What’s in a Research Project?

That which we call a research project by any other words could have a big impact on how our research is understood…

Setting aside the forced mangling of iconic Shakespeare soliliquies (I’m sorry about that one), the ways that we as researchers choose to communicate our work can have a huge impact on how our work is seen, if it is seen at all. Everyone has at some point in their life had to try to comprehend a complicated subject presented by a brilliant mind who overestimates the audience’s knowledge, and the goal of the presentation is often lost. To help prevent this, I call upon one of the key commandments of my public speaking class:

know thy audience

It’s a fairly simple concept, of course, but a vitally important one. You will (almost) always know the general characteristics of the people who you are presenting to. Use that information to your advantage, and cater the message to them! If you are proposing your work to a funding source, you can focus on the results and the impact of your work. If you are describing your work to experts in the field, they may be interested in both the results you’ve created and your process, and they will be more equipped to understand the technical nuances and subject-specific jargon.

To help communicate the importance of one’s work, a helpful strategy can be to tie the impact of the work you’ve done to a tangible, real-world benefit. This benefit might be a potential benefit for individual audience members, the audience as a whole, or some community greater than the audience. However, no matter the scope of the potential gains, you will need to think about who you are speaking to, and what their goals may be.

Of course, there’s not always a direct, tangible change to the world from one person’s research alone. However, research is not conducted in a vacuum (metaphorically; it might literally be in a vacuum), and even results that don’t prove anything directly are useful. Think of them as one step you are taking for the academic community at large, rather than necessarily being a final conclusion. Even if the world looks much the same before and after your research is done, your work may help another researcher towards a broader and greater success.

I’ll take myself as an example. My research focuses on different ways of modeling complex systems using computational methods. When my work is done, I will of course have learned a lot, and there will be some code in a repository somewhere. However, the nature of modeling is that it imitates the world, rather than changing it intrinsically. Yet that does not mean that this work on modeling is not useful, because other researchers and scientists may be able to use it to create larger and faster models to investigate their own questions.

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