Part of the fun of science is the opportunity to conjure up hypotheses and ways in which to test them. Of course, being scientists, our ideas are highly thought out and logical. We aim to test the hypothesis which we think is the most likely explanation using the available supporting evidence. In addition, it is only human nature that we like to be correct. We don’t like our hypothesis to be wrong! Keep the following points in mind. It is crucial to remain objective in your pursuits. This will give yourself the best possible chance of finding success.

Be Objective About Feedback

Whenever you give a presentation, write a report, or a manuscript, know that someone in the audience or a reviewer may critique your work and not always constructively! However, often criticism of your work can be really valuable and offer ways for you to improve your work. Especially when it comes from experts in the field with much greater knowledge of the subject than you. Scientists are by nature highly skeptical, needing lots of evidence. While criticism generally means that you haven’t managed to convince others of your data, you can plan ahead with additional experiments to shore up any holes in your data  or logic.  This may also save you time when it comes to publishing your data. Be objective, alternatively, you can take it on the chin and move on swiftly!

Consider the Viewpoints of Others

Your colleagues often have a different perspective than you or your supervisor and their suggestions can highlight new ideas, approaches, or experiments of interest. When in the thick of a project it can be difficult to think outside of the box. But listen to these suggestions because you never know where they may lead you. Remember, these suggestions don’t necessarily mean that your hypothesis is incorrect, but that it may be incomplete or could be addressed in another way.

Don’t Rule Anything Out Without Good Reason

When reviewing the literature and forming your hypothesis, don’t exclude any possibilities based solely on the results of one paper.  Just because something is published, does not necessarily mean it is correct. It is definitely worthwhile attempting to reproduce  results in your own system before drawing any conclusions. Many biological effects can be specific to one particular type of cell line or cell type, protein or DNA preparation, or human sample. The results may be entirely different for you. Therefore, consider all possibilities unless there is strong evidence which allows you to rule it out.

Don’t Chase a ‘Good’ P Value

Everyone wants to ‘achieve’ a P value below 0.05 and a power of 0.8 because that means the results are significant, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly. A threshold of 0.05 is only a threshold, providing some strength to your argument. The difference between 0.04 or 0.06 should not be agonized over. Particularly, if the results fit in with the rest of your data and are supportive overall.

Alternatively, when analyzing your data and faced with a high P value of say 0.2, first consider whether or not you have used a large enough sample size to substantiate this value. If so, then accept that perhaps there are no differences between your groups. Adapt your hypothesis accordingly.

Aim to Prove the Science, Not Your Hypothesis

This is a very pertinent point and should always remain in the back of your mind while performing experiments or analyzing data. It is crucial that scientists maintain an open mind when it comes to science. Sometimes the data do not back up your hypothesis, so you have a re-think and move on. Quite often this data is not useless, but actually can be included in reports or manuscripts as additional information. For example, data which rules out the involvement of one enzyme can provide additional weight when you can prove that another enzyme has a larger effect.

Nobody Else Knows What Your Hypothesis Is

Reading scientific manuscripts written by seasoned scientists makes the scientific approach seem like such a straightforward, easy process. Science always flowing logically with fantastic results. However, every study is written up retrospectively. So of course you can write the paper pretending that your hypothesis was correct all along. But I can GUARANTEE that this is not the case! Everyone has to adapt their original hypothesis to fit the data. This is part of science.

As a PhD student, surrounded by professors and postdoctoral researchers who are experts in their fields, it is natural to want to fit in and be the expert too. But don’t forget that as a student you are learning your trade.  Given time and training you too can be as good, if not better, than them. If you can remain objective in your approach then you are on the road to success.

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