I like to read articles about how to do research, and in this post I recommend two of my favorite ones. I will try to be brief so that you can spend your time looking at these papers and not at my post.
  • Principles of effective research by Michael Nielsen. It seems to me that most of the “researchology” papers consist mainly of do’s, dont’s, and of various related anecdotes and quotes. Nielsen’s paper is somewhat different, since it also discusses “big picture” issues such as remaining motivated about your research, being proactive, etc. I like to read this paper every couple of years.
  • You and Your Research by Richard Hamming. A more famous paper by a more famous author. Hamming discusses how to achieve what he refers to as “Nobel-Prize type of work”. Many of Hamming’s tips clash with Nielsen’s paper, since Hamming basically advocates focusing only on research while neglecting other parts of your life. While I disagree with various claims in this spirit, I still think that this paper contains many useful observations.

Michael Nielsen and Richard Hamming.

A Noah’s Ark Joke

The Flood has receded and the ark is safely aground atop Mount Ararat; Noah tells all the animals to go forth and multiply. Soon the land is teeming with every kind of living creature in abundance, except for snakes. Noah wonders why. One morning two miserable snakes knock on the door of the ark with a complaint. “You haven’t cut down any trees.” Noah is puzzled, but does as they wish. Within a month, you can’t walk a step without treading on baby snakes. With difficulty, he tracks down the two parents. “What was all that with the trees?” “Ah,” says one of the snakes, “you didn’t notice which species we are.” Noah still looks blank. “We’re adders, and we can only multiply using logs.”

                                                                        Letters to a young mathematician / Ian Stewart.

Random Stories from IPAM – Part 2

If you are not in Los Angeles but are interested in these topics, you can now view videos of many of the talks that we had here. Talks from the tutorials week can be found here. Talks from the workshop “Combinatorial Geometry Problems at the Algebraic Interface” can be found here. I assume that talks from the workshop “Tools from Algebraic Geometry” will also be available soon.

A talk by Joseph Landsberg.

Another brief update: You might remember that in my previous IPAM post I was excited about a talk by Larry Guth. Not only that you can now watch the video of this talk, but you can also read the paper.

And now for quote of the week:

It is like defining a ham sandwich as “what you have in your lunchbox after taking the apple out”.

                Ben Lund, unsatisfied with a famous textbook’s definition of Grassmannians.

After three weeks without any main events, another workshop begins tomorrow. So more updates will follow.