It’s time to brainstorm on methodology

  It’s been said that graduate studies feel unproductive compared to other professions, especially those in the pure science. But most scientists go through this seemingly inauspicious period of their career without much complaint or despair. It occurs to me thus that graduate students must measure their success with a completely different metric, perhaps one that resembles the hitting time metric of a graph with a bottleneck structure, or perhaps even multiple bottlenecks. In order to reach a new intellectual realm, one must work hard and slowly and allow for useless circular motion, much as a random walk on a graph would behave like. The only difference between a highly talented researcher and a mediocre one is that the random walk might be slightly more biased against visited states for the former. Speaking of research bottleneck, one invariably needs to talk about time management strategy. One old habit of mine that’s hard to kill is to postpone writing up a piece of result until I feel I have accumulated enough material to make a complete story in my research. To rectify this habit requires much more skill than it first appears to. One needs to define for himself what a good halting point is, and how to work towards a more evenly spaced halting sequence. Of course the truly worthy research comes in the form of surprise, which could be surprise in the sense of overcoming some technical difficulty, i.e., does not necessarily have to be counterintuitive results. But preparatory research also abounds and is sometimes more useful than sporadic publishable results to the researcher personally. Thus one has to not only satisfy his intellectual curiosity but also appease his research circa diem rythm. Sometimes it could be in the form of self-imposed illusion, such as laying out the blueprint of some future work, extrapolating current tiny progress towards something that can only be reached through imagination.
  The second point regarding research methodology is how to overcome solitude,which is a subject of perpetual vexation to mankind, let alone theoretical researchers. Solitude works on the human psyche especially viciously when the brain is processing highly contrived and energy consuming content, because in my personal theory, the brain has a defensive line against the abysmal feeling of loneliness, which when deprived by other cogitative pursuits, tends to malfunction or be rendered utterly pregnable. That is precisely why some people prefer the noisy cafe environment for work, rather than the apparently more distraction free and cosy home setting. Cafes have the added advantage of accessibility to food and drink, which can be craved upon by a computationally strained brain. But certain things wouldn’t work so well in a people environment, such as those that require the utmost precision and deepest penetration in thoughts. So one simply has to get used to the proper adjustment of background noise level and social signaling. In a desparate strain of thought, one tends to buy into the idea that somehow by isolating oneself, one could speed up the process of paper manufacturing. Or more generally, by suppressing certain extraneous functions in life, such as chit-chatting, cooking, exercising, etc, one could end up with more contiguous quality time for exclusive research activity. But in the end it’s really the resonance with the grand circa diem rythm that brings everything to fruition.


About aquazorcarson

math PhD at Stanford, studying probability
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