methionine
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Where to go from here?

Postby methionine » Fri Nov 09, 2007 3:29 pm

Hi all,
I am looking for some advice on what to do next in terms of planning. I've been studying splicing for over a year now... about a year and a half, and I'm planning on competing in ISEF and other competitions (and the entry deadline is supposedly in mid December, which is why I am asking about this so early on). I am working at a lab now, and I'm still relatively new-- I've been there for only about one month. Nonetheless, the postdoc I am working with is starting to trust me around the lab -- he lets me do things alone (well, he actually forces me to do things alone now because it helps me learn best and gain more confidence) and I think I have a fair understanding of what I'm doing. I have finished one round of "grunge work" -- that is, lots and lots of PCR.
I had initially thought of that work as some sort of mini-project to get me familiar with the lab and how things worked, but apparently the postdoc is planning on having me just do a lot of PCR / target verification. Which brings me to this: the 'project' I am doing now (1) isn't creative, (2) isn't actually my idea, and (3) might yield good data for future analysis.
So my question is, should I try to start another project (one of my own), now that I'm more familiar with the lab procedures? ... I know that one of the criteria that judges look for at these sorts of competitions is creativity, so... I figured that in order to be remotely competitive in a fair like this, I would need to come up with my own project. (I'm fairly sure that if I did ask my postdoc to help me with a reasonable project, he would let me do my own thing.) Should I ask about doing my own project, or do you still think that I should go along with what the postdoc wants me to do? I've posted this a month or so ago, and everybody overwhelmingly advised me to go along with what the postdoc wanted me to do, but now I'm sort of at a crossroads here.

Thank you!
People do not see the world as it is, they see it as they are.

staryl13
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Re: Where to go from here?

Postby staryl13 » Fri Nov 09, 2007 3:45 pm

Hi!
This happens to a lot of people with mentors, so don't get discouraged. Is there any project that the postdoc is working on right now which you might be able to take a piece of and work on by yourself? Talk to the postdoc, and if you feel that there could be some useful data that may aid in the future to make a medical breakthrough, solve a problem, etc..., you should stick with what you're doing now. If you do intend on branching out into your own project, hopefully it will be able to incorporate the work you have already done since it doesn't seem like you have much time left. It is good that you have a knowledge of the basic techniques so this will help you when judges evaluate how much work you have performed vs. how much the mentor has helped you. Good luck!
"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -Isaac Asimov

methionine
Posts: 75
Joined: Sat Nov 11, 2006 11:48 am
Occupation: Student

Postby methionine » Sat Nov 10, 2007 9:02 am

I'm not sure.... I might choose to study a specific gene? I'm really not sure.
People do not see the world as it is, they see it as they are.

MelissaB
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Postby MelissaB » Sat Nov 10, 2007 9:22 am

Hi,

How much talking did you do with the post-doc in question before things started? Having been on the other end of something like this once, I know that frequently a post-doc or a grad students gets told by the head of the lab, "Here's an undergrad/high school student to help you with your work." If the head of the lab is the one that talked to the student, the post-doc may not have any idea that you want anything besides experience. (If you talked to the post-doc rather than the head of the lab at the beginning, of course, ignore this).

Has the post-doc published many papers? Can you take a look and see what he's interested in and then maybe ask him about doing a project that would be your idea, but something that he would be interested in? I think you should talk to him about it either way, but if you come in prepared with possible projects, especially with something he's interested in, he'll be much more likely to want to let you switch projects.

Anyway, that's just my opinion...feel free to take it with a grain of salt.

Louise
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Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2006 2:17 pm

Re: Where to go from here?

Postby Louise » Sat Nov 10, 2007 10:31 am

methionine wrote:Hi all,
I am looking for some advice on what to do next in terms of planning. I've been studying splicing for over a year now... about a year and a half, and I'm planning on competing in ISEF and other competitions (and the entry deadline is supposedly in mid December, which is why I am asking about this so early on). I am working at a lab now, and I'm still relatively new-- I've been there for only about one month. Nonetheless, the postdoc I am working with is starting to trust me around the lab -- he lets me do things alone (well, he actually forces me to do things alone now because it helps me learn best and gain more confidence) and I think I have a fair understanding of what I'm doing. I have finished one round of "grunge work" -- that is, lots and lots of PCR.
I had initially thought of that work as some sort of mini-project to get me familiar with the lab and how things worked, but apparently the postdoc is planning on having me just do a lot of PCR / target verification. Which brings me to this: the 'project' I am doing now (1) isn't creative, (2) isn't actually my idea, and (3) might yield good data for future analysis.
So my question is, should I try to start another project (one of my own), now that I'm more familiar with the lab procedures? ... I know that one of the criteria that judges look for at these sorts of competitions is creativity, so... I figured that in order to be remotely competitive in a fair like this, I would need to come up with my own project. (I'm fairly sure that if I did ask my postdoc to help me with a reasonable project, he would let me do my own thing.) Should I ask about doing my own project, or do you still think that I should go along with what the postdoc wants me to do? I've posted this a month or so ago, and everybody overwhelmingly advised me to go along with what the postdoc wanted me to do, but now I'm sort of at a crossroads here.

Thank you!


While I'm glad things are going better for you, I think you are moving way too fast. Last week, you were confused about what you were doing and afraid to talk to your labmates or the prof. Now you want to start your own research project? Keep doing the what you doing- refining your lab skills and talking to your coworkers. Your coworkers are _full_ of good research ideas and talking to them will help you to come up with ideas of your own. Bounce ideas off of them. And continue working on the "boring stuff', while you think the goals of the project are boring and non-creative, your mentor doesn't. This is important to him/her, and your work on this project is what makes you valuable to the lab. [Also, I cannot help but wondering if you are missing some aspect of this work. Talk to the others working on the project. Are they excited about it? Do they feel it is important? You just see the routine PCR part, but there is a bigger picture. ]

Oh, and i'm not sure if you part three is a typo: "(3) might yield good data for future analysis."- Isn't that a good thing? If you meant, 'might not '... well science is like that. Sometimes things work, and some times they don't. Unless you think the project or the technique is so deeply flawed that all the data is garbage, I wouldn't worry about this.

One other thing to consider, you might be getting tiny assignments to do because of the time you spend there. I don't know what your schedule is like, but maybe you are only doing certain things because they fit in to the time you have. Or it could have to do with with the department or post-doc's schedule. Like an instrument is only available from 9-10 am, or the post-doc always runs procedure X before lunch, because if things go wrong, he has all day to fix it. If you aren't there, you don't get to do these things. If you want to do something more complicated, maybe you should ask if the scheduling is an issue and see if you can work something out.


Louise

methionine
Posts: 75
Joined: Sat Nov 11, 2006 11:48 am
Occupation: Student

Postby methionine » Sat Nov 10, 2007 11:42 am

Haha, I think I'm moving too fast too, except in terms of deadlines, I sort of have to work this quickly. I do work in the lab from 3-4 times a week for about 3 to 6 hours at a time, depending on the procedures I'm doing. I had discussed what I wanted to do with BOTH the PI and the postdoc (all three of us discussed together). I think I did mention competitions I wanted to enter. Yes, the postdoc I am working with is (I've heard from the others in the lab) the top ... researcher under the PI. He has many publications. I'm not sure if he actually is using me to help him with his work, because he hasn't asked me for any of my results, and beides, mine aren't 100% reliable (although I did try very hard :-P) because I'm still a beginner.
The project will, I think, give good data for future analysis-- we're trying to observe splicing patterns and by checking each and every target, we'd be able to see trends which might give more insight into how the splicing mechanism/process, etc works. Furthermore, it's important because the many of the targets are found in genes that have been linked to lots of prevalent diseases. I think the thing I'm worried most about is creativity. Or maybe I'm just worrying too much, I don't know.
Do you have any suggestions about questions I should ask myself in order to come up with a new topic? I mean, I'm interested in a lot but how would it be best to come up with something that fits his interersts, too? It feels like such a daunting task because the kind of research.... that the postdoc is doing.... is... well, just "the real thing," you know?
Ah, I'm just being too nervous. I should probably take more time to reflect. Thanks for your suggestions, though :)
People do not see the world as it is, they see it as they are.

Lise Byrd
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Joined: Sun Sep 18, 2005 10:00 pm

Postby Lise Byrd » Sat Nov 10, 2007 8:11 pm

Methionine,

I worked in a lab this past summer on a project similar to yours. I agree with you that the work you are doing now will be valuable for future research. Something else for you to keep in mind is that the kind of science you are doing with your mentor can go very slowly, and it might take you much longer than you expect to come to the results you want. (That's just the nature of real-world science!)

I would suggest talking to your mentor again. Lay all your concerns down in front of him. I don't know whether he is familiar with the procedures for science fairs--tell him that these are the guidelines, this is what they expect for the final presentation. Ask him to give you a better idea of the "larger picture" behind the project. I know that it is very easy to get bogged down in PCRs! Are there other questions within the "larger picture" that he wants to explore? You might be able to pick up a smaller piece from the questions he is asking and work on that. Then you would be helping his research, but you would also be able to present a complete project of your own for the science fair.

As for the creativity... my impression from my own science fairs is that when you are doing research at this level, creativity is "graded" slightly differently. I would focus on really understanding the question you are asking and why this question is important in the context of what your mentor and/or lab is doing.

I hope this helps you. Best of luck!
Sonia


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