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Daniel Lemire on social pressure

by Michael Nielsen on July 15, 2004

>From the comments and Daniel Lemire’s blog:

When I started out doing research, I thought that research was about sitting in your office thinking up new ideas. God! Was I wrong!

Now, donít get me wrong, research is not about having meetings with other researchers or spending time chatting, or drawing UML diagrams of what is to be done, or spending weeks on funding proposals. We might do these things, but they donít make us good researchers. But neither will sitting in your office thinking new ideas. Thatís not effective research.

On quasi-desert islands with no telecommunications, youíll find very few great researchers. The social network doesnít need to be immediate: I think you can be a great researcher even in a tiny school. And I donít think your network should be made of students mostly, especially not your own students.

I believe the secret to being a good researcher is to belong to a tightly knitted group of solid researchers. Research is about networking. By tightly knitted, I donít necessarily mean ďmilitary-like”: I mean that you feel peer pressure all the time to do good research. This can be achieved through emails, blogging, phoneÖ whatever the meanÖ

Social forces are incredible things. As a researcher, being in a good social environment (which may need to be created from scratch) is like being a runner with a 50 kph tail wind. A turning point in the early days of my research group was the installation of a couple of sofas in front of a whiteboard in the room next to my office. It wasn’t my idea, but boy, was it about the best $30 we ever spent…

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  1. agm permalink

    At my current school, we don’t have that environment. Every once in a while I get sad when I realize I have no one to talk shop with, so I’m glad you have it.

  2. Is there any possibility you can create such an environment? It can take an awful lot of effot, but I believe it’s usually possible; the main things required are persistence, hard work and ingenuity, not funding.

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