*If an ape can make a discovery, so can you.*

Richard P. Feynman

as quoted in this book

What do *you* think about this quote?

How to succeed in the academe: links, tips, and more

While writing the research papers one quite often needs to get back to the full texts of old (pre-Internet or at least pre-arXiv) references. Of course, having access to a good library and/or the interlibrary loan usually solves the problem but can be somewhat time- and cost-consuming.

It is not that well known, however, that there is a fair chance to find the old paper or preprint you need online *for free*. Of course, the first thing to try is Google or perhaps another search engine of your choosing. However, if this does not work, you still have a fighting chance, at least as far physics and mathematics are concerned. The places to try are:

- the KISS preprint server (you can also try the umbrella interface at SPIRES) allows you to search in (and get to the full text of) a huge database of scanned preprints going back to the 1970s at least. The database covers mostly high-energy physics and related areas, including a fair share of mathematical physics and mathematics. For instance, you can find there a number of preprints by Richard Feynman, including the unpublished ones.
- the Digital Mathematics Library
- NUMDAM and CEDRAM (French mathematical journals)
- The Project Euclid
- MathNet.Ru (Russian mathematical journals)

All items but KISS are *purely* *mathematical* databases (to be precise, MathNet.Ru includes several physics, mechanics and mathematical physics journals as well).

If you know of other similar databases (be it in physics, mathematics, life sciences,…), please feel free to drop a comment with the relevant link(s).

Choosing a research problem to work on is a tough decision to make, and the relevant advice is rather scarce.

So far I have found only a handful of reasonably looking tips:

- work on important problems (R. Hamming, You and Your Research)
- go for the messes, i.e., for the areas far from being crystal clear

(S. Weinberg, Scientist: Four golden lessons) - look for an unoccupied niche that has potential (this and some other good tips can be found in the paper Picking a research problem — the critical decision which is primarily addressed to the researchers in biology and medicine but can be of interest to the other scientists too)
- keep several (if possible, not too closely related) problems of varying difficulty to work on, so that you can switch to another problem when you get stuck (for more on this see e.g. here)
- try to move beyond the subject of your Ph.D. thesis (if you have already defended one, indeed) or your postdoc (or your postdoctoral mentor, for that matter); more broadly, beyond your current area of research (see e.g. this post of Terence Tao). This has an extra benefit of reducing the risk of being scooped as discussed here.
- regularly attend the conferences and join (or run) a seminar and/or a journal club: the talks can be an important source of inspiration
- do something you will enjoy doing and what you feel you
*can*do - your work should rather open the way to new breakthroughs than close the whole subject down

The last three tips are somewhat of a common wisdom and can be found in a number of places; see e.g. the article Choosing a research topic by Richard Reis, which contains some further interesting thoughts on the subject.

See also:

- Uri Alon: How to choose a good scientific problem ; also note his recent article in Cell (via the 21st century scientist)
- Michael Nielsen: Principles of Effective Research and Extreme Thinking
- this post by Terence Tao
- these articles in the
*Science*Careers (via I.K.) - R.P. Feynman’s quote

Apparently the jury is still out on this issue but the links below provide some encouragement:

- Terence Tao: Does one have to be a genius to do maths?
- The Cult of Genius at the Cosmic Variance blog

*Update:* I have just found an interesting follow-up on the Cult of Genius post, The Cult of Theory, at Chad Orzel’s blog.

*Update 2:* an interesting recent discussion at the Backreaction blog.

**S. Weinberg**: Scientist: Four golden lessons

**R.P. Feynman**: A Letter to a Former Student

(more advice from R.P.F. can be found in the book Feynman’s Rainbow by Leonard Mlodinow)

**J.D. Watson**: Succeeding in Science: Some Rules of Thumb

(see also his book Avoid Boring People)

**A. Ciechanover**: Nuggets of Career Advice

The above materials make for an interesting comparison with the advice from the Fields medal winner Terence Tao.

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