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Research Question - How to find novel research ideas?

  1. Mar 19, 2015 #1
    Hey! So I've been reading a ton of papers on magnetic hyperthermia research (implanting nanoparticles into cancerous tissue and heating up the implanted area with an AC magnetic field to melt away the tumor cells).

    And now it's to the point where I would like to actually do something of my own (eg, maybe do some modeling of the temperature distribution for tumors in various parts of the body) but I just don't know how to find out what has been done and what hasn't. For example, I don't want to do modeling of temperature distribution for liver cancer if that's been done. But

    It's not as if I have some grand ideas on how to cure cancer, but I am a bit tired of reading more or less the same sorts of papers and I would like to get my feet wet with doing some things on my own.

    I know part of the problem is that I'm out of school and trying to get back in and I don't have a professor to turn to, but I guess I feel a bit stuck.

    Any ideas?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 19, 2015 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Read the literature.

    I don't know your academic background, for research you will probably need to find some supervisor or research group for funding. They can help with research topics as well.
  4. Mar 20, 2015 #3


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    Yes, you are stuck, and that's why people belong to various institutions, because support that one receives allows one to keep up with the latest development in any one field.

    You claim that you've been reading "tons of papers". Did you perform an exhaustive search on the topic based on where these papers were published? Shouldn't that already give you all the latest papers relevant to that area? When I give one of my students a paper that they should read, and tell them that they need to find out anything related to it, they learn how to do a citation index to figure out what papers were cited by that paper, and what papers cited that paper, i.e. backward and forward. This is the legwork that they have to do themselves, and I will only guide them if I think they missed something.

    So without knowing what you had actually done, it is hard to figure out what to tell you. Still, none of these will ever replace personal interactions, including attending conferences and seminars.

  5. Mar 20, 2015 #4


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    Remember that novel research doesn't happen over night.

    Typically, a graduate student will spend several months reading up on a field or project before starting. Reading papers (and figuring out what they mean) almost becomes a full time job (well, along with course work and TA work). And this is generally guided-reading. A supervisor will tell the student what papers to pay more attention to. They will have discussions about what's happening in the field and eventually the student will come up with a reseach plan.

    Usually the first phase of the plan would involve reproducing a published and fairly well-accepted result. So if you're really anxious to dive in and start some modelling work, rather than trying to hit a home run and generate something novel, it's best to start by trying to do what someone else has already done. This will help you to develop the practical skills you need to push your project into the next phase and will allow you to confirm that you're doing things correctly (or at least consistently with the literature).
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