a journal of a researcher

Monday, September 19, 2005

What is research

All the summer, I was reading Bertrand Russell’s two books “the principles of mathematics” and “the history of Western Philosophy”. He is a man who really devoted himself to explore the new frontier of several domains.

Recent days, I am thinking where my research goes. The driving force of my research is to know what I do not know, especially to solve my confusion about life. That is why my research is a little bit scattered. But maybe it is a matter of deep thinking. If I were able to think as Russell, my jumping of topics is nothing.

I changed a lot after I came to NRC. I switched from practical project driven research to more theoretical oriented research. But I do not agree some professor’s claim that he/she is not interested in “real problems”. I remember Dave Patterson in UC Berkeley has some talks about “How to have a bad career in research/academia”. One symptom is publishing without testing against real applications. It does not count as “impact”. Some students come to me is because they do not want to do “theoretical” research with a university professor. They said many research papers go to garbage directly. I do not think some master students can judge research in this way, but it makes me think.

Another thing is research circle is full of big egos. I am tired of tough characters to grasp the projects and the authorships of papers. I am not so aggressive in my career. But do I need to do this?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

My student teaches me

I’ve heard many times from professors to thank their students in various occasions. Many consider their work can’t be done without students. When I was a student, I thought the professors are just too humble. Well, my students teach me now. Here is what I received about my role in supervising students:

“it is not your job to be the babysitter of immature students. Especially master students should know what they want and pursue their goal without you telling them or asking them. If someone wants to be a researcher, he will develop own ideas for research and do the research. If someone wants to go into industry, he will develop ideas for real-life projects and tackle them in your research group. Both will ask for guidance every once in a while.

But in essence, they will have to work independently and pursue their goals without a babysitter. If a student can't do that, may be he is not fit enough to be part of your (or any other) research team.

I think, there are pretty much two things you can do for your students,
1. Provide a challenging work environment (office space, computer, library access and may be funding)
2. Ask them every once in a while to tell you what they have done. (That helps a student to realize what he really did. And it helps to be clear about progress. Which means that a student stays focused and on track.)”

Good points here. I hope I can provide what my students ask me about the working environment. As a young scientist, I am still not powerful enough to get what my students ask for. Funding is connected to my publications, proposal writing and networking. It is not easier than running a company and making profit. Some researchers are like entrepreneur that they organize people on projects that they receive funding, then more research results attract further investment. Then they run it even bigger.