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, May 4, 2015

Considerations for scientific research

Originally Published: May 4, 2015
Written by Abeera Shahid

Scientific research is happening across the world in environments such as university labs and pharmaceutical companies. Globalization has allowed for the sharing of this research and people are now collaborating across borders. This is beneficial, as scientific research continues to be the driving force in our understanding of diseases, the environment and beyond, and any progress can make all the difference. In 2013, our country’s most popular discoveries were cancer-related. For example, 2 Ottawa researchers managed to create 2 cancer-killing, or oncolytic, viruses that block antiviral proteins in cancer cells only. This discovery may allow healthy cells to remain untouched and minimize the damage that a patient undergoes during treatment in the future. For research like this to occur, there are considerations about scientific research one must acknowledge.

1. Scientific research is dependent on funding

If you ask a professor in charge of a university lab what their time is spent on, it is surprisingly not in the lab. As one progresses in academia, there is a shift from being a bench researcher (in the lab), to being a supervisor who secures funding and who mentors graduate students. It is important to understand that money plays a large role in where research is concentrated. We no longer live in a society where research is done mainly for the purpose of understanding our surroundings. Researchers are now looking to solve or better understand complex problems such as climate change and cancer that go beyond what meets the eye.  

2. Scientific research spreads

The discovery of the vaccine by Edward Jenner, a British doctor, changed the world. In the 18thcentury. At the time, smallpox was killing 1 in 10 children in some European countries. Obtaining immunity to this disease at the time consisted of contracting the disease and surviving it. Jenner noticed that milkmaids working with cows that would catch cowpox (a non fatal disease similar to smallpox) seemed to be immune to smallpox itself. He then decided to try and ‘transfer’ their immunity to others. He took the fluid from a milk maiden’s cowpox sores. He then cut a young boy’s arms and inserted the fluid into his body. After a couple of days, he exposed the boy to smallpox and discovered that he was immune. This technique is referred to as the first vaccination. The concept of vaccinations is now prominent throughout the world and it shows that over time, scientific research has been able to cross borders, and more so with the development of technology.

3. Techniques and methods across fields are connected

A polymerase chain reaction machine is able to amplify a small DNA sample for research use. You will find this machine in labs around the world and it serves as a tool in many different fields. You will see it in genetics labs, but also lipid, protein, and many other types of labs. The lesson to be learned is that researchers use the same techniques for different purposes throughout the world. This makes it possible for researchers to switch to a similar field that isn't necessarily tied to the topic they study. Hence, research does not put people in boxes but allows for flexibility and collaboration.

4. Time and failure are research’s best friends

The general population gets excited when they hear about a discovery made on the molecular level of a disease such as cancer. However, transferring research from the lab to application requires time and is challenging. Failure is something researchers encounter on a daily basis and it inevitably influences the time it takes for discoveries to be made.  
These are some considerations to keep in mind when viewing the world of research. You will learn more by being involved and as you speak to people in the field.  

Scientific research is an area that will continue to play a role in Canada and around the world. Where will it take you?

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