A successful first Ph.D. course on randomized controlled trials

– This course is useful for anybody interested in experimental design, says Ph.D.-student Dominik Stelzeneder.

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Marte Tobro og Dominik Stelzenede
Ph.D students Marte Tobro, University of Oslo, and Dominik Stelzeneder, University of Vienna, were amongst the 17 participants at the first Ph.D school on RCTs.

17 Ph.D students and established researchers participated at this weeks’ first Ph.D. school in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in the social sciences at the University of Stavanger. The course, which was taught by Stanford professor Eric Bettinger and UiS professors Mari RegeOddny J. Solheim and Sigrun Ertesvåg, aims to equip students and researchers with the basic tools to plan and conduct randomized experiments.

– It has been useful to learn about the details of conducting RCTs, especially those issues that are rarely mentioned in academic papers, says Dominik Stelzeneder from the University of Vienna.

The Ph.D. student in economics is in the start phase of his study, where he will investigate the connection between electoral years and high school students’ political awareness.

Internationally recognized experts

It is no coincidence that the University of Stavanger attracts researchers interested in learning how to conduct RCTs. The university is internationally recognized for its expertise in this research methodology. As well as presenting the nuts and bolts of how to conduct and implement successful studies, the course holders provide behind-the-scenes accounts from their own large scale RCTs such as Two Teachers and the Agder Project.

– Conducting an RCT is a massive undertaking. It is a privilege to be able share from our experiences, equipping scholars and young researchers with the knowledge they need in order to conduct high-quality research projects in the future, says Rege.

The learning outcome has been very positive, says Stelzeneder.

– RCTs are known as the gold standard in empirical research. Although my study won’t be an actual RCT, due to its nature, I hope to get as close as possible. I think this course would be useful for anybody interested in experimental design.

– Highly relevant

Marte Tobro from the Institute of Economics, University of Oslo, is doing her Ph.D on the impact of mentoring on small and medium sized businesses in Norway, in cooperation with Innovation Norway. Her supervisor recommended her the course, and Tobro says it has been highly relevant, as she is conducting one of the first RCTs in her field.

– Although my field of study is different from health and education, which have seen the bulk of RCTs so far, this course has met my expectations. It has been specific and relevant, highlighting what you need to consider, what you have to be aware of – and what can go wrong! It is also always interesting to meet other researchers to discuss and learn, she says.

Will be an annual occurrence

The use of randomized experiments has become increasingly popular and prevalent in social science research. The US Department of Education has labeled randomized experiments as the “gold standard” in educational research, and the World Bank often requires developing countries to use randomization in determining the assignment and use of new policy. Rege is looking forward to continue building competence amongst Norwegian and international researchers.

– We are very happy with the attendance at this year’s course, and we are already looking forward to planning and conducting the 2020 Ph.D. school on RCTs. This will be an annual occurrence, she promises.

By Elisabeth Rongved, communications adviser, UiS