Friday, August 20, 2010

Tools for research students

I keep encountering problems that research students are having that have long been solved in other industries. Nothing new here, its just frustrating to find someone struggling to re-invent the wheel.

My current wish list for research students would be:

Project Management Tool
Basic task and resource tracking, critical path analysis, Gantt charts
Microsoft Project is the simplest and easiest we have accessible. 
Single user is fine. Little or no collaboration needed.

Project file management
Subversion with TortoiseSVN are my favorite combination.
Still a little bit complex to explain and use but its the best I have so far.

The other issues I constantly deal with is research students trying to re-invent the wheel on their project processes.
  1. Formulate a hypothesis
  2. Come up with an experiment to try to destroy that hypothesis
  3. Perform the experiment to collect data 
  4. Evaluate the results of the experiment against the hypothesis
  5. Publish the results, data and ideas generated

How hard is that conceptually? I get that it takes some repetition to understand and appreciate the subtly of the scientific method, but these are research students. They are supposed to have seen this idea in print at least once.

I keep having conversations with students who are doing an experiment to "find" something or "prove" something.....  it bothers me.  All this being said, I remember as a student how weird it seemed the first time I was confronted with the ideas of hypothesis testing. It seems totally ass about. So I forgive without reservation and try my best to explain the ideas again... but it still bothers me.

I have the sneaking suspicion that I might be getting a little out of touch with my own ignorance. I may have been doing the same thing too long. Its all getting a bit familiar and I am starting to imagine that I am seeing patterns.  I think a little bit of fear and uncertainty keeps me grounded. I have the disturbing habit of feeling like I know what I am doing a little too frequently at the moment.

Still there are surprises every day. Its just not the surprises of discovery and success, because I have had all those already, now its just the surprises of violated assumptions and forgotten but important details and meetings.

Moving on. It seems like I didn't have as much to talk about on the subject I started with as I thought. Such is life.