Many BE undergrad and grad students were working in the lab prior to the worldwide Covid-19 rampdown. While our UROPS, senior thesis students, and graduate students are at home, we wanted to remind you that there are many ways to use this time to learn and practice important research and life skills.
First, we encourage you to start by reflecting on where you are in your current project and in your educational career. Is there a milestone you can begin to prepare for? Should you use this time to focus on something you’ve been wanting to do for a while?
Second, reach out to your PI and see if there is anything they think you should be working on. A thesis proposal? Data analysis? Writing a paper or review? Preparing for a presentation?
Once you have some answers to these questions, you can begin to think about how to best use your time.
- Work on your thesis or grant proposal. Putting effort into your proposal can also save time when writing your thesis. It is critical to do a solid literature search and understand the problem you are trying to solve.
- It takes time to pick an important problem. You may spend time reading about problems that exist. Once you have a small list, start looking for themes. Think about what solutions would work. Research those solutions. Then think about what problems those solutions start. The back and forth between problems and solutions is important for doing impactful work.
- Read! Read lots of papers! Read papers asking yourself questions like “why did the authors do this experiment”, “what other conclusions could we draw from this data”, “what could we do next with this information”
- Write a review. Think about what your unique perspective is in your field and write about it.
- Don’t feel like you have a unique perspective – try to find one! What are you contributing to your field. How is it impactful? How can you pivot your project to add impact to your field?
- Working on an interdisciplinary project? Work on defining it. Do you literature search for your project so you can identify why your approach is important.
- Identify something computational you could do to support your work or help identify critical parameters that need to be tested in your design.
- Have an experiment you run constantly? Use this time to set up a computational pipeline to make data processing and figure design easier.
- Were you planning to start new experiments but now cannot? Think about how you could generate preliminary data through computational means. Maybe you won’t need to run your first couple experiments. Or maybe you will identify critical controls that you were not thinking about. Perhaps you could add more data through computational programming to support your hypothesis.
- Spend time with your data and thinking critically about your experimental design. One thing we don’t get to do as often is to just sit with our data. We are often running from experiment to experiment. And when experiments fail, we often assume that they failed because of something we did – we forget to look for interesting biology in “failed” experiments. So one suggestion, if you’ve generated some data, is to start thinking about it.
- For every experiment you’ve done – put down a hypothesis, think about why this is the experiment that you need to do, make sure you have all the right controls, analyze the data, and ask yourself whether the data supported the results.
- If you don’t have the data yet, you could do something similar but for planned experiments. And you can sketch your expected data. Going through this process can really help you to think about why you are doing experiments, think about controls you might be missing, and make the most out of your data.
- Learn a new skill. Build a website. Learn a new software program. Write a blog. Share your opinions. Learn a new programming language. Do that thing you always wanted to do. Many software platforms are offering free trials for the remainder of the semester.
While we do recognize that it might be easy to identify things you could do with your time, it might be harder to actually do them. It can be extremely challenging to motivate yourself to read papers, or write something, or learn a new skill, especially when there is no impending deadline. Below are a few tips to help create a schedule.
- Set defined and attainable goals for yourself each week. Be kind to yourself and accept the way your body is reacting to what is happening in the world around you.
- Instead of planning large blocks of time to accomplish a task, set smaller blocks of time to accomplish smaller tasks.
- Tell a friend about your goal so you can have an accountability buddy.
- Reward yourself with a TV show or a treat or a break when you accomplish a goal.
These are some ideas to get your wheels turning. Share with us what you are working on. We’d love to hear from you! And don’t forget – you can make an appointment with a Comm fellow to get help with any of the above topics, including time management.
Blog post by Prerna Bhargava.
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