Showing off – Life of a student researcher, part two

It’s been six weeks since my last “Life of a Student Researcher” entry. Sorry about that! Besides my brief excursion to Santa Rosa Island, I’ve been spending my day typing code into my computer, and then racking my brain to figure out what the resulting graphs might mean. That’s five weeks worth of data processing – just thinking about it makes me a little bit dizzy. But somehow, I did it. (I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the excellent advisors in my lab. And the Stack Overflow website.)

The few results I’ve found are exciting. But most of my “results” don’t feel like results at all. They are simply evidence that I need to approach the problem differently than I have been doing, before I can determine anything at all. Not having complete results is typical of scientific research, but it takes plenty of my patience.

While I’ve been number crunching, I’ve also had to present my work to the other professors and students on campus – twice! First, I gave a powerpoint presentation with my lab group. We stood up in front of the lecture hall and explained our projects and the progress we had made so far. I was nervous but people seemed to understand our presentation, and they even laughed at our jokes. Success.

The second time I had to present a poster of my personal research project. Professors and students mingled around the building, checking out our posters on the walls and asking us questions. It was a lot more fun than a powerpoint! However it can be challenging to summarize your research quickly to someone just walking by. It also took tons of energy to keep up these small-talk conversations with everyone. I described this poster session as a “science party.” Everyone just mingled around, meeting new people and networking, eating food and learning about biology research. I’m such a nerd – this “science party” was more fun than most of the parties I’ve been to since college. Anyway, here’s a picture of how much fun I had at the science party:

I enjoy myself as best I can as I present my poster for the first time.
I enjoy myself as best I can as I present my poster for the first time.

What I learned from these presentations is that research involves a lot of explaining. Can my data be explained by previously determined facts? Can I explain my ideas to others, and convince them that it is correct? Explain explain explain. Sometimes I feel like my title should be “Student Explainer” instead of “Student Researcher.” In the past weeks, I have definitely polished my communication and presentation skills. What useful skills and what a great opportunity.

I have only three weeks left of research remaining for the summer. I will try to post at least one more time about the progress of my work. Until then . . . I’ll be racking my brain some more.