How to improve and increase research impact?

Highly impactful research does not only mean that the scholarly work is highly regarded by fellow scholars, but also that the work make a difference in a much wider context.

When I was an aspiring university applicant, I admire top universities because they are associated with fame (we all have ego, a degree of top universities are like luxurious bags that you will carry forever with a lifetime warranty) and fortune (on average, graduates of top university find jobs easier). However, I did not know that university rankings are mainly driven by research, not so much of teaching quality.

In my undergraduate days, I was fortunate to have many smart, some kind professors but they would not do the extreme nautical miles of service that my friends D, M, and S have been doing to their students. While comparing is a basic way of research, do not compare (人比人气死人) your learning experience to others, simply because it reduces happiness, just be grateful for our experience. Our not-so-positive experience can be a blessing in disguise. Because of relatively neglected undergraduate days, I have transformed into a fiercely independent person, who learns when to be submissive (e.g. don’t argue back if you know you will never win the person/the argument) and when to do what my heart/mind thinks is right.

At macro level, some universities are quantum leaping in world rankings, notably those in Switzerland (ETH Zurich, EPFL Lausanne) and Singapore (NTU, NUS). At micro level, it is possible to do impactful research, even if you are a beginner starting from zero (like what I feel now). Here are some guidelines that I learned from global jedis:

  1. be creative + imaginative.
  2. ask questions: what, why, how, who, when, where, so what, what’s next
  3. plan (ruthlessly prioritize, set milestones) + execute your experiments, collect your data, analyze carefully, just do it + just ship it!
  4. love writing + master the art of writing + just write! Write well, very well. Write early and often. Provide regular written feedback to your team members, ask for written feedback from those superior of you in terms of knowledge, expertise and experience. You also need to write eloquently and persuasively (think of sales + marketing).
  5. smartly use visuals (flow charts, diagrams, Gantt chart, cartoons, etc) because a picture paints 10^3 words.
  6. stick to deadlines and work backward. use divide-and-conquer + reverse engineering + deconstruct techniques.
  7. use checklists e.g. Heilmeier’s Catechism
  8. master the art of finishing for prioritized projects + the art of non-finishing (for tasks/projects) of less importance
  9. resources matter! For example, access to $, equipment, human capital, libraries of e-journals for us to stand on the shoulders of giants.
  10. collaborate, collaborate, collaborate! write + publish papers with international affiliations. Paper with international affiliations have higher citations.
  11. cherish existing collaborations + create new collaborations
  12. collaborate with Nobel Laureates or future Nobel Laureates (can you predict them or become one yourself?)
  13. apply for a research visit/sabbatical
  14. write + publish a longer paper.
  15. write (comprehensive, substantial) survey/review papers; they are the icing on the cakes. Caveat: some people (admission committee, promotion committee) do not consider these to perceive your work as being important.
  16. be thick face, junior researchers to ask senior researchers if you can assist in writing a survey/review paper.
  17. be kind, senior researchers can offer junior researchers an opportunity to assist in writing a survey/review paper.
  18. write tutorial papers.
  19. be consistent! Use the same variation of author’s name. For common names e.g. John Brown, consider adding your full middle name. Use a standardized institutional affiliation and address.
  20. for each manuscript, formulate a concise, well-constructed, carefully-thought title and abstract. Competing with limited time, reviewers make their judgment based on your title and abstract and they rarely change their posture much as they read (or scan) the rest of manuscripts under review; sad but it’s true based on what I learned from senior researchers on 20160106. Nobel Laureates appear to judge people/work rapidly too, for example I remember reading Sydney Brenner “judged people very quickly and if he decided you were not worth talking with, you were finished.” A book is indeed judged by its cover, so we must not only have very good contents, but also very good cover.
  21. assign keyword terms to research manuscripts.
  22. Include more relevant references. I personally view it is fine to appropriately self-cite if the current work has been built on your previous work; stricter researchers may disagree.
  23. consider your audience: editors, reviewers, readers. To reach the last audience, you need to pass the first two barriers. Imagine them as peaks of mountains to conquer, they drive us to do better work. For grant proposals (you need $ to do high impact research), consider what the grant callers (foundations, government agencies) really want.
  24. follow guidelines for authors to every letter, read the instructions carefully from cover to cover.
  25. publish in journals more than conference papers (depending on the fields) because journal articles attract higher citations.
  26. publish in IEEE magazines for a wider audience
  27. submit to + publish in journals with high-impact factors (IFs).
  28. submit to + publish in open-access journals, if you/your boss/your institution has $ and allowed you to use it.
  29. be thick face and determined. Accept failure and rejections as part and parcel of life. Inspiration: Published papers that have first been rejected elsewhere receive significantly higher citations, whether this is due to improved quality based on reviewers’ comments or a pseudo-correlation, it is still an encouragement.
  30. respond well to both constructive and non-constructive criticisms.
  31. be interdisciplinary. publish across disciplines.
  32. write + publish negative instead of positive research findings
  33. setup a website devoted to your research
  34. submit your manuscripts to digital repository e.g. arXiv, PubMedCentral
  35. deposit your work to public databases e.g. NCBI + sharing sites e.g. FigShare, SlideShare, F1000Posters. Caveat: double check that you do not include copyrighted materials of others.
  36. be a reviewer to get a flavor of research trends
  37. be an editor
  38. be a speaker, deliver talks e.g. TED talks, keynotes
  39. be an organizer of conferences and workshops
  40. disseminate to a wider audience, e.g. create podcasts
  41. be sociable: use ORCID, ResearcherID, LinkedIn, etc

Yes, I know that in order to be invited as a reviewer, editor, speaker, we need to do impactful research. It seems like a Catch 22. How to keep the snowballs running when you don’t even have pebbles? Perseverance + commitment are highly essential.

See also:

the end of this email


refined daily 20160105 – 20160108


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