Derrick White: Research tips

By Derrick White. Posted January 31, 2014.

  1. Read journals articles relevant to your research: One of the most important exercises for a graduate student during his/her time in graduate school is reading literature published that pertains to their interest. A graduate student’s ability to read the information, critique the work, and understand how this research impacts their own, is crucial for success when conducting experiments in the lab. It is important to read the research thoroughly so, as we say in the Blum lab, you “DON’T RE-INVENT THE WHEEL.” In short, the first skill a graduate student should obtain is to become an expert in reading and soaking up all the knowledge that has been published by researchers before you. This tactic will mold your research and help you achieve your research goals.
  2. Conduct a solid literature review: Upon starting your literature search and as you read scholarly journals, it is important to file journals, articles, and even books in a specific database, such as an Excel file or Word document, just for your lit review. By using this database it will be easy for you as a researcher to find articles that address different areas of your research such as mechanisms, enzymes, and genes. Furthermore, it will allow you to focus on searching for journals articles that are relevant to each individual topic. When utilizing this system it is important to record the following: journal/article/book name, the year it was published, and author’s name. In this document, you may also want to create a space summarize each piece of work you have read. When you have documented each article in this fashion it will do two things for you: 1) be a back up to the actual literature review document; and 2) give you a record showing that you have reworded or summarized the original literature if you are accused of plagiarism. It is very important to practice literature reviews because these documents may be used for future publications, chapters in your thesis, and it can really help you writing research papers.
  3. Plan experiments: As described above in my first tip, understanding what has already been done will allow you (the researcher) to formulate a research objective that can give you good results. By understanding prior research and the methods used to conduct that experiment, it will guide your work and make it easier to obtain solid and reproducible results. This planning ahead is another key element to becoming a successful researcher in your respective field. For example, I work in lab in which we grow different microorganisms. It is vital to understand the purpose for each solution, how the different apparatus work, the expiration date for each chemical as well as what the organism requires for optimal growth. This process can also be applied for researchers in math, engineering, music, and so forth. Adequate preparation will guarantee reliable results.
  4. Assistance from colleagues in your lab or from other labs: Learning from a senior graduate student in your lab or other graduate students in a different lab is another key component in conducting solid research. These individuals are a valuable source of information because of several factors: 1) they are more than likely well-read and have more insight and experience with the research; 2) usually mentors are busy and will suggest you ask for guidance from a senior graduate student so taking the initiative yourself is good; 3) they can help you plan out experiments and help you avoid major pitfalls; and 4) these people have been through what you are about to experience. Furthermore, their criticism may not be as harsh as your mentor, and they can give you insight into how your mentor likes for you to present your data. They also may be willing to you with your writing.

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.

— Langston Hughes

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