Microsatellite and VNTR typing. John Brunstein, Medical Laboratory Observer. Source: https://www.mlo-online.com/molecular/dna-rna/article/21076505/microsatellites-and-vntr-typing-in-clinical-settings
The Iceland Expedition has presented me with the opportunity to conduct my own research project. This left me with the question: What is needed to go from research idea to reality? I decided to pursue a project concerning the arctic fox in Iceland, and I’m going to briefly discuss my experience of developing my own research project as an undergraduate student.
As a student, it can be difficult to gauge the extent of a project, and it helps to start with some clear questions: How much data can I collect? What is the best way to collect data? How much money will it cost?
I consider myself a person who is good at developing ideas, thinking far outside the box – the world is my theoretical oyster. As an undergraduate Genetics student, I was immediately taken with the idea of looking at population structure and genetic diversity of the arctic foxes around Skálanes, which will be a brand new line of research for our expedition.
As you may know, genetic research requires specific kinds of samples and is often expensive. Moving from an initial ambitious idea to a concise plan meant developing a better understanding of the research possibilities and constraints that exist on a six-week expedition, as well as the financial limits. This means hours of extensive research and academic guidance to establish a project with clear direction and feasible methods.
Contacting Academic Staff
Seeking help from experienced researchers is invaluable, and professors are a great resource for undergraduate students. Contacting academic staff members might seem slightly intimidating to students at first: they appear to have unlimited knowledge of their field at their fingertips, a busy schedule, and more imminent things to spend time on than your project. However, the experiences I have had with most professors are that they are enthusiastic educators who welcome the ideas of students, and are more than happy to assist where they can. They have provided me with advice and answers to questions I had never thought to ask!
When it comes to contacting researchers, it can be hard to strike the perfect balance between professional and personal. I have no golden rule at hand, but I am much more comfortable starting out on the professional side. Keeping your query concise and polite, with an appropriate dash of enthusiasm, is a good way to start.
When contacting staff, make sure you introduce them a little to the project idea you have developed, and come with a few clear questions. Asking the right questions can also be a challenge in itself. You want to bring in as much as possible to the table to show that this is your project, and that you have taken the time to do your own research and planning before asking for a meeting. I found that to be able to ask any good questions, you need to make sure you have developed your own understanding first.
What is next?
I am currently in the process of developing the project further. I have research papers en masse on my laptop, perspectives from different researchers, and a few good textbooks to help me to produce the best possible experimental design. At this stage in the process, I have a focus and a directionality of my project: What am I looking for? What am I expecting to find? And most importantly, how will I find it?
For updates on the research we will be conducting on the east coast of Iceland at the Skálanes Nature and Heritage Centre, keep a lookout on our blog. You can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook for more information.