You and Your Research

This talk centered on Hamming's observations and research on the question "Why do so few scientists make significant contributions and so many are forgotten in the long run?"

  1. ​Important problems​
  2. ​Open doors, open minds​
  3. ​Inverting the problem​
  4. ​Intellectual investment is like compound interest​
  5. ​Great people can tolerate ambiguity​
  1. ​The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn​
  1. Important problems

    Among the important properties to have is the belief you can do important things. If you do not work on important problems, how can you expect to do important work? Yet direct observation and direct questioning of people show most scientists spend most of their time working on things they believe are not important and are not likely to lead to important things.

  2. Open doors, open minds

    I suspect the open mind leads to the open door, and the open door tends to lead to the open mind; they reinforce each other.

  3. Inverting the problem

    When stuck, often inverting the problem and realizing the new formulation is better represents a significant step forward.

  4. Intellectual investment is like compound interest

    Intellectual investment is like compound interest: the more you do, the more you learn how to do, so the more you can do, etc. I do not know what compound interest rate to assign, but it must be well over 6%—one extra hour per day over a lifetime will much more than double the total output. The steady application of a bit more effort has a great total accumulation.

  5. Selling new ideas

    I must come to the topic of “selling” new ideas. You must master three things to do this:

    1. Giving formal presentations,
    2. Producing written reports, and
    3. Mastering the art of informal presentations as they happen to occur.

    All three are essential—you must learn to sell your ideas, not by propaganda, but by force of clear presentation. I am sorry to have to point this out; many scientists and others think good ideas will win out automatically and need not be carefully presented. They are wrong; many a good idea has had to be rediscovered because it was not well presented the first time, years before!

    1. ​Scientific writing​
  6. A halo of opportunities

    It seems to me at almost all times there is a halo of opportunities about everyone from which to select.