Wednesday, April 14, 2010

One last comment

My advisor offered some advice to me recently about collaborative work, and I think it's the toughest advice to follow for a stubborn scientist (myself being very much included in this category). He said that you need to listen to the experts in the other fields and not assume that you can know everything.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Please give my draft a meaning

I often find myself reviewing drafts of manuscripts and presentations for my colleagues. Usually I end up reviewing the direct results of a first draft. Consequently, the writing is almost always incoherent and does not feel like a "whole" document. I  fix many grammatical and mechanical flaws but find myself unable to critique the most important part of the document, that being the overall message itself. I believe that it is because of the fact that I am reviewing a first draft that I cannot perform this essential review function.

A major emphasis of my composition classes in college was that writing is a long process with many steps. A document will go through a large number of changes and will only superficially resemble any drafts that led to its completion. Proper placement of peer review in the writing process is essential to maximizing its effectiveness; if utilized too early, it reduces the quality of a finished work and costs valuable time.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cosmic collaboration

This month's issue of Nature Physics contains an interesting article about astronomy's move from the realm of individual efforts to the collective findings of large teams of scientists. While the article is cautionary in tone and recommends that astronomer's reground themselves in the nuances of experimental astronomy, I did find some interesting comments that can compliment my previous post on collaborative research.

For one, the article criticizes a recent trend in astronomy papers whereby authors neglect error bars or even the data upon which their conclusions are drawn. The reason for this, as I understood the article, is that the scientists are largely unfamiliar with how the data was collected or what can contribute to the error in general. This can be one risk of collaborative research projects in general. Eventually, material will arise from a party which has no direct interest in the paper being written and as a result this material will slip by the critical eye of the authors.

Another issue I see is that, according to the article, students and post-docs have become mere data slaves. I think that collaborative efforts can in some way reduce scientists to a tool for performing the mechanical tasks that belong to their field of specialization. I think that this dehumanization of the role of a scientist can squelch creativity and ruin the spirit of scientific pursuits.

The article I am referring to can be found here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Collaborative efforts

This weekend was CREOL's annual Optics Day, an educational outreach event for students and adults of all educational levels. The purpose of Optics Day is to educate the public about the benefits of optics and photonics-based technologies and how their lives are shaped by the science that we do. In addition to the usual day-long event, the SPIE student chapter hosted a small symposium for graduate students from nearby universities, such as Florida Atlantic University and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

During the panel discussion at the symposium I asked a question of the speakers concerning collaborative research efforts. All the panelists agreed that diversity and interdisciplinary research is very important to science today, especially given that many fields have become highly specialized and esoteric towards scientists outside of the field. However, I was interested to know what all the researchers in a collaborative effort need to have in common to produce good research.

Dr. Michael Bass, from CREOL, suggested that personalities have to be compatible. This includes work ethic, vision, and the individual desires of the collaborators. Dr. Alex Vitkin, from the University of Toronto, suggested that possessing knowledge of a wide range of topics, such as that obtained from a physics education, is very important to be able to communicate with the other researchers. However, he cautioned that we can not be generalists; we must specialize in one area. Otherwise, we risk not being able to contribute to the effort.

It seems to me that in order to contribute to interdisciplinary research, I might wish to have one niche area that I can claim a specialization in.