Deciding what to work on

I have seen many workshops with ‘early’ papers, and given many such workshops myself–not always successfully either.  Early on, I thought it was a great idea.  Then later on, not so much.  But now, I like the idea again.

That’s not what I am thinking about today, though.  Research is really about discovering and refining new ideas.  So it’s a mistake to think that you know what the paper is going to be when you first write it—-at least for people with my level of talent and skills.  So you just have to have faith that  your problem is a good one, and start doing stuff.  Put it out there.  Get feedback, refine, and figure the points out as you go. 

I find that with PhD students, one of the more important things to tell them is that the discovery process in any paper never went the way the paper reads.  The paper is designed to report the results in the best way, not to explain how the results were discovered.  But I vaguely remember learning about the ‘scientific method’ which seems suspiciously like the way the final papers read.  No one that I know really follows that approach. 

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