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Know Your Research!

Progress in any field ranging from medicine to biochemistry to psychology is due to the use of scientific research. As a network of women with varying science interests, we're taking the time this week to look at the benefits of scientific research: a brief overview of how it's done and what kind of research warrants the mighty Nobel Prize.

When you think scientific research, the first image that comes to mind is probably a 'mad scientist' with unkempt hair, a crazy look in their eye, and multiple test tubes with who-knows-what inside them. as they hang on the verge of scientific breakthrough. Although true to an extent, that mental picture is not entirely accurate.

Photo: Gettyimages
Photo: Gettyimages

Scientific breakthroughs are one of the goals of research that is achieved by a collection of systematic observations and data evaluation to prove a hypothesis or claim. The data collected is interpreted to help bridge gaps in knowledge, develop new products or solve problems in the industry. From the use of observational studies with comparison groups (analytical research) to more comparative research that looks at common features within different case studies, there are multiple ways to test a claim.

[To see the different methods of testing, click here]

Despite the differences that multiple methods present, there are key aspects that reliable research relies on:

1. The participants/subjects

Choosing the right population helps put the collected data in context. For instance, when trying to understand the effect of late driving in the general population, only using people aged 55+ is not representative of the world. One would want to use approximately equal numbers of different people of legal driving age then whatever effect found is more general or 'relatable' to the public. In statistical terms, a larger sample population typically means more experimental power). Since people have individual differences, the increased statistical power of a study with more people means that we can trust the strength of effect as more of a general trend than an individualistic trait. This, however, will depend on the question the research seeks to answer.

2. The methodology

Much like the word suggests, this has to do with the method or rather the how of the experiment i.e. how the researcher grouped participants, presented the test stimulus, the number of test conditions/rounds and so on. The methodology is important because it ensures that once the paper is published, it can be replicated. Claims are made stronger when multiple researchers find similar evidence of that effect under the same test conditions. Equally, replicable studies can also create opportunities for even more questions to be asked. For example, multiple studies have shown that children imitate people as a means of social learning; from this replicated evidence, one can start to look at asking what age this starts. This all goes back to bridging the gap in knowledge and trying to advance human understanding.

Toni Morrison - the first black Nobel Prize female recipient in Literature

Cue the Nobel Prize

What is the Nobel Prize? According to HowStuffWorks, it is a set of awards that seeks to honour and recognise exemplary work in advancing human knowledge or creating solutions to the world's problems. Like the discovery of penicillin as the first antibiotic against bacterial infections. It is viewed as the most esteemed intellectual award globally and is given in areas of medicine, peace activism, economics, literature, physics and chemistry. With only 16 black Nobel laureates (4 being black women in peace and literature) out of a total of 916 Nobel winners, what exactly does it take to win a prize of this nature?

There are no specific guidelines to follow however, there are certain traits amongst previous laureates that we can start from. The prize is known to favour people who are driven by a passion to make a difference and create shifts in thinking. Commonly, recipients are people who are well-versed in their field of expertise, conducted the research themselves (for science categories) and ultimately have the ability to explain their work to both specialist and non-expert audiences. It seems it's all about the heart behind the award as these people are intensely focused on their work, not the spotlight that comes with it.

[See how the Nobel works here]

What does this mean for our network as black women in varying fields?

It means there's a lot of work to be done. This big, wide world of multiple unknowns offers endless opportunities to discover what lies beyond what we already know. As technology booms, research is not only becoming more reliable but makes every scientific field a large playground with room for all kinds of ideas. Going back to our vision article, let's take time this year to dream big in our pursuit of knowledge and the betterment of humanity. Who knows, maybe this time next year we will be in the crowd applauding you as the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize in the science category.

By Tulela Pea, Editor

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