Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reading Through the Literature - Aaron Nelson

Lately, my COSEE experience has brought me a lot more "screen time" sitting in front of a computer. I was appointed the task of writing an annotated bibliography. The process has been both challenging and insightful and has really helped bring the research of the summer into a broad focus.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, an annotated bibliography consists of brief summaries of sources that contribute to knowledge of a specific topic. In my case, I was searching for scientific literature that addresses two things: jelly clearance rates (amount of water volume / time that passes through their tentacles) and plankton interactions in turbulence. The information is ultimately being used to build a backdrop for my summer's research concerning the effects of turbulence on hydromedusae feeding.

After I accumulated a pile of electronic and hard-copy articles, I began the long process of sifting through the pages hoping to glean out a few pertinent gems of knowledge from each source. This didn't always happen. Sometimes I would dive into a dense article and after an hour or two of translating the technical-speak surrounding turbulence calculus, I would realize that the article had nothing to contribute to my particular question. Oh well. Toss it in the pile and move on!

It was never easy to read, and it especially wasn't fast. But after a while, I started to get accustomed to the language that is used in published research literature. I also started to notice a pattern in the methods that researchers used; some would be the same and some would be different, and some would draw attention to just how different the results can be in the case of the latter!

I began to get familiar with the names of some of the authors and could even make out a narrative of their progress though time. Researchers of a certain topic would often be found together as co-authors at the top of the page, and if not, they were almost certainly listed as references at the end. Together they are helping to build a body of knowledge that hitherto didn't exist, piece by peer-reviewed-piece. The new is layered over the old, adding a strata that modifies and incorporates it. It's a slow process, and it really accentuates the cooperative nature of science: no one makes important discoveries based entirely on their own brilliance and wit; they are always standing on the shoulders of their colleagues. Discovery is a slow process and it was fun to get a glimpse of it while writing my first annotated bibliography.

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