PhD: Lessons Learned From Research Not Yet Finished

I work a lot of things out on whiteboards or large sketchbooks, because the ideas are visual and ever-changing.

For the last decade or so, I’ve been engaged in graduate research, mostly in pursuit of a PhD. This was my choice, although the exact weight and scope of that choice wasn’t really apparent to me at the time I decided it and, arguably, still isn’t entirely grasped.

One of the things I wish I had realized sooner was that research isn’t a solitary game. Sure, I have a list of articles from other researchers as long as my arm (or several arms), but the real thing that I have come to realize has been missing is not yet another reference, but people.

I’ve worked on this stuff, largely alone and with only my own direction, for several years. Coming close to the end, I now regret not having told more people about the research. For the most part, I doubt there are that many people that I know who would really understand what I’m working on.

To be honest, many days I’m not sure I understand it either…

But without others to express my work to, I have neither been forced to explain it to others, nor have I benefited from the insights of others. I’ve questioned the papers I’ve read — many of which are poorly written and either too terse to explain things or too complicated to — but the papers don’t respond. They just sit there, glowing pixels or dead ink, not giving me any feedback on the many brilliant or utterly insane ideas I’ve just thrown at it.

So, firstly, a piece of advice to those who are going to do research: find colleagues.   Continue reading