esearch is the search for new howledge, 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 human knowledge by discovering, inventing or creating what was previously unknown. How does a student learn to do research? As teachers of students, especially graduatestudents, we are faced with the task of transmitting our research skills. This process is intensely personal, involving extensive interaction. A graduate student who works for years with a research advisor is very much like an apprentice learning a skill or craft. The university provides the setting in which that apprenticeship takes place, much like a workshop where a craft like violin making is passedon. While it is unlikely that the teaching of research skills can be formalized, the following is a compendium of advice and guidance on research that I have given to my students over the years. searchers live for this high, and it can be addictive. It is one of the two best legal highs.
Advice on Getting Started in Research
1. Research is hard. Extending human knowledge is a difficult 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 human knowledge.
2. Research is exciting and addictive.
The moment of discovery provides ar unbelievable rush of excitement. Re~~
The author is with the AerospaceEngi. neeving Department, University of Michi. gan, Ann Aubor, M I 48109, dsbaerc @umich.edu.
6. Have an attack. Inventing antigravity levitation is a great problem, but it is hopeless to try unless you have an attack. An attack is an ap3. What is a good research problem? The importance of having a good re- proach or idea that you can bring to bear search problem cannot be overemphasized. on aproblem. Having a good attack is as A good research problem has either signifi- important as finding a good problem. cant intellectualcontent or important practi- Your ability to formulate an attack on a cal ramifications. The best research problem depends on all of your skills, problems have both. Which aspect you tools, and knowledge. choose to emphasize will ultimately depend upon your personaltastes and preferences. 7. Be curious. To do good research, you have to care about the problem you are working on. 4. How to find good problems. It can be difficult to find good prob- Good researchers tend to be curious. If lems. The difference between an experi- you want to know why something is true, enced researcher and a novice lies in then ask why, and don’t give up until you knowing whatproblems to work on. An know. When you don’t know “why,” then experienced researcher knows where the let it gnaw at you. Don’t be afraid to ask obvious questions such as. How did huboundaries of knowledge lie and has a mans evolve phenomenal brains in such a sense of which problems are solvable and short time? Why do humans need to sleep important. Finding good problems is one and dream so much? Howdoes magneof the most crucial things you can do as a tism act through a vacuum? What hapresearcher. In general, the best way to pened before the big bang? The deepest find good research problems is to do re- questions are often the most obvious but search. By doing research you will find are rarely asked. While it is unlikely you that each advance leads to new ideas and can solve such “big”problems (especially new problems. Of course, this advice as- without an attack), it is important to be sumes that you already have a good start- sensitive to new problems. ing point for your research, which is the responsibility of your advisor. Reading 8. Ask good questions. papers and attending seminars can also Besides being curious, it is helpful to be extremely helpful for finding good re- ask...