January 26, 2009 | Category: Uncategorized

Research Topics

I’m curious about something. Actually, I’m curious about a number of things and that, inadvertantly, is the topic of this post:  I’m curious as to whether or not other computing scientists/software engineers keep an active list of research topics that they want to delve into further.

For years now I’ve had a series of nagging questions on different topics that I want to answer. Sometimes they’ll be generally understood problems that I want to know more about (like recommendation systems, a topic I looked at a while back), sometimes they’ll be new problems that are just opening up and actually need people to move them along (like lifestreams, a topic I fully intend on coming back to). These, broadly, form “research topics”: things I want to know more about or explore in some way.

I tend to track these topics in two ways: 1) I simply let them drift in and out of my head. If I find that they keep coming back, then I give them some thinking time and see what falls out. 2) I keep a list of active topics and questions at hand at all times (actually stored on my mobile as a draft text message), which I look over periodically. You’ll note that I’m not necessarily actively pursuing anything, just thinking over the topics and seeing if any new information I’ve come across in the time since I last looked at the topic has shed any new light on the matter.

By using my research topics as sieves for the huge swathes of information I’m exposed to, I passively manage to form a greater understanding of things that matter to me without wasting time on deadends. I’ve found that these methods help me find items that I’m interested in over the medium to long term, rather than picking up and following fads (I deal with current trends in a different way).

The problem is that I find this to be a little too passive at times. I’m painfully aware that my open source work (which I’ve mostly done anonymously, but you can find it if you really try) and privately posted projects have all but dried up in the last year or so. I don’t have a huge amount of free time, and the time I do have I use pursuing other interests. I think I should, however, get back into more active research and produce more product from it, whether that product is code or merely more concrete ideas.

I guess, in a shortened form, my questions are: do people have their own research topics and how do they pursue them? Relentlessly or passively? Soaking them in or furiously chasing them? I’m curious to know.