Science is messy. Yet many students think science is a bunch of facts and/or experiments always work. I loved the #overlyhonestmethods hashtag because it gives a glimpse into the reality of experiments.
In my jobs, I get to work with students starting their first science experiment. They are enthusiastic but also a bit intimidated. Not only does it take time to learn to read the previous research but they want to do science ‘right’. Their experience in school has often had one correct method. Plus papers often present rational reasoning and precise protocols so the students expect obvious directions. This can lead to a scientist version of ‘Who’s on first?‘:student: How long should I run this gel? me: How long do you want to take? student: What’s the right amount of time? me: Do you want coffee/lunch? student: I don’t know – do I have time? me: If you want. student: So how long should I run it? me: How much time do you need?
This can go for a bit if the lab person doesn’t realize that the student doesn’t have the experience to realize lab protocols can be flexible – or the student doesn’t understand how the technique works. It can be resolved with something like:
me: The higher the voltage, the faster it finishes. If you want to grab lunch during the run, you can set a lower voltage so it will take longer. The minimum voltage is X and the maximum voltage is Y.
These variable parts are obvious when you have been in the lab and they don’t go into the paper’s materials and methods. I’m truly comfortable in a lab when I know what parts of my techniques have some wiggle room.
Some students are planning their first experiments now and they want to do the ideal experiment. One of our conversations is about balancing their experiments with the rest of their lives (e.g. do you still have to go to classes?).The #overlyhonestmethods hashtag let them see that scientists try their best but ideal conditions aren’t always possible.
I collected some of my favourite tweets from the hashtags in the following storify: