Sturgeon Quest: Why Exploratory Hypotheses Rock

Posted July 7, 2015 by Emily Dolson in Productivity / 0 Comments

The summer after I finished high school, I took a trip to the Pacific Northwest with my mom, aunt, and cousin. Our goal? To find a statue of William Clark (of Lewis and Clark) with a sturgeon. Along the way, we got to experience local culture, see the beautiful area, and have an all around great time. Which was, of course, our real goal. The sturgeon statue was just an excuse to look around, something to force us to actually engage with the area. Sometimes a hypothesis is the same way.

It’s easy to think a general concept is fascinating and want to explore it. It can be a lot harder to explore it in a fruitful way. For instance, when I first discovered Avida, I thought it was awesome and wanted to explore it. I didn’t manage to do so, however, until I started working on a specific project. As soon as I did that, a whole bunch of ideas for future research presented themselves. So that’s my advice to anyone who can’t come up with a research idea: find an interesting idea, come up with some sort of hypothesis, however straightforward, and then try to test it. It will force you to engage with the topic enough that you’ll probably be able to come up with a more interesting hypothesis soon.

This is, admittedly, a lot easier to do in computational science than in fields requiring expensive and time-consuming experiments. In those cases, though, you can often achieve a similar effect by trying to create a simple model or simulation of the phenomenon you want to study. In computational science you can take this concept even further by trying to figure out how to build a system that exhibits the properties that you’re interested in.

So what are you waiting for? Go find that sturgeon statue!

Do you find yourself using “sturgeon” hypotheses in your research?

Emily Dolson

I’m a doctoral student in the Ofria Lab at Michigan State University, the BEACON Center for Evolution in Action, and the departments of Computer Science and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, & Behavior. My interests include studying eco-evolutionary dynamics via digital evolution and using evolutionary computation techniques to interpret time series data. I also have a cross-cutting interest in diversity in both biological and computational systems. In my spare time, I enjoy playing board games and the tin whistle.

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