Week 5 - What I've learned thus far
My internship at the Space Telescope Science Institute has been an amazing learning opportunity on many different levels. Of course, there is the obvious learning involved in working on data quality assessment, but there are subtle lessons learned that I believe truly enrich the internship experience. I will try and summarize them:
1. The Scientific Method
I still recall learning about the scientific method in a 6th grade science class in Pakistan. Back then, it seemed like a fairly simple and obvious method of testing theories and explaining phenomenon. At my internship, I learned how the scientific method could be applied to data quality assessment and I did so by observing my mentor and advisor Dr. Brad Whitmore at work.
While looking for solutions to problems found in the data sets I was working on, Dr. Whitmore would always make a prediction, state and write it down clearly, before looking at the data-set to check its validity. This physical statement of the hypothesis before the test was something I had not given much thought until I observed the importance Dr. Whitmore gave to it. I later realized that this habit allowed one to seriously ponder over the problem and think deeply about its causes without falling into the danger of coming up with any theory to explain the said problem.
2. Using PowerPoint as a Note-Taker
When I was first asked to summarize bits of my work into a power point presentation, I was slightly confused. I generally use a word processing software of some sort to keep notes, but this summer I delved into PowerPoint to do so. As it turned out, my note-taking and explanation skills improved vastly by doing so. I noticed that I had to be crystal clear and precise in my wording and understand what I was talking about before I could summarize it into a clear story spanning a few slides.
3. Making Mistakes Without Guilt
One of the things that I did this summer was re-testing data problems and my hypothesis to make sure that they really made sense. I would often do that after a period of a week between doing mini experiments to obtain a fresh new look at the data. Sometimes, I would find myself questioning my previous hypothesis and then re-testing it. Although it felt strange and I felt guilty that I may have drawn an incorrect conclusion, I kept re-testing and refining my technique and hypothesis. As it turns out, most of scientific research is done similarly and it was quite a relief to know that this was the case.
4. Taking The Initiative
During my internship, if I felt that I wanted to focus on a particular aspect of a project that appealed to me, or something I wanted to delve into more deeply, I took the initiative of letting my mentor know. For example, I let my mentor know that I was interested in making user-interface related suggestions to make the Hubble Legacy Archive more user friendly. Thankfully, he allowed me to ask questions and guided me on my quest to find their solutions. I found that taking the initiative was extremely rewarding and although at times there was a learning curve involved, the rewards are well-worth it. I hope to apply this lesson into choosing my concentration courses that appeal to my interest and then take the potentially untried road from there.
About the Blogger
Rabeea Ahmed is an Astrophysics and Computer Science major at Harvard (class of 2014). She was born and raised in Pakistan, where she spent her formative years before moving to the United States for college. She's been fascinated by science since elementary school. She also enjoys roller-blading, having conversations about government and foreign cultures with my friends and absolutely loves cooking!