Monday, June 1, 2015

Answer the question!

Politicians are famous for not answering the question.
A colleague recently told me how in a Q and A session with some university managers it was amazing the ability that they had to not answer the question.
Undergraduate students in the humanities often write essays that don't answer the question being asked.

If at a seminar a nervous young graduate student misunderstands a question and struggles to answer it that is understandable. Similar things sometimes happen in job interviews.

However, this post is about something different, that is not excusable. Unfortunately, I am in the thick of reviewing a bunch of research grant proposals, from a range of fields. Here is my rant.
Previously, I posted about how the question "What are your major contributions to a research field?" gets irrelevant answers involving grants, job offers, journal impact factors, and citations, ....

I have now encountered a few more, paraphrased below.

What scientific hypothesis is this project testing?
That the project will make a significant contribution to the field (seriously!). It will generate new knowledge and insights.

What is the specific role of the investigator Professor Jones in the project?
He has published a lot of highly cited papers.

What is your most significant scientific accomplishment?
This excellent project will generate new insights and test key hypotheses in the field...

I should point out that applicants were not asked these questions, but rather they are writing something under a specific section heading. But, it helpful to think as the section heading as a question.

So when you are asked a question, listen carefully, pause, think, and then answer the question. Don't answer a different question, even if you think what you have to say is important.

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