And the winner is…

A few weeks ago, I tried a crowdsourcing experiment and asked people to vote on which unfinished project I should tackle next. I was thrilled by the results. To date, the post has had 448 views (the 2nd highest view count for posts on this infant blog!), the poll registered 48 votes, and I have received many comments from people – in the thread, on Twitter, and by email – expressing how much they like the idea of crowdsourcing the direction of one’s science. I’d like to thank everyone who made this experiment a success by tweeting, retweeting, linking, and commenting. I especially want to thank those 48 people who voted and, in particular, those 5 people who took the time to leave me comments explaining the reasons behind their vote. It is this kind of interaction with people that I find the most rewarding part of being a scientist, and this kind of feedback that makes my science better.

Without further ado, here are the results of the poll (captured from Poll Daddy):

pollresults

There are a few things about these results that I think are worth noting. First, because of the intense pressure to publish, many professors have advised me to go for the “lowest hanging fruit” first. In other words, regardless of interest, tackle the project that is most likely to get you the fastest publication. I hate this perspective for many reasons, not least because it makes you sound more like a factory than a scientist. Interestingly, even though I mentioned in my post that Project 3 was closest to a releasable research output, this project received the least votes. I have no way of knowing why each person voted the way they did (except for those who left specific comments), but it seems to me people were voting more based on how interesting or important the project sounded, rather than how close it might be to publication. In my opinion, this is the way science should work.

Second, I was pleasantly surprised to see the interest in Project 2, which involves developing methods for the automated detection of bursts from electrophysiological recordings. In academia, and I think particularly in neuroscience, there is a lot of emphasis put on publishing flashy, “high-impact” (however you measure that) papers in big journals. Except in rare cases – for example, some of the papers first describing the use of light to excite or inhibit neurons – methods papers are often not flashy and tend to go to less well-known journals. But from the fact that Project 2 took second place, coupled with the comments I received, it seems that many people who voted recognized the importance of having good analysis tools. I believe that neuroscience as a field is suffering from a lack of emphasis on quantitative skills, so I was very encouraged by this result.

Finally, to the winner. The largest number of votes were registered for Project 4: “Effects of altering motor neuron excitability on the motor pattern” (see here for brief description). In the coming weeks, I plan to write a post (or more likely, a series of posts) describing this project, its goals, and preliminary results. I’ll post figures here and also upload them to figshare. I’m very excited to share more about this project, as it’s one of my personal favorites. And don’t worry. If your favorite project didn’t win, the plan is also to share more about the other three projects in time.

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6 Comments

  1. I missed this at the time, but I have a very strong opinion on this, which I will share even though no-one particularly wants me to 🙂

    You should work on what you want to.

    Time spent on any of the projects other than the one that’s burning in your hindbrain will feel painful, awkward and boring, and probably be unproductive. Even if it’s the one that your colleagues, or Internet voters, think sounds most interesting, more would be most advantageous to your career.

    Whereas when you work on what you love at that moment, you’ll enjoy it more, you’ll work harder, you’ll concentrate better, you’ll be more productive. And if you’re anything like me, by the time you’re done (or probably before) you’ll have involuntarily switched back to one of the other projects, or a completely new one. So switch to that when it happens, and you can always be working on what you love.

    (Exception: when a project is close to finished, sometimes you just have to take a deep breath, put up with a few boring days or week, and shove it over the finishing line.)

    1. Excellent advice. And yes, I did want you to share :). Overall, I agree. You should absolutely work on what you love and what inspires you most. The advantage for me here is that I enjoy working on all the projects I described. Otherwise, I would not have proposed them as candidates. I suppose that is part of the reason I was having such trouble choosing which one to go with, and decided to put it up for a vote. And while I intend to provide more information and produce something tangible for Project 4, as requested by voters, I certainly won’t hesitate to work on one of the other projects if I suddenly get a flash of inspiration.

  2. Great, now I need to find a good, automated AP-burst-finding algorithm myself 😉 Well, not right now, but it is one of several hurdles I need to jump in my next project.

    1. Sorry :). It’s not a trivial problem, for sure. I plan to share info on the other projects in the near future. But maybe by then, you will have already figured it out. If you do, please share!

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