Great points to keep research going

I came across George H. Heilmeier’s catechism, which I think is very useful for keeping my research going. I post it here to remind me:

A set of questions credited to Heilmeier that anyone proposing a research project or product development effort should be able to answer.[1]

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What’s new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares?
  • If you’re successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks and the payoffs?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the midterm and final “exams” to check for success?

What is scientist?

During a lunch with professor, I accidentally heard about a saying that “Scientist are those who know more and more about less and less…”, which sounds very philosophical.

Later on, I find the complete version, which is “Philosophers are people who know less and less about more and more, until they know nothing about everything. Scientists are people who know more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing”. It is from Konrad Lorenz.

From my shallow understanding, the difference between Philosophers and Scientist is due to the research target different: the former deals with high-level abstract object, which the latter works with concrete target.

Depth and Width about knowledge

Today I was lucky to have lunch with professor that I am working with. During the lunch, I asked a question that I had for a long time: “Now people talk about interdisciplinary study a lot, because different disciplinary seems to merge rapidly. On the one hand, people expect students to have broad knowledge about different  domains, but on the other hand, hope they have depth enough knowledge too. Students learning broad knowledge may face a dilemma while looking for jobs, since employers might think they do not have deep enough knowledge in either one of the domains they are familiar with. So what do you think as a student, should we purse depth or width?”

I rephrased Professor’s answer here, which I think is very enlightening: Depth is the concept from the western culture which wins great achievements by dividing problems into small components and establishing deep enough explorations on each of them. It started at industrial revolution. As hundreds of years past, knowledge structure has changed a lot and especially recently. There are increasing overlaps among various domains. Taking current popular “social computing” concept as an example, different sub-areas of computer science are trying to do research on it, e.g. data mining, machine learning, networking, human computer interaction. Meanwhile, social scientist, psychologist are also contributing a lot. So now it is really hard to find a person who has a depth knowledge on the topic like social computing. Width is coming to play significant role now. So no one is an expert who has so call depth knowledge on emerging themes.