Nielsen, M. A. (2004). Principles of effective research (Technical Note No. 0404). The University of Queensland.

Notes from Michael Nielsen to himself on effective research practices, written while he was researching quantum computing.

Aristotle: “We are what {we repeatedly do}. {Excellence}, then, {is not an act but a habit}.”

Q. (effective people) What gives McDonald’s the edge?
A. They take care of the little things everyone claims to care about but only they actually bother to do.

Q. What practice forms “the heart of personal effectiveness” for Michael? (think McDonalds)
A. Doing the basics, consistently well.

Q. What social interaction does MN suggest creates self-discipline?
A. Being accountable to other people.

Q. What (3) simple ways does MN suggest one can use to become accountable to other people?
A. take on students, collaborate with colleagues, establish mentoring relationship

Q. What special kind of honesty does MN suggest is important to self-discipline?
A. Honesty to oneself, about oneself

Q. How does MN see creative research and self-development relating?
A. Creative research is best viewed as an extension of self-development, especially an extension of a well-developed reading program.

Q. Self-development as a researcher is focused on development of…
A. Research strengths

Q. When planning the development of research strengths, what combinations of abilities should you look for?
A. Unique combinations which give you a comparative advantage

Q. Why does MN believe most people fail to do great research? (development)
A. People aren’t willing to pay the price to systematically develop the skills they need.

Q. When learning a new field, how should you distribute your reading time?
A. Focus on reading deeply in the most important papers, rather than skimming the top hundreds.

Q. To foster self-development, change your environment to manipulate social pressures in what way?
A. So that they work for you as a researcher, rather than against you.

Q. Name three examples of ways to manipulate social pressure to work for you?
A. e.g. start a seminar series, develop a discussion area, create a lounge, organize a small workshop, organize a reading group

Q. How should you develop a taste for what’s important?
A. Ask questions about the characteristics of important science.

Q. Give a few examples of questions about the characteristics of important science.
A. e.g. What makes some fields thrive and others die? What are the most useful kinds of unifying ideas? What have been the most important developments in your field, and why? Why did some promising ideas fail to pan out?

Q. What kind of work should you aim to produce?
A. Work of the highest possible caliber according to what you believe is important

Q. How did Deutsch and Feynman create the field of quantum computing?
A. By framing the right questions: “What would a quantum computer be capable of? Would it be faster than a classical computer?”

Q. Why might a messy research area be an opportunity?
A. You may be able to discovery unifying/simplifying concepts.

MN: “There is little that is more important in research than building {forward momentum}.”

Q. Taking the time to set clear goals for one’s research helps w.r.t. the fact that “much of the time in research is spent…?”
A. … in a fog.

Q. How should one build forward momentum in research?
A. Be clear about some goal—even if it’s the wrong goal! So long as you periodically reflect and reconsider those goals.

It’s important that you work towards being able to solve {important problems}.

Last updated 2023-07-13.