Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A basic but important research skill: initiative

Some basic research skills that I feel are important may be increasingly neglected in the training of students. I fear this neglect is partly due to the pressure to "produce" leading to people cutting corners and supervisors treating students like technicians.

The first skill is Take initiative.
Students, regardless of their limited knowledge and experience, should not sit around waiting for directions and feedback. They should not just do what they are told.
They should just "try stuff". What does this mean?
  • Look at the literature on your own, beyond what has been recommended to you.
  • Try to reproduce other peoples results.
  • Try doing the experiment under slightly different conditions. Try a different sample or device.
  • Try doing the computer simulation with slightly different parameters.
  • Try doing the analytical calculation using a different method.
  • Ask questions.
Don't be scared of looking and feeling "dumb".

To begin with most of what you try may not work or will produce little of new interest.
But, you will slowly learn what works and what does not. Your intuition will increase. But you may get lucky and find something completely new.

Other basic skills include:

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