Guest Post by Phil Bishop
Without questions, there is no science. And, good science requires good questions.
In my 32 years as a professor of Exercise Science I had the privilege of mentoring 52 Ph.D. students in their dissertations, and quite a few Master’s theses. It was quite common for my students to come into my office with a big smile of accomplishment.
“I’ve got a great idea for my dissertation research.” They would offer with enthusiasm.
With a smile only a little less excited, I would reply every time, “Research doesn’t deal with ideas it deals with questions!”
Their smile would fail a bit, but then I’d reassure them, “You do have a good idea, just think about how you can turn it into a question.”
They came back with good questions like:
Science experiments are designed to answer questions. Different branches of science use different techniques, but from physics to physiology, experiments are designed around the one (usually) question at hand.
Anyone who studies questions recognizes that some questions are superior to others. With science questions this is also true. Here are a couple of examples of questions needed to evaluate the quality of a research question.
I would invite my graduate students to think about their research question with the hope they would ask these follow-up questions on their own. But, if they neglected a key question, I would try to question them to sharpen their own questioning.
Question Answering Begets More Questions
It took me a while to recognize as a scientist that answering questions leads to more questions. Throughout my career, I never lacked for research questions, and retiring as a scientist was hard, partially because I had some questions that I, and my students, had never had time to answer.
After a while I recognized that the best way to generate research questions was to try to answer a good research question. I realized that every time we entered the lab to answer one question, we generated two or three more research questions. That led me to get my students engaged in research early in their training. Those who didn’t had trouble coming up with good questions. Those who did get involved had a host of research questions from which to choose for their theses and dissertations.
Asking questions No One Else is Asking
“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine
Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi could have said, “To see what everyone else has seen, and ask questions that no one else has asked.”
When our research team looked at our specialized field’s history of research questions, we noticed something odd. Almost everyone on the sports side of our field (as opposed to the basic science or clinical science aspects) had asked questions about sport training. And, true enough an elite athlete can devote upwards of four hours each day to training and additional hours to tactics, nutrition, massages and so forth.
What’s the missing questions? What about those other 20 hours when they aren’t training? What do we know about those hours? Well, it turns out that very few scientists had asked questions about those hours.
So we began to ask questions like:
As you might expect, as we asked these questions, more and more questions arose. At the time I retired to begin work with Cru Faculty ministry, our lab had published more on recovery research questions than any other in the world.
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