• Question: What is the hardest part about your researcher

    Asked by Tuckertrachula to Alex, Ana, Clay, Keegan, Mark on 5 May 2016.
    • Photo: Clay Robinson

      Clay Robinson answered on 5 May 2016:

      The hardest part of research. Hmmm,
      Well, when you are curious, you always are making observations and wondering about why things happen or how they are related. There is never a shortage of questions that need to be investigated and answered.
      There are three major things I find difficult in research.
      First, in order to use science to test an idea, we need to phrase the question in the form of an hypothesis we can use to design an experiment. The results of the experiment should answer the hypothesis in a specific, not general, manner. Sometimes it is difficult to understand how to ask a good question that will help explain our observation.
      Second, time is always a limiting factor. There are SO many questions out there that need answers. But we only have so much time to devote to finding answers to those questions. This requires us to decide which questions to pursue. Sometimes these are not the questions that interest us most, but the ones for which we can reasonably expect to obtain results. We are evaluated on the progress in our research by how many reports we can publish in scientific journals. This success rate affects another major issue.
      Third, money limits our ability to pursue a question. Experiments require time and equipment. Money is required to buy or rent equipment, to maintain labs, and to pay salaries of the scientists and technicians. Sometimes this money is provided by the companies for which we work. Other times the money is awarded in a competitive grant process. That means we write and submit a proposal, a document that explains what we intend to do, what kind of results we expect to get, how those results will address our question, and how much money we need to accomplish all that. But scientists all over the country are doing the same thing, so a group of people evaluate and rank the proposals based on a scale to determine the merit, and only a few of the proposals will be awarded the money to conduct the experiment.
      And so, a scientist may have a great idea for an experiment and a good research question, but not have the time to do it, or may not be able to get the money to do it.

    • Photo: Alexander Taylor

      Alexander Taylor answered on 5 May 2016:

      It depends on your strengths and weaknesses, and your attitude! And also what kind of research you do, since the steps of working on a chemistry study are very different from an astronomy study.

      The most difficult thing is to design your question well and make sure you’re collecting the right data to answer it. However, this is also probably the most interesting part, so I don’t consider it a hardship.

      A lot of scientists really hate the boring counting, measuring, or lab work part of science. This is very repetitive and dull, but I just listen to a podcast and I find it kind of relaxing.

      Other scientists don’t like writing, especially since scientific writing is so complicated and you have to fit a lot of ideas into a short paper.

      For me, the hardest part is the analysis of the data, because that requires getting a lot of different computer programs to run well, and many times these computer programs were written by one or two other scientists and have a lot of bugs in them.