A while back I have prepared a survey to better understand the research scientist community, and validate my ideas about how to contribute to it. First and foremost, thank you very much if you took the time to answer my questions, you are awesome! What follows is my analysis of the responses, and some notes on doing the survey itself, with plenty of details so I don’t forget the lessons learned.
Into the details
I got about 30 responses, and 12% who opened the survey finished it. This latter number could definitely be improved on for future surveys. I broke the survey down to a handful of pages with 1-3 connected questions on each page. Could A/B test whether the response rate is improved by doing single page surveys.
The free-text answer type worked out quite well (for those who finished the survey). There was one comment that it would have been easier if I gave people multiple-choice questions instead, but even that responder wrote a lot anyways.
The answers seem to match my assumptions, which could mean that it was not that successful to push the limits of my overall understanding. On the other hand, I found incredible the amount of details people mentioned, that I gained a lot of inspiration, and ideas for long-term development. In this sense, the survey definitely fine-tunes my vision for this project.
Of those that I could tell, there were replies from the US, Taiwan, UK, Hungary, Iran, Singapore, Turkey, Japan. This partly reflects on who I could reach. The biggest draw was writing to the major physicist email list in Hungary (home court advantage:). I wonder whether there any other national physicist lists or communities?
About 90% of people said that they indeed made equipment themselves. It’s great, all those things need plenty of personal effort, and can be facilitated. It would now be useful to know more about the experience of doing doing those home-built devices, what were the points of difficulty and ease.
The factors that drive purchasing decisions are quality/functionality/fitness-for-purpose, price (40% mentioned that in first or second place), and the lead time. While this might be the classic result, definitely need to know more about the difference between the laboratories’ definition of “expensive”. A starting point is one PhD student’s response that below 1000USD they can make their own purchasing decisions (before I had a similar threshold at about 300USD).
When asked about openness about knowledge sharing and collaboration, I can classify the responses into totally open (57%), somewhat open (35%), not open (8%). If I combine this with the general lack of variety of the ways they learn the necessary things for their work, there seems to be a need for more effective collaboration, just have to find the a way with the least friction.
Talking about their research progress, 30% were satisfied, 45% somewhat satisfied, and 25% not satisfied (even had one response of “maybe I should leave my position”, hope he or she can improve on the situation and not get discouraged!). I guess this signals more realism and the “stay hungry” attitude I’ve seen before, though the obstacles listed are the usual suspects: bureaucracy and other outside sources of frustration, some people are bad to collaborate with, the experiments don’t always work as expected, lack of funds and knowledge.
About a 23% of people didn’t leave their email address for future correspondence. Somehow most of them list the exact problems I want to help with, and I have no way to get back in touch with them.
From the responses I got some pointers where one could push the state of the art, even if I don’t have the answers yet:
- How to provide great service & support (e.g. expert adjustments to instruments) without the great cost? Can improved practical knowledge via the community do that?
- How to create cutting edge devices (performing on the edge of what’s commercially available) without great cost and keeping up with the development?
- What ways are there to bring out the most of the existing equipment (on a single laboratory and also on the community level)?
To make something immediately useful, I have set up a community forum, so people have a good place to discuss issues and hopefully find solutions, build partnerships, and learn. I will keep adding content and knowledge to it as applicable, since it will be useful only if both people with questions and people with answers are part of it. This is one of my current hypothesis: would a forum be a good way to build a community?
In the meantime, I’m partnering with local (Taiwanese) research labs developing handy and cutting edge versions of laboratory equipment. Some of the target instruments are those that I’ve seen they need, and some that were mentioned often in the survey.
One of the great side effect of me reaching out with a survey is a lot of unexpected support: either directly adding to my currently envisioned path (e.g. industry specialists offering their expertise) or guiding me towards interesting expansions to that vision (e.g. researchers with “something more” on their mind). Impossible to say how inspiring these are, and I’m working towards connecting these dots.
Thanks again for all of you, please check out and use the forum as you see fit, and keep up the great work! Cheers!