Develop Research proposal ideas and presentations

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20.109(S21): Laboratory Fundamentals of Biological Engineering

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Spring 2021 schedule        FYI        Assignments        Homework        Communication |        Accessibility

       M1: Antibody engineering        M2: Drug discovery        M3: Protein engineering       

The goal for today is for you to develop your Research proposal ideas and presentations. In the first part of the laboratory session you will meet with peers outside of your team to discuss your projects and get feedback. Afterward you will work with your partner(s) to consider the societal impact of your research project.

Part 1: Discuss your Research proposal with peers

To help you focus your ideas and develop the details of your project, you will discuss the project description you submitted today with a classmate from another group. As you listen to your classmate's idea, consider the following criteria proposed for small research project grants by the NIH:

Small Research Grant Program: ...small grant supports discrete, well-defined projects that realistically can be completed in two years and that require limited levels of funding. Because the research project usually is limited, the grant application may not contain extensive detail or discussion. Accordingly, reviewers should evaluate the conceptual framework and general approach to the problem. Appropriate justification for the proposed work can be provided through literature citations, data from other sources, or from investigator-generated data. Preliminary data are not required, particularly in application proposing pilot or feasibility studies.

Use the following exercise to guide your discussion as you consider both your and your classmate's project. Because you are still in the early stages of developing your research topic, it is okay if you do not have all of the answers to the following questions. This is meant to help you critically think about your proposal...not to point out the additional research you need to complete! Furthermore, this is an informal conversation and you should feel free to look up information during this exercise or just make notes so you know what to research later with your co-investigator.

Outline of the peer review exercise:

  • Find the partner you were assigned by the teaching faculty and begin by deciding which partner will present first.
    • As the presenter, focus on why you believe your topic is important and provide the context needed to convince your listener that it is indeed worth pursuing.
    • As the listener, verbally summarize the topic back to the presenter to ensure you understood the proposal. Are you convinced that the topic is important? Why or why not? Discuss this with the presenter.
  • Now that you have the needed background information discuss the 'Hows' of the project.
    • As the presenter, consider the questions below as you give some details about your proposal.
    • As the listener, feel free to ask questions and maybe provide some helpful feedback as the presenter discusses the details of their project.

Questions to guide your discussion:

  1. What is the novel aspect of your proposal?
  2. Why do you believe your project is feasible?
  3. Is there evidence that supports your proposal?
  4. How will your research advance the field?
  5. How will you complete your research (what methods might you use)?
  6. What is the expected result?
  7. How might you 'double-check' or confirm an expected result?
  8. What if you do not get the expected result?
  9. What can be learned if you get the expected result? If you get an unexpected result?
  10. What are some alternative approaches (methods) for your proposed research?

Once you have completed discussing the presenter's project, switch roles and complete this exercise with the listener's project.

In your laboratory notebook, complete the following:

  • Record the notes from your discussions with your peers.
    • What insights regarding your own project were provided by your peers?
    • What did you find interesting about your peers projects?

Part 2: Consider societal implications of your Research proposal

Thus far we have focused on the experiments that you are designing as part of the Research proposal presentation; however, another important aspect of this assignment is defining the societal impacts of your proposed work. In recent years, funding agencies have placed increased emphasis on societal impact when reviewing grant applications and the public has been more critical of the use of government funds toward research that does not benefit the population. This sentiment is expressed in a recently published editorial:

"...research funding agencies will no longer be satisfied with claims that our research has impact merely because we use it in training of our students, because it is well-cited by other academics, or because it is published in reputable seems reasonable that at least some discernible societal value should emerge from research." (Davison and Bjorn-Anderson. Info Systems J. 2019;29:989-993)

Read and discuss the following perspective with your co-investigator:

Frodeman and Holbrook. "Science's social effects." Issues in Science and Technology. Vol. XXIII, No. 3, Spring 2007.

In your laboratory notebook, complete the following with your partner:

  • What are the societal implications of your proposed research?
    • Which populations benefit from your research? Is it possible any populations will be negatively impacted by your research?
    • Will cost limitations impede / bias which populations are benefited?
    • Is your research applicable to all populations?
  • What are the ethical implications of your proposed research?