Regression to the mean

You connect facts and experiences, you create pattern in the world around you and in the reality none of them are correlated. In few words this is the explanation of the regression to the mean (in a day-to-day life).

Did I ever mention that I love cognitive illusions? Pure love!

One of the things I love the most of being a medical librarian is that I am gaining an incredible insight into medicine: how science works, the importance of facts and evidence and how we are “repeatedly bombarded with sciencey-sounding claims” (Goldacre, 2008). The best part is that the more I learn about the health-business the more I see things in a different way.

I am reading Bad Science and my attention is captured by a new concept: the regression to the mean. I am not interested in the statistical aspect (more info here) but how this concept has silently blinded me in many situations.

As Goldacre explains, if I have a cold I will try things to get better. I would stay at home, drink water, eat a chicken soup and take an ibuprofen = my body is at the very worst and I try remedies to cure my illness. In the best scenario I will be up and running the following day. Now, it is because of the ibuprofen or because of the delicate chicken soup prepared by my husband or because my body simply needs a rest.

In my mind I think it’s because all of three, however Goldacre argues that because it worked that last time, now my brain has created a cognitive illusion that demands me to take an ibuprofen, ask my hubby to prepare a chicken soup and have a rest.

Now on I will look at a common cold in a different way. I know for sure that having a rest is a good idea, not sure about the ibuprofen at this point. Using my rational part of the brain I know that the chicken soup homemade by my hubby is not miraculous, but it works! Shall we do a trial?

We connect facts and we rely on this cognitive illusion. Natural history plays an important factor. My point is that rather that blindly believing in magic and quick solutions I will accept the natural cycle of the illness (but I still demand my homemade chicken soup!).



Goldacre, B. (2008). Bad Science. London: HarperCollins.


Info skills training – My checklist

As part of my role (assistant librarian in the healthcare public sector) I organise and deliver 1-2-1 and group information skills training. During the last year I developed and tested this checklist. Preparation is the main secret of a good info skills training.

I have to admit that people like my “teaching” style and thanks to this checklist I can time-manage my self and make sure that the information skill training is tailored around the user’s needs.

Let me give you a real example: a new staff member, a Diabetes Dietitian, just joined the Trust and requested an info skills training with me. On the form she specified that she is investigating how to manage weight during pregnancy and in post-natal period for South-Asian women. She also intended to carry a literature review on this topic.

In this case the user had a clear question in mind therefore I simply tailored the training according to her needs. Before the training I carried a brief search on Medline, selected books on the literature review process and printed some poster about the difference between a literature review / systematic review. In this way the user felt that I prepared the training in advanced (true!) and trusted my advice. During the training I performed a search on a database and she was amazed by the fact that by using a proper strategy I was able to retrieve high-quality articles for her research.

This is the feedback I received: “The training was very comprehensive. The trainer explained each stage of the process to aid my understanding. It didn’t just concentrate on the practical side of completing the literature search but included the wider skills needed for reviewing the articles and writing up”

Who me? I would say well done to myself. If I only think that a year ago I was completely new to concepts like literature search, PICO, hierarchy of evidence, systematic review, meta-analysis, RCT etc…welcome to the health information sector!

So this is my information skills training checklist:

Before the info skills training

  1. Preliminary questions in person or via phone:
    • Are they conducting a Literature Review or a Systematic Review?
    • Is this for personal/professional development or a requirement for a project within the trust?
    • What level are they working towards? E.g. Is this for vocational/academic use or will it be peer-reviewed/published?

One hour before the session

  1. Conduct a brief literature search on the topic using the databases available and retrieve a good article.
  2. Print: the article to be used as example; Systematic Review/Literature Review Comparison Chart; PICO Form.
  3. Create a note document that will be used during the training. This should include:
    • The main question
    • The stages of the literature review (Refine question; PICO; Databases available; Access full-text available)
    • References
  4. Bring relevant books along to the session that the reader may borrow (e.g. books on conducting a literature review).
  5. Make sure the PC is working and it is connected on internet

During the session

  1. Conduct a “reference interview” using questioning, listening, paraphrasing skills so you are sure you understand their needs.
  2. Edit or add on the note document any particular topic/service the user would like to explore more

After the session

  1. Ask user to fill the evaluation form
  2. Save any relevant documents created/found during the sessions in the library shared drive
  3. Email the user any relevant documentation (including the note document used during the session).
  4. Work-out any questions the user asked.

What do you think? I find it extremely useful – Happy to share it.


Stuart Chalmers – Checklist

Confessions of a distance learner


The last time I updated this blog (two months ago) my life was slightly different from what it is now.

In April, before moving to Leeds, I set few deadlines:

  • a month to find a job –> I started working a week after my move
  • a month to settle down in my new job –> keep going
  • few weeks to start preparing my next exam: Studies in Management.

Here we are, two months later I have just started studying and I discovered my deadline is in August. So close!

Obviously it is only my fault if I am so tight with the essays deadline. In my defence I can say that moving to another city and settling down in to a new job it’s quite taxing, above all when you have to commute 3hrs a day, learn new procedures and managing a team. So, instead of opening my books and start writing I prefered the confort of my sofa hihi.

There’s still hope for me because I’ve just  overcame the first essay panic phases:
Acknowledge & Accept

  • I acknowledge the present reality.
  • Here I accept the fact that I’m afraid to fail at this moment.


  • Talk to myself about what is happening, and what you need to do – Here is this post.


  • No more excuse…just study!
  • I have now made a target of 8 weeks, and 2 hours a day to study and prepare my submissions.

In spite of my less-than-perfect student behavior and time-management I have now tackled my essay and I started writing.
Wish me luck!

The unpredictable nature of job interviews


During the last months I have been invited to three job interviews up North (the fourth is coming soon) and “after careful consideration they regret to inform me that on these occasions they have decided not to progress my application any further”.

Oh well…it’s life!

I have to admit that I have enjoyed taking part to those recrutment processes mainly for two reasons. First I had the opportunity to visit universities, explore libraries and meet professional people. The other one is that I am now “familiar” with the process and the kind of questions asked.

So, why am I still looking for a job If I feel confident of my ability and skills? Well, simply because I have under control only the 40% of the job interview selection. Let me explain my theory:

I have under control just my personal job interview performance, that I evaluated around the 40%. I can be brilliant, have a connection with the panel, be relaxed and enthusiastic however it’s not enough.

On the other hand there’s another 40% derived from the “others’ performances”. I don’t know who I am going to be compared to, maybe there’s someone with a lot of experience, maybe internal, maybe with great answers. Who knows?

Up to this point the situation is quite balanced: 40% VS 40%, and here it comes the mysterious and unpredictable 20% that determines the final score. I call it luck, vibes, sync. It is obviously true that, as any other candidates, I am marked agains neutral criteria however if two candidates are closed with their marks the final result is determined by “others factors”. Maybe the manager is looking for someone quite and that fits into a particular team. In this section I would include also scenarios when shortlisted candidates drop the offer down or they do not come to the interview.

All of this just to say that I am optimistic and on zen. Wish me luck for the next interview. May the 20% be with me!

Research skills and imaginative approach

Below, the motto: FULGET SEMPER VIRTUS

Studies of Two Ears and of a Bat by Jusepe de Ribera ©Metropolitan Museum of Art

Notes from a session with MA Fine Arts students about research skills.

Begin with a broad view = overview
When you paint a landscape you start with a big brush, then you move to areas and lastly you add little details and final touches. The process of doing a research it’s quite similar. You bring stuff together, you write down and follow ideas and then you refine them.

Stay open to ideas
I think it’s important to listen to ideas and adopt an explorative approach. Even if your ideas are grouped in a messy way they will organically move and group together. It’s important to recognize links and making connections between ideas and literature.

Stay creative and pragmatic
In the research process you should try to connect ideas and play with them. At the same time you have to take into consideration the amount of time available and the relevance of the research to the curriculum.

Understand the research journey [Questions-Method-Conclusion]
Everything starts from a question that should be relevant, manageable, substantial and above all interesting = do something that engages you. During the research journey you will strength your identity and potentially become an expert in that area. Go and conquest your plot of land!

Students were particularly interested in knowing how to keep together a large amount of references texts, images and input. They had problems with referencing software like Refworks and they would like a software that helps them record what they have found. A solution could be recording what they found using a simple Word document and then refine the material using a referencing software. There is a brand new web and mobile tool called RefME. It uses scanning technology to create essay bibliographies.

Great things never came from comfort zone


Resigned! BOOM!

I am leaving my full-time permanent job in the library, good colleagues/friends I have been working with for two years. Just 13 working days left before my actual last day.

It was not an easy decision but life is about decision. It took courage, but it is my right move. On my list family comes first. Instead of waiting for perfection, I run up North with what I’ve got and I’ll try to fix it as I go.

How am I feeling? A mixture of sadness and excitement. I am deeply sad about leaving my friends and colleagues but equally excited about moving away beyond my comfort zone. I’m scared of being unemployed soon but equally intrigued to looking for a new job.

Information searching and writing as intertwining processes

Man Seated on the Ground, Writing by Anonymous, Italian, Roman-Bolognese, 17th century ©MoMA

As a distant learner student I am asked to prepare and write a number of academic essays. It’s so interesting that I am at the same time a student and a potential librarian. I am exploring how (as librarian) I can give advices and guidance on the information searching process and at the same time (as student) I apply directly those. I feel quite privileged to have this direct impact on myself. It’s like being a doctor and a patient at the same time.

Writing (on the top of that in a foreing language) it’s a temporary issue that I am trying to overcome. In order to prevent the writer’s block I am going to use the ‘information searching and writing as intertwining process’ (Torras, 2009:63). It’s composed in to two parts:

1) Writing before reading

– Help find own voice

– Formulate own thoughts better = Inital thoughts and consideration

2) Writing while reading

– Establish a dialogue with literature = dynamic process

– Understand thoughts

When I prepared my first assignment I made the mistake of waiting to much before actually writing my thoughts. I was afraid of exploring and formulating my onw thinking but I admit that I wasted a lot of time. This time I will follow Torras’ suggestion and I’ll take more into consideration my personal ideas. It’s now time to be confortable with my own voice from the very first stage of my information search process. I will come back again about the writing process because it’s something that intrigues me.


Torras, M. (2009). Information literacy education : A process appraoch : Professionalising the pedagogical role of academic libraries. Oxford: Chandos.