Narrowing Your Topic Without Losing Your Mind

I’m studying this year (in Research Science 2) alongside the Research Science 1 students; this is all of their first times doing “real” research and they’re at that point where they have an idea that’s good but still frustratingly abstract.

One girl in my class approached me about a week ago with a worried expression and wide eyes… “When will I know what I want to study?” she asked. I guess I gave her a confused look because she quickly corrected herself: “I mean, when did you know what you wanted to study?”

That got me thinking…

1. Write out a list of 5 things you’re interested in.

I hope this is self-explanatory, but your list should NOT look like this:

I’m glad you’re friends with Joe and I actually encourage you to continue eating pizza, but…come on.

Something like this is a great starting point (notice “Playing xbox” is still in there…you’ll see why):

Okay, awesome. Then fill in 2-3 ideas surrounding each of your 5 topics- questions, random thoughts about the topic, things you know about it…

Now get out there and find some answers!!

For now don’t worry if you think your question has already been answered or not. Just write whatever first comes to mind.

2. Talk to people. As simple as this sounds, the more people you talk to about your project the more insight you’ll gather and the more potential help you’ll receive.

Even if you don’t have a solidified idea yet, just throwing ideas out there often works. (“Oh yeah, I worked with thyroid cancer cells once! Maybe my college professor will answer some questions for you! Here’s his email address…”) Congrats, you are now 82634876 steps closer to starting your project than you were 3 minutes ago.

3. Go to this website or this website or this website or this website (for kids) or this website  for ideas. The importance of keeping up with current science events in order to choose a topic of study can’t be stressed enough.

Enjoy and hit the contact page for extra advice or help!

‘Til next time.

P.S.- Take some time to check out this article from the NY Times… It’s one of those articles I read that really just hit me.

BAM. And now I understand.

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Research by Researchers: Thoughts on “Success with Science”

As part of my research science class, we just finished reading the book Success with Science: The Winner’s Guide to High School Research written by Shiv Gaglani and a few other talented undergrads/ recent graduates from Harvard and UPenn who won at a variety of national science competitions as high schoolers.

My thoughts:

  • This is a winner’s guide. Lots of emphasis is placed on how to make it to the biggest precollegiate science fairs out there (International Science and Engineering Fair, INTEL Science Talent Search, Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology…).
  • Do not pick up this book expecting lots of light and fluffy beating-around-the-bush talk. It is written like a manual on how to change a tire or fix computer problems. That being said, it does not contain exact steps on how to create a winning research project (because how could you do that?!), but it is the closest thing I’ve seen.
  • I specifically enjoyed “Part 3: Elements of a Successful Research Project” not because of what it did for me but rather what it did for my classmates who are new to research. I read it and thought it rather boring, but when my class held a discussion of these chapters, I immediately saw the benefit of their inclusion. The “newbies” had no idea how to write a scientific paper or give a Power point presentation- skills I now take for granted. Certain parts of the book (like this one) definitely have benefits for rising scientists.
  • My one criticism is that the book often contains information that one can easily find by performing a Google search. Ex: chapters 3 (scholarships) and 16-19 (major science fairs) contained a myriad of information about how much money one can earn through science competitions, whether certain fairs accept group projects or not, etc. I found it frustrating that there were not more original ideas in these chapters- simply a regurgitation of previously-established facts.
  • It is near polar opposite of Advice to a Young Scientist by P.B. Medawar. Success is for the driven student who is looking to win big, while Advice is for the everyday observant kid who likes to perform small scale experiments with their house plants (ironic because it was written by a Nobel prize recipient).
  • I sincerely enjoyed the one-liner quotes at the beginnings of each chapter: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”- Howard Thurman

I’d be interested to hear if any of you read this book also! Any thoughts? Hit the contact page or comment!

‘Til next time.

P.S.- Just a science joke…

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