Finally, springtime!! This winter went on a bit too long for this biologist. As I write this I am sitting outside, listening to wood thrush sing and the wind whistling through the buckeye trees. At least when it was cold, it was good to catch up on work that requires a computer. Dissertations at West Virginia University are basically four to five separate, and complete, research projects. In the first year of my doctorate (I am now entering year four), I had to come up with four to five questions about the relationship between ginseng and surface mining. I had to study all that was known about the topics of my questions, and figure out a way to get the answer to those questions- be it observe, experiment, etc. From there, I follow through with the plan to answer the questions. Currently, I am working on writing up one of my ‘questions/answers.’ This is an exciting time, as this is the main job of a scientist- to ask ‘why’ or ‘how’ and then to get answers.
When you get around to writing up one of your research projects, there is a general ‘outline’ that most scientists follow. First, you start with the introduction. This is an overview of why your question is important, and what has been studied on the topic so far. Next, you write up the methods. This needs to include every essential step, so anyone could repeat your experiment, and get the same results. After this, you write up your results. In this section, there is no interpretation… just the facts. Finally the discussion talks about the reasoning why you might have gotten your results, and the overall importance to the field of science.
April was fun because I was able to do some outreach. My lab mate, Jen Chandler, and I went and did a presentation at the Buckeye TrailFest, in southeastern Ohio. We gave a presentation about alternative uses to a woodlot… Maple syrup production and Ginseng! It was a great group that was very interactive; they asked a lot of questions. I had one woman come up to me afterwards and talk to me about the biology and culture of ginseng, and why this plant is important to conserve. That felt great. Jen and I brought in some ginseng plants and roots for people to see, as well as some syrup we produced in the early spring. I think the syrup taste-test was probably the biggest hit of the day!