Posted by: hmchang | October 2, 2007

Research: Keep Learning, Don’t Idle

Dr. CK Ong, an alumni in our group, came today and we had a long chat. He was doing analog testing when he was a Ph.D. student, and I am kind of his successor on the research work. While he started to move from testing of A/D converters to testing high speed serial-link, I started to move forward from high speed serial-link testing to radio-frequency circuit testing.

Dr. Ong shared with me his experience on Ph.D. studies. During his Ph.D. career, he experienced two-years of downturns, in which time his time was almost wasted because he was solving a wrong problem. He thus suggested that it is important to constantly zoom in and zoom out the project we are working on and think clearly about the problem scope and definition. If a problem is clearly defined, the solutions will come naturally and it is also easier for other people to understand. In order to properly define a problem, one need to have a clear understanding of the how the overall system works and how does this problem fit into the overall system. The sequence of understanding system, problem definition and finding solution should not be reserved. Without clear problem definition, he wasted a whole year just to solve a wrong problem!!

Although the importance of problem definition was constantly emphasized by Prof. Li last year, I constantly forget its importance. I constantly trying to look for solutions without having a clear understanding on the overall system scope and a clear problem definition. It might be a main reason why others cannot understand well what I am working on and constantly ask some unexpected questions to me. At current stage, what I should do is to understand the system better and step back and define a problem better.

Dr. Ong also emphasize the importance of presentation and writing skill a lot. He thinks that presentation skill is what should constantly sharpen ourselves on. No matter how good the work we might be doing, if we cannot express it clearly, it would not be understood by others. If other people cannot understand what you are doing, it is impossible for them to give suggestions. This is also true during our weekly group meeting. Since my adviser has fewer experience on analog design, it is important to make the background clear to him before explaining the problems or solution.

As for the writing skills, there’s an interesting argument he learned from Helen, the administrative to my adviser at the time he was doing his Ph.D. He said that the total effort a paper-writer, reviewers and readers would be summed to a constant value. In other words, if a paper-writer spends less time on thinking about how to write it more concise and clear, reviewers and readers would need to spend more time trying to understand what you really want to say – if they really have time. On the other hand, with the paper-writer putting a lot of efforts in defining the problem well and polishing on a clear explanation, the reviewers and readers won’t need to spend a lot of time understanding the importance of your work. Consequently, not only your paper would be accepted more easily but it can also have larger impact.

Both presentation and writing are important procedures to organize one’s thoughts. The more you write, the more you understand the problem and would be able to express it better. You would need to let others know what your problem is before they can give you any suggestions, isn’t it?

Finally, how did he get through the down periods of his Ph.D. career? An important suggestion he gave is to “keep learning, don’t idle.” Try to learn something new and have some small achievements everyday. You would never know when the knowledge you got would be applicable to future scenarios, but it is good to have a wide range of skills and knowledge. Just become extremely depressed and stop thinking. Keep learning, don’t idle.


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