Taking Action to Plan a Project
By Carlos Mercado-Lara
May 13, 2020 · 5 minute read
Actions speak louder than words. You’ve probably heard this phrase muttered at least a million times by teachers or mentors in your life when it came to tasks such as turning homework in on time or working on a project with your peers. In fact, you’re probably as sick of hearing it as we are. Well, bad news; we’re here to say it for the million and oneth time to you today, in the context of conducting scientific research. You might have a solid idea for a science project that you wish to pursue, but there is one thing that can discourage or encourage you to proceed with that research: how realistic can this project be? In this blog, we’ll provide you with some useful tips on developing an executable plan that will allow you to gauge if your project can be achieved in the time frame that you have.
Regardless of this in preparation for a science fair or personal project, it is best to first write your initial thoughts in a notebook. This notebook will be crucial and act as a means for you to organize your thoughts. You may have a spark of curiosity or a great idea that may disappear only moments later, so make sure to write it down!
Pro Tip: A useful resource that can act as a “notebook” and is free is Google Drive. If you create Gmail through Google, you will have up to 15 GB of free space through Google Drive by which you can save all your work or thoughts. It is also available for anyone who is not from the United States. The cool thing about this is that you can edit documents at any time as long as you have internet access. This can be useful when you accidentally forget your personal notebook, or if you don’t feel like constantly carrying a notebook around with you. Furthermore, you can use Google Drive to organize other aspects of your project, such as data, presentations, and references, as well.
Filtering your ideas
Once you have your initial project thoughts written down and recorded, it is best to digest and essentially shred these ideas into chunks to get a sense of what needs to get done to see this project come to fruition. Make sure to examine the following aspects of your project before you start to pursue it ambitiously:
- Feasibility: At SciTeens, we firmly believe that everything that you set your mind to can be achieved. However, we all have to be honest with ourselves with our current resources to be able to direct our energy towards these goals. Some questions to ask beforehand include: Do I have enough background knowledge to pursue this project?
- Time: Time can be a major limiting factor when embarking on a project. Whether it is the time needed to collect data, learn certain skills (coding, data analysis tools, operating lab equipment,) this is a crucial factor that needs to be given some estimations. The best advice that we give is setting a tentative schedule with how your schedule will look on a weekly basis. This can be created in your research journal, on your phone or computer, or online with tools such as Google Calendar.
Pro Tip: Oftentimes, this will also play a role in collecting data. For example, if you are doing an experiment involving the growth of a plant or animal, you should take these measurements on a scheduled basis to avoid missing crucial data points and having a consistent data analysis. This pre-planned schedule will also allow you to prepare for any unexpected events as the time spent earlier on will save you from catastrophes in the future (Literally. I was not able to collect data for one of my experiments due to my lack of planning and had nothing to show my professor)
- Resources: Resources can oftentimes be the factor that is out of your hands at the moment. You might have a great idea, but to obtain the data or results that you need it is important to consider what it will require. Special equipment? software? Wood, metals, or plasma...good luck finding this ;)
Pro tip: For some of these resources, it is not a bad idea to ask local high schools, universities, or even libraries to see if they have access or can assist in getting these resources. Also, here at SciTeens, it is our goal to facilitate research by providing open-sourced resources that may be helpful.
Hit the Ground Running
Once you have given thought to all of this, do you feel that you are still capable of carrying out your project? If so, great! Now that you have thought this out you can begin drafting out your first steps. If not, don't be discouraged! One of the key components that go into breaking down your idea is that it allows you to see the pain points that can be eased by peers or your teacher if you present them with your problems. Oftentimes, there is a simple solution or strategy that can be taken to proceed with crafting your project. Going through the steps above multiple times will ensure you have a realistic project to work on.
Remember that notebook I mentioned earlier, here is where it comes to play a major role. Now that you have broken down your project and believe you are capable of actively pursuing it, you can dive into developing a plan based on your resources and time constraints.
In fact based on these actions, you should have developed some of your scientific methods for your experiment! At this point, you will most likely have identified the purpose of your experiment and your hypothesis. Write these down on your notebook as they will be essential once you translate your work onto a research proposal or on a board presentation.
Some projects will require you to acquire materials at an earlier or later stage. My advice is if you can source the materials from your school or program, reach out to them first before purchasing the materials on your own. If the materials can’t be found at your school or program, either browse your local stores to find the best prices.
If this blog led you to reconsider the project that you are considering embarking in, don't worry! All great scientists have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about their projects before pursuing them. Many of their papers often include background information for their projects which reflects the time they have spent preparing for their experiment. We wish the best in your endeavors and always remember these key steps before embarking on your project.
For tips on getting started with project components such as the abstract, method, figures, or conclusion, be sure to check out the links below. At SciTeens, it is our mission to make science as easy as possible for you to get started with. Feel free to give us feedback if you found the blogs useful or if you felt that they missed out on other important details via the feedback link at the bottom of this page. Science is all about positive criticism and feedback so we will take this to make better our posts. We look forward to seeing the amazing research projects that you create and share on our platform.
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