"Tell me all you know" requests

Howard Kaplan hkaplan at UDCVAX.BITNET
Wed Sep 1 20:16:10 EST 1993

hi my name is cynthia I am a grad student at etsu
looking for information on the use of biotechnology in oil spill clean-up
if you have any information or reference on this subject please send a
mail message to the adress below. Currently writting thesis on this subject.


As a teacher and researcher, I find myself troubled by requests
such as this which, not knowing Cynthia or her background, I am
using just as an example of my concerns.  I would expect and hope
that a student doing research, grad or undergrad, would have started out with an
 idea of the topic and then have done a search of the literature to
find out what had and hadn't been done and what is currently being
done.  Then, they would reformulate their problem statement and
begin focusing on how to attack the problem.  At this point, with
some fairly specific questions, they would send off requests to
computer lists.  If everyone were to start off with the "Tell me
everything you know" request, they are bypassing one of the most
important and, to a dedicated researcher, a most exciting part of
research, the literature search, wherein lies much serendipity.  It
is also an important skill that students must learn.  Furthermore,
while the computer may ultimately be the repository for primary
sources, it is still some way from that.
So, to the Cynthias of the world, I would recommend that you dive
into the school library, go through whatever they use for catalogs,
bury yourself in the stacks (if they exist) and spend time reading and thinking.
  You may enjoy the process.  If not, you will still have learned a
valuable lesson.
                                Howard Kaplan
                                Professor of Microbiology

More information about the Bioforum mailing list