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How to think of an interesting and useful calculation to do

  1. Oct 10, 2014 #1
    I am wondering what the first steps are to finding an interesting calculation, and doing it. My adviser seems concerned only with me writing my thesis to hurry up and get me out of the program, rather than helping me develop my CV and involving me in other calculations he may be doing. It seems to me that I have to take things upon myself if I'm going to at least have a fighting chance of getting a postdoc when I graduate.

    The problem is that it seems like there is a ton of research already done, and a ton of research that could be done. I suppose I should stick to my strengths (thermoelectricity). I have a colleague who noted that he got a publication by thinking of a calculation, and then simply doing it with pen and paper/Mathematica. Is it really that simple? Comments?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 10, 2014 #2

    Choppy

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    Read.

    A lot.

    You can't rely on someone else to give you a calculation to do. You make original contributions by reading everything you can, knowing what the open questions are in your little niche area and then exploring them. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a piece of low hanging fruit that is worth publishing.
     
  4. Oct 10, 2014 #3
    Thanks, Choppy. I have no problem with reading, but it may be that I'm reading the wrong things. I try and read the latest developments in thermoelectricity, but constantly find myself having to go back and read/solve problems in my core-class-textbooks. Then, whenever I start the day intending to deepen my knowledge of current literature, I always end the day in my core textbooks, hung up on filling in a missing step that is probably "obvious" or "pedestrian" to everyone else. Should I try and cut down on my perfectionism, and just power ahead through the literature on thermoelectricity?
     
  5. Oct 10, 2014 #4

    Choppy

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    I don't know. I think there's value in taking your time to really understand the material that you're reading in your field. Wrestling with a problem for a while will often help you to understand how others approach the solution. Once you've done this enough times, you'll begin to recognize the common approaches to solving the kinds of problems you're interested in and you'll spend less time going back to your textbooks. And this will allow you to read more both in terms of quantity and quality.

    It wasn't really until I was a post-doc that I began to feel confidently "fluent" in my readings, if that helps any.
     
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