Essential research elements for students

The Essential Elements of Research

NewsJulia Perlmutter

No two research projects are exactly alike, especially at Polygence where world-class mentors help students design projects that are tailored to their individual interests. Nevertheless, there are certain features that all high-quality research share.


A Collaborator

Essential research elements for students

Research is a highly collaborative process. From coming up with a research topic (known by design thinkers as “ideation”) to sharing one’s findings with a wide audience, no stage of the research process should be carried out in isolation. Even faculty at top universities with decades of research experience produce scholarly work through partnerships. They regularly solicit feedback from colleagues before publishing their work.

The right collaborator will have expertise in and share your passion for the topic you’re interested in. At Polygence, students have a built-in collaborator: their mentor. While you’ll be in the driver’s seat, your mentor will help you stay the course.

"At Polygence, students have a built-in collaborator: their mentor. While you’ll be in the driver’s seat, your mentor will help you stay the course."


A Research Question

How did the fight for racial justice become so politicized in the U.S.? What causes memory loss in people affected by neurological disorders like amnesia and dementia? These are some of the questions Polygence students have tackled through supervised independent research projects. A strong research question is focused, answerable, and oftentimes addresses a gap in the existing academic literature. Because research generally builds off of previously done work, you will need ample time to read extensively about your topic before zeroing in on a specific area of exploration. Above all, a good research question is driven by your own passions and interests. It’s the kind of question you ponder while lying in bed late at night. Or, the question you contemplate while on long walks or in the shower.

A Timeline

Whether set by a teacher, an admissions cycle, or by you (the researcher), deadlines are crucial for a successful research project. Projects that are large in scope will immediately seem less daunting once they’re broken up into concrete, actionable steps that must be executed within an established time frame. After you’ve identified the goals of your project and have a deadline, work backwards to determine how much time should be allocated to each subtask. That way, you’ll reduce the risk of burn out or letting your research fall by the wayside amidst other commitments.

"Above all, a good research question is driven by your own passions and interests. It’s the kind of question you ponder while lying in bed late at night."


Organizational Systems

Researchers rely on robust organizational systems and tools to streamline their work and collaborate effectively. A first step could be as simple as creating a folder on your desktop to ensure your research is stored in one location. Bookmark websites or clip articles to Evernote that you might want to return to later. Collaboration tools like Dropbox and Trello make sharing relevant papers easy. Evernote, index cards, or a shared Google Doc are all excellent options for note-taking. Mendeley and Zotero can help you format and manage your references without undue stress. It’ll take some trial and error to figure out which of these tools work best for you, but developing strong organizational systems will certainly pay off in the long run.

Materials

Contrary to popular belief, a lot of research can be conducted from the comfort of your own home without the latest technology or significant financial resources. So, what materials does one need to turn a great idea into something tangible? Historians rely on archives to gain access to primary source material. Data scientists use statistical programming languages like R to identify trends and draw novel conclusions that can help businesses. Budding biologists don’t need to look farther than their own backyard to study plants and animal behavior. We have a wealth of resources at our fingertips that can be harnessed to conduct top-notch research.

To learn more about the research Polygence students are engaged in, visit our projects page or check out interviews with students and their mentors profiled in other blog posts.

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