“‘Blog’ less; write journal papers.”
That’s my NYR for 2018.
Allow me to explain.
My research is not experimental, neither is it connected with, say, design of a new machine or development of a new manufacturing process. The most concrete aspect my work involves only computational modeling. But that too is not of the kind which engineering researchers typically undertake. I don’t do FEM of this multi-physics problem or that. What I work on are some very fundamental issues of physics and engineering.
My research thus is decidedly theoretical, often bordering on being “speculative.” It tends to concentrate on fundamental aspects. For decades by now, I have been trying to tackle some of the trickiest, deepest or very abstract problems (e.g. foundations of QM). At other times, I have been busy just isolating something new as a problem in its right (e.g., instantaneous action-at-a-distance in diffusion, or non-uniqueness of solution to the diffusion equation, or the fundamentality of stress vis-a-vis strain, or mode transitions in ideal vibrations and their relation to vibrations in the real mechanical system, or the physical meaning of the delta of calculus of variations….).
OK, there are some simple experiments here and there I might do. But they are not a very significant aspect of my work. The experiments are more in the nature of illustrations (e.g. melting snowman). They are not even fully in the nature of quantitative validations, let alone the prime vehicles to discovery. So, they are just “potatoes” of my research. The meat is: deep theoretical issues themselves. That’s what it’s like when you say “fundamental.”
The only way in which you can formulate or tackle such problems—fundamental or foundational—is by being a bit “relaxed” about both the specifics of your topic and the way you go about tackling it.
If you believed too much in the existing theory, you wouldn’t be able to spot unidentified problems with it or find new solutions to the known ones. If you try to do theoretical research and if you still try to stick to a schedule like what they do in experimental research (say in designing and fabricating a gadget, complete with bill of materials, or in developing a process, complete with prototype 1, prototype 2, etc.), you wouldn’t able to even get off to a decent start. After all, a schedule can be made from only those ingredients that are already known to you, not of never seen possibilities or unknown ideas. And, while in experimental research, reality has a wonderful way to throw up new possibilities, you have no such luxury in theoretical research. Every “never seen” possibility has to be forged by your own mind. If you don’t think in a relaxed manner, you are never going to believe that the issue is easy enough for you to tackle it.
But one unintended consequence of it all is that, in theoretical research like mine, it’s easy (far too easy in fact) to get a bit too relaxed. It is easy to pursue too many diverse theoretical threads, and in examining them, to run around in circles and so keep on getting back to the same points again and again.
But now I have come to realize that perhaps time has come to stop pursuing new threads in my research and to consolidate what has already been learnt.
The best way I can think of for doing the latter is: writing papers.
In particular, I have to kick aside this one habit: writing things down only when and as “inspiration” strikes.
Writing thoughts down (maintaining pocket diaries) has done a world of good to me. But this long-pursued activity seems to have by now come, in my case, to the point of diminishing marginal utility.
In place of this habit (of keeping on idly brain-storming and noting down possibilities it throws up) I would now like to put in place another habit: writing things (papers, actually) down in a structured, routine, regular, day-to-day, and time-bound manner. Allow me to explain this part too.
Given the way I have pursued my research (and in fact, given even the very nature of problems I ended up tackling), it would have been impossible for me to say something like this:
“OK! January, diffusion paper! February, stress-strain paper! March and April, QM position paper!”
“… What, in February, I don’t write something on QM? neither on diffusion? How ridiculous?”
That is how I would have reacted. But not any more.
Instead, I am now going to be a bit “bureaucratic” about my research. (UGC and AICTE folks ought to be happy in discovering a new soul-mate in me!)
What I am going to do is what I indicated just minutes ago. I am going to make some kind of a “time-table”: this period, work (i.e. actually write papers about) only this particular problem. Leave aside all other issues. Just finish that particular paper. Only then move to those other, more interesting (even alluring) issues in a next delimited period specifically allocated for that. I will have to pursue this policy. And I had better.
After all, while “passively” letting myself jump from issues to issues has yielded a lot of new insights, there are any number of issues where I have “hit the plateau” by now—and I mean those words in a positive sense. By “hitting the plateau,” I mean not a loss of creativity or originality, but a sense, even a firm realization (based on logic) that a certain stage of completeness is already achieved.
And that’s why, I am going to concentrate on “professionally” writing papers, in the next year. Following some kind of a time-bound schedule. As if I were writing a report, or delivering a software product on its schedule. So, it’s high time I became a bit less “creative” and more “professional,” to put it vaguely.
Since I will not be pursuing this bit of this idea or that bit of that idea a lot, I will be blogging less. And since a lot of my research seems to have actually “hit the plateau” in the above-mentioned, positive sense, I would instead be writing papers.
Hence the “slogan”: “`Blog’ less, write journal papers!”
That’s my NYR for 2018…. though I wouldn’t wait for 2018 to arrive before getting going on it. After all, a new year is just an excuse to make resolutions. The digits in the date aren’t important. A definite, demarcated change (“quantum jump” if you will! [LOL!]) is. But a change of the last digit in the YYYY, since it comes only after as long a period as one complete year, is a good time to making the required definite change.
So, there. I will keep you posted, with very brief notes here and there, as to how this paper-writing “business” is actually progressing in my case. My immediate plan is to get going writing the diffusion papers, and to finish writing them, right in January 2018.
Let’s see how things actually progress.
A Song I Like:
This is that Marathi song which I said I had liked a lot during my childhood vacation (see my last 2–3 posts). I still like it. It is the one which has a decidedly Western touch, but without spoiling or compromising on the Indian sense of melody. …
(Marathi) “raajaa saarangaa, maajyaa saarangaa”
Music: Hridaynath Mangeshkar
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Shanta Shelke
Bye for now, make a time-table you can stick to, and also take care to execute on it. … Best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year!