Sample letter for finding a science advisor?

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Sample letter for finding a science advisor?

Postby janet_425 » Wed Sep 12, 2012 11:24 am

I am looking for a sample letter for finding a science advisor for a middle school level project.

My daughter has never worked with a science fair mentor before, and isn't exactly sure what one is. Her topic area is Earth and Planetary Science (Mars). I'm assuming she will do something that involves downloading NASA data sets (she did that last year), so she does not need physical access to the advisor's lab.

She is required to do a research plan this year, which needs to have:

A. Question
B. Hypothesis
C. Description of procedure and methods of data analysis
D. Bibliography

From the training I went to last year, I got the impression that unless her project involves hazardous chemicals or other restricted materials or procedures, the advisor's job is basically done after the research plan is finished, and she is responsible for doing the project on her own after that.

The science buddies article on finding a mentor is really not geared towards finding that kind of help, at her grade level. She's just not an advanced high school level student. She is particularly hung up on the part that says, "Don't ask the scientist directly to be your mentor. Ask to meet them and learn about their research."

Her preliminary question is:
Which areas on Mars scar more easily when they get hit by asteroids?

I want to know which areas of Mars have the deepest craters due to the hardness of the ground. A possible problem I may encounter is that I think crater depth may have to do with the proportions of the asteroid. Also, I'm worried that older craters may start to refill with dust. I will need to do background research to know if either of these things will cause a problem.


She really does need a mentor. She has already outpaced my own understanding of Mars. Last year, I would forward her questions to an educational outreach person I found through a NASA website. This year I think I need to start stepping back and having her contact her advisor directly. She is very much an introvert, so there is also a lot of shyness to overcome as well. She just isn't going to call random people on the phone.

Help!
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Re: Sample letter for finding a science advisor?

Postby amyc » Fri Sep 14, 2012 6:10 am

Hi Janet_425 - It sounds like your daughter may need some guidance but not the kind of mentor that the Science Buddies materials talk about, you are right. The 'mentor' resource is geared more towards students (often in high school) who are doing advanced studies and need access to a research lab, as you've pointed out. In this case, your daughter may find asking some of her questions in the forum a good way to get the kind of guidance she needs to get started with her plan. The kinds of elements she needs to define are ones that the Experts here can offer guidance on.

Finding a mentor for this kind of middle school project might be difficult, unless the outreach person she was contacting last year is a good fit for this year's project as well. I would suggest trying Ask an Expert to see if the Experts who help here can give her the assistance she needs as she gets started. She might post a short summary of her project and an initial question so that you can both see how the forums work.

Amy
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Re: Sample letter for finding a science advisor?

Postby janet_425 » Fri Sep 14, 2012 12:55 pm

amyc wrote: In this case, your daughter may find asking some of her questions in the forum a good way to get the kind of guidance she needs to get started with her plan. The kinds of elements she needs to define are ones that the Experts here can offer guidance on.

She might post a short summary of her project and an initial question so that you can both see how the forums work.


I do know how the forums work. I have been on this forum since my daughter was in 2nd grade, and have found a lot of valuable advice for general science fair procedures. What she really needs is some sort of contact with a domain expert on Mars, and I don't think you guys have a Martian in the house. Even if finding an advisor will be difficult/unlikely, I think we need to make an effort try. I would love suggestions on wording an email asking for assistance.

I am in the process of getting my daughter an account here; she is under 13 so I had to mail the signature form in. In the meantime, her initial question is posted in my above message if someone would like to offer her some suggestions. So far, she is using library books and ProQuest (a database our library subscribes to) for her initial searches.
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Re: Sample letter for finding a science advisor?

Postby donnahardy2 » Sat Sep 15, 2012 8:50 am

Hi Janet,

Welcome back to Science Buddies! I remember your daughter’s amazing project from last year, which involved downloading data from various volcanoes on Mars. I think that it’s great that your daughter is still interested in investigating this subject and her question for this year is very intriguing.

I agree that a subject matter expert would really help with this project. For this particular subject, I think your daughter should send an e-mail message to scientists that have published on this subject and ask them to help answer her questions.

Here is a news report of a group of researchers who are studying craters on Mars and it includes all of their e-mail addresses:

http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2 ... an-craters

Here is an USGS website in Flagstaff, AZ that reports data on Mars craters. There are names listed, but you would have to look up e-mail addresses and phone numbers.

http://webgis.wr.usgs.gov/pigwad/down/m ... ortium.htm

I would recommend that your daughter spend some time composing an e-mail message explaining a little about her project and asking one or two easy questions. She can ask for a referral to a colleague if the recipient is too busy to answer. Hopefully, this approach would result in one or two scientists who could help with questions about craters on Mars as they come up during her investigation.

The resources on the Science Buddies website should also be useful to help with the project in general. As a science fair judge, one “problem” that I can see with this project, is that it might be difficult to understand because it is so different compared to typical science fair projects. Your daughter will need to do an exceptional job of explaining the project in terms that someone who is not an astronomer can understand. Communicating results is a very important part of a science project and she should reach the sections from the Science Buddies project guide on this topic and start planning now how she will present her results.

http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-f ... ndex.shtml

I hope this helps!

Donna Hardy
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Re: Sample letter for finding a science advisor?

Postby janet_425 » Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:30 am

Donna,

You are a master of web search! Thanks so much for those links!

donnahardy2 wrote: As a science fair judge, one “problem” that I can see with this project, is that it might be difficult to understand because it is so different compared to typical science fair projects. Your daughter will need to do an exceptional job of explaining the project in terms that someone who is not an astronomer can understand. Communicating results is a very important part of a science project and she should reach the sections from the Science Buddies project guide on this topic and start planning now how she will present her results.


I did talk to her about doing a more "traditional" project, but she has her heart set on Mars. I think this year we will try to get some advice on the graphic design portion of the board, to see if we can make it easier to read.

--Janet
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Re: Sample letter for finding a science advisor?

Postby donnahardy2 » Sat Sep 15, 2012 10:30 am

Hi Janet,

I’m glad the links were helpful!

If your daughter is interested in the Mars project, then this is the definitely the best project for her and you should encourage her as much as possible.

Since the science fair judges will be looking for a traditional materials and procedure section on the board, perhaps your daughter could make sure she includes these sections as expected. The following links from this website includes specific information for these sections.

http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-f ... list.shtml

http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-f ... dure.shtml

Here’s information on science display boards. I think the results for this project would be very effective with lots of pictures and a little text. This will be a complex project, so explain to your daughter that the results have to be clear and easy to read and understand.

http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-f ... ml#keyinfo

I have always found it helpful to have students plan the outline of their display board before they start the experiment. This helps avoid the problem of what to do with all of the data after the experiment is completed.

Also, do check on the official written rules for the local science fair, and make sure that the project meets all requirements.

Donna Hardy
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Re: Sample letter for finding a science advisor?

Postby janet_425 » Mon Sep 17, 2012 9:58 am

Here is our draft of a letter to the colorado scientists.... any feedback before we send it?

Dear Dr. XXXX,
I am a 7th-grade student studying craters on Mars for my science fair project this year. My science fair question is:

Which areas on Mars scar more easily when they get hit by asteroids?

I want to know which areas of Mars have the deepest craters due to the hardness of the ground. A possible problem I may encounter is that I think crater depth may have to do with the proportions of the asteroid. Also, I'm worried that older craters may start to refill with dust. I will need to do background research to know if either of these things will cause a problem.

I am just starting my research about what the surface of Mars is made of and how hard it may be in different regions. I am trying to form a hypothesis about what I think the depth of craters in different areas will be.

While doing my background research, I came across a website talking about the new crater database. Is there a way for students to access this? I was originally planning on using the MOLA and TES maps on JMARS to figure out the depth of the craters and the minerals regions have. I could still do that if accessing your database isn’t possible, but it sounds really amazing and I would love your help.

Thank you very much for taking time to help me,

My Daughter's Name
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Re: Sample letter for finding a science advisor?

Postby donnahardy2 » Mon Sep 17, 2012 5:27 pm

Hi Janet,

This is a really good message. Very clear and detailed. The only thing that I would add would be a request for a referral to someone else in the event that the recipient is unable to help.

Also, since your daughter will be sending this to the group of scientists that apparently work together, perhaps she should send it to the entire group so everyone will know who has received a copy. She only needs a response from one individual.

Good luck!

Donna Hardy
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Re: Sample letter for finding a science advisor?

Postby tanith » Thu Sep 20, 2012 11:30 am

Hi Donna,

I'm Janet's daughter, and I just got my account.

Thank you for helping us. Your advise has been very useful throughout this year and last year. This is my first year in a science fair when I need a science adviser, and your suggestions were very useful in writing the letters. I already got one reply!

You were also extremely helpful in finding resources. The crater database is a lot more than what I could have gotten from JMARS. The advise about the display board will also be useful.

I would like to thank you for all your help. Not only have you managed to find the most amazing websites and databases, but you have also been a huge help in writing letters to possible science advisers.

Thanks again,

Helen
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Re: Sample letter for finding a science advisor?

Postby donnahardy2 » Thu Sep 20, 2012 5:47 pm

Hi Helen,

Congratulations on getting your own account. It's really great to hear from you!

Your project is going to be a really great one and I'm happy to hear that you have had a reply from one of the Mars scientists. You only need one person who is willing to answer your technical questions. You are very wise to look for outside advice on a project like this and I think the combination of general science fair advice from Science Buddies and the specific information from an expert will really help a lot.

I know you are focusing on planning your project and data analysis now, but do try to think about how you will communicate your results at the Science Fair. This is not a typical project, so you will have to educate the local science fair judges so they can understand your project and its significance. So do think about the final presentation as you are working on your project.

I'm very happy that I could help with some of the background information and resources for your project. Please let me know if you have any other questions.


Donna Hardy
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