Research papers convey the outcomes of research, but they do not shed light on the of how the problem was identified or how the solution was devised.
(In particular, most papers don’t discuss the countless problem formulations or solution attempts that failed before the breakthrough occurred.) A paper typically only tells a story about the broader context and contributions of the results after the breakthrough has occurred, with the benefit of hindsight and perspective.
From some apparently unstructured environment, the mythical process of research will produce new discoveries and knowledge.
Picking a good problem is one important piece of the puzzle; as I have previously discussed, developing taste in research problems and learning how to identify good problems can take many years of experience (indeed, part of the Ph. process itself is gaining experience and research taste).
The expertise you develop can come in many forms, and it effectively becomes your secret weapon.
You might, for example, develop a software toolkit or system that other people can build on.It is worthwhile to periodically revisit problems that have remained difficult and unsolvable for many years and to consider whether recent developments have made the problems any more tractable.Lots of areas of research have unsolved problems (not only theory! For example, network management problems have remained particularly vexing in computer networking for a long time, but the emergence of recent new technologies has suddenly provided ways to make traction on problems that were previously hard to even formulate. It is worth looking to industry (and even other researchers) to identify problems that continually recur.Developing research taste can help us determine which problems are worth solving, but Below are a few research patterns that I have applied and found useful. Researchers tend to coalesce around certain paradigms as they emerge.Now, you could of course try to create your own paradigm, but doing so involves effectively staging a revolution that changes the way an entire community thinks (including established researchers who may be slow to adopt radical thinking, yet hold considerable clout; the topic of revolutionary science deserves a post of its own, and I’ll write more about scientific revolutions in a subsequent post).Revisit old problems where assumptions may have changed.Old problems can be a great source of new problems.Before we begin our research careers, we experience structured training: we attend classes, read textbooks, and grind through problem sets in areas that might be called “established science”.In contrast, the research process appears completely unstructured—researchers create new ideas and discoveries, seemingly from nowhere.Reading a research paper without insight into the process can make research seem even more mystical. In fact, the research process is a lot more formulaic than it might appear.I find that applying particular formulaic approaches tend to work fairly well for identifying (and solving) important problems. A design pattern is a reusable solution to a commonly occurring problem.