3. Why do we do research?
− Explore new ideas and explore new horizons.
− Develop novel solutions and prove they work!
− Solve unsolved problems and/or find new problems.
− Publish papers (and travel to conferences in nice places)
− Attract funding
− Create new systems/solutions (demonstrators) - to get more
− Enhance our CV
− Secure an academic/industry job
− Or maybe impress people (friends and family?)
4. Why do we do research?
“One of the great things about
science is that it can changes the
way we see the world”.
Shankar Vedantam, Hidden Brain, NPR
5. Questions to ask before (and while)
These questions can be applied to publishing a
new paper, starting a new project or applying
for a new funding.
6. 1. What is the problem?
−What problem you are trying solve.
−Not in vague and technical terms but in a simple
−Pause for a minute and think what problem(s)
exactly your work is trying to solve.
−Designing x or building y is not solving a
problem; what does that x or y will do to
overcome some issues/challenges that we are
7. 2. Why is this problem important?
− It is not sufficient to only say the problem(s) that you are
solving is very important.
− You need some clear statements and evidence to show
that the problem is an important one.
− Working on a complex problem does not necessarily
make it important, nor does linking it to a complex
subject (but this will definitely make it harder and it will
have a higher risk of failure).
− Focus on the problem not the solution (at least, to begin
8. 3. Who will benefit from this research?
− Again you need to be specific and say who, what sectors,
why and how these will benefit from your research.
− This can be an applied or fundamental research; both are
(hopefully) driven by curiosity; however:
− Applied research: This can be linked to a popular (or
unpopular) problem/issue related to economy, society
and other technical and none-technical challenges that
(hopefully) will benefit people and the cost (time,
complexity, investment) of doing this will be worth the
− Fundamental research: If you do pure science, you may
argue how this will change the way we see (or perceive)
the world. 8
9. 4. How is this different from what has already been
− You need to compare and contrast your work with some
of the existing and well-known solutions.
− If there are several papers/solutions/projects in the area
of your work, you need to have some clear
understanding of these and provide statements that
stand out quickly; you should probably avoid generic
− You obviously need to support your claims with some
10. 5. What are (or will be) the key novelties?
− Scientific research advancements.
− Industry/use-case solutions that can benefit from this
work (you need to explain what will be novel about
− You can discuss how you have changed (or will change, if
you are writing a proposal) the way that people look at a
problem or view a domain.
− You may propose a completely new
product/service/algorithm/technology/… or something
that no one has done and/or thought about before - but
to make it interesting from a research point of view you
need to say why it is new or better, compared to what is
already out there.
11. 6. Why is this a challenging research and
− You need to clearly explain why simple or existing
solutions won’t work or are not sufficient.
− e.g. centralised solutions are not suitable for large scale
… because they have large overhead, so we propose …. .
− Justify why one should fund/support this research for x
period with n number of people; or, if you are trying to
publish your work, justify why this work has been so
interesting and fascinating (painful?) that it deserves to
− Put simply, you need to show why an easy fix wouldn’t
12. 7. What is the main impact(s) of this work?
− Specific statements on how this will contribute to … and
the well-being of people, society, safety, etc… and why
this impact will be (or is) achieved by this work/project
and not something else.
− Otherwise everyone can say we have an impact on x, y,
z,; it is very important to say why (and how).
− Think of your work’s unique offerings.
− Put yourself in your audience’s/customers’ shoes.
13. 8. What will you require to do this work?
− More funding, more help, …
− You need to justify the resources that you are asking for
and show why your work is worth it.
− For proposals, you also need to explain why you believe
the team that you have/propose is the best combination
of people/expertise to deliver this.
14. 9. What are the tangible outcomes?
− What your results will look like.
− What products and services you will offer by end of this
project (at what TRL levels).
− Discuss your plans to use/dissaminate the results.
− If this is a paper:
−Add links to underlying data/code (if there are no
−Discuss the reproducibility of your results.
15. 10. Who else could be involved?
− Stakeholders, user groups,
− Other teams, other disciplines, your peers.
− Think of a wider audience for your research.
19. “Anyone who has never made a
mistake has never tried anything
20. Fault tolerance in research
−Do not compromise the quality and results,
−However, be prepared for failures,
−and have a recovery plan.
21. “Fear is the main source of superstition,
and one of the main sources of cruelty. To
conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”.
22. “Failure is so important. We speak about
success all the time. It is the ability to
resist failure or use failure that often leads
to greater success. I’ve met people who
don’t want to try for fear of failing.”
− It is not equivalent to complexity
− or obscurity
− It’s the art of seeing things in a way that hasn’t been
− Finding metaphors and explaining things using the new
− Looking and looking until you unlock the problem.
27. When the poet Paul Valery once asked
Albert Einstein if he kept a notebook to
record his ideas, Einstein looked at him with
mild but genuine surprise. "Oh, that's not
necessary," he replied. "It's so seldom I have
- Bill Bryson
A Short History of Nearly Everything
31. And then came Google!
Google says that the web has now 30
trillion unique individual pages;
32. Technique vs. Problem Orientation
−“No technical skill is worth more than knowing
how to select an existing research project”.
Peter J. Feibelman, A PhD is not enough
−Focus on the problem; you can always learn the
−And also know/learn the basics and principal
concepts and theories in your field.
33. On Problem Solving
−“When you follow two separate chains of
thought, Watson, you will find some point of
intersection which should approximate to the
Sherlock Holmes, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
−“Always approach a case with an absolutely
blank mind. It is always an advantage. Form no
theories, just simply observe and draw inferences
from your observations.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box
34. “Never trust anything that can think for
itself if you can’t see where it keeps its
- Arthur Weasley in J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
− Scientific process relies on organised scepticism.
− Your ideas and your work should be clear and
− Your work and ideas will become really useful if other
people agree with them and use them.
− Write/present them in accessible forms.
− Make your underlying assumptions clear.
− Make your data/results/code (depending on the
− Respond to queries and questions.
37. Generosity in research
−Be generous and make friends.
−IP and protection are important.
−But, research and innovation also come with
sharing knowledge and discussing your work
with your peers,
−This will always keep you one step ahead…
38. Find a good mentor
− Someone who doesn’t see you as a competitor.
− Don’t be shy about getting to know people outside your
− Ask for help; everybody likes to give advice
− A good mentor can be a former advisor, a senior
member in your institution, someone you meet at a
(that’s why you should be well prepared for your
conference/workshop talks and attend important talks at
conferences and ask questions).
− Never send angry emails…
− Never send emails while you are angry…
− Always wait and don’t send emails if you cannot think
− Sometimes if you wait enough an annoying matter
(which at the time may seem to require immediate
attention) will solve itself or will get solved; just be
patient. Avoid the impulsive moment.
− Don’t threaten to leave your job (unless you already have
a very good offer) and never leave (without having a
better offer that is confirmed) just because you don’t like
… or ….
− Even if you decide to leave a place, always leave on good
− If you are upset find the right time (and the right person)
and express your frustration but resist the temptation to
talk about someone who is not present.
− You need to set your own targets; who you want to be,
where you want to be.
− There is a lot that you are capable of doing and there are
lots of things that you may be asked to do (or volunteer
for); but always think about their importance and your
− Don’t overdo it, and don’t avoid helping others - have
− Learn to say “No” – thank you for your invitation. I
appreciate your interest in our work, but unfortunately I
am overcommitted at the moment.
− If you are involved in a collaborative
project/meeting/discussion/proposal that seems to be
going nowhere, politely (and slowly) reduce your
− You are in academia so there must always be some
meetings, teaching obligations, tutorials, lab supervision
that [can] overlap with the (group in question's) meeting.
− Before saying “Yes” think: 1) do I have time for this? 2) is
this really important? 3) Will I or someone else will
benefit from this?
44. Work with your peers
− Help them because one day you may need their help.
− Try to find a group of people with whom you would
genuinely like to work and collaborate over time; from
your discipline and other disciplines as well.
− But, have clear targets; if you only meet and talk and
never get anything tangible done, you will get tired and
others may get tired of you (the latter is more
47. Giving talks
− Know your work.
− Be well prepared.
− Respect the time and focus on the key points.
− Avoid self-promotion; your work should speak for itself.
− Understand and respect the needs/interests of your
− Your talk is for your audience not for you; so think and
investigate what it will be important for your audience to
learn/know. Put yourself in their shoes and think what
you would expect/want to see or hear.
48. Giving talks – Q&A
− Appreciate the audience’s time and attention.
− Don’t be too defensive (or aggressive).
− Listen to the questions and answer them to the best of
− If you don’t know the answer, give a response based on
your analysis but say that you don’t know the exact
answer to the question…
− Some people may come across as aggressive or ask their
question in a way that makes you uncomfortable; the
audience will hear and feel this so just be cool and try to
answer the question with logical statements and
according to scientific facts and evidence.
49. A Career in Academia
− Establish a reputation for your work (different from
trying to become famous- this can come later).
− Make friends and show that you are willing to work with
− Study the department(s)/group(s) that you would like to
join and see what are their key criteria for hiring
− Have a web presence.
− Be a good citizen of your field/community (but don’t
− Show interest in teaching and try to gain some
experience (TA, Tutorials, talks).
50. A Career in Academia
− Create a vision for your future research and align it with
the priorities of funding bodies (and talk about this in
your interview and/or whenever suitable with your
Manager, HoD, Dean, Provost for research, …).
− Be prepared to attract research/industry funding.
− Interact with people- sometimes calling someone on the
phone or offering to go and meet them personally can
turn out to be really, really, helpful.
− Stay out of office politics if you want to do something
“Words are, in my not-so-humble
opinion, our most inexhaustible
source of magic”.
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
−Choose the right journal/conference.
−You need to publish a certain number of papers
but quality is more important.
−People spend their time reviewing/reading your
papers; respect their time and effort and write
something pleasant to read, that the readers will
learn from and will find interesting.
−Talk about the limitations of your work and link
these limitations to the direction of your future
−In your discussion/conclusions, if you can, talk
about the lessons that you have learned (and
mistakes that you made during the work).
−Make sure your claims are reproducible.
−Acknowledge other people’s contributions.
54. Survival Checklist
− Consider your audience - their interests, priorities, …
− Be a resourceful colleague/collaborator but also learn to
− Define your priorities.
− Meet and network with people within and also outside
− Create a plan for your publications and target key events.
− Apply for funding (consider the 10 questions that we
− Remember and remind yourself of your goals.
− Several people have contributed to the thoughts and
discussions related to this talk, including Prof Amit Sheth,
Atti Emecz, Prof Hamid Aghvami of King’s College
London, my students: Yasmin Fathy, Daniel Puschmann,
Nikos Papachristou and many other friends and
− Some parts of the slides are adapted from Peter J.
Feibelman’s “A PhD is Not Enough” (one of my favourite
books), Ray Kurzweil’s “How to Create a Mind”, NPR’s
Shankar Vedantam and his “Hidden Brian” Program,
NPR’s Guy Raz and his “TED Radio Hour” program and
several brilliant speakers at TED.
59. Giving talks
− Often you don’t need to show an agenda.
− If you are showing graphs, at least say why you are
showing them and highlight the important points.
− Show mathematical equations and complex formulas
only and only if you don’t have anything else interesting
to show (unless maths is your field of work).
− The opening to your talk is important.
60. Giving Talks
− Practice and practice.
− Be prepared.
− Slides should look professional.
− If it is for a job interview, learn about your audience, their
work, interests; link your work to some of their projects
and work. [Indirectly] tell them why you think your
expertise will be valuable and will complement their
− Don’t oversell/over-promote your work but at the same
time don’t be too humble.
− Be enthusiastic about your work. 60
61. Giving talks
− Talks for job interviews, your colleagues and
collaborators, conference/workshops and public talks.
− Use your time efficiently and do not overestimate or
underestimate your audience.
− Provide some basic information about your work.
− Tell a good story; something that people will follow and
62. Use humour (if you can) but don’t be offensive
Image source: Stocky, NPR
63. Institutionalised Conflict
− People (read managers) [may] make mistakes; sometimes
these mistakes [may] hurt other people.
− Competition can cause conflict.
− Differences of opinion, and different methods and
approaches to solving/addressing the problem can cause
− “Successful collaboration is possible when one or both
contributors have established reputations, or when each
researcher brings a different identifiable skill to the
−They will stay in libraries and most probably be
accessible for ever.
−So think about this when you submit them.
−This shouldn’t discourage you from sending an
early stage work; but be precise and clear.
−Remember, your students and colleagues may
read your work in the future; or you may even
read it yourself one day.
65. A Research Career in Industry
− You can probably get a permanent job (if there is
anything like this anymore) more quickly.
− Your job description will probably be simpler than your
− You will work in a “managed” environment.
− Your research will most probably be around your
company’s field of work and interests.
− Depending on the company’s interest, you may be asked
to generate patents, applications, demos, or papers. Try
to find out about this before you join and see if that’s
what you are interested in.
66. Links and sources
− Twenty things I wish I’d known when I started my PhD
− Done is better than perfect: overcoming PhD
− “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahnemann.