08 August 2016

Research is more than bench work and field work

I sometimes get emails from undergraduate student here asking if there are research opportunities with me. Partly because I have some bottlenecks in my lab (microscopes are a limiting factor), I can’t have a lot of students in my lab.

I’ve started offering them research opportunities to do data extraction or analysis, rather than data collection. I ask them to extracting data from websites or journal articles, and get them into an analyzable form. For example, getting latitude and longitude coordinates for species locations in the literature. Or compiling weather data.

I never heard from those students again.

I can only speculate as to why they never follow up. But, at a guess, I think they don’t consider working with spreadsheets “real” research. For them, “real” research means having a lab coat on and a pipette in hand, or getting a sunburn out in the field with a notebook in hand.

Students are shortchanging themselves.

First, I suspect that by the time you’re asking someone to compile and analyze data from some other source, it may be more likely to result in the student getting their name on a publication than bench or field work.

Second, extracting existing data and putting into a form that can be analyzed is far, far more likely to be a skill that these students will use throughout their professional career. Lots of professional level jobs require working with spreadsheets; very few require running gels.

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