Guidelines for New Researchers

Post date: Aug 15, 2015 3:00:10 PM

Written by: Mohamed Eldessouki

Date: 22/12/2011

In order to have a successful scientific research, the researchers (especially novices and new researchers; where they have more open fields and liberty in selecting the area of ​​research) need to acquire the main three sides of “research triangle”, which are:

1. Skills

2. Facilities

3. Fields

Keep in mind that these themes should flow in this order, which might be counterintuitive as the common practice is usually in a reversed order. To explain that, let’s start by describing the common practices and what they are leading for! it is very common to find young researchers who start with the “field” of research before considering any other elements and, for instance, you find many researchers (again, I’m talking here about beginners) who decide to have their scientific career in the field of engineering, medicine, pharmacy,... etc. They even constraint themselves to sub-fields and you will find engineers who decide to have their work in Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering,… etc.. It becomes more complicated when a researcher in one of these areas picks a very specific theme and within Textile Engineering, for example, there are people who dedicate their time and effort in spinning, weaving, knitting, dying,... etc..

Those who have this mindset and start with what I believe a “reversed order” start in their working place looking for the accessibility of the “facilities” and the available utilities such as instruments, machines, laboratories,…etc and hoping that will lead them to accomplish some result! In textiles field, you find a researcher who is considering the availability of some textile machineries and select their research topic based on the available ones regardless of the value of this topic or what can be achieved! Somebody decides his/her research topic because they have an access to a “weaving machine” at their laboratories, then the weaving machine turns to be the focus of research and its tool. Here comes the moment when the researcher’s inherent "skills" are killed, where they acquire (and loose) some skills just because they want to use the existing utilities available at their disposal.

As you may notice, this is the path being followed by many people thinking that they are avoiding the potential obstacles that might show up because of the lack of equipped facilities (which need an investment that goes beyond the ability of the researcher). I consider this “reversed order” (field, facilities, skills instead of skills, facilities, field) as the main cause of many failures along the way, especially in the quality of research outputs.

Therefore, I suggest that (young) researchers to start with a list of their personal “skills”, then trying to find the place with equipped “facilities” that serve these skills which help them to find the “field” of research that uses those potentials successfully. This order has some advantages that will be explained in the next paragraphs, but by now I hope you will be able to get the disadvantages of the current applied order!

Let us start with the first element of the “research triangle”, the “skills”! We should acknowledge at the beginning that “skills” are twofold: one that is inherent (you can say it just comes within the genes of the body and people usually refer to it as “talent”), and the other is induced (the set of skills that are acquired and sharpened by continuous training and education)! I cannot emphasize the point that, even the inherent skills need continuous training and practice otherwise they will be lost and will not lead to practical results. For example, if a person with some inherent artistic skills did not keep practicing and learning, his/her artistic skills will fade away with time and the production will be less appreciated by people, especially if they compare it to the production of a person with “mild” artistic skills but being keen for improving them.

But the dilemma about skills arrives when the fundamental question that (despite of its importance) many people are not able to answer! People usually are not able to list their own personal skills!!! Therefore, I would like to suggest a few points that might be helpful for individuals to “discover” their own skills:

1. Skills are often characterized by being fun and a sort of entertainment for the person in a way that he/she does not feel the boredom during its practice.

2. Skills are often characterized by attracting their owners to spend their “leisure time” in them.

3. Skills are often characterized by providing the person with a vision for the future and how to build on it. So, if you are within a group of people and a problem or an idea was posed and you find yourself contributing about its solution and more about its future, that implies that you have some sort of a “skill” in your way of solving this problem more than the other members of the group.

4. Skills are often characterized by their glowing in a way that people around you will see it (although you might not be able to see it)! So, next time somebody asks your help for something, look at their request and see how many people asked you to help in that issue and you can tell if you got a skill in this subject or not!

It is important to notice that: Skills are not restricted to artistic ones, but a research might have mathematical, computational, fine-motor skills for experiments,…etc. However, we would like to stress that the “analytical” skills and the ability to “think logically and scientifically” are essential skills that should be acquired by any researchers. Thankfully, those skills are “transferable” which means that they can be learned and built with some effort in training and practice and the researcher must try to find sources and courses to develop these skills.

Regarding the second element of the “research triangle” that represents the “facilities”, the “utilities”, or generally the “possibilities”. Once you determine your skills you should be able to precisely list your requirements and facilities. For example, someone who has a “computational and mathematical” skills might be in need for a computer with a reasonable hardware and software! While another person with those “practical” skills will require a “workshop” with a hardware that fulfills their need to dissemble and reassemble devices and equipment. Also, those with “chemical” skills will be looking mainly for a facility with a suitable required laboratories,…etc.

Finally, the last element of the “research triangle” should be clarified where the researcher at this moment will be able to find some "practical sides" of their skills in one way or the other. Thankfully, the current development in science allow participation of people regardless of their “background” as long as they are able to contribute to the solution of the problem. Therefore, armed with a given set of skills and a facility that allows you to put these skills in use, you can approach many new trending topics of research and science. Once researchers do that, the “field” will establish itself clearly without effort nor troubles, noting that the research outputs in this case will be far better because the researchers will be using their own skills and put forward ideas and futuristic visions.