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An MTFC Finalist’s Tips for the Project Phase

Alright, champions of data, buckle up because we’re about to dive deeper into the thrilling world of your research project (if it’s your first one, perfect!). First off, major congrats on making it to the project phase – you’ve officially reached the pearl of the entire Modeling the Future Challenge! 

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work 🚀

Firstly, echoing my fellow ambassador Brandon’s sentiments from his November Blog, teamwork is the key to completing an extraordinary project. Communication and brainstorming are the best approaches when you’re feeling lost or when your team is at a critical crossroads where decisions need to be made (like now). While dividing roles and working individually is not a bad strategy, it is crucial that, after a specified timeframe, you bring your team back together to discuss the progress made. This step is extremely important—it’s what kept your ultimate research paper flowing smoothly, cohesive, and sophisticated. 

For your first meeting in the project phase, if possible, I would recommend finding a place to sit down with your teammates, face-to-face. Grab a whiteboard and marker if available, and simply talk it through. Have someone document the keynotes that are discussed. When great minds come together, the ideas they generate are always golden. 

Setting Sail with SMART Goals and Timelines 🗓

Now, let’s shift gears a bit, keeping a relaxed vibe – establish some SMART goals and timelines. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound – consider this your secret recipe. Divide your project into manageable pieces, set deadlines, and tackle them one by one. Think of it as a game – each goal achieved brings you closer to that significant victory. It’s important to 

note that at this moment, you don’t have to include every single detail in your project agenda, but setting up goals and a project framework will let you see more clearly what you want, what you need, and what you have. As you dive deeper, always refer back to your overall framework, adjust accordingly, and make it more specific. Trust me, this will greatly help your team to manage the project properly, and prevent any last-minute grinding which we all hate (right?).

Mentor Magic 🧙

Don’t sleep on those mentor meetings! The MTFC competition provides you with the opportunity to meet with your mentor over Zoom several times throughout the project phase. THIS IS LIQUID GOLD. Mentors are like the Gandalfs of the research world, guiding you through the mysterious realms of data and analysis. Prepare for these meetings as if you’re heading into battle (a friendly one, of course). Have your questions ready, share your progress, and soak up their wisdom. Mentors have been there, and done that, and their insights are always valuable for guiding your project forward. 

My rule of thumb, and the reason I bring up the mentor meeting this early, is that it’s extremely beneficial to meet and establish a connection with your mentor as early as possible. In your first meeting, be sure to share with your mentor what your team has been thinking, the data you have found about your project, and what you want to accomplish. With their professionalism, they will shed light on your path forward, guiding you on what you need to explore further, suggesting possible models/algorithms to be employed, and truly helping you consolidate your project so it’s more achievable and manageable.

Embrace the Failures and Opportunities 🚗

Now, here’s a mind-bender for you – don’t be afraid to fail. Yeah, you heard me right. Failure is not the end; it’s just a funky plot twist in your research saga. If something doesn’t click, if your initial idea feels like a dud, that’s cool. Scratching your first concept is not a setback; it’s a setup for something even more epic. Embrace the bumps, learn from them, and watch your project evolve into something you never imagined. Don’t be afraid to change your project completely! Our team last year, which ultimately achieved MTFC finalist, completely scrapped our initially proposed project during the scenario phase. We embraced a more nuanced, specific, and rather simpler project idea after realizing the complexities and the amount of data we needed to actually produce something meaningful. 

Your initial idea is like a road trip starting point. It’s exciting, full of possibilities, but you’re not staying there forever. Your project is a dynamic journey of a thousand ideas. So, buckle up and enjoy the ride. Let those ideas flow, let them evolve, and don’t get too attached to the first pit stop. The coolest destinations often come after a few unexpected turns.

Get Creative, Stay Curious 🎨
Research is your canvas, and you’re the artist. Get creative with your approaches, explore unconventional paths, and don’t shy away from curiosity. Sometimes the most groundbreaking discoveries come from asking, “What if?” Let your imagination run wild – you’re not just crunching numbers; you’re crafting a narrative that could change the game. This space for creativity and curiosity is truly the essence of MTFC, the whole point of the open-theme project, and all the scenarios problems before (some of you might think it’s dull), is to help equip you with the basic tools and mindset to complete something extraordinary, something you really care about. Although reading through research papers and searching for algorithms is a great starting place, don’t let them confine your imagination; there’s always a better solution waiting to be found.

Authors Note: Good luck everybody, hope to see y’all at the national symposium!