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Principles of Effective Research


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Presentation for Michael Nielsen's article

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Principles of Effective Research

  1. 1. Principles of Effective Research Michael Nielsen
  2. 2. About Author • Michael Aaron Nielsen (1974- ) • a quantum physicist, science writer and programmer living in Toronto, Canada • currently focuses on his forthcoming book Neural Networks and Deep Learning
  3. 3. Fundamental Principles • integrating research into the rest of your life • principles of personal behaviour • proactivity • vision • discipline
  4. 4. Research & Life • The foundation of effective research is a strong motivation or desire to do research. • if you don’t get the rest of your life right • your life as a whole will be less good • your research will suffer • example (co-authoring a book)
  5. 5. Research & Life • put aside considerable amount of thought and effort for: • making sure you are fit • looking after your health • spending high quality time with your family • having fun
  6. 6. Principles of Personal Behaviour • foundation of effective research is to: • internalise a strong vision of what you want to achieve • work proactively towards that vision • take personal responsibility for successes and failures • you need to: • develop disciplined work habits • achieve balance between self-development and the actual creative research process
  7. 7. Proactivity and Personal Responsibility • effective people form a vision about the future and work towards it • obvious? McDonald’s example • secret of personal effectiveness: doing basics consistently well
  8. 8. Why Difficult to be Consistently Proactive and Responsible • easier ways out: • blame external circumstance for our problems • get caught up in displacement activities • get down on yourself, worrying and feeling bad
  9. 9. How to Become Proactive • inspire by examples of proactive people • through direct personal contact • through biographies, history, movies, etc… • regularly remind ourselves of the costs and benefits of proactivity and responsibility
  10. 10. Vision • is what you would like to achieve, incorporating both long-term values and goals, as well as shorter-term goals • history shows that great actions usually are the outcome of great purpose • not one-night work; put time aside for developing a vision • a good vision is not inflexible; gets frequently changed as you go along
  11. 11. Self-discipline • self-discipline is not merely a matter of will • three factors to achieve self-discipline: • clarity about what & why you want to achieve (otherwise causes aimlessness and procrastination) • social environment (be accountable to other people) • honesty to oneself (awareness lays the foundation for personal change)
  12. 12. Aspect of Research • self-development • failed to realise their responsibility to make a contribution to the wider community • creative process (best viewed as an extension) • lead to stagnation, plateauing as a researcher • making a significant and regular enough research contribution to enable oneself to get and keep good jobs, while continuing to develop one’s talents, consistently renewing and replenish oneself.
  13. 13. Self-development • principles of personal change • developing research strengths • developing a high-quality research environment
  14. 14. Principles of Personal Change • set behavioural goals (be precise) • how you want to behave • what habits you want have • set simple goals • easier to evaluate • make changes slowly • a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
  15. 15. Principles of Personal Change • evaluate the change you made, and update goals • compare goals to actual achievement • form an action plan • metaphors help the process of personal change
  16. 16. Metaphors • coach and player • it’s easier to fool yourself and take the easy option than it is to fool anyone else • gradient descent
  17. 17. Regression • falling back to old living style • accept the regression • if you can learn something once, you can do it again • don’t expect learn to do it overnight
  18. 18. Developing Research Strengths • interests -> learn -> goals • develop a unique combination of abilities • Do what you can do better than anybody • stay current • quickly skimming a great deal of work • pick a dozen or so to read deeply
  19. 19. Developing A High-quality Research Environment • Improve your environment: • start a seminar series • organise a small workshop or reading group • create a lounge • in partnership with equally committed people • changes you made will stick around
  20. 20. The Creative Process • problem-solver • the person who works intensively on well-posed technical problems • receive immediate esteem and recognition • problem-creator • often write papers that are technically simple, but ask interesting questions, or pose an old problem in a new way • chance to open up whole new lines of enquiry
  21. 21. Skills for Problem-creators • Developing a taste for what’s important • difficulty is not a good indicator for importance • what your work enables, the connections it makes apparent, the unifying theme uncovered, the new questions asked… • Internal and external standards for importance • don’t be guided by external prizes (e.g. Nobel) • form your own independent standards for what’s interesting and important and worth doing
  22. 22. Skills for Problem-creators • Exploring for problems • survey the landscape of the field and identify patterns • Getting ahead of the game • scanning tunneling microscope • Identify the mess • mess = opportunity
  23. 23. Skills for Problem-solvers • Clarity, goals and forward momentum • Having multiple formulations • Spontaneous discovery as the outcome of self- development (+ exploration)
  24. 24. Working on Important Problems • People often don’t do important problems for some reasons: • Lack of self-development • The thread-mill of small problems • start out in a research career with relatively tractable problems and gradually work up to more difficult problems • The intimidating factor • step by step (a seminar series -> lecture notes -> book -> …)
  25. 25. Working on Important Problems • Committing to work on important problems • a process rather than a moment • People who only attack important problems • takes themselves out of circulation • stops making on-going contributions • loses habits of success • risks losing morale
  26. 26. Thank you