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A Guide to Successful Research

This page gives a synopsis of strategies, techniques, and hints that will help you excel in your field of research as a student. The guide is generally written for graduate students, but the concepts presented here can be applied by researchers at any level, from high school to seniors in the field. I have had great success in producing research at top conferences using these methods, and I wanted to share this knowledge so that it will be useful for others. This is a living document, and I will update it as new resources or strategies become available.  Each section contains a TL;DR summary.  - Jason Orlosky, PhD

3: Ideation and Prototyping
4: Testing
5: Refinement
6: Experimentation
7: Analysis
8: Writing
9: Submission
10: Will my paper be accepted? 
11: Self-Branding as a Researcher
12: Patents and Intellectual Property
13: Ethics
14: Acknowledgements
15: References

1: Getting Started
    Perhaps the most important and challenging task for beginning research is to pick a problem to solve. The best research problems are those that are 1) high impact, 2) clearly defined, and 3) of interest to you personally. Perhaps the worst way to start is to think about the technology or methodology without first clearly defining the problem itself. For example, if your thought process was to look at state-of-the-art methods in your field and then to come up with a new idea that improves upon the others, you might wind up searching for several years before stumbling upon a worthwhile topic. 
    Instead, it makes much more sense to list problems that are important or interesting to you and to later determine what methods or ideas could be used to solve those problems. If this "problem brainstorming" does not come naturally to you, don't worry. A great resource for finding problems is the "future work" or "limitations" section of papers in your field. I will cover literature review later, but find interesting papers, look at the future work sections, and compile a list of problems as outlined by other researchers if you find it difficult to come up with your own. 
  
TL;DR
  • Start by defining the problem. 
  • Pick something that is high impact, can be clearly stated, and is important/interesting to you personally.
  • If stuck, look at the future work sections of recent papers in your field.
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    Literature is incredibly important to ensure that your idea has not already been implemented by someone else. An essential resource for this is Google Scholar (scholar.google.com). Here, you can search for papers using a keyword search, and Google's indexing algorithm is incredibly good at turning up relevant results. Almost equally important is the "cited by" button, which appears as two small quotation marks underneath each result. This button returns papers that have cited the referenced paper. Moreover, checking the references/bibliography section of related papers can provide additional references.
    The actual review strategy is also incredibly important. In general, I recommend reading papers in three steps: 1) abstract, 2) skimming, and 3) full-read. The abstract is designed to give you a high level overview of the paper, its contribution, and the results. This should give you enough information to understand whether the paper is relevant or similar to your own research goals. If the content only appears to be tangentially relevant, it's probably ok to skip further reading. If the paper does appear at least somewhat relevant, skimming is a good next step. To skim effectively, look at images (if present) and the "meat" sections of the paper first. These sections are usually titled methodology, infrastructure, design, experiments, or something to this extent, and they contain the most important information about the research content of the work. Look at each of these sections and skim them for keywords, paying attention to 

TL;DR
  • Use Google Scholar or a reputable literature search engine
  • Read papers thoroughly only if they are relevant to your work. Skim otherwise. 
  • Be thorough.   

3: Ideation and Prototyping
Once you have picked a research problem, you need to figure out how to solve it. The approach you pick will depend highly on your field. Many fields such as biology are significantly based on experiments and testing, whereas fields like engineering often involve the development of new technology or algorithms with objective evaluation. 

For the purpose of generalization, I will use the example of a bioengineering research problem that involves the development and application of a new technology to solve a problem in the vascular system. This example is fabricated (hypothetical), but will demonstrate the process consicely. Consider a group of patients that have a buildup of plaque in their arteries. You are a bioengineering PhD student and need to come up with a new way of addressing these plaques to improve blood flow and reduce heart disease. How would you approach the problem? 

I suggest first taking time for ideation, where you write down and brainstorm a variety of different ideas or approaches. This process should be free of criticism or restrictions. Collect ideas even if they are somewhat ideal or not feasible with current technology. It is likely that your idea of a perfect solution will lead to other approaches that can be implemented practically. This approach of asking "what is the ideal?" will also give you a vision and a path to follow. If possible, try to draw from concepts or solutions that originate from other fields. For example: Would a nutritional approach be feasible? Would nanomachines that scrape the plaque off of aterial walls work? Perhaps certain bacteria could be genetically modified to consume plaque? Though some ideas might seem crazy, thinking outside the box can often lead to something that is actually feasible. 

Once you have a list of ideas, including many off-the-wall or visionary concepts, then you can start thinking about feasibility. A good second step after ideation is the review and refinement of your ideas. Which ideas seem feasible? Is there a way to realize one of these strategies with technology from another field? Could some variations of these strategies work? At this point, you can start to rank your ideas by feasibility, impact, and/or intuition. The goal is to come up with a short list of just a few items that you can start to test or implement. Also consider the time it would take to test or build each solution when ranking your approaches. 

At this point, you should also re-conduct a literature review to ensure you are trying something new!! Consulting with your advisor, mentor, colleagues, or collaborators is also recommended. 

Finally, once you have an idea that seems feasible, rapid prototyping and review are key. I have seen many students that try to perfect an idea before they even start, only to find that they have spent too much time thinking about the idea. The process of implementation and prototyping is synonymous with learning. Trying to quickly build a prototype will accomplish several things at once: 1) You will quickly find out whether or not your idea is feasible. 2) You will improve your ability to quickly implement your ideas. 3) You will learn more about the problem itself, which can lead to new approaches. This process of prototyping, learning, and honing your skills is essential in research. 

The key of this approach is to continue until you succeed. Continue coming up with ideas, trying to implement them, and learning from the experience, and you will eventually succeed. Persistence is key.  

4: Testing
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5: Refinement
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6: Experimentation
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7: Analysis
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8: Writing
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9: Submission
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10: Will my paper be accepted? 
    A clear answer to this question does not really exist. The review process for conferences differs greatly between fields and disciplines, and the sheer quantity of papers submitted to conferences is making acceptance increasingly competitive. In all likelihood, some of your papers will probably be rejected. However, there are several things you can do to improve your chances. 
    A great way to understand the standards for any conference is to look up the best papers for that conference for the past several years. If your paper exhibits similar qualities in terms of novelty, depth of research, and technical correctness, your chances are probably good. Secondly, look up the reviewer guidelines for the conference to see how your paper will be judged. It even makes sense to review your own paper using these guidelines and to write out why your paper would be a clear accept. If this is difficult, you may need to re-evaluate what you are submitting. Finally, reach out to a colleague to give your paper a high level review. He or she should ideally be a senior researcher in your field and should be outside of your organization. Not only will this result in some initial objective comments, you should get an idea of how your paper might be rated from someone else's perspective. Lastly, ensure that you really have done a proper literature review. Many good papers are rejected due to the fact that they overlooked prior work that achieved similar results or developed a similar method. 

TL;DR
  • Look up best papers for the conference to which you plan to submit and compare to yours
  • Review your own paper using the guidelines published on the conference/journal page
  • Ask a colleague in your field (preferable a senior researcher outside of your organization) for feedback
11: Patents and Intellectual Property
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12: Self-Branding as a Researcher
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13: Ethics

- Ethics reference - https://lab.jst.go.jp/index.html








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