Written by Jason Eisner in 1997, for new Computer Science Ph.D. students at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a grad student himself at the time.

How to Find Research Problems

by Jason Eisner

The biological anthropologist Loren Eiseley used to say there were two kinds of scientists: big-bone hunters and small-bone hunters. (He himself was a small-bone hunter, he said, fitting little bits of data into the skeleton. If Eiseley had been a programmer, he would have called this "bottom-up science.")

Computer science includes many different kinds of research efforts, some of which are more tyrannosaurical than others. You can contribute to one of these efforts in various ways.

Keep in mind: There's lots of research out there, so you have a choice about what to work on. (Even if your advisor is very hands-on, you still have some choice.) So, especially when you are considering a time-consuming project, keep your long-term goals in mind. Will it:

Finally: Now that you're in grad school and no one sets your agenda, everything you do is open-ended. That means you can easily spend too much time on any task you start, especially if stubborn perfectionism or an inferiority complex leads you to feel that your work is never good enough, or if you're subconsciously trying to put off that scary next phase of your research.


This page online: http://cs.jhu.edu/~jason/advice/how-to-find-research-problems.html
Jason Eisner - jason@cs.jhu.edu (suggestions welcome) Last Mod $Date: 2013/03/17 10:28:35 $