I met with my advisor after we got back from the Bioacoustics workshop last week. I was really excited about all of the techniques and methods that I had learned about and wanted to try them all. Well, my plans weren’t exactly dismissed, but they were mostly relegated to back-burner status. After momentarily indulging in a little self-pity, I realized that, as usual, he was giving me useful advice and guidance. Given free reign, I will invariably get caught up in the excitement of writing code and solving immediate puzzles (fun for a nerd like me!). Rarely do I step back and ponder the bigger picture – which is exactly what I’m now being asked to do.
I like developing techniques. I like working out problems, and finding the best solution that I can. And the satisfaction of getting the code to work after hours of debugging has got to be one of the greatest feelings. But it turns out that in a PhD program (at least in oceanography) you’re actually supposed to answer SCIENCE QUESTIONS (dun-dun).
So, WHAT IS A SCIENE/RESEARCH QUESTION? And how do you find the right ones? I’m clueless here, so I thought I’d make a list (I like lists). So here’s my list of things to consider when formulating a Science Question:
- What data do I have, or can I obtain, over the next 2-4 years?
- What can this data tell me?
- What are others in the field doing? What is already known?
- What are the big questions that other researchers are trying to answer?
- What type of research is being funded, or could realistically get funding in the future?
WHAT IS NOT A RESEARCH QUESTION? (for me. In other programs the techniques themselves may be the question and the goal)
- How do you implement that python extension for Antelope?
- What’s the most efficient way to compute the intersection of an arc through a grid cell?
Here’s to dedicating at least a portion of my limited brainpower to reading, writing, and thinking about possible research questions.
Advice is welcome!
A comment from Mark on Facebook:
“Well, Michelle, what would YOU like to answer in your field of choice using the techniques you have available?”
He makes a good point. I forgot to add to the list the requirement that I find something that I’m actually interested in investigating. Because I can likely find several possible paths to follow, but I need to choose one that I can stomach for several years.