Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Research Tools

It has always amazed me when researchers don't understand the very tools they use conduct their work. I'll always remember a particular summer research experience where I had to explain how I did some very simple statistics to a postdoc working in the lab. I can understand not being familiar with various statistical packages, but all scientific researchers should know what a t-test is, at least in concept if not in practice. I'm sure there is a similar problem with doctors not truly understanding their diagnostic tools, but this is a topic for another day.

Not understanding one's own research tools is a particular concern with research that involves fMRI. Despite the fact that I have worked on many fMRI projects, I do not feel comfortable with my knowledge of how the machine actually works, and what exactly the software packages are doing when analyzing the data. Now, I'm not arguing that all cognitive neuroscientists should become experts at MR physics, but having at least a basic understanding would be ideal. I am in a unique position at the moment because I am joining a lab which is just beginning work in neuroimaging. Because of this, I'm giving myself the time and opportunity to learn more about the technique, and what exactly the software is doing. I don't think I'll ever be satisfied in my knowledge of the techniques used in neuroimaging, but at least I know this means I will always strive to understand more, rather than being satisfied with my current knowledge.

If you'd like to learn more about fMRI, I suggest you check out The Basics of fMRI and fMRI for Dummies