Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Biweekly work reports: Tracking your research

During my Phd, the mantra in our group was to do experiments, collect and analyse data, plot them, file them and discuss them only when they are interesting or unexpected.  A scientific story would eventually grow after many repetitive steps and would take a shape of a journal or conference paper. So it became my habit to keep doing experiments and wait till something exciting happens. Reporting each and every experiment was not needed. It is a rare opportunity to get so much independence during PhD. As most of the time, PhD is all about walking on a chalked out path.

After joining as a Post doctoral researcher in an another group I found here the trend is to jot down each and every days experiments, analysis, observations and create a report. What have you done in last two weeks and what you want to do in next two weeks should be mentioned in a nut shell. These reports are then discussed in details in a group meeting between all group members.

In the beginning it was very difficult and depressing for me as I was not accustomed to write about negative results or experiments that did not work. In a two week interval often this is only something that happens in a scientists work place! At some points I also felt this report writing as a waste of time when the data were still not final and further refinements were needed.

I was shy to write these in a report as for me writing meant lots of exciting data and a complete story. Thanks to my persistent boss and organised colleague who persuaded me to keep a log of whatever I am doing. Slowly but steadily it became a habit of mine to open report template in MS Word as soon as I start the computer.

Although, my shyness for showing only negative results is still there but I started writing down all the reasons behind them in the report. And often turned out that contrary to my belief that negative results where not because of my mistakes but because of some unavoidable circumstances (instrumental error etc). 

Handing out a written document also  requires proper presentation in the form of tables, structural schemes and graphs. The text should also be well explained, formatted and must have proper references. In a way after writing biweekly reports for 6-8 months I found that without knowing I have already prepared many structural schemes, figures and tables of the results which gives a quick review of all the work I was doing on the project. A list of references was slowly building up.

In contrast to the PhD tenure when I used to get overwhelmed before a poster or oral presentation, now the things are little less overwhelming as the results have been written and  plotted already.

Continuous writing method also helps to find the reason and explanation behind each data and helps to plan for the next. For proper formulation of scientific text in the report I also need to keep reading about things going on in the literature world.

As a whole after few months of biweekly report writing I find that this is a good way to keep a  track of the science in your lab and keep it moving too. 

1 comment:

  1. You are right... want to add one more thing. The negative results are not always negative...after discussing the negative results with people I learnt that you might find something positive in the so called negative results also.. .it's just how you are looking at it...