Sunday, July 25, 2010

You and your research

This is the title of a talk given by Richard Hamming in 1986. In this talk, Hamming was trying to address the question "Why do so few scientists make significant contributions and so many are forgotten in the long run?".

In the latest issue (Summer 2010) of ACM's XRDS magazine, Daniel Lemire reflected on that talk in an article titled "Marketing Your Ideas". If you don't have time to read the full transcript of Hamming's talk, you may want to have a look at Daniel's article. Hmm.. If you don't have time to read the transcript, you probably don't have time to read Daniel's article. Let me give an extractive summary of the latter:

1. Take your time

"Young scientists tend to rush their presentations. They work four months to a year on a project, yet they wait until the last minute before writing their paper and rehearsing their presentation—when they rehearse it at all."

"What about reports and research papers? Rushing their publication is trading quality for quantity. It is an unfortunate trade, as there is a glut of poor research papers, and too few high quality ones. Continuous writing, editing, and rehearsal should be an integral part of your activities."

2. Reach out to your audience

"Scientists and engineers are most successful when their work is most available. "

"But posting your content and giving talks is hardly enough."

"If you want people to attend your talks, make sure your title tells them why they should attend. Think about your audience. They want to know whether they should continue reading your paper or come to your talk. Convince them that you have something remarkable to tell them. Avoid jargon, acronyms, and long sentences."

"Do not underestimate email. It is the most powerful medium at your disposal. Yet, you have to use it wisely. To get famous people to read your emails, study their work. Show appreciation for their results. Think of reasons why they might find your question or proposal interesting."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Research interests change

One of the common mistakes scholars make is to assume a researcher/professor is still interested in a topic he/she has been working on 5 years ago! This usually happens when a student is looking for a supervisor/collaborator with a specific interest. The student finds a good paper on that topic and sends to the author.

As a matter of fact, researchers change their scientific interests over time. This might happen for several reasons. Government and/or industries fund research on a topic when a need arises, then turn down the fund when the need decays. Also, believe it or not, some research problems are eventually solved! Sometimes, researchers also change their focus moving to a new position to align with the research direction of the employer (be it a university or a research lab).