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1.7.3 Framing an appropriate and useful research question

At the heart of any research is the research question. The quality of output hinges on the quality of the question: why it is asked, how it is asked, how it relates to other questions and knowledge, and what might constitute an answer. Hence, one key skill is demonstration of the ability to develop a well-formulated question. The examiner will be looking for evidence of:

  • articulation of the motivation and significance of the question


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1.4 Broadly typical phases of PhD research

A modern PhD can be viewed as having three key phases (very roughly, but not strictly, corresponding to the three years of a full-time degree), each of which contributes a necessary element of mastery:

  1. Orientation – mastering the literature and formulating a research problem and plan.

  2. Intensive research – gathering the evidence to support the thesis, whether empirical or theoretical.

  3. Entering t
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Learning outcomes

Section 1 is an orientation or ‘framing’ section, and so its desired outcome is ‘awareness’ rather than particular demostrations of knowledge or skills. By completion of this Section 1 you should be:

  • familiar with the required rigour, depth, and scope of a PhD;

  • aware that there is no ‘one solution’, but that PhD models are influenced by institutions, disciplines, and topics;

  • aware of the need for both good research and good presen
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Introduction

This unit is from our archive and it is an adapted extract from Postgraduate research skills in science, technology, maths & computing (STM895) which is no longer in presentation. If you wish to study formally at the Open University, you may wish to explore the courses we offer in this curriculum area.

The purpose of this unit is to help those embarking on a PhD in science, technology o
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Acknowledgements

The content acknowledged below is Proprietary (see terms and conditions) and is used under licence.

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this unit:

The content acknowledged below is Proprietary and is used under licence.

Figures

Figure 1 IPR/15-22, reproduced b permission of the British Geological Survey. © NERC. All rights reserved;

Figure 10 & 16 Courtesy
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2.6 Summary

Ecology is the study of the interactions between organisms and their environment (including other organisms). An understanding of ecology is important to inform environmental decision-making.

Soil pH influences the availability of mineral nutrients to plants and hence the distribution of different plant species. Some species may be classified as either calcicoles or calcifuges.

Variation in salinity, exposure to desiccation and biotic interactions (e.g. grazing) influence the zona
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2.3.2 Salinity, desiccation and biotic interactions on seashores

Tidal movements ensure that sea-shore habitats are, if not covered by seawater for part of each day, at least subject to spray-borne salt and wind. So, even well above the level of high tides, sea-shore organisms need to be more tolerant of salt than most terrestrial organisms. However, salinity (the concentration of salts dissolved in water) is not the only factor affecting sea-shore species. Seaweeds and shelled animals like limpets and barnacles are adapted to living in a highly saline mar
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2.3.1 Soil pH

pH (a measure of acidity or alkalinity) is an important environmental factor, particularly in soils. Soil is derived partly from accumulated decaying vegetation and partly from broken up fragments of the underlying rocks. Soil pH is determined by both these components and also by the water that fills the spaces between solid soil particles.

How might you expect the pH of soil overlying limestone (or chalk, which is a particular form of limestone) to compare with that of soil overlying s
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2.3 Two factors affecting the distribution of organisms

We will illustrate some of the complexities of interpreting ecological field data by looking at two sets of environmental factors, soil pH and salinity, desiccation and biotic interactions on sea-shores.


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2.1 Introduction

Ecology is usually defined as the study of organisms in their environments. In its broadest sense this definition includes the way we, the human species (Homo sapiens), interact with and use the environment. However, in the sense in which most ecologists work, ecological studies are limited to studies
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1.9 The rock cycle

As you are reading this, rocks are being formed and destroyed on the Earth. Rocks are being heated and squeezed to form new metamorphic rocks; other rocks are melting to form magmas, which eventually cool and solidify as new igneous rocks; and the processes of weathering, erosion, transport and deposition are generating new sediments. The continuous action of rock-forming processes means that (given time) any rock in the Earth's crust will become transformed into new types of rock and that th
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1.8.3 Explaining the observations

Having made and reviewed our observations, we are now in a position to interpret them – why are the rocks the way they are? The sedimentary strata that we see in Figure 16 were likely to have been deposited in essentially horizontal layers, so why is one set tilted and the other horizontal? To answer
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1.8.2 Interpretation of a geological exposure

We now want to make use of the observations obtained by sketching the exposure, and it is useful to start by briefly summarising the features seen. First of all, you probably noticed the large boulder in the foreground of Figure 16 (which has been attached below for ease of access). Where did this boul
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1.8.1 Making and using field sketches

How do we start to make sense of a rock exposure? Drawing a sketch is one of the best ways to start, as it forces you to notice many aspects of the exposure. It also helps you to build up a picture of which aspects are significant and which are incidental or even irrelevant to a geological study. The aim of a field sketch is that it provides a record of your observations (along with notes taken at the same time, and also perhaps a photograph to record details). A sketch is complementary to a
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1.7 Interlude

Now that we have covered the features found in igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, and seen how these features can be explained by the processes that formed the rocks, here is a useful point at which to have a break before continuing with the next section. Before returning, you might like to see for yourself what types of rock you can find in your area. Can you identify their texture, or spot any fossils? Surfaces that haven't been obscured by grime or lichens are by far the best, as
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Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should be able to:

  • explain the difference between a mineral and a rock;

  • describe the textural differences between igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks;

  • account for these differences in terms of the processes that produce these rocks;

  • classify igneous rocks according to their grain size and mineralogical composition;

  • recognise the difference between a body fossil and a trace fossil;

    <
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Introduction

This unit is an adapted extract from the course Practising science (SXR103)

This unit introduces you to the types of activities undertaken by students of the earth sciences and ecology. You will learn how data is collected and analysed.


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2.1.3 Reflective diffraction gratings

Although the above description of diffraction has been in terms of light passing through a series of slits in a (transmission) diffraction grating, the type of grating which is currently most common in astronomy is a reflective diffraction grating or reflection grating. This again exploits the wave properties of light, in this case by making adjacent sections of a wavefront travel extra distances as it is reflected off a non-uniform surface. The non-uniform surface is actually a
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2.1.1 Prisms and the refraction of light

The simplest way to disperse light is to use a prism. When light enters a prism, it is no longer travelling in a vacuum, and its speed decreases. If the incident wavefront is travelling at an angle to the surface of the prism, which is easy to arrange because of its angled faces, then the propagation of the part of the wavefront in the prism is retarded, thus bending the wavefront and changing its direction of propagation through the prism (Author(s): The Open University

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