# Mindset for Research

To undertake Research.

• one must master a specific subject completely.
• one must extend the body of knowledge about that subject.

To master a subject, a student searches the published literature to find and read everything that has been written about the subject. In scientific disciplines, a student begins by studying general reference works such as text books. Eventually, the student must also search scholarly journals, the publications that scientists use to exchange information and record reports of their scientific investigations. The essence of a Ph.D., the aspect that distinguishes Ph.D. study from other academic work, can be summarized in a single word: research. To extend knowledge, one must explore, investigate, and contemplate. The scientific community uses the term research to capture the idea. In scientific disciplines, research often implies experimentation, but research is more than mere experiments -- it means interpretation and deep understanding. For Computer Scientists, research means searching to uncover the principles that underlie digital computation and communication. A researcher must discover new techniques that aid in building or using computational mechanisms. Researchers look for new abstractions, new approaches, new algorithms, new principles, or new mechanisms. To complete a Research., each student must present results from their research to the faculty in a lengthy, formal document called a dissertation (more popularly referred to as a thesis). The student must then submit their dissertation to the faculty and defend their work in an oral examination.

# Do you want a research career?

Before enrolling in a Ph.D. program, you should carefully consider your long-term goals. Because earning a Ph.D. is training for research, you should ask yourself whether a research position is your long-term goal. If it is, a Ph.D. degree is the standard path to your chosen career (a few people have managed to obtain a research position without a Ph.D., but they are the exception, not the rule). If, however, you want a non-research career, a Ph.D. is definitely not for you.

# Do you want an academic position?

A Ph.D. is the de facto union card for an academic position. Although it is possible to obtain an academic position without a Ph.D., the chances are low. Major universities (and most colleges) require each member of their faculty to hold a Ph.D. and to engage in research activities. Why? To insure that the faculty have sufficient expertise to teach advanced courses and to force faculty to remain current in their chosen field. The U.S. State Department diplomatic protocol ranks the title professor higher than the title doctor. It does so in recognition of academic requirements: most professors hold a Ph.D., but not all people who hold a Ph.D. degree are professors.

# Do you have what it takes?

It is difficult for an individual to assess their own capabilities. The following guidelines and questions may be of help.

## Intelligence

In your college and graduate courses, were you closer to the top of your class or the bottom? How well did you do on the GRE or other standardized tests?

## Time

Are you prepared to tackle a project larger than any you have undertaken before? You must commit to multiple years of hard work. Are you willing to reduce or forego other activities?

## Creativity

Research discoveries often arise when one looks at old facts in a new way. Do you shine when solving problems? Do you like brain teasers and similar puzzles? Are you good at solving them? In school, did you find advanced mathematics enjoyable or difficult?

## Intense curiosity

Have you always been compelled to understand the world around you and to find out how things work? A natural curiosity makes research easier. Did you fulfill minimum requirements or explore further on your own?

Most students are unprepared for Ph.D. study. They find it unexpectedly different than course work. Suddenly thrust into a world in which no one knows the answers, students sometimes flounder. Can you adapt to new ways of thinking? Can you tolerate searching for answers even when no one knows the precise questions?

## Self-motivation

By the time a student finishes an undergraduate education, they have become accustomed to receiving grades for each course each semester. In a Ph.D. program, work is not divided neatly into separate courses, professors do not partition tasks into little assignments, and the student does not receive a grade for each small step. Are you self-motivated enough to keep working toward a goal without day-to-day encouragement?

## Competitiveness

If you choose to enroll in a Ph.D. program, you will compete with others at the top. More important, once you graduate, your peers will include some of the brightest people in the world. You will be measured and judged in comparison to them. Are you willing to compete at the Ph.D. level?

## Maturity

Compared to coursework, which is carefully planned by a teacher, Ph.D. study has less structure. You will have more freedom to set your own goals, determine your daily schedule, and follow interesting ideas. Are you prepared to accept the responsibility that accompanies the additional freedoms? Your success or failure in Ph.D. research depends on it.

# Engineering Research Papers

How to Read an Engineering Research Paper William G. Griswold CSE, UC San Diego Reading research papers effectively is challenging. These papers are written in a very condensed style because of page limitations and the intended audience, which is assumed to already know the area well. Moreover, the reasons for writing the paper may be different than the reasons the paper has been assigned, meaning you have to work harder to find the content that you are interested in. Finally, your time is very limited, so you may not have time to read every word of the paper or read it several times to extract all the nuances. For all these reasons, reading a research paper can require a special approach.

To develop an effective reading style for research papers, it can help to know two things: what you should get out of the paper, and where that information is located in the paper. First, I'll describe how a typical research paper is put together.

Despite a paper's condensed form, it is likely repetitive. The introduction will state not only the motivations behind the work, but also outline the solution. Often this may be all the expert requires from the paper. The body of the paper states the authors' solution to the problem in detail, and should also describe a detailed evaluation of the solution in terms of arugments or an experiment. Finally, the paper will conclude with a recap, including a discussion of the primary contributions. A paper will also discuss related work to some degree. Because of the repetition in these papers at different levels of detail and from different perspectives, it may be desirable, to read the paper out of order or to skip certain sections. More on this below.

The questions you want to have answered by reading a paper are the following:

What are motivations for this work? For a research paper, there is an expectation that a problem has been solved that no one else has published in the literature. This problem intrinsically has two parts. The first is often unstated, what I call the people problem. The people problem is the benefits that are desired in the world at large; for example some issue of quality of life, such as saved time or increased safety. The second part is the technical problem, which is: why doesn't the people problem not have a trivial solution? There is also an implication that previous solutions to the problem are inadequate. What are the previous solutions and why are they inadequate? Finally, the motivation and statement of the problem are distilled into a research question that can be addressed within the confines of this particular paper. Oftentimes, one or more of these elements are not explicitly stated, making your job more difficult.

What is the proposed solution? This is also called the hypothesis or idea. There should also be an answer to the question why is it believed that this solution will work, and be better than previous solutions? There should also be a discussion about how the solution is achieved (designed and implemented) or is at least achievable.

What is the work's evaluation of the proposed solution? An idea alone is usually not adequate for publication of a research paper. This is the concrete engagement of the research question. What argument, implementation, and/or experiment makes the case for the value of the ideas? What benefits or problems are identified?

What is your analysis of the identified problem, idea and evaluation? Is this a good idea? What flaws do you perceive in the work? What are the most interesting points made? What are the most controversial ideas or points made? For work that has practical implications, you also want to ask: Is this really going to work, who would want it, what it will take to give it to them, and when might it become a reality?

What are the contributions? The contributions in a paper may be many and varied. Beyond the insights on the research question, a few additional possibilities include: ideas, software, experimental techniques, or an area survey.

What are future directions for this research? Not only what future directions do the authors identify, but what ideas did you come up with while reading the paper? Sometimes these may be identified as shortcomings or other critiques in the current work.

What questions are you left with? What questions would you like to raise in an open discussion of the work? What do you find confusing or difficult to understand? By taking the time to list several, you will be forced to think more deeply about the work.

Also, you should be aware of the context of the paper in relation to the other papers in the class. Often a paper will represent a generalization, new direction, or contradiction to earlier papers.

If you find that filling out this form doesn't work for you, you can try writing a 250 word abstract of the paper--not rewriting the abstract at the front of the paper, but your abstract, capturing the above five issues from your perspective. I often find it useful to write an abstract because it develops the logical connections between the above five issues.

Taking time to writing down questions you have about the paper will often surface thoughts that were not initially articulated. Perhaps the paper was vague on key issues, or ignored issues that you think are important. If you come to class with such questions, you are prepared to counter or preempt my own questions.

Reading a book is somewhat different. Although you want to answer the above questions for a book, it may not do the book justice given the amount of detail in each chapter. You may want to fill out the above questions on a chapter-by-chapter basis, and then produce a summary form for the entire book when you have finished reading it. However, each chapter will have a particular slant that may make certain questions irrelevant. Also, a book is often not oriented towards explaining the solution to a research problem. However, engineering books are invariably oriented towards problem solving of one kind or another.

I have a habit of writing on papers directly, less with books simply because they cost so much. A well-annotated paper is worth its weight in gold, as it not only contains the content of the paper, but your assessment of its value to you.

Advice on note taking. Although I have provided a form that can be filled out, I actually advocate annotating the paper directly. The paper is a rich canvas on which to layer your thoughts. Here is how I suggest approaching the reading and mark-up process: