This blog is a collaborative effort between the Foundation for Student Science and Technology (formerly the Canadian Young Scientist Journal) and Science.gc.ca. Our aim is to offer an interactive platform where Canadian students can talk about their passions, challenges and ideas on how to further pursue scientific interests and education. We welcome new contributors -- if you are interested please contact us at information@science.gc.ca.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Research: The Essentials

Originally Published: January 12, 2015
Written by Arjun Pandey
Edited by Abeera Shahid and Sarina Lalla

Please note that this piece is first in a series of blogs intended to introduce students to the area of research. They reflect the opinions of student researchers and not necessarily of the Foundation for Student Science and Technology.

As humans, we have an inherent desire to understand the world around us. Why are we here? Why is everything the way it is? Where did we come from? Where are we headed? These questions have profound implications and no sole answer, but they challenge us to try and understand the world we live in.  Through the use of research, people around the world attempt to explore the answers to complex questions, to solve challenging problems and ultimately to broaden our view of the world.

Research is defined as a method to explain, process, and analyze an observed phenomenon. Scientific research often consists of these components (not necessarily in this order):

  1. An observation is made.
  2. A question is asked.
  3. Based on the prior research of others, a hypothesis, or educated guess of the answer is made.
  4. The hypothesis is tested through a scientific experiment.
  5. Experiments are repeated to ensure their validity, because any one result is not an accurate representation of reality.
  6. The results of the experiment(s) are compiled and analyzed.
  7. Explanations, and rationales to explain the outcomes of the experiment are developed, and then tested through future research.

The description above is often referred to as the scientific method. Is that all research is? Definitely not! The scientific method is often taught to students from a young age as a rigid structure one must follow to be a scientist. This assumption is flawed as scientific research can be very flexible and open ended. There are scientists who may follow this method but steps may not be followed in order or may be repeated. For example, one can design an experiment where the answer cannot be predicted and have it result in failure. Then the researcher may go back to change the question they were asking and it might lead to an observation that allows them to create a hypothesis. The takeaway is that there is no one method to research, but asking questions and making observations are important parts of the process.

Ultimately, scientific research is for those of us who are curious about the world around us and want to play an active role in understanding it. Research conducted at universities and companies impacts all individuals in society and hence, it is essential that we all are aware of the field. So what are you waiting for? Start your journey in the area of research today, all you need is a lightbulb! 

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