The majority of graduate students that I had the chance to supervised (yes I consider student supervision as a core mission of being a researcher and university professor) have this spark in their eyes. Creative thinking is usually not the biggest problem they will face. In fact, for most of you getting tons of ideas is rarely the issue. Selecting, focusing and successfully bring one or a group of ideas to completion (meaning scientific publication most of the time) tends to be critical issue. As Vince Lombardi once said: “if you don’t keep score its just practice”.
In my experience, what most you the graduate students are missing are tools, processes to help you making choices and keeping track of all of your ideas (so not to loose them, one day who knows…). In the mist of all things, you will make mistakes, some expected solutions will not work and they also need to be documented as you will learn from those.
This is why you have a supervisor, a mentor to guide you in this learning process. Yes by the end of your thesis, you should be an expert on the central topic of the thesis. However, very important knowledge is also at the periphery:
- how to get from ideas to projects
- how to get all the needed information and literature
- how to organize all of it and render a projet feasible through setting realistic sub-projects and tasks
- when to decide you have enough to publish
- and so on.
The key point I am trying to make here, is that by the end of your thesis, you have acquire something as important (if not more) than your thesis topic expertise; you should have acquire all of the necessary knowledge to conduct research all by yourself on any topics (his does not mean that from now on your alone, exchange and discussion is actually the best way to crystalize ideas, to get them to be even better).
Daniel Wessel has written an excellent book (and free, but I strongly encourage you to buy the eBook version) called Organizing Creativity. The book is now at its 2nd edition. I have read them both and starting with this second edition, I intend to make it a mandatory reading for every starting graduate student. Why? I think of it as an investment against increased future productivity. This book goes at length about collecting, categorizing, archiving, … ideas, projects, support information and so on. It cover the process of doing these tasks and also the tools that can be used to do it with very efficient pointers.
The book also has an interesting section for new students on Academic Work and Doing a PhD Thesis (2nd Ed, page 324-336) which every graduate student should read first.
Graduate students and supervisors, I’d like to hear from you: Have you read this book? Any other related book, website, blog, wiki you would like to recommend on this subject?