Blossom
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A few questions

Postby Blossom » Sun Jul 22, 2007 2:14 pm

Hello! So I have a few questions for you guys:

1. I don't mean this in an insensitive way, but how would you actually make use of your mentor? I'm able to get in contact with some scientists but I'm not sure what to DO with them. Are there any limits as to how much you can ask for a mentor's help?

2. I'm having a really hard time formalizing a specific question. I'm worried that it's not good enough, that it's been answered already, etc. Any tips?

Thanks!

tdaly
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Postby tdaly » Thu Jul 26, 2007 5:42 am

Blossom,

Let's talk about your second question first. From my past experiences, I suspect that the reason you are having a difficult time narrowing your topic down to a specific question is because you haven't done enough research on your topic. If you're aiming to do an ISEF-quality project, you need to look not only at general websites and books, but also in scientific journals and texts. As you read more and more about your topic, you'll figure out what questions haven't been answered yet and then be able to pose a question that will anwer that problem. Also remember that it's not always about answering a new question. A lot of scientists spend their time figuring out new ways to answer old questions (like those who develop instrumentation are refined/add precision to measurements).

We'll be able to give you more information about what you can do to help you narrow down your topic if you can tell us what your topic is.

In regards to your first question: It really depends how you are interacting with your mentor. (e.g. you can do different things if you are meeting face to face than if you are communicating only via e-mail.) Right now, I would suggest talking with your mentor about your topic, why it interests you, and ask any questions you might have. Your mentor can also be a great resource for getting access to scientific journals and texts, which can get pricy. Your mentor can also help you narrow down your topic to a specific question.
All the best,
Terik

OneBriiguy
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Re: A few questions

Postby OneBriiguy » Thu Jul 26, 2007 5:44 am

Blossom wrote:Hello! So I have a few questions for you guys:

1. I don't mean this in an insensitive way, but how would you actually make use of your mentor? I'm able to get in contact with some scientists but I'm not sure what to DO with them. Are there any limits as to how much you can ask for a mentor's help?

2. I'm having a really hard time formalizing a specific question. I'm worried that it's not good enough, that it's been answered already, etc. Any tips?

Thanks!


Hi, Blossom!

I don't have experience with ISEF, but I can offer one suggestion about what to do with a mentor: Talk. (Could be via e-mail...)

You mentioned having a tough time formalizing a specific question. I think a mentor would be an excellent "sounding board" for you to share your ideas and refine your question. I might consider describing your ideas and a few possible questions and let your mentor comment on them.

As evidence of the value, I offer a quote from a recent post by Loiuse, one of our post-doc experts. Louise wrote:

As a professional scientist, I can tell you experimental design is the hardest part of science.


Mentors are invaluable resources for helping you to hone in on the specifics of an area of investigation. They know a lot about what's been done in their fields. They know a lot about what makes a good experiment or investigation.

If I were you, I'd contact your mentor and say, "I have some ideas to share with you. Would you mind listening and giving me your feedback?" Specific questions are even better, but a conversation that starts with the open-ended question, above, could be even more valuable to you.

I hope this helps. Best wishes for success in your project!
Brian Castelli (OneBriiguy)
Engineering Specialist

Blossom
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Joined: Sun Jul 22, 2007 1:52 pm

Postby Blossom » Tue Jul 31, 2007 10:44 pm

Thanks so much for your responses. I've progressed on my topic, and now I have a pretty rough but solid idea of where I'm headed. However, I'm worried that my project won't--frankly--"sophisticated" enough. I'm sure it has the potential to be. I've read a lot of research, but that doesn't necessarily translate to the project itself being interesting/extensive aside from my knowledge. Do you have any suggestions for that?

Note: OneBriiguy, it seems like you're an engineering specialist. My project is in the civil engineering area.

OneBriiguy
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Postby OneBriiguy » Wed Aug 01, 2007 5:54 am

Blossom wrote:Thanks so much for your responses. I've progressed on my topic, and now I have a pretty rough but solid idea of where I'm headed. However, I'm worried that my project won't--frankly--"sophisticated" enough. I'm sure it has the potential to be. I've read a lot of research, but that doesn't necessarily translate to the project itself being interesting/extensive aside from my knowledge. Do you have any suggestions for that?

Note: OneBriiguy, it seems like you're an engineering specialist. My project is in the civil engineering area.


Hi, Blossom!

Yours is a common fear - that what you're working on won't pass muster. This is where I suggest that you utilize the experts / mentors you have identified in this field of expertise. They can either confirm that what you're doing makes for a good experiment, or they can help you refine your ideas into one.

My area of technical expertise is in electronics, software, and some electronics packaging. I am not your first choice to comment on a civil engineering project.

I encourage you to push for assistance to bring your experiement into reality. In just the two posts I've read, I can tell that you have a good head on your shoulders. Keep up the good work. Push through the uncertainty. It is in confronting uncertainty that we add value.

Best wishes on your project.
Brian Castelli (OneBriiguy)

Engineering Specialist

tdaly
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Postby tdaly » Wed Aug 01, 2007 7:59 am

Blossom,

Like Brian, I would strongly reccomend discussing your concerns with your mentor. S/he will be able to tell you if your concerns are valid; if they are, s/he will probably be able to help you find ways to make your project more impactful.

Please also remember that it is not just about the high-powered level of your project or its sophistication; it is about doing thourough science. I know one finalist who did a fairly simple project: using cellulose solutions to improve the number of popcorn kernels who pop per batch. Her method was simple, straightforward, and the problem didn't have any earth-shattering ramifications, but she did so well because her science was so thorough. She popped more than 1000 batches of popcorn (that's about 75 pounds), used statistical tools, and then provided an analysis that explained why her project turned out the way it did.

Always remember: The quality of your science is more important than its caliber. You may have "found" the solution to global warming, but if your methods and data aren't solid enough no one will believe you. You MUST do solid science.
All the best,
Terik

Blossom
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Joined: Sun Jul 22, 2007 1:52 pm

Postby Blossom » Mon Aug 06, 2007 7:09 pm

Thanks very much for your responses. I also have a question about "log notebooks." Is one expected for display at the science fair (it's optional here, but is it better to have one)? I do have a notebook for my records, but it has some notes that I'd rather not have everyone read, and I don't think that it's entirely understandable to people who are viewing my project for the first time (since it's mostly for my own purposes right now). What do you think?

tdaly
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Postby tdaly » Tue Aug 07, 2007 8:43 am

Blossom,

A lab notebook is expected for display at Intel ISEF. I would urge you to display the lab book at your local science fair as well. As I have spoken with judges and fair administrators, it has been made very clear to me that projects that have a labl book are considered to be of a much higher qaulity than those that don't. The lab book does several things for you. First, it provides evidence that you did the work you say you did. Second, it provides a record of your thought processes as you work through the problems that you run into. Finally, it documents the effort you put into your work.

Even if there are things that you would rather not have every one see, I would still display it. The fact of the matter is that the judges will most likely not read your book cover to cover. They may look at a few pages, but they just don't have to time to read it all the way through.

I wouldn't worry about the norebook note being entirely understandable to people viewing your project. That's not the lab book's job. The lab book's job is to provide a detailed record of what YOU have done as you work on your project. It should make sense to YOU. As you said yourself, the lab book is "mostly for my own purposes." The display board, on the other hand, it there to help people understand your project. I wouldn't worry to much about your lab book being understandable to someone who isn't familiar with your project.

Keep the questions coming!
All the best,
Terik

Blossom
Posts: 9
Joined: Sun Jul 22, 2007 1:52 pm

Postby Blossom » Wed Aug 08, 2007 12:58 am

Thanks. There's just a few issues I feel sort of unsure about. If the judges can't read my handwriting or understand something (not that it's a complete mess) then what is the purpose of displaying it for a judge to look at? I'm just trying to figure out what the judges are looking for in a lab notebook.

Louise
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Postby Louise » Wed Aug 08, 2007 7:26 am

Blossom wrote:Thanks. There's just a few issues I feel sort of unsure about. If the judges can't read my handwriting or understand something (not that it's a complete mess) then what is the purpose of displaying it for a judge to look at? I'm just trying to figure out what the judges are looking for in a lab notebook.


The point is that you had a record and good note keeping. Judges aren't going to dock you forhandwriting. Ideally, someone should be able to pick up your notebook and replicate your work. As a scientist, I can tell you all sorts of people look through my notebook. Probably most judges have had people look at their notebooks, so you shouldn't stress out about this- they understand. The point is the record keeping, not if it is pretty.

If your notebook is so messy that you are scared to display it, then I think you should work on this in the future- but do not, under any circumstances, re-write your current notebook to be a cleaner copy for the judges. This is considered fraud.

But seriously, relax about it! Terik is right, having a notebook makes you look more professional than not having one. Since you have one, use it!

Louise

tdaly
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Postby tdaly » Wed Aug 08, 2007 9:28 am

I just want to re-emphasize what Louis said: under NO circumstances should you recopy the notebook. I would also suggest writing in pen and lining things out instead of using whiteout or erasers. (When judges see whiteout or erasures, they ask "What is this student trying to hide?")

Like Louise says, the judges all probably keep lab books of their own, and I'll guarentee they don't all have beautiful penmanship!
All the best,
Terik

PhilipPierce
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Postby PhilipPierce » Thu Aug 09, 2007 11:28 am

Hi Blossom,

I just wanted to let you know that at every science fair I've been in, including ISEF, the judges always asked me if I kept a notebook, then they glance through it quickly just to see that I kept records of everything and documented my project. But as far as looking at the data and what my project was about, they just looked at my board and research paper for that information, so as they said, I wouldn't worry about your penmanship, just make it easy for you to use. Good luck, Philip

Blossom
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Postby Blossom » Sat Aug 11, 2007 4:11 pm

Thanks.

Another question I have is: Is there such thing as working too much with a mentor?

Louise
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Postby Louise » Sun Aug 12, 2007 6:49 am

Blossom wrote:Thanks.

Another question I have is: Is there such thing as working too much with a mentor?


As you get better at what you are doing, you should be able to do more and more things with out your mentor. If you still need them to do every experiment after a "while" or explain every data point (hard to quantify, since it depends on your experience level and the complexity of the experiment) or he/she won't let you do the work, then there is a problem. Some people might find this an okay situation- they areinvolved in a neat experiment with out doing much work, but I think that is not a useful situation. You won't be an independent researcher at this point, but each day you should be _more_ independent.

Science is built on mentoring, maybe more than most fields. As long as you respect the help the mentor is giving, and work hard to learn how to do things alone, you'll be fine. Also, I think it is a great idea to write up a weekly progess report for you and your mentor. THis gives you an opportunities to think about your work and and questions that came up, and it gives your mentor a chance to make sure everything is going okay and you are not lost and on the wrong track.

Does that make sense?

Louise

Blossom
Posts: 9
Joined: Sun Jul 22, 2007 1:52 pm

Postby Blossom » Sun Aug 12, 2007 10:43 pm

Thank you. As for the display board, what is the difference between the text that goes on there and the one in the research paper?


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