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Which is the better way of doing theoretical research?

  1. Feb 18, 2010 #1
    I heard some supervisors ask their students to first learn the subject and then start working on a problem. Some other supervisors ask their students not to spend much time in reading but directly start working on a problem. Then it becomes the duty of the concerned student to learn what is needed to solve the problem. What, in your opinion is the better method of doing research in theoretical physics or other theoretical sciences like this?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 18, 2010 #2
    A balance seems good. If you don't know anything about the problem, it's good to look up some information first. If you already have a background, you can probably start to work on the problem and look up references when you're stuck. You can discover what's best for you though. Try working on it and see if you get anywhere. If not, do some research!
     
  4. Feb 18, 2010 #3
    Thanks for the advice. Frankly speaking, I once started research, left it unfinished and joined a post of a teacher. But I always had research in mind and since I have some time to spend on it now, I am again trying to come back to research. Unfortunately I do not have a supervisor right now and so trying to go my own way. But I always tend to spend lot of time reading new materials and I realize that there is not end to it. So I asked the question. I would appreciate any other related comments from others.
     
  5. Feb 18, 2010 #4
    In academia you sometimes can pick and choose a research topic, so the question is meaningful in such a case. I doubt that you can justify that one is better than another, since it's more a matter of taste. Although my taste prefers the later choice.

    However, in industry you don't really have a choice most of the time. You are faced with a problem to work on, and you start. You don't have the luxury to start learning in a formal way and wait until you are ready. The timer starts ticking and you just dive in. If you are lucky, it's an area that you have some experience in, but if not, you basically learn by doing. This method of learning is so much more effective anyway. It's amazing how the mind will focus itself when the pressure is applied.
     
  6. Feb 18, 2010 #5

    turin

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    It depends on the individual, but one thing is true of everyone: you will never know everything about anything. So, I find that the best approach is to first try to solve the immediate research problem/question to see how far you can get with your current knowledge and skills. Then read up about the points that stick you. Then, iterate. Anyway, how do you know what you need to learn about for the problem/question before you attack it? The variation from one individual to the next is how/when you decide to iterate.
     
  7. Feb 18, 2010 #6
    Thanks for the suggestions. I do agree with your views. My views are also changing: Now I think that the later approach is probably better suited for success in "research". Let's see if anybody else offers any other views or comments.
     
  8. Feb 18, 2010 #7
    You imply a good point I didn't even think about. What happens if you dive in that then find out you are in over your head? Good question.

    My joking answer would be that if you are in academia, you pick another problem and if you are in industry, you call a consultant, who probably is in academia. :wink: :rofl:
     
  9. Feb 18, 2010 #8

    turin

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    I think that's much less of a joke than you intend it to be :wink: The real trick, of course, is realizing when you need to do this (and, for people like me, overcoming a stubborn nature).
     
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