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So you got a research problem. As years of being a researcher went by, I am more calm when problems arise, as I am familiar a bit more about the process of finding solutions, and am familiar more also with myself. Here are some tips in solving research-related problems that I found useful (and continue to use).

  1. Mental serenity – Don’t panic! Stay calm.
  2. Mental encouragement – sometimes it takes time to learn something new, but you can do it.
  3. Write it out as a question. Define in words, what is the problem (s)?
  4. Keep a research log, discussing the progress on solving the problem.
  5. Consider using other terms related or synonymous with the key terms, as across the fields these can be different. For example, if you are looking for information on “Gaussian noise”, search also for “Gaussian distribution”, “Normal distribution”, and “Random numbers”, as these terms are closely related and might give you answers more readily. This is probably especially relevant for non-native English speakers, or if you are new to that particular technical field/technical terminology. Sometimes phrasing the question using other keywords will generate the answers otherwise “hidden”.
  6. Jot down a plan of how you are going to find the solution. E.g.
    1. Review the textbook material on it
    2. Look at a recent paper using the same methodology
    3. Try a simpler problem first
  7. Can you break the problem into smaller problems?
  8. Do you need to take a break (eat, sleep, rest, walk…)? Do you need to sleep on it and come with a refreshed mind?
  9. Work in a different place.
  10. Discuss with a (supportive) buddy – does not need to be in your field. Stating out loud the problem and your thought process can be very helpful in finding solutions.
  11. Visualize the problem /concepts – make a drawing, chart, map, etc. – in any media of your choice. Use colors (you can have fun also), explore your creative side.
  12. Get a new cup of coffee (and chocolate :P).
  13. Read on the topic – general literature.
  14. Read on the topic – published papers which used the same concepts – maybe in the methods/discussion they have touched upon the subject. You can reach to the corresponding author with follow-up questions on any details.
  15. Is there a user helpdesk for the problem, e.g. for observing proposals, data reduction procedures, etc.?
  16. Other forums for questions (be mindful of the environment, sometimes certain platforms can be harsher than others).
  17. Can you simplify the problem? And solve a simpler problem first and see if you can scale it up?

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