Four Tips for Graduate Students' Research Projects
Graduate students are frequently expected to use design of experiments (DOE) in their thesis project, often without much DOE background or support. This results in some classic mistakes.
- Designs that were popular in the 1970’s-1990’s (before computers were widely available) have been replaced with more sophisticated alternatives. A common mistake – using a Plackett-Burman (PB) design for either screening purposes, or to gain process understanding for a system that is highly likely to have interactions. PB designs are badly aliased resolution III, thus any interactions present in the system will cause many of the main effect estimates to be biased. This increases the internal noise of the design and can easily cause misleading and inaccurate results. Better designs for screening are regular two-level factorials at resolution IV or minimum-run (MR) designs. For details on PB, regular and MR designs, read DOE Simplified.
- Reducing the number of replicated points will likely result in losing important information. A common mistake – reducing the number of center points in a response surface design down to one. The replicated center points provide an estimate of pure error, which is necessary to calculate the lack of fit statistic. Perhaps even more importantly, they reduce the standard error of prediction in the middle of the design space. Eliminating the replication may mean that results in the middle of the design space (where the optimum is likely to be) have more prediction error than results at the edges of the design space!
- If you plan to use DOE software to analyze the results, then use the same software at the start to create the design. A common mistake – designing the experiment based on traditional engineering practices, rather than on statistical best practices. The software very likely has recommended defaults that will make a better design that what you can plan on your own.
- Plan your experimentation budget to include confirmation runs after the DOE has been run and analyzed. A common mistake – assuming that the DOE results will be perfectly correct! In the real world, a process is not improved unless the results can be proven. It is necessary to return to the process and test the optimum settings to verify the results.
The number one thing to remember is this: Using previous student’s theses as a basis for yours, means that you may be repeating their mistakes and propagating poor practices! Don’t be afraid to forge a new path and showcase your talent for using state-of-the-art statistical designs and best practices.
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