Picking a Research Problem -- The Critical Decision
There is probably no question that plagues investigators, especially
young investigators, more than how to pick a research project.
decision is not one that must be faced only once in a lifetime;
it must be continually revisited. Although it is easy
to assume that
success in research is just the difference between
good and bad luck
(and indeed there is a certain amount of luck
in research), most
highly regarded investigators will have many
experiences during their careers.
For the new investigator and junior faculty member just starting
his or her career, the decision about
a research project is
further complicated by many other questions. How should one
high-interest projects against lower-risk projects
of lower interest? How similar or different should
be from work done during one's postdoctoral fellowship? Can
one remain in the same
institution as one's postdoctoral mentor
and still make an impact, and if so, how is this best achieved?
How many different projects should an investigator attempt to
be involved in or undertake? How
important is complete independence?
When is collaboration good, and with whom? Should the M.D.
do anything differently from the Ph.D. investigator in picking
a research project? What
do you do when you are faced with some
aspect of a project for which you are not technically
How should one balance projects funded by the National Institutes
of Health (NIH) against
projects without such funding? In contrast
to the rich scientific base that underlies the research itself,
little has been written to help the investigator facing these
. Clearly the answers to
depend on the exact circumstances, background, expertise, and
desires of the
individual investigator, but every investigator
should have a strategy for picking a research problem
the chances of success.
The first step in picking a research project is to understand
what makes research "good." Indeed,
considering the extremely
competitive nature of research funding and the rigorous review
used by top academic institutions for promotion, this
question should be more accurately phrased,
"What makes a research
project outstanding?" Certainly, there are fundamental characteristics
everyone would agree are important. The study should be
well performed and use appropriate and
up-to-date forms of technology.
The data should be carefully analyzed and accurately reported.
studies involving animals and humans, ethical considerations
must be dealt with appropriately. But is
Administration for Institution: SWETS BLACKWELL INC
May 26, 1994
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