Mastering Experimental Design

Mastering the skills that matter

Good experimental design is fundamental to successful research outcomes. The more thoroughly an experiment is designed, the greater the chances of attaining meaningful results – which paves the way for a compelling manuscript, presentation or grant proposal.

However, good research design is a complex task, and for many a daunting prospect. There are a great deal of common mistakes which lead to poor-quality results and flawed conclusions, rendering research unreliable and difficult to publish. And in the context of the reproducibility crisis, poor experimental design may raise ethical concerns if research isn’t replicable.

What’s the importance of good experimental design?

Nature Portfolio conducted a survey on research skills in 2020, which confirmed the importance of experimental design for being a successful researcher. 84% of researchers polled (n = 344) cited this as an important area.

At the same time, 70% of these researchers said experimental design was a challenging task. Whilst this suggests a strong requirement for assistance and training, a mere 24% of researchers (n = 456) were satisfied with their available training on planning research and experimental design. Which leaves 76% either unsatisfied with the help on offer, or without access to training at all.

Considering that producing high quality research is essential to getting published, and to securing funding, it’s surprising to know how little training on experimental design is offered at so many research institutions.

The key to confidence, right from the start

Given the implications of poor-quality research on continuing research success, mastering experimental design is a key skill best acquired early on. It’s important to get to know what’s expected by the research community from the outset.

And learning to get it right with thorough planning and design will relieve pressure on scarce time and resources.

Key training to launch every researcher’s career

Nature Masterclasses have created a new course which guides researchers through the process of designing experiments. Experiments: From Idea to Design was formulated with the direct input of an international focus group of researchers, who identified the most important tasks and challenges involved. Further testing of potential course content revealed which of the tasks and challenges were most relevant to course users.

Key skills – from start to finish

With this feedback in mind, Experiments: From Idea to Design has been developed to include all the main steps throughout the experimental design journey - from the initial stages of developing the research motivation right through to utilising the experimental plan.

The ideal foundation for PhD students and early career researchers, Experiments: From Idea to Design is also helpful for more senior researchers as mentors or for brushing up their skills in this area.

Participants will master how to:

  • Explore the characteristics of robust experimental design
  • Understand the benefits of honing experimental design skills before embarking on full-scale experiments
  • Develop a thoughtful and novel motivation for their research
  • Select the precise methods, tools, techniques and protocols to address their research motivation
  • Refine and make use of their experimental design.

Compiled by experts

Experiments: From Idea to Design was created with close attention to the expectations of end-users as revealed in the Nature Portfolio survey.

An international panel of Nature Portfolio Journal editors, expert academics and professionals with wide-ranging experience helped develop and refine the content of the course. These included:

  • Massimiliano Di Ventra, Professor of Physics, University of California, San Diego
  • Allison Doerr, Chief Editor, Nature Methods
  • Oliver Graydon, Chief Editor, Nature Photonics
  • Liu Bin, Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Senior Vice Provost (Faculty and Institutional Development), National University of Singapore.

Key Course Features

Experiments: From Idea to Design is made up of 4 learning modules, with a digital certificate on completion. Designed to optimise user experience, the course provides English language subtitles and transcripts, and allows participants to track their progress with status updates.

To facilitate the learning experience, lessons are kept deliberately short and focus on single topics. In total, users receive between 7 and 8 hours of learning, self-paced for ease of use. On-demand access enables users to follow the course from start to finish or dip in and out to suit their learning needs at any point. Busy researchers will appreciate the flexibility of fitting the course in around their own work.

These features give researchers total control over their learning environment and enables them to add crucial skills without disrupting or slowing down their day-to-day work.

Supporting researchers throughout the research lifecycle

Experiments: From Idea to Design is the perfect foundation for researchers in experimental design. Nature Masterclasses also offer the companion courses Interpreting Scientific Results, and Managing Research Data to Unlock its full Potential for a fully rounded learning experience.

In today’s crowded research environment, it’s crucial to ensure that researchers gain the impact they deserve for their work. Investing in training from Nature Masterclasses is a key way of equipping researchers with the skills necessary to succeed on the global stage.

Tom Werner