Welcome to research….part-I

[This is a multi-part piece; will post the pieces individually. Comments welcome ….]

Introduction

The word research carries different meanings to different people. Almost everyone uses this term and has some interpretation of this as well. Sometimes, even doing a plain Google search is called ‘research’. People learning about a new topic by searching through web material or library is also sometimes put under this tag. Research is much more than this. It is a deeply reflective activity, and hence something healthy for everyone – like breathing fresh air or drinking clean water!

A common perception of research is to think of it as something for the super-intelligent. And if you see someone like that in a kurta, with a long beard and unkept hair, the image is complete – the true researcher. No concern for the worldly things! That is, simply, a far fetched image. Of course, research has nothing to do with these, shallow elements. In this chapter, we will look at the various related dimensions of research briefly; this will give you a feel of what this note is about, and where to find more information on aspects of your interest.

At the bottom, research is about your mindset – a mindset driven by curiosity and a moderate degree of distrust. Something, we possess plenty as a little child, and lose rapidly as we grow up. Children are excellent researchers; observe them closely. And naturally, they learn and understand very fast. They find patterns without being told. Look at how they learn to phrase grammatically correct sentences, without being told anything about grammar. Look at how they learn to classify things, and myriad other things without any theory lectures. And also watch the number of questions they ask. And they unhesitatingly tell you wrong things (as they understand), and you patiently correcting them. So, in a way, if you want to be a good researcher, observe small children. And that is also a good example, to refute the common silly notions of research mentioned above. We explore this aspect more in the next chapter.

Another way to look at research is the purpose. For children, there is no specific purpose. They have no exams to pass; no papers to publish; no promotions at stake; no projects to be found; etc. But, for many of us, this is not true. You may be a student where your purpose is to understand a particular field or topic well (yes, scoring marks is not your objective, marks is meant to be an indicator of how much and how well you have learned.). As a researcher by profession, you look for innovations and solutions to important problems. As a academician, you may be looking at completing your PhD. And so on. The purpose may scope your research.

Sometimes, we see a tendency to measure research outcomes in terms of publications. This is a dangerous trend. Publications form an integral part of the research world – both in terms of publications that feed into your research, and publications that you produce.
As Newton said, you see a little further than before due to your research, because you are able to stand on the shoulders of giants (other researchers!) who came before you. This is what reading and studying the existing literature gives you. Dont reinvent the wheel. Understand deadends and holygrails early enough. Just as they made their work available for you, you need to do the same – the wheel need to go on. So writing publications is important. But how many should you write, where should you publish them, when do you write a paper/book, what kind of things can one put in a paper. These are the subjects of chapter 5.

Yet another topic is the topic itself – the topic of your research. This is often a difficult question, and not without reason. But the answer is really, very simple. You can choose any topic that fascinates you. The fascination is important; research is a long term commitment – and like relationships thrive on love, research succeeds with this fascination. When you lose the charm in a topic, it is time to move on. Beyond that, there are really no constraints. Of course, a topic does not automatically give you a problem to solve. Finding a research problem is much harder. You need good familiarity with the domain, and usually some external guidance. We come back to this topic in chapter 4

There are different approaches to research too. As scientific investigation, the common modes are theory and experiment. Today, for large complex systems, simulation is considered as the third paradigm of science. Much of medical science investigation including drug analysis works by simulation. Research methodology also depends on the nature of the problem you are trying to solve. We attempt some review of these issues in chapter 3.

We will stay away from technical communication, and the like of things in this document. They are, of course, important – but there is plenty of material available. My own advice in this regard is also available as another document, you can download and refer to from my website: thelittlesasi.wikidot.com

As it happens with all types of research, there is no last word in research. Newer ideas, newer observations, newer intuitions keep driving one to either extend the knowledge existing or sometimes propose a completely new path for our understanding. Remember the evolution of physics from newton to einstein; of solar system; of the structure of atom; etc. And the same applies to this document too. Your feedback will be much appreciated; and will help me to enhance this to make it more useful for people. Do send them to me at thelittlessasi@gmail.com or post here.

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2 Responses to “Welcome to research….part-I”

  1. Reshmy Says:

    Sir,

    Hope u remember me… Very nice article sir…It was very interesting to read, but as i read, it came to an end suddenly…..Superb sir….

  2. kannaiya vakharia Says:

    Sir,
    very well thought out and written, Very useful.
    thanks,
    kannaiya vakharia.

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