Problematic Problem Statement

One of the biggest challenges for someone starting to do research for the first time is finding a good problem to work on and the subsequent challenge is to define it clearly. Obviously, the next step is then to execute on it, but let’s not worry about this today!

I had a hard time coming up with a problem statement or even problem area in my own research. In fact, I am in my second year as a master’s student and only in the recent weeks have I really latched on to the kind of problem I want to tackle for my thesis. There is still some work on the defining side of things, but at least the core nugget is there.

There are various reasons for this difficulty especially at the master’s level: limited time, limited ability, shallow knowledge of the field, youthful inexperience… For me one of the challenges was and is the fact that problems I can think of have already been solved in a more general and probably more accurate way than I could have hoped to produce. One then needs to go beyond that.

Trials and errors are part of the process. I am very much a visual thinker and so I imagine this process as finding the weak spot or concavity among a three dimensional web of works in one’s area of interest. This is where contributions can be made. It is then a matter of seeing if you can tie links around that spot to strengthen it. I see PhD thesis as adding a new node and a master’s one as maybe modifying an existing node or reconfiguring some links.

A web of ideas : an early snapshot of the internet (Under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic License)

A web of ideas : an early snapshot of the internet
(Under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic License)


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