• Question: How do you know what to spend your time doing and researching? How do you know where to start when you try and research new things?

    Asked by selinamackemsley to Jennifer, Jonathan, Katie, Michael, Ollie, Omar, Rebecca, Rebecca, Sarah, Tim.M on 5 Feb 2018.
    • Photo: Rebecca Dewey

      Rebecca Dewey answered on 5 Feb 2018:

      Research is rarely performed by one person in isolation. There will have been a professor or someone senior and experienced who brought the grant money in that is needed to do the research. They will have designed the research with the help of a team of people, calling on all the different areas of expertise needed to see what needs to be done to make sure the research has the best chance of success. Then by the time the researcher who actually gets to do the research appears on the scene, the chances are there will be a fairly comprehensive plan and design – like a recipe to follow.

    • Photo: Tim Millar

      Tim Millar answered on 5 Feb 2018:

      Isaac Newton said that “to see further, we must stand on the sholders of giants”. So you need to start where others finished. Hitting the books and reading, is it interesting? can I do it?, what can I add? to what is already known? am i the right person to do it? Lots of questions and eventually you just have to start by repeating what someone has done before. maybe tweak it a little to see if that makes a difference or try a new method that didnt exist when the experiment was done before. Maybe we can look at the question in a different way or do we think the other scientist was wrong? Do their results mean what they thought they meant?

      You then plan and go on the journey. Sometimes it takes twists and turns and goes off completely from you plan, but thats science. Its also what keeps it interesting. We also sometimes need to take risks meaning doing hard science. But it might not work so we have to balance what we think should happen, what other pepole saw and actually what we have seen. Sometimes you also just have to stop, step back and try again in a diferent way. We also have to repeat our measurements lots of times to make sure that it wasnt just by chance that we saw something happen. That can be a little boring because its the same thing over and over but its something we have to do or else our results might not mean anyting at all.

      So take some time, learn the field and see where the gaps are. If they are achievable and interesting enough, then go for it!

    • Photo: Sarah Finnegan

      Sarah Finnegan answered on 6 Feb 2018:

      When I get the opportunity to think about a new project I normally spend a lot of time reading whats already been done. That really starts to get you thinking! Often in these papers there is a section called “limitations” where the authors suggest what they could have done better. I often use those sections to help me avoid pitfalls that might come up along my way. Then I might pitch an idea to my supervisor who has a lot of experience in the area and we can direct the project forward together and make sure we have a really clear question to answer!

    • Photo: Jonathan Kay

      Jonathan Kay answered on 14 Feb 2018:

      Rebecca makes a great point about collaboration. And that’s getting steadily more important.

      Successful researchers need enormous stamina and the ability to handle repeated failures.

      It’s often remarked that great research scientists differ from others in their ability to identify and pursue important questions, rather than being smarter than their peers.