Monday, December 15, 2014

Got Methods?

There doesn't seem to be a guidebook to becoming a scientist... the bits and pieces that I'll need seem to erode from the mountain every so often like fossils. Something I've learned recently that I didn't expect: To be successful and build a niche, a scientist needs to not only figure out what sort of questions he or she wants to ask, but what methods they will become proficient in. Some researchers seem able to ask just about any question they want by starting with a question and then learning the methods necessary to investigate it.  Primatologist Jason Kamilar is great at this approach, and as a result is able to ask just about any question he wants.  Others I've met become expert at a few methods- computer modeling, finite element analysis, to name a few-- and are sought after by those who have the questions but need different methods to test them. These people build a career by using a few methodological approaches to answer questions that are amenable to them.

I'm full of questions, but I'm short on methods. Next summer I'll have to consider the path of my PhD, and therefore my will I situate myself as a biological anthropologist?  I know the sort of questions I want to spend my life exploring, but I'll need to develop a methodological grounding, choose an approach. And it needs to start now, which is rather terrifying. A natural first step is to solidify the groundings I've worked from so far with my thesis-- bone biology and biomechanics.

CT scanner at WPI

I hope to continue developing a grounding in bone biology thanks to Karen's CT scanner-- what a godsend! Only ~50 of these in the world, and what a powerful tool for testing hypotheses about bone adaptation.  Anthropology doesn't seem to have caught on to the utility of such a tool. 

lactate testing.

V02 mask.

I lack the math skills ("skillz" might be more appropriate) to base my research on biomechanics.  But exercise physiology is way more my speed and is quite useful for testing anthropological questions.  I'm not wasting the opportunity to learn lactate threshold and VO2-max testing protocols from Nate (I blogged about my own experience with this test here ).

I never thought I'd go back to grad school--again-- let alone have the chance to lay the groundwork for a career as a scientist. I'm overwhelmed by my own ignorance...I barely know enough to name it.  But I've never been so inspired by opportunity.

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