“If your research does not generate papers, it might just as well not have been done.”
– George Whitesides
Professor Whitesides has a point. He’s also said: “Interesting and unpublished” is equivalent to “non-existent.”
Well, if you’re going to publish, might as well be the best, at least for Adam Daoud ’10, who published in Nature this January. (here’s a link to his article for HUID holders). thurj got in touch with Adam to ask him a few questions about publishing in one of the world’s most prestigious journals. For all aspiring researchers, get your figures ready: it’s about to go down.
thurj: When did you start working in the lab and on the Nature project?
Adam: I was first intrigued by the running biomechanics research being conducted in the lab and it’s connections to the study of human evolution my freshmen year during a freshman seminar on Human Locomotion with Professor Lieberman. At this time I had no plans to pursue research in the lab and was had not yet switched concentrations from Biochemistry to Human Evolutionary Biology. I remained interested in the research from the side-lines and as my science interests converged on anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and human evolution, I approached Daniel Lieberman my junior year to pursue research opportunities. I started research that spring through a course called OEB 121a – Research in Comparative Biomechanics. This semester long independent research project gave me an opportunity to jump into the research; plan an experiment, carry out trials, analyze data and put together a paper. This allowed me to quickly acquire the full range of skills necessary to conduct research in the Skeletal Biology Lab through personal experience and missteps. With this experience I developed a thesis project with Professor Lieberman. The findings of my thesis and the data collected are the core of the Nature paper with the important additional of data from barefoot and shod runners in Kenya and a good deal of additional analyses.
T: What sort of time-commitment did you make to your project?
A: Nothing out of the ordinary. My junior spring OEB 121a project was a standard course load, maybe a bit more. The time commitment for my senior thesis was the standard for a science thesis.
T: Looking back, what sort of actions did you take or habits did you acquire, either required by mentor or self-initiated, that were very helpful in retrospect?
A: I followed my interests and committed to research that I was passionate about and found intellectually engaging and meaningful. This is part of what drove me to succeed with this research. I think that the mistake that many of my peers made was to decide to do research without putting enough thought into the type of research that they would be passionate about and find meaningful. Rather than seek out a lab, try to pursue your interests and allow the lab to come to you.
I found that taking ownership of a project within the lab is helpful. Having a sense of responsibility and control allowed me to be fully involved with the way that the project was designed and carried out. Obviously you cannot do it alone, it is vital that you utilize the resources of experienced lab members and your PI as well.
Congratulations to Adam on his extraordinary success!
To learn more about Adam’s work, check out his website: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~skeleton/daoud.html. The quotes from Professor Whitesides can be found in Whitesides, G. M. (2004). “Whitesides’ Group: Writing a Paper” (free copy). Advanced Materials 16: 1375.