Field of Science

Helping Students with Research

Hi! I'm a student. I need your help. I'm searching a botanist and I found you. Can you help me with my research project related to Sansevieria plant. Can you please send me the chemical components of it and can you help me what research proposal i will do in Sansevieria plant. Please. thank you.

This type of request is not at all uncommon, and while helping students has always been my focus, there are times when you can't do much. Firstly, the request was left as a comment to an old blog and there is no way to send a reply directly. Secondly, they don't even know what they are asking when they want to know the chemical components of a living organism. This is rather like asking for a list of all the people who live in your city. More likely this student is interested in knowing if Sansevieria (mother-in-law's tongue) has any medicinal uses (nothing of note). Thirdly, the way the student asks the last question suggests they are generally clueless with regard to science, and in particular because they give no indication of what type of question they wish to ask or in what area of biology.
This is not so unusual and we have to coach undergraduates through the process of generating a viable research question all the time. So you begin to wonder where the teacher is or what indeed they have done or are doing to get the process under way, or to generate an alternate hypothesis, a student wakes up on the 1st of June are realizes some sort of project is due and somehow manages to search on botany, a suitably narrow topic (not), and lands on my blogosphere doorstep wrapped in a blanket in a basket with a note pinned to them asking me to take them under my wing and do their project for them. Not a chance!
But since you get points for wanting to study a plant, here's some help. Why this plant? Are you growing it? Do you know what it looks like? Could you recognize one if you saw one? In what ways is this plant different from "typical" plants? What do these differences suggest about the type of habitat this plant is adapted to? Plants are composed of just three things, stems, leaves, and roots. How do these things each contribute to this plant's form? Can you identify these parts? How are the leaves arranged on the stem, and how do you know whether you have a leaf or a stem? When you hold up the leaves of many plants to the light you can see the veins. What do you see with this plant? What is the explanation of what you see or not see? What is the primary function of leaves and given the leaf form in this genus, what can you predict about how these leaves differ in function from typical leaves? Now how would you go about verifying it? And so on. You see, science starts with observation. And then you pose a possible explanation or prediction, and then you try to figure out a way to falsify your explanation. Yes, you must try to shoot down your own idea, and the reason is that logically speaking you cannot prove it true. However you may well get data that supports your idea giving it credibility, which is what we all hope for. Then you take your observations, your idea, and your plan for testing your idea and use them to compose a research proposal.
Let's just hope this assignment is not due tomorrow.


Pat said...

I am sure Sansevieria is used medicinally in its native range. The steroids are probably the significant active principles, IIRC.

The Phytophactor said...

Thanks Pat, their steroid content was unfamiliar to me, but there it is. Here's a link if you're interested.