Three Tips on Conducting Summer Research

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A warm welcome to our new cohort of Laidlaw Scholars! A year back then, I was super excited but equally nervous to embark on my first-ever research project with this programme. I'm pretty sure most of you are feeling in the same way right now as I did. Therefore, here I summarise three pieces of advice that may be helpful in your turn whilst sharing the story of my previous summer.

Tip 1 - Be Resilient

More than I'd imagined, there were numerous challenges to encounter when carrying out a fully responsible research project, let alone being a novice.

When I started deliberating over every detail of my project, I realised how unknowledgeable I was. That's the point when I became discouragingly realistic. Yet, I wasn't disheartened at this early point, as this is, fortunately, a case solvable by extensive literature review. The more I read, the clearer my mind was, and the more confident I became. More strategically, when I had no idea where to look, I wrote down the core questions and discussed them one by one with my supervisor, from whom I received many constructive literature sources.

Someday after I felt empowered, it proceeded to the stage with hands-on experiments, which may sound astonishing to outsiders. But doing lab is sometimes arduous. The feeling may get even more fierce in case of failures, no matter how well-prepared you believed yourself to be. That's also something I experienced last summer. However, I reminded myself not to be upset by an unsuccessful attempt. Remember the quote by Michelle Obama - "Failure is a part of the process. You just learn to pick yourself back up." Keeping a cool head whilst reviewing the whole process helped me identify the issue and come to a solution. If you prefer taking lower risks, doing some mini pilots, if possible, will be my suggestion.

Nonetheless, I regret that I couldn't amply address one of my research questions in the end due to time constraint. That's why I put this and the following tips down. As you'll soon notice that summer isn't as long as perceived, how quickly you recover from a challenge also counts for resilience here.

Tip 2 - Stay Focused

Of course, a tidy desk in a quiet environment without any distraction is best for work. Yet, I'd like to draw your attention to allocating the precious time wisely.

Let me first give you a sense of my schedule. In June, I reviewed the literature and designed most of the experiments; in July, I spent time on sampling and extraction, with some testing on the methodology; in August, I focused on addressing my two research questions. It was indeed distorted much from my proposed timeline, with which I budgeted less time in each stage.

If you ask what impeded me, I'll probably answer uncertainties and frustrations. Well, they echo with my first tip of being resilient. As I used to paint the whole picture before taking actions, I contributed an overwhelming amount of time to dive into some partially related technical stuff. In retrospect, I should focus on my research questions to yield better results. If it sounds like your habit, you may consider reserving some more time at the end of the project in case of any accidental disturbance.

Besides, always be conscious of your research questions and the main goal you want to achieve with your project, especially when designing the experiments. It'll help you strike a balance between the idealistically elaborate outcomes and the limited resources. Last time, I mistakenly inclined to more treatment groups instead of larger sample sizes. Like the old saying, "more doesn't always mean better." As you can imagine, that's the reason why I couldn't resolve one of my research questions. The experience has taught me to stick to the research questions and the principal intended outcome. There they'll guide us towards the wisest decision.

Tip 3 - Care About The Outside World

Apparently contradictory to the second tip, this piece of advice is essential to anyone aiming to be a leader or simply a better person.

Drilling solely into your project may train you to be a skilled researcher, but probably not a global leader or a responsible citizen. Having noticed how critical are holistic knowledge and cross-disciplinary collaboration nowadays, I devoted part of my time learning from the outside world last summer and across the year. If you haven't constructed a reading list, this network platform will be a great starting point. I often come across and further delve into some intriguing topics, from scientific and technical to social and historical, inspired by other scholars. There are also occasional webinars with some outstanding leaders. They are incredible and insightful that you should consider attending when there's an opportunity.

Meanwhile, don't forget it's summer! Whatever hustle and bustle of your project, you still need some pauses in the long vacation. Something as simple as a short walk bathing in the fresh air, a convivial chat with a friend, or revisiting a childhood book or game must be more constructive than burnout. They benefit your physical, mental and social health as well.

Epilogue

I sincerely hope this article helps! These three tips will also be accompanying me to my upcoming undergraduate dissertation project. Should you have additional advice, please feel free to share it in the comment section below or create a new post on this platform. I'll be happy to listen to your stories and have some chats! Besides, if you want to receive some support or make friends, simply send me a message or an email, and I'll be there with you! Wish you all great success with your research projects!

Last but not least, I'd like to express my gratitude once again to all of those who have made possible and shaped the experience of my research project last year. Otherwise, I'd not be writing this article and sharing all the tips here. They are Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay for generosity; the Laidlaw Foundation and the HKU Horizon Office for administration and the fantastic programme; Professor Nagendra Prasad Shah for research supervision; the lab team for technical support; Dr Jetty Chung Yung Lee for academic advising.

Lam Lok To Cherry

Student, The University of Hong Kong

Hi there! I am studying the Bachelor of Science in both Molecular Biology & Biotechnology and Food & Nutritional Science. Besides, I am equally eager to explore Plant Science. Doing and learning from research are of interest to me for better understanding of the world and unprecedented benefits to humanity of all kinds. Feel free to exchange knowledge and ideas with me!

Comments

Go to the profile of Inkindi Mutoni Sabine
6 months ago

Thanks a lot Cherry!! This is very helpful, the 3rd point is very important & I am going to need it in preparation of my final year project! Thanks for sharing:)

Go to the profile of Nikol Chen (she/her)
6 months ago

What a wonderful post, Cherry! Thank you so much for sharing your experience & tips with the new Laidlaw cohort, and good luck with your second summer 🙌

Thank you so much for sharing your research journey and what you learnt along the way. It is such a great reminder to use this platform as a way to delve into topics that interest you and network with other people who share your passions - just click on a topic badge and see who else has posted on the subject and then connect with them. 
I am so glad you mention the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration and holistic knowledge. I attended Oxford's Chancellor's Annual Meeting last night and the panel were unanimous in stressing the importance of global collaboration if we are to solve some of the world's most intractable problems. 
I look forward to hearing about your leadership experience this summer. Very best of luck. 

So helpful - I'm gonna try to keep these in mind as I go into my first project!