Science is a thing of beauty. It is ancient yet still maintains a cutting edge. You can seek all the answers in the universe while looking under a microscope. How does research work, though? Many of us learn about the scientific method that directs us to take an observation through hypothesis and experimentation. In the world of real scientific research, this path is followed. Here is how you might actually see research being conducted.
Determine a problem you want to solve. This deviates from the pure scientific method in subtle ways. Unfortunately, the nature of the research world forces scientists to apply for and receive funding. Certain problems are more lucrative in this manner, so a lot of attention gets focused on areas like disease research.
Read science literature. Within a given field of specialty, there are often many unanswered questions. Unfortunately, you will not be able to comprehend them without a thorough understanding of the scientific literature. You will need to read and digest the current knowledge of your problem of interest.
Develop a purpose for your research. After you have read extensively, you should be ready to ask your critical question. What are you trying to figure out? This is your research purpose.
Develop hypotheses. This step can be very difficult and nerve-wracking. In order to develop sound hypotheses and specific research questions, you will likely need to generate some preliminary data supporting them. Without preliminary data, you are highly unlikely to receive funding for your project. Therefore, you cannot be neither too ambitious nor too safe with your research question here.
Design experiments and acquire data. Assuming you were able to procure the necessary funds to start work, you now can design your experiments. This requires a deep practical knowledge of labwork in general. You need to know how many replicates need to be considered. You must consider the appropriate controls. Improper experimental design will open your data interpretation up to criticism later. Collecting data is usually a relatively simple process that requires little more than hard work and discipline.
Analyze your data. After you have performed the experiments, you will face a significant amount of work in trying to understand what the data say. Results are not always readily understandable. You will need to compare control and experimental groups to make sense of it. This step can require some of the most mental input from researchers and must be performed carefully.
Report your research. This step is the end-goal for many scientists when working on a project. Subjecting to peer review and publication is the most rigorous test we have at out disposal. Experts in your field will dissect the experiments, results, and interpretations offered in your manuscript. Then the publisher will make a decision to accept or decline your paper. Often, revisions will be necessary to strengthen the data or to make changes to the interpretation.
Once these steps are complete, you will see your name on a scientific piece of work, and the cycle begins anew. It is certainly a challenging process, but it can be incredibly rewarding to take a project from beginning to end. Scientists take great pride in their work when they contribute.