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A Stude t's Guide to Research

esearch is the search for new k:nowl­ edge, and it is thus distinct from the routine application of known results. The "re" in "research" is a misnomer. When you perform research, your goal is to add to hu­ man knowledge by discovering, inventing or creating what was previously unknown. How does a student learn to do re­ search? As teachers ofstudents, espe­ cially graduate students, we are faced with the task of transmitting our research skills. This process is íntensely personal, involving extensive interaction. A gradu­ ate student who works for years with a re­ search advisor is very much like an apprentice learning a skill or craft. The university provides the setting in which that apprenticeship takesplace, much like a workshop where a craft like violin mak­
ing ís passed on.
While it is unlikely that the teaching of research skills can be formalized, the fol­ lowing is a compendium of advice and guidance on research that 1 have given to my students over the years.

Advice on Getting Started in Research
l. Research is hard.
Extending human knowledge is a diffi­ cult task.Discovering new and useful ideas is like attacking a granite cliff with your bare hands. Once in a while a small fragment breaks loose and progress is made. Each new advance is a gift to the world that contributes to the sum of hu­ man knowledge.

2. Research is exciting and addictive.
The moment of discovery provides an unbelievable rush of excitement. Re-

The author is with theAerospace Engi­ neering Department, University of Michi­ gan, Ann Arbor, MI 48!09, dsbaero


searchers live for this high, and it can be ad­ is one of the two best legal highs.

3. What is a good research problem?
The importance of having a good re­ search problem cannot be overemphasized. A good research problem has either signifi­ cant intellectual contentor important practi­ cal ramifications. The best research problems have both. Which aspect you choose to emphasize will ultimately depend upon your personal tastes and preferences.

4. How to find good problems.
lt can be difficult to find good prob­ lems. The difference between an experi­ enced researcher and a novice líes in knowing what problems to work on. An experienced researcherknows where the boundaries of knowledge lie and has a sense ofwhich problems are solvable and important. Finding good problems is one of the most crucial things you can do as a researcher. In general, the best way to find good research problems is to do re­ search. By doing research you will find that each advance leads to new ideas and new problems. Of course, this advice as­ sumes that youalready have a good start­ ing point for your research, which is the responsibility of your advisor. Reading papers and attending seminars can also be extremely helpful for finding good re­ search problems.

S. Read a lot and listen to others.
No one person can have all the good ideas. Realize that you are but one small part of a huge research enterprise. Other researchers sharetheir ideas in papers and talks. Listen to them and read their work. However, be aware that too much reading can be bad if it detracts from your time to do research or directs your thinking into other researchers' "mental grooves."

6. Have an attack.
Inventing antigravity levitation is a great problem, but it is hopeless to try un­ less you havean attack.An attack is an ap­ proach or ideathat you can bring to bear on a problem. Having a good attack is as important as finding a good problem. Your ability to formulare an attack on a problem depends on all of your skills, tools, and knowledge.

7. Be curious.
To do good research, you have to care about the problem you are working on. Good researchers tend to be curious. lf you want to know why something is...
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