Research for Research

My research advisor loves research, as I’m sure does every other research professor out there. I really like it too. It’s really fun to try and answer questions.

The only problem I have with it is that sometimes I feel like practical applications are completely irrelevant. While in some papers and labs, there is a clear practical application, in my lab the practical applications are kind of skimmed over. In the papers we publish, you will find one sentence about the applications. It’s not even a detailed application; it’s a really broad area.

Example detail application: can be used to help clean up oil spills
Really broad area: personal care products

Now, I love personal care products, but it is a really wide range: make-up, hair care, lotions, etc.

When I had to give a poster presentation at an undergrad research conference about my research, my professor told me it wasn’t important to say what the applications are, because it’s the research that matters. After all, it’s an undergrad research conference.

However, the first thing that anyone ever asks me is, “What is the importance of this?” Of course, since this research is not really applicable to anything directly, I always just say, “Shampoo and lotions.” They always leads to further probing like, “Oooh, have you tried to use it?” or “You make your own soap?” In actuality, the system I work with is distantly related to shampoos and lotions.

When you tell people it has no direct applications, there is always a frown on their faces. They loose interest and quickly move on. Anytime someone says something like “cancer, ” “Alzheimer,” or “biofuel,” interest is immediately peaked. There might be a smile, followed by, “Ooh, how interesting. What do you do?”

People like direct applications! People want direct applications! Research for the sake of research can really get on your nerves. What’s the point of doing this if it’s not actually used for anything? Why are you giving us grant money for this?

In my future research career, I look forward to working with something that’s more tangible. Research for research just gets old really fast.

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