Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?*
I recently attended a seminar entitled 'Good Scientific Practice' presented by Prof. Alex Weber, a cell biologist at the University of Tübingen. The aim of the seminar was to encourage doctoral students here to ascribe to the aforementioned GSP in their work. I enjoyed the Prof. Weber's perspectives on how research should proceed, although as a researcher working solely in modelling I was in a minority in the audience.
The crux of good scientific practice is honesty - with respect to our planning, procedures, data interpretation and storage. Prof. Weber emphasised the importance of keeping thorough notes in a lab book and provided good examples of how this can be effective in conducting research. A lab book acts as a record of what work has been completed, and what are the outcomes. It is effectively a journal of your research.
My days are spent, for better or worse, sitting at a computer writing code to run numerical models of porous media. What does a lab book look like for someone who isn't in a lab, who's work is conducted predominantly in programming environments? The answer I came up with in my head is the Version Control System that I was introduced to early on in my doctoral studies.
A Version Control System (VCS) is something that you use to track progress of computer codes and programs. Every time you make a change or add a feature to your code you commit the changes to the VCS; the changes are stored, as well as notes that you make about what you did, and possibly why you did it. A VCS might be a stand-alone software, such as Mercurial which I use, and are often free for non-commercial use. Using a VCS with something like BitBucket also makes it a lot easier to share coding projects with other collaborators.
Over the last few months as I have been developing codes for my work I have begun to embrace the 'commits' that I have made in my VCS - my commit comments have become more descriptive, and I can see the evolution of my project as I look back through my previous entries. I guess it is my electronic 'dear diary...' and in much the same way we might look back at our teenage diarising with a mixture of wistfulness and embarrassment do I look back on some of my efforts so far.
How are you do you measure out your research life? (The coffee spoons are a given...)
*The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot. In Prufrock and Other Observations. From Poems. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1920; Bartleby.com, 2011. http://www.bartleby.com/198/1.html#46.