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Any ideas on how I can develop research interests?

  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I am starting a postdoc in Materials, and have spoken to a head of school about a planning for a 5 year fellowship after that will lead onto a lecturing role.

Problem is, now I have to work out what I am going to be an expert in.

How did you guys get your ideas for research interests? Was it just continuing your PhD work?
Did you specifically seek out boundary cases between disciplines? Look at the business section of the newspaper? Chase where the funding was?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Choppy
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My first recommendation is pretty simple: read a lot. By this point in your career you're probably pretty familiar with the top journals in your field and as a postdoc you should be at a stage where you can understand most of the jargon. With an opportunity to really stretch out into your field, you need to start by making sure that you understand what's being worked on right now: what are the big problems and what are the approaches people are taking to solve them? Review articles are great for this.

Attending conferences is also huge. There's no way to beat the sheer amount of new information that comes in at them. Keynote speakers will make predictions about what coming up in the future. Grad students will give talks and stand in front of posters anxious to talk about new ideas that they're bringing to the field. You can go and see current researchers talking about all those articles you've read and get the "story behind the article" so to speak.

You also have look critically at your own skill set - your experience, your strengths and weaknesses. While it might be nice to completely jump ship and start in a brand new area, at some point you'll have to convince someone that they should pay you to do what you want to do. In that sense it's important to build on prior successes. You want to show grant committees that "I'm a good person to do X because I've successfully done Y and Y is related to X."
 
  • #3
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Thanks for the ideas. I'm staying in the same department so I have to be sufficiently different from my professors.
You saying that reminded me of some plenary talks I've heard recently.
 
  • #4
chiro
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Hey streeters.

You should probably get some advice from your lecturers, supervisors, TA's, etc in addition to being curious (and all of the advice Choppy mentioned in his post).

I'd recommend asking for problems that are simple to understand but complex enough to dig your teeth into.

Note that even hard stuff can be made accessible if people use the right language so if you can get someone to use the right language then it will definitely help you decide whether you want to sink your proverbial teeth into it or not.
 

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