Research Tasks

This is a general description that I drew up one day of the tasks involved in research. This arose from me attempting to ensure that important things, such as going to the library, catching up on review deadlines, seeking out the work of others etc., did not get lost in the general rush. There are probably things that I have overlooked, and I am certain that there are different ways of dividing up all the tasks. However, I was quite pleased that there turned out to be five groups, as that meant it was simple to fit these into a weekly rhythm (at least in principle), and I believe that a weekly slot for all such tasks is important, even though it is usually impossible to perform all such tasks in a given week.

The five groups are:

Mental stimulation, generation of new ideas
Conversion of initial ideas into worthy research outputs
Description of research outputs, "incrementing the CV"
Reviewing the work of others, and one's own directions
Management of research students, staff, and grants

The tasks list, as I have managed to draw it up, for each of these areas is as follows:

Inputs:Mental stimulation, generation of new ideas

It is often not apparent to those unfamiliar with the area that research in computer science is essentially creative. Generally this involves finding a new way around a given problem, such as finding a better algorithm or technique, analysing an existing one in a new way, proving a new result, applying the results of one area to another, or building a new implementation. All such creativity requires a spark, and regular attention to such matters is vital for the maintenance of a long-term programme of research.

The list of regular tasks for this area is as follows:

Production:Conversion of initial ideas into worthy research outputs

Having a good idea is one thing; developing it into a useful outcome is where most of the hard grind of research comes from. This the phase in which there is a clear focus, such as a result that is supposedly true, but as yet lacks evidence, and it is the search for the such evidence that produces the image of the scientist being obsessed with bizarre-looking symbols and monstrously polysyllabic jargon. This is also the phase where shouts of "Eureka!", possibly accompanied by a metaphoric light bulb in the middle of the night, generally occur. It is also possible that the development of an idea may lead nowhere, or to results which are uninteresting or of little importance.

The list of regular tasks for this area is as follows:

Publication:Description of research outputs, "incrementing the CV"

Research inevitably involves the publication of results. This phase is when finished results are formally propagated to other academics via seminars and/or papers published in conferences and journals. Evaluation of such outputs is one of the main ways in which research is measured, and hence it is of paramount pragmatic importance that publication reflects the efforts being put into the research programme.

The list of regular tasks for this area is as follows:

Reviewing and Strategy:Reviewing the work of others, and one's own directions

It has been said that for every paper you publish, you should expect to review three. This is based on the calculation that each paper has, on average, three reviewers. Hence it is very much part and parcel of publication to review the work of others. This can take a variety of forms (reviewing conference papers, journal papers, workshop submissions, examining theses, reviewing grant proposals, ...), but it all boils down to making a judgement on the written work of someone else.

Such reviewing of others work also provides opportunities to review one's own directions and opportunities.

The list of regular tasks for this area is as follows:

Reources and Human Management:Management of research students, staff, and grants

Research tends to happen in small groups, and often involves supervision arrangements. This may involve postgraduate students (PhD, Masters or minor thesis), Honours students, students doing summer projects, or programming projects. Whatever the level, all students require regular meetings and attention, and benefit from regular meetings with other students and research-oriented discussions.

Sometimes research grants can help with funding for students and staff and for other research-related activities. Obtaining such grants is often a difficult and time-consuming process, as is the paperwork involved in the administration of such grants (annual and final reports, financial statements, expenditure decisions, etc.), and hence requires regular attention.

The list of regular tasks for this area is as follows:

Comments, discussion, feedback etc. is always most welcome.