TE: Think of the Next Experiment Think of the Next Experiment

In this step you will identify questions you have about your paper, and design two new experiments that can answer those questions.

Abstract representation of paper containing questions and problems with article.

Generate Questions and Problems

Make a list with 2-5 items that can include problems with the paper, questions that were not addressed, or questions related to the paper that can be answered in the future.

Here are some questions to help guide your thinking:

  • Problems with the paper
    • Does the experimental procedure do a good job of answering the research question?
    • Was the size and scale of the experiment sufficient to answer the question thoroughly?
  • Questions that were not addressed
    • Did you have any questions while reading the paper that were not discussed?
    • Did the author(s) make any assumptions that require further exploration?
  • Questions that can be answered in the future
    • Did the author(s) mention any ideas for future research in the discussion section?
    • Do you have any ideas for research questions that could be answered in a future experiment?
Abstract representation of paper with two methods cartoons of new experiments.

Design New Experiments

Let’s ask ourselves, “What experiments should be done next?”

  1. Brainstorm solutions: Using the list of questions and problems you just created, spend 5 minutes brainstorming ideas for new experiments that can answer those questions or address those problems.
  2. Design new experiments: Diagram or cartoon 2 of the new experiments you brainstormed. Include controls and experimental conditions. Your diagram or cartoon should be as specific and detailed as the methods cartoon you created in R.

What makes a successful new experiment? Real student new experiments

Example 2: Infant Gut Microbiota

Student Work
  1. Preterm infant urine contained higher amounts of bile acid derivatives, which are the main by-product of cholesterol metabolism in liver. Enzymes convert cholesterol to bile acids, so an improper functioning of an enzyme can overproduce bile acids, which can cause liver dysfunction. A follow-up study could be performed to test whether these bile acid byproducts are sticking around, or whether this was only temporary for preterm infants.
  2. The preterm metabolome contains a number of metabolites not seen, or in much lower abundance, in full-term infants. Future directions would be to study whether the microbiota affect the metabolome, and whether modulating the preterm microbiota would restore the metabolomic profile to that of a full-term infant.
  3. Since disturbing the infant microbiota can cause potential lifelong effects/diseases, a follow-up study would be to see if caesarean section birth with antibiotics treatment, preterm, or formula feeding have associations with autoimmune or metabolic diseases. What is the best way to restore natural composition after disruption?
Instructor Feedback
  • Great examples of thinking of the next experiment!
  • The student here takes interesting observations from the paper and proposes experiments to follow up these observations more deeply.
  • I also like how the 3rd experiment is explicit about what experimental conditions to try and what to compare.
  • Ideally, these experiments should be cartooned out like the methods diagrams/cartoons.

Give it a try!

Tips & Strategies

  • For more ideas, read the discussion section of the paper carefully. In this section, the researchers identify limitations of their research, potential applications of their findings, or interesting topics related to their study. Some even propose future experiments — see if you can add something they didn't think of!
  • You can also think about potential real-life applications of the study and design experiments that explore these applications.


Now you are ready to design your own experiments! When you finish, use this checklist to double-check your work:

Make a list of 2-5 questions you have or problems with the paper
Brainstorm ideas for experiments that can help answer your questions
Choose 2 of the experiments you brainstormed and diagram or cartoon them