How to Get on the Road to Research

As I approached the completion of my undergraduate degree, I was definitely unsure of how research worked and the expectations that were required of me going forward. This resulted in a bit of confusion as I learned the ropes and how to handle my newfound freedom as I set out to do some proper research.

Looking back, I think what would have benefited me greatly was some simple guidance as I transitioned from routine, scheduled lectures to the erratic and unpredictable world of research. Guidance such as this feature article co-written with a fantastic collaborator.

This time on TSC we would like to feature an original piece, with a lot of the ideas and writings coming from Tsai Yu-Lin, a Taiwanese PhD candidate at the Kyoto University in Japan. His greatest wish is to turn chemistry into common sense! Contact him via email or Facebook if you would like to get in touch. We are delighted to welcome him on board our team as part of our ongoing effort to engage collaborators to share their original works, because that’s what science is all about!

As the Chinese proverb goes, “Half the work, twice the effect.” It means that with a good method, we can achieve the targets that we set in our own mind.

If for example, we would like to develop a new synthetic method for a drug, we have to first understand what the precursor chemicals are and how to obtain them, whether these chemicals are allowed to be brought into the country, the cost of said chemicals, the required instruments, any by-products that could be produced in the reaction, etc. The most important factor though is whether this new method will positively impact the way your product is synthesized compared to existing schemes. Of course there are many factors that are not mentioned, but this is enough to show that starting a research project requires fulfilling a bunch of conditions.

How then, can complex tasks such as a research project be completed while remaining efficient with our time and resources? Engaging in chemical research requires having a true direction of your research topic, coupled with a good method to comply in order to have the highest efficiency results. For someone just starting out, being thrust into such a daunting environment may seem like very difficult proposition; compared with their professors or supervisors they may feel the need for very broad knowledge, a solid foundation of the theory involved.

However this knowledge, while beneficial, is not exactly essential to effective research. I will introduce the reader to some research methods and techniques, in the hopes that it will help those who are interested in academic research.

I. Motivation

No matter what you do, there is always a driving force behind what you want to achieve. This is motivation. No matter what your motivation is, be sure to understand from the very beginning what your own purpose is.

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For a Degree
Most students do research in order to obtain a master’s or doctoral degree, which is the basic requirement for academic research students to pass their examinations. In general, learning how to conduct research as well as communicating their findings through writing reports are necessary for both masters or doctoral students.

For Interest
Some people who engage in research work can go to the point of neglecting sleep and
forgetting about food. These people are immersed in the research, so much so that their commitment to research surpasses others. Their research results are more abundant, and can be sustained over long periods of time. If you believe that you can cultivate such a level of interest in your research, a researcher’s life is for you.

For Work
Multinational companies have staff who conduct research, having the security and benefits of working for a company while fulfilling their love of science and study. Whether their research is to develop new products, new technologies or key-point components, the main goal is solely the commercialization of research results for the company’s business benefits.

II. Research Type

There are several types of research work, such as to verify the exactness of the theory, realizing the value of scientific theory through real world applications, and solving problems that face humanity. Regardless of what your research type is, you should have the spirit of a scientist – that is, creating value for humanity.

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Rework
The focus of the rework is to examine the results of others and try to apply their findings to other conditions or circumstances. For example, in the field of pharmaceuticals, we manage to synthesize a new alternative drug for some disease, and we apply the treatment to mice and discover medicinal properties. We can therefore discuss whether the drug can be applied to the human body, along with other conditions such as dosage, side effects, method of administration, etc.

Realization
Most research carried out by the general industry is investment which is put into the final usable product, emphasizing continuous improvement and optimization of the manufacturing or the process of the product. The problems encountered and lessons learnt in the process of manufacturing can also benefit academia.

Solving Problems
This type of research is most common in academic research, where topics of study revolve around problems and researchers are left to propose their own solutions. These problems are mostly existing in the real world and the study of which have considerable importance.

III. Essentials

There are a lot of tips to make research work, but we have compressed the bulk of it into the following three points. Keep them in the back of your mind as you go about your work, they are bound to help!

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Focus
When watching someone’s presentation of read a journal paper, it is important to be able to zone in on the emphasis and research information that the speaker or author wants to convey. As such we can learn from existing research situations and summarize the methods and effects that have been put forward from the relevant references. In a world of countless seminars and papers (too many for a single lifetime!), a clear mind free from distractions will help with quickly understanding your field of research.

Keep it Simple
We can see from the papers published in well-known journals, such Nature, Science, Cell, etc., that many of them contain a relatively simple experimental method and precise experimental design. While publishing in a popular journal might be a little elusive, your research should not be. It is important to conduct honest research experiments with verifiable and reproducible results. Want an example of how an experiment should NOT be designed?

Inspiration
Many people often complain that they cannot think of a good direction for their research, but in fact this is very normal. Go outside, take a walk, meet people. Cliche advice maybe, but you’ll be surprised how much research takes place away from your lab bench!

Finally, I would like to encourage future researchers, honesty is the cornerstone of research. There should be no compromising the integrity of your results, because your work matters, and your research has consequences – good or bad. Over to you.

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Note: The original article was edited for grammar and clarity before being published. Thank you once again to Tsai Yu-Lin for his contribution, and congratulations – 2 TSC Official Tees are being air-mailed his way! Want to get your hands on those tees too?