Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Figures, a Story, and Working Incrementally

First, for some positives!
Writing the module 1 report took about 30 hours (and the entirety of my birthday). Nonetheless even as I was writing it, I felt the value inherent to 20.109. With every assignment, I can feel my technical communication skills improving. With goals of clarity, conciseness, and thoroughness constantly in mind, 20.109 is a rigorous yet well-focused class in teaching strong scientific communication skills.
Similarly, I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the literature to understand similar experiments and see how our experimentation relates. Dr. Samson’s multiplexed assay for DNA repair was particularly fascinating and I enjoyed reading about its development and validation. 
This holistic approach to data analysis has been challenging, but it has also pushed my understanding of the inner workings of each of our experiments. A classic example is the need to consider positive and negative controls when evaluating any experimental system. For example, a double digest will provide little information if the single digest cases did not work.

The difficulty of finding a common thread/story
The major challenge of scientific writing came, not in understanding individual experimental conditions, but in synthesizing different conditions to draw conclusions from an experiment and synthesizing different experiments to draw conclusions about the overall system. The ability to find and communicate a common thread in the experiments of Module 1—from the D32N-EGFP construction to the transfection of pCX-D32N-EGFP and pCX-D32C-EGFP into mouse embryonic stem cells—was truly a challenge. The large amount of information we learned and the amount of data we collected was difficult to manage, especially under time constraints. In order to handle this challenge more effectively for the next module, I plan to:
1.      Process all data first.
2.      Complete all figures, starting with data-oriented figures
3.      Draw conclusions from the figures
4.      Write a brief outline to understand the “story” underneath my scientific paper.
5.      Use the outline and conclusions to select details which are important to include in the introduction and implications/future work sections.
On the time spent creating figures
For the module 1 report, the creation of figures took about 16-18 hours, spread across an entire week. I am not sure if this amount of time to create figures was consistent across students but the time consumed by figures made writing the rest of the report difficult. For future modules, I will process/analyze data and create figures as soon as the data is available to us. That way once we near the module report deadline, I can focus on the overall story rather than data compilation and analysis.
I am so so so thankful that the FNW helped us begin on the Module 1 report. At the time, I didn’t understand the importance of starting the figures early. Oh how wrong I was.
For module 2, I plan to start the entire report earlier. By compiling and analyzing data as soon as I receive it, I hope to fully understand the experiments as I perform them. Such an understanding should also help cut down on the amount of time spent near the end of the module.
Looking forward
Overall, I am thoroughly enjoying 20.109. However given the junior year courseload, I need to find more effective ways to manage my time overall so that I can succeed in both 20.109 and all of my other courses. Working 

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