Saturday, May 14, 2016

Research Proposal

Thinking of a novel research idea is a lot harder than I initially thought. There's so much out there, so many papers that have just been published, so many unanswered questions, so many areas for improvement. It didn't feel like it would be extremely difficult to pick an area or a problem and propose something new, that no one else has started work on yet. What my partner and I found, is that it's actually very time-consuming and difficult. In order to get any sense of what's already been found, what is yet to be discovered, what the problems are, we had to read so many papers, summaries, and reviews. Sometimes, after reading a couple papers and then identifying an idea, once we started reading more closely into topics related to that, we found that this topic involved way too much physics and math for either of us to possibly understand. Sometimes, we'd think of an idea, and then after reading a couple papers, realize that someone had already looked into it, and published about it. There's a careful balance between needing enough information in the field to be able to prove that the project is plausible and worth the time, and then choosing a project that isn't already covered by literature. We ended up choosing our topic by drawing from a couple different "Future directions" sections of different papers.

Once we had our research question and were trying to write out an outline for methods, we found ourselves caught between different methods from different papers, conflicted and confused about what would be best for our specific question. Would it be too much to just try each method and see which one worked the best? There were four different ways to synthesize the spider silk scaffold, each focusing on different mechanical properties or biological properties. Extra paper-reading went into each one, to try to figure out which one was the best for us. Ultimately, writing a research proposal is, in my opinion, much more complicated than writing a research paper on data and results that you already have.

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