data consultant and author
- Bhramar Mukherjee
Professor and Chair of Biostatistics, University of Michigan
- Andrea Taroni
Chief Editor at Nature Physics, PhD in statistical physics
In addition, academics and other researchers have been consulted and provide insight to the course through videos that appear throughout the course.
- C. Daniela Robles Espinoza:
Assistant Professor, National Autonomous University of Mexico
- Yiming Wang:
Research scientist, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
A platform for customised learning
Part of that learning experience is high-quality content, the other part is a dynamic platform on which to learn. The Nature Masterclasses platform enables efficient, convenient learning designed specifically for busy researchers with limited free time. Course material is accessible at all times from any location, and participants have full control over the learning pace and progression of the curriculum. These features make it possible to add crucial skills without disrupting or slowing down their day-to-day work.
A portfolio of resources for the research lifecycle
Interpreting Scientific Results gives researchers distinct strategies for data interpretation. It’s also part of a larger effort to support skill-development on the wider topic of data analysis.
It complements and builds on the practical training available in Data Analysis: Planning and Preparing and Data Analysis: Conducting and Troubleshooting, as well as Managing Research Data To Unlock Its Full Potential.
Each course drills down on a different component of data management or analysis throughout the research project lifecycle; individually they stand alone but collectively comprise a unique resource for researchers conducting research studies. Whether a researcher partakes in one course or all of them, they will walk away with a new level of mastery in a critical research area.
Prepare for success and develop your skills in these important areas by trusting the proven experience and expertise of Nature Masterclasses to help propel your career journey.
*Publisher data: Nature Masterclasses Global Survey 2020