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Harnessing the Power of ChatGPT as Graduate Students: Empowerment not Replacement

10 Aug 2023 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Harnessing the Power of ChatGPT as Graduate Students: Empowerment not Replacement

Contributor: William Rayo

Just as computers and other technological innovations have streamlined many labor-intensive tasks and made new ones possible, an AI-assisted workflow with tools like ChatGPT has considerable potential for enhancing our academic workflow. This potential, though, must be balanced against the risk of inadvertently outsourcing tasks that serve as fundamental learning experiences. ChatGPT can be a powerful tool for repetitive time-consuming tasks such as content curation, generating course content, or generating instant responses to simple student emails. Its use can help reduce the administrative burden we experience as graduate instructors or teaching assistants. At the same time, it’s crucial to recognize that some tasks, while effortful, are essential for our cognitive and personal development as scholars.

As a graduate student who suffers from chronic time-blindness, balancing multiple projects/responsibilities can be a daunting task. Here is where ChatGPT can step in as an effective personal assistant for project management. By providing details about our tasks and deadlines, we can ask the AI to help create structured project plans, generate to-do lists, and break large nebulous tasks into discrete actionable components. We can ask ChatGPT to notate (or even generate) code for an experiment using Python, walk us through building an experiment step by step without coding (e.g., experiment builder in PsychoPy), or even to aid us in writing R code for data analysis. The resulting code is never perfect but serves as a useful starting point that you can build upon or modify to suit your needs. Graduate students can also use ChatGPT for brainstorming sessions, using its ability to generate a variety of insights and suggestions to aid us as we tackle complex problems. For any task that involves multiple people, ChatGPT can assist in drafting communication for lab members, helping articulate project updates, meeting agendas, or action items efficiently. However, while ChatGPT is a powerful tool, it's important for us to review and modify these plans as necessary. We have to remain actively engaged in our projects, using the AI as a tool for assistance and efficiency, not as a replacement for our own oversight, critical thinking, and decision-making. For example, rather than using the tool to come up with an assignment/or test questions, you can use it to brainstorm by providing it with some example items that you have already created and ask it to generate multiple exemplars that can serve as a basis for you to subsequently iterate on.

How to improve the quality of responses from ChatGPT

Effective use of ChatGPT often comes down to asking questions in the right way. While humans can often decipher the underlying subtext from “fluffy” language, machines benefit from concrete language.

Be Specific: The more specific the initial question or prompt is the more accurate and useful the subsequent response. A specific prompt helps focus the AI's output. Without a clear starting point, the AI is likely to return generalized or irrelevant information, thus wasting our time and effort. Instead of asking an AI tool to “generate test questions for behaviorism” you could say, “Generate 10 multiple choice questions that emphasize the conceptual difference between classical and operant conditioning.”

Contextualize your Question: Since our questions often involve a specialized subject matter, we can provide some context to guide the model’s response. This is particularly important for more complex or niche topics as this helps the AI understand the domain or angle we’re interested in, resulting in a more relevant and accurate response. For instance, rather than asking, "How does stress affect us?" you could ask, "What are the psychological and physiological effects of chronic stress according to the General Adaptation Syndrome?" For additional context, add “using examples of this psychological phenomena within the context of American Football” to generate examples in a context that taps into a student’s prior knowledge.

Use the Right Language: You can further specify the kind of language you would like the response in to meet your specific needs (e.g., academic, professional, or colloquial language). For example, "Explain the concept of cognitive dissonance in terms an introductory psychology student would understand."

Request a Format: By asking the AI to present information in a certain way (like an essay outline, bullet points, or a pros and cons list), you can save time on structuring the response yourself and get the data in an applicable form. For example, "Provide an outline for a lesson on the stages of Erikson's psychosocial development."

Step-by-Step Explanations: If you're preparing a lesson on a complex concept, you can ask ChatGPT to break it down into steps. This ensures that complex concepts are broken down into understandable components. It helps with both understanding and teaching these concepts. For instance, "Explain the process of classical conditioning in step-by-step terms, for an audience of introductory psychology students."

Iterative Questioning: Arguably the most important and difficult component since the AI may not fully capture your intent on the first try. By iterating and refining your prompts, you can guide the AI towards a satisfactory response. So don’t despair if you don't get the response you're looking for right away; try asking the question in a different way, or ask follow-up questions to get more detail.

When used in conjunction, these tips can greatly influence the effectiveness of a tool like ChatGPT. As an example of synthesizing the use of these tips, consider the difference between “Create a study plan for writing a literature review” vs. "Act as a graduate student mentor that helps their students manage their time to accomplish research goals in their pursuit of a doctorate in psychology. You will be provided with the goal of the student, their time commitment, and resource preferences. You will create a project management plan with detailed timelines and checklists. Only include relevant resources because time is limited. Respond to the following student request: ‘I want to organize my time in order to write a literature review. I can work 20 hours per week. I want to create a feasible plan for writing this literature review and having it completed in 8 weeks.’”

I hope the takeaway message is that we need to strike a balance. Tools like ChatGPT should be viewed as allies in our graduate journey, not the sole travelers. They can streamline our workload and help us generate novel ways of tackling a problem but shouldn't rob us of the hard-earned satisfaction and growth that come from grappling with challenging tasks.

Additional resources for AI prompt engineering:

Shieh, J. (2023). Best practices for prompt engineering with OpenAI API | OpenAI Help Center.

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