16 August 2011

About Research

Research is a complex thing and can mean many different things to many different people.  Below is a video about research from the perspective of a college professor.

05 August 2011


Typically research happens over periods of time with different grants and programs.  At the ends of these periods finished projects are expected, questions answered, and some results, conclusions, and discussions are conveyed.  In this regard of time period with end deliverables, a research project ends.  However, the idea and concept of the experiment does not disappear and in this sense, a research project will never end.  There will always be questions, the improvement of methods, and more information to be sought.  It is with these deliverables from research that society is able to create building blocks for future endeavers.

Therefore, when considering the end of a project one of the first considerations is the data.  Is it meaningful or not and why?  If a project collected data from contaminated samples then this situation cannot truly tell one reliable information on a phenomenon.  Part of determining whether or not data is meaningful also depends on how the meaningful is determined.  In problem solving, when a goal or solution is sought, conditions for reliable and successful solutions are also defined.  Consider the behavior box experiment.  The goal of the experiment was to create a box that allowed flexibility in the traditional way of training mice to later be studied using optogenetics that was automated.  Therefore, success is based on whether the box can function in the old sense of training with the mice and also if it allows some flexibility for the mice as well as the fact that its parts must all be automated to collect data.  As the project is drawing to a close the box is just about complete.  However, since the box is still being completed then it has yet to be fully tested with the mice and therefore there is no data yet for the box.  The data will be seen at a later time period after training the mice and observing the results of the training.  It is important to note that once the data is collected, that it is considered meaningful and successful if the mice are trained in the box successfully and if the box is able to take automated data.

Another aspect of a project's ending is to reflect on the project as a whole, its obstacles and its accomplishments.  Such reflections happen both internally in the scientist when considering what has happened in the project as well as externally through outlets like discussions in science papers.  To reach considering the project as a whole a prudent first step is to consider the various hurdles that took place.  In the behavior box experiment there were several challenges along the way.  The first major obstacle was in the research for the materials, in finding all the required parts with the correct dimensions and decent pricing.  The solution to this was patience and determination.  The second major challenge was the actual design for the port for the mice.  The issue was that none of the ports for the nose pokes that the lab had were large enough to allow all of the mice to poke through and set off the sensors.  Therefore, to solve this problem there was a brainstorming session and then the making of several ports.  After testing the ports and seeing the reactions of the test mice, some changes were made.  It was tested again a couple of times until the final port was decided on and then implemented.  The final major hurdle in this project was creating the ability for the ports to have the ability to be at two different distances from each other.  To solve this problem again there was brainstorming as well as making small prototypes of what was desired.  After some prototypes and discussions a layout was decided upon and that became the final model for the box.  Realizing such obstacles in research and taking the time to analyze both the challenges, solutions, and the processes to reach  a solution can help in future decision making for both the experiment and the scientist.  By using problem solving skills and critical thinking, both problems in the lab and out of the lab can be tackled and dealt with.

Another aspect of finishing research is the final days in the research lab.  This is a careful balance of continuing the research as well as working on the deliverables for the moment that the research project is finished.  Therefore, the last week is an amalgam between finishing up your project, organizing your area and materials, working on the presentations or posters or papers, and making sure that all of the work has been carefully documented.  The documentation and procedures are important to record because once one has left the lab there is still research and other projects being studied.  If one wrote a computer program and then did not tell anyone how it worked, if something needed to be changed or added the lab would have to try and figure out what the program involved or start over with a new program which would consume more time and energy than needed.  It is reasonable to expect one's final week then will be a lot of paperwork and the combinations of the research with how the research shall be presented.

It is important to use one's time wisely during this period because a lot of work and discussion takes place.  When writing up presentations, posters, and papers for research it is a discussion, a collaboration, and a cooperation with members of the lab both to check how the research is being presented as well as if the facts are portrayed properly as well as to catch any parts that need more clarification.  The purpose of sharing scientific research is so that others can either work collaboratively on joint research or can use information to enhance their own.  For either of these purposes however, communication is paramount to success where lucid and descriptive presentations are desired and necessary.  Research that is not understandable helps no one.