How to come up with research questions?

  1. Hello everyone!:smile:
    First of all, this is not a thread begging for research questions; I don't like taking other people's ideas and attaching my own name to them. Anyways, I have this big essay I need to write and I chose the subject of physics (this is the IB EE if anyone was wondering). I am looking at formulating a research question based around the photoelectric effect but I don't know where to start. How do experienced physicists come up with research questions? I mean I've tried forcing out research questions by sitting there staring at my wall for an hour while thinking about the the photoelectric effect. I've also tried reading my textbook and waiting for inspiration but that didn't work either. So my question is: how to experienced researchers in physics come up with research questions? How do Ph.D or masters students working towards a degree in physics come up with a thesis for example? Once again, I'm not looking for anyone to give me a specific research questions, I just want to know techniques that seasoned scientists use to come up with them.

    Thanks in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Vanadium 50

    Vanadium 50 17,442
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Usually, when working on something, you will say, "Boy, I wish we knew that better" at least a half-dozen times. One of them will be your next project. And so on.
  4. Andy Resnick

    Andy Resnick 5,782
    Science Advisor

    That's a perfectly reasonable question. Unfortunately, my answer is rather unreasonable- speaking personally, I am able to come up with "research questions"/hypothesis/experiments only because I am actively involved in research.

    By that I mean, I am able to perform research because I have spent time learning about what questions have interesting answers. And more- I can only reasonably guess what questions to ask in a very specific region of the 'scientific landscape', if you will. I can't come up with an interesting research question regarding the photoelectric effect off the top of my head, either- I'd have to find and read recent journal papers and figure out what is known and what is not, and determine what other people think are the interesting questions.

    I'm not sure that's reasonable for someone in your position, but that's why so much time has to be spent in school- graduate and postdoctoral positions- before someone can get to the forefront of knowledge. You have to learn everything already known before you can learn something new.

    Note- it's easy to come up with a project to measure something that has never been measured. The trick is figuring out which measurement *other people care about*.
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