Posted on 04/28/2014 at 10:15:41 PM by Suzanne PriceBy Debbie Fetter, Student Blogger
Secrets to the research field were unlocked during the Student Interest Group's session, “Best Practices for Your Research Toolkit.” The first speaker, Barbara DeRatt, a graduate student from the University of Florida, gave a relatable talk about tips for success in graduate school. She reminded attendees to “take a step back and keep it simple” when tackling research goals. Habits, such as maintaining a weekly calendar, help with time management and accountability. Writing may seem daunting, but it's never too early to start and this will help diminish the load. Maintaining detailed records of your research in a designated laboratory notebook also helps alleviate some of the writing pressure.
Ms. DeRatt relayed advice from established faculty at her university. This advice includes taking the time to make sure the data is reliable, the laboratory research aligns with your interests, and to actively read and interpret the literature. Ms. DeRatt left us with the wise words of a member of the University of Florida faculty, Dr. Robert Cousin, who said the dissertation project is not meant to be done for the rest of your life, but rather done to develop the research skills needed throughout your career.
Dr. Victoria J. Vieira-Potter, from the University of Missouri-Columbia, took the podium next to share the point of view from a post-doc/young investigator. She emphasized the importance of learning new techniques when they become available and attending seminars to gather information about what's going on in the field. Networking and talking about your research is a chance to receive feedback and gives you practice explaining your project to those outside your field. Don't be afraid to apply for grants and awards because you will never get them if you don't apply. Writing often is important. Papers are the currency of the field, so communicating your research is important for propelling your ideas.
Furthermore, Dr. Vieira-Potter wisely told attendees, “you don't have to cure cancer to be a successful scientist, you only have to contribute something unique and excel in that area.” It's easy to want to do everything, but it's crucial to know your limitations and say NO. This way, you are able to tackle one task well, instead of doing a few tasks mediocrely. Along with that thought, building a solid research team is more valuable than fancy equipment. Teamwork in research will take you far.
Next up, Dr. Mickey Rubin, the Vice President of Nutrition Research at the Dairy Research Institute, took the stage to present on research funding from the industry perspective. Industry representatives do come to conferences (like Experimental Biology!) to learn about current research trends. The Dietary Guidelines report also gives industry insight into the hot research topics to fund. “Some of the best ideas out there aren't found in our office, they're found in your laboratories,” Dr. Rubin shared with the audience. When going about writing a proposal, Dr. Rubin said to make sure to know the goals, deadlines, and guidelines of the funding agency. Get involved in grant proposal writing in graduate school (i.e. help your PI with their proposals, it'll probably score you brownie points anyway). Be sure to clearly state the hypothesis and objectives, and make sure they align with the request for proposals. Have a thorough literature review to prove the need for the research. Proofread, proofread, proofread! Most importantly (besides proofreading), when it comes to proposals, sometimes less is more. Dr. Rubin has seen some of the best proposals that have just one simple primary endpoint with a clearly stated hypothesis. Funding opportunities are there, and industry wants to help build a young investigator's career.
Dr. Earl Harrison, from The Ohio State University, was the last speaker of the session and left us all with the wisdom he's collected through his career. He emphasized the importance of getting your research recognized through meetings, publishing in respected journals, and developing your research network. During conferences, poster sessions are a great way to directly talk to researchers and facilitate networking. Socials are fantastic too for the personal interaction in an informal atmosphere (many also have food). Don't be shy and ask your questions. Dr. Harrison shared one of life's greatest lessons, “there are many more stupid answers than stupid questions.” Another tip is to publish in well-established, peer-reviewed journals, where the important research in your field is published. Although it's tough, don't get personal when responding to reviewers. Respond to all the comments and acknowledge the positive ones, as well.
The session ended with a drool-worthy picture of cake*, which was not only meant to induce hunger, but to showcase that the nutrition field is just a slice in the layer cake of biology. Dr. Harrison shared his final thought, “whatever layer you work on, make it as good as the rest of that layer!” You said it Dr. Harrison, you said it.
*Cake was not served in this session, but that would have been awesome.