Posted by: hmchang | December 8, 2007

Research: Methods of Arranging Ideas, Information, etc.

Among many important skills a Ph.D. student should have, being able to collect and arrange data into useful information is crucial to the success of a Ph.D. career. Every day, we read many useful or not-so-useful papers, do tons of experimental  and gather lots of data, and also generates  a lot of idea or thoughts as we move on. These are all important resources that may one day lead to significant results, but how to keep track of all these random data become challenging. I think every Ph.D. will eventually develop his/her best and unique way of information sorting through trail-and-error. The most important criteria of such method is to fit ones’ style.  Others’ method may be good try out in the early stage of one’s Ph.D. career but gradually, he/she will develop his/her own way.

DreamVan for example, arrange his thoughts, summary of readings and experimental results on EXCEL spreadsheets. He usually compiled one spreadsheet per week and will review the material and see what make sense and what does not make sense. Since he writes sequentially, it would be easy for him to keep track of how he has gone to certain point. Even if he is out of food or be interrupted by others, he can easily pick up from where he left out. This method becomes very useful when you have a targeted paper to write and you can gather different information in the same file with different spreadsheet tables.

Ming also use spreadsheet as a method to arrange his thoughts when he was writing his VTS08 paper.  The table format is extremely useful for structured idea.

I  myself have been practicing thinking through compiling PowerPoint presentation. As my adviser, Tim suggested, whenever you have an idea, try to put them into several slides and explain it to others. Since I have to meet with Tim once a week, what I usually do is to start a new presentation file every week, and put all the experimental results and thoughts into the slides. Latter, I would review the logical sequence of the topics and then group idea together, add something or remove something. PowerPoint is useful to think in a way of “listing” idea and adding pictures, tables, or equations is very easy. If needed, I will write on the “notes” session for any additional memo.

In order to put things together in a logical sense and make others understand, I need to think deep myself. Gradually, I also consider how to present and what to show and what should be in the Appendix. Sometimes, I put few slides together just for my own documentation. For example, I am now trying to put important sentences, idea, and figures of a paper after I have read it. This can serve as two purpose: (1) the idea in each paper may be easily forgotten, and putting them into slides make tracking simple, and (2) in case of making a presentation, these slides may become handy.

Two years ago when I was a summer intern at TSMC, my mentor Robert used to have a PowerPoint file that serve as his “database”. Every slide in this database are well designed slides with sophisticated images and coloring. In case of limited time to prepare for a presentation,  he can always grab the most important slides from his “database” and then compile a new presentation with added transitions. Thus, using PowerPoint to arrange idea is not only useful for doing research but also for business presentation or generally communicate with others.

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