methionine
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How to pick a topic?

Postby methionine » Sat Sep 08, 2007 9:12 pm

I finally got into another lab recently. I'm really happy about that, but now that I'm there... I don't really have a specific topic I want to research in mind. Sure, the general field is still on splicing and regulation of gene expression, but I'm having trouble thinking of an original project.

My mentor is suggesting that I test targets (a previous bioinformatics study had indicated that an apparently important gene contained several exons that were all regulated by these two proteins, and now experimental data is needed to verify the existence of those exons), but I personally don't see that much of a point in that. It doesn't seem very creative, and although I am sure that I will learn a great deal in terms of lab assays and how exons/introns are regulated, I also want to face the challenge of designing my own experiment instead of simply doing verification work.

Of course, my mentor has also said that if there is anything else I am interested in, he can help me with that as well. I want to come up with that "something else." I have already been perusing the "discussion" sections in the scientific papers I've been reading. Are there any key questions I should be asking myself in order to be coming up with another research topic?... Or does verification work not seem so bad (and why)?

Thanks so much for your help! :)
People do not see the world as it is, they see it as they are.

Louise
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Re: How to pick a topic?

Postby Louise » Sun Sep 09, 2007 6:01 am

methionine wrote:My mentor is suggesting that I test targets (a previous bioinformatics study had indicated that an apparently important gene contained several exons that were all regulated by these two proteins, and now experimental data is needed to verify the existence of those exons), but I personally don't see that much of a point in that. It doesn't seem very creative, and although I am sure that I will learn a great deal in terms of lab assays and how exons/introns are regulated, I also want to face the challenge of designing my own experiment instead of simply doing verification work.


Why don't you start with what your mentor suggests? You agree it is important, and you will pick up valuable lab skills. Your only complaint is that it "isn't creative" and you didn't design it. You can make a very valuable contribution to your metors lab, and maybe even get a paper.

In the mean time, as you start learning about what exactly this research group does, and keep reading, you will develop ideas for projects. As your lab skills get better, you'll also have a really good read on what projects are do-able to. A lot of people who walk in to my boss's research group have the most wacky ideas. They either don't have the background reading to realize the project is trivial, or not important to the boss based on his research interests, or require skills/methods/instruments we don't have. Hang out, talk to students, ask what areas they think are cool and exciting to research.

I always think it is a good idea to do a starter project that comes from your mentor (both for the reasons I mentioned above, but also because your mentor does need this project done. This is a way you can help him/her). I don't know how long you are planning on working in this lab, which obviously dictates how much time you could devote to a project of this type. So, I would talk to your mentor about a starter project that would take X weeks/months, etc. If the project you mention above is very long, ask if you can do part of it to test feasibility or get prelim data.


Louise







Of course, my mentor has also said that if there is anything else I am interested in, he can help me with that as well. I want to come up with that "something else." I have already been perusing the "discussion" sections in the scientific papers I've been reading. Are there any key questions I should be asking myself in order to be coming up with another research topic?... Or does verification work not seem so bad (and why)?

Thanks so much for your help! :)[/quote]

ChrisG
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Postby ChrisG » Mon Sep 10, 2007 8:48 am

Methionine,
My field of interest is different from yours, but the basic issues involved in choosing research topics are the same. As you read these papers, you should be asking yourself:
(1) Is this an interesting question to me?
(2) Will this question be interesting to my mentor and other scientists who will be reviewing my work?
(3) Can I address this question with a set of experiments that are realistic given my time and resources?
(4) Has this question been answered in another journal article, or is someone in the process of answering it?

(1) you can answer off the top of your head. (2) you can answer after talking with your mentor. (3) and (4) can be very difficult to answer and may require a lot of extra work and discussions with your mentor.

I agree with Louise that you should seriously consider your mentor's suggested topic. They probably have done most of the ground-work for you, which will save an enormous amount of time, and they have a good sense of what is appropriate for your situation. If you do pursue that topic, you will likely come across some interesting questions as you work that will form the basis of your own creative and original experiments in the future.

tdaly
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Postby tdaly » Mon Sep 10, 2007 2:58 pm

As someone who has mentored students doing high-level science competitions and been around the science fair circut a few times, I can tell you that many students who do work in labs do one of two things. Either they present work that their mentor told them to do (these projects do not do particularly well) or they build their own project after doing the project assigned by their mentor. These students tend to do quite well.

I would strongly reccomend doing the work your mentor has suggested. Doing so will not only make an important contribution to your field (all the theory and computer simulation in the world is useless without experimental verification), but you will also come across new problems and questions as you go through the work. You can then use these problems, etc. to form the basis of your own work.
All the best,
Terik

methionine
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Occupation: Student

Postby methionine » Tue Sep 11, 2007 7:54 pm

Hey,
so you're saying that I should first do this project, and then perhaps think of my own project for the next one, after I have a better grasp of the theory and such? (... I have one more year before senior year.. that's Intel STS and whatnot)

Thanks :)
People do not see the world as it is, they see it as they are.

tdaly
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Postby tdaly » Tue Sep 11, 2007 8:21 pm

Precisely.
All the best,
Terik

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

Postby methionine » Wed Sep 12, 2007 11:06 am

... So in order to "do well" at these fairs, I will probably need to (since it's what my mentor suggested)
-know my project/topic REALLY well
-be able to explain why it is significant/come up with why I was interested. (I can't say it was my idea, though-- and I've heard that this is a big minus point in terms of doing well at fairs... what can I do to lessen the blow, or turn it around completely?)

thanks :)
People do not see the world as it is, they see it as they are.

Louise
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Postby Louise » Wed Sep 12, 2007 11:36 am

methionine wrote:... So in order to "do well" at these fairs, I will probably need to (since it's what my mentor suggested)
-know my project/topic REALLY well
-be able to explain why it is significant/come up with why I was interested. (I can't say it was my idea, though-- and I've heard that this is a big minus point in terms of doing well at fairs... what can I do to lessen the blow, or turn it around completely?)

thanks :)


Well, since this is a multiyear thing, I wouldn't get too hung up in the early stages. Learn everything you can about the project. You might find an interesting twist/new direction as you do your mentor suggested project which may make a great topic of research. Relax and enjoy your research. Once you have completed some research, then you can decide how you need to present your project to judges at science fair. I'm sure many people here can give you excellent advice on this topic, but you don't even know that you will be in this situation in 6 months, or whenever. Research takes so many unexpected twists, I wouldn't worry about this aspect too much.

Louise

tdaly
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Postby tdaly » Wed Sep 12, 2007 12:29 pm

I agree wholeheartedly with Louise. Just dive in to your work and worry about the details of competition later.
All the best,
Terik


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