Before starting a research project you must understand its context. This means that you must understand the aims of the project, in particular its relationship with other work already published. Your supervisor can get you started, but you need to make a thorough survey of the published scientific literature in the field. The department runs courses that teach you how to use some of the very powerful software available for this purpose, such as SciFinder, and there is a professional information scientist in the department, Lindsay Battle, who can help you when you can’t find something.
You must also understand how your project fits in with the rest of your research group and/or work that has been carried out in the past in your group. You should discuss this with your supervisor at the start of the project, and you will find that your understanding develops through laboratory seminars and group meetings.
You will almost certainly need to be flexible in the time you spend in the laboratory. Sometimes you may need to spend long hours at the bench, and sometimes you may have to wait for results. It may be difficult to fit research into a rigid daily schedule, although working as much as possible within normal lab working hours is best from a safety point of view. Whatever the situation, you must not work on your own. You will be making or discovering something new, and your research will not always go according to plan. However, you should have a clear set of objectives at the start of the project, and you should keep these in mind, modifying them if necessary in consultation with your supervisor as the project proceeds. You are not going to be judged on whether the project has worked – it may take more than nine months to make it work – but you may be judged on your reaction when things do not work as expected, the way you analyse and resolve the problems. It is your project, so use your initiative: try to find out the reasons when things go wrong: you may discover something interesting.
However, initiative must have limits: for obvious safety reasons before trying a new procedure you must consult your supervisor, make a proper risk assessment, write up the protocol in your lab book and have it countersigned by your supervisor, or some other person authorised by the supervisor before starting the experiment.
Be aware that if other people are hurt as a result of your negligence, you could be subject to civil claims for damages. Advice on the legal responsibilities for safety may be obtained from the Area Safety Officer and / or the University Safety Office.
The Part II gives you the opportunity to develop different skills from the previous three years, in addition to the knowledge and understanding that you develop in your project area.
- Critical faculty. Critical evaluation and logical analysis of results.
- Problem solving. Troubleshooting problems with experiments / computations / theory.
3. Initiative. Finding inventive and imaginative solutions to problems.
4. Lateral and global thinking. Understanding the context of the project.
5. Information handling. Literature survey.
6. Written communication. Thesis.
7. Oral communication. Group talks.