A Thinking Framework to Identify your Motivation and Objectives for Computing Research

Posted on January 2, 2018

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Author:   Sanjay Goel

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Research requires and facilitates new ways of thinking about what exists and also what may. Doctoral research is supposed to be a long project aimed at creating new knowledge and insights about a chosen object of inquiry. Even more, it is a transformative journey that is supposed to permanently transform the worldview and mindset of the scholar and significantly enhance his/her patience as well as critical and creative thinking. To think is to ask questions. Structured thinking means to systematically ask questions related to different aspects of the object of thinking – object, event, process, phenomenon, or system. A thinking framework facilitates comprehensive thinking by suggesting a system of dimensions and ladders of thinking about the object of thinking. It offers a structured set of question patterns and archetypes that can be used to design specific questions focusing on different aspects of the object. A systematic inquiry through reflective engagement with these questions eventually leads to useful insights about the object.

Doctoral research, being a long-term and focused journey, requires an intrinsic motivation and a personal commitment towards a knowledge area and research objectives.   In the absence of such a motivation, scholars may not experience the passion that is required to keep their enthusiasm alive for several years and to drive them towards creative excellence. External motivation is not sufficient to maintain such passion for long. Inherent aspiration to discover or innovate is essential for generation of a heightened sense of research engagement. Engaged scholars consider their research work as an integral or central part of their existence. Hence, it is very important for new scholars to carefully identify their intrinsic motivation and broader purpose before starting their research.

Computing scholars’ research motivation is generally grounded in their fascination with the newer data sources and forms, increasing data rates and volumes, executable abstractions and their actualizations or simply the technological advancements. Many are essentially driven by the desire to improve the professional, educational, or research practices in the computing discipline. Inspired by a broader perspective, a lot of scholars are motivated to transform the workflows, workspaces, and the fundamental nature of human work in other domains through digitisation and automation. At a deeper level, as sensitive and responsible humans, several computing researchers are deeply concerned about some aspects of prevailing human conditions and feel motivated to address the same through technological advancements. After identifying the intrinsic motivation and a broader purpose, it is very important to develop congruent and focused research objectives. Poorly defined research objectives eventually blur the focus and lead to a poor research engagement and quality.

The proposed thinking framework can help the computing scholars to identify their motivation and also their research objectives through a reflective inquiry. It is designed to guide  scholars to develop useful insights about their own motivation, broader purpose, and research objectives so that they can passionately engage in their research for several years and eventually create significant knowledge and new insights in their mindfully chosen area. The framework is developed as a sequence of questions that should be reflected upon by the computing researchers either before starting their doctoral research or at its early stage.  It is a work in progress and I hope to  extend  and refine it gradually.   I also invite the suggestions from the research community to make it more comprehensive, elegant,  and useful, especially for the new scholars.

A.   Identifying Sustainable Motivation(s) and a Broader Purpose

A1.  Does your broader professional concern include:

A1.1    Possibilities and challenges of using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for human and societal development or issues related to equity, accessibility, health care, education, heritage, rural development, environment, and sustainability?

a.     If yes, do you feel motivated to develop some innovative ICT based solutions to contribute towards achieving some of the UN defined Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets?

   i.  If yes, why and what?

   ii.  List the specific issues that you feel concerned about and challenges.

b.     In what way can ICT help in resolving these issues?

c.      Can you write a problem statement focusing on the ICT based resolution of the issue?

A1.2   Human issues related to cognition, affect, dignity, justice, ethics, democracy, or happiness?

a.      If yes, why? Describe your concern in detail.

b.      Describe how in your view, ICT is currently influencing or helping in re-examining and re-interpreting your chosen concern(s).

c.       How can it change in future? Do you feel inclined to develop some innovative ICT based solutions for addressing some such issues?

A2.  Through your research and innovation, do you propose to use computing to:

A2.1   Understand and/or impact some physical, social, psychological, or biological world(s)?

 a.      If yes, what, why and in what way?

A2.2   Transform some domain(s) of production or services?

a.       If yes, what, why and in what way?

A2.3    Reshape personal or social spaces, or leisure?

a.       If yes, what, why and in what way?

A2.4   Transform some practices, workflows, workspaces, or the nature of the work in some domain(s) chosen from the entire spectrum of human work- production or services, including IT related work like systems and software engineering, project management, IT administration, computing education and training, etc.?

a.       If yes, what, why and in what way?

A2.5    Redesign or create some activities related to monitoring, control, search, exploration, problem solving, design, artistic rendering & creations, or scientific research in some domain?

a.        If yes, what, why and in what way?

A2.6   Develop some novel ways of observation, management, analysis, experimentation, modeling, synthesis, rendering, communication,   collaboration, or evaluation   in some domain?

a.       If yes, what, why and in what way?

A3.   Through your research and innovation, do you propose to:

A3.1   Increase or expand computing systems’ ability to automate the processes to collect, store, transfer, or transform, integrate, or analyse larger volumes or new forms of data?

a.       If yes, what is the nature of the data that you intend to process – quantitative or qualitative, single or multi-dimensional, corpus or stream, invariable or dynamic, static or kinetic, centralised or distributed, structured or unstructured, facts or rules, measured or simulated, multimedia or multimodal, exact or fuzzy, confined or pervasive?

i.    Do you intend to automate some kind of decision making?

ii.   Have you considered the issues related to volume, velocity, variety, and veracity of data? What are your data processing targets for these parameters? Describe the data characteristics and sources in detail. Give examples of data and proposed processing.

iii.  What are the strengths and limitations of the existing processing schemes?

B.  Developing Research Objective(s)

B1.  Have you examined and evaluated:

B1.1   Your access to domain related expertise and resources?

B1.2    Existing paradigms and generalizations over a class of domain specific automation systems?

a.   What are their strengths and limitations?

b.  Do you propose to overcome some of these limitations?

i.  If yes, What and How?

B1.3    Existing methods and domain specific automation systems?

a.   What are their strengths and limitations?

b.  Do you propose to overcome some of these limitations?

i.  If yes, What and How?

B1.4      Existing abstract expressions of structures and processes?

a.  What are their strengths and limitations with respect to their formal properties and/or automated actualization?

b.  Do you propose to overcome some of these limitations?

i.  If yes, What and How?

B2.  Through your research and innovation, do you propose to:

B2.1   Discover formal or other properties of an abstraction, system, structure, process, or phenomenon? How do you propose to validate your findings – analytically or empirically?

B2.2    Formulate a new generalization, taxonomy, or framework?

a.  If yes, what are the proposed applications and benefits?

B2.3     Develop some new performance assessment methods, metrics, datasets, benchmarks, tools, workbenches, or performance modeling techniques?

a.  If yes, what are the proposed applications and benefits?

B2.4      Design, develop, and build a new method or domain-specific automation system?

a.  If yes, what are the key novel functional and non-functional requirement specifications?

i.  What functionality will you consider to allocate to hardware, software, and human element? How can you justify your partitioning?

ii.  Are some requirements missing or incompletely specified?

iii.  Are requirements unclear or in need of interpretation?

iv.  Are some requirements feasible from an analytical point of view?

v.   Do some requirements specify something never done before?

b.   How have you determined the feasibility of method or design – Prototyping, Modeling, Analysis, or Simulation?

i.  Are there any potential challenges in meeting functional requirements?

ii.  Does your method or system design depend on unrealistic or optimistic assumptions?

c.   Have you identified suitable and contemporary test dataset(s) currently acceptable in the peer community?

i.   If no, how do you propose to create your test data?

ii.   Will the method or system be difficult or impossible to test?

d.  Will your automation system be based around a logical, mathematical, or a machine learning based model?

i.   In case of a mathematical model, what kind of model will it be– linear or non linear, static or dynamic, explicit or implicit, deterministic or probabilistic, discrete or continuous, deductive, inductive or floating?

ii.   In case of a machine learning model, do you have a reasonable belief that

ii.i.  some functional relationship exists between well-defined inputs and outputs of the task?

ii.ii.   the task provides clear feedback with clearly definable goals and metrics?

ii.iii.   the function being learned does not change rapidly over time?

ii.iv.   a typical person can do the mental task with less than one second of thought it does not involve long chains of reasoning that depend on diverse background knowledge or common sense?

ii.v.   there is no need for detailed explanation of how the decision was made?

ii.vi.   there is no need for provably correct or optimal solutions and the error can be tolerated?

ii.vii.   huge digital data sets containing input-output pairs are accessible to you or can be easily created by you?

iii.  Do you intend to propose a new model?

—  If not, what kind of new knowledge and insights, either related to the problem domain or to the solution domain, will your research produce?    

e.   Will your automation system use some existing components, algorithms, heuristics, or rules? Will it also require you to develop some novel components, algorithms, heuristics, or rule bases? What is the challenge?

f.  Will your automation system be built by using a known computing theory/approach in a new context?

—  If yes, what is the need of your research?

g.    Will your automation system be built by adapting a theory/approach known in some other discipline to develop the computation approach for a new context?

h.    Will your automation system be built by using a new theory/approach that will be developed by enhancing/integrating known theories/approaches?

i.      Will your automation system be built on a new paradigm?

j.       Have you considered the complexities, uncertainties, complications, and risks likely to be associated with your proposed method and system? Which of these will your design be able to handle appropriately as per the requirements of the domain? What is the challenge?

k.      Have you considered the constraints and success criteria related to functionality, reliability, performance, cost, schedule, technology, scalability, usability, acceptability, security, regulations, safety, health, energy, privacy, environment, and/or elegance among other factors? Which of these will your design be able to handle appropriately as per the requirements of the domain and the problem? What is the challenge?

l.    What performance assessment methods do you plan to use for evaluating your system – analytical modeling, simulation, and empirical measurement techniques? Do you plan to benchmark your system?

i.  How will you ensure the accuracy and reliability of your data collection method?

ii.  Will you collect data from multiple sources?

m.    How will you make sure that your performance claims are strong and do not have the weaknesses resulting from oversights, misconceptions, undefined/biased goals, wrong assumptions, incorrect metrics, unrepresentative workloads, overlooked parameters, ignored factors, inappropriate experiment design, erroneous analysis, wrong evaluation techniques, or unsystematic approach?

Other related articles on this blog:

  1. Context and Concerns of Contemporary Research in Computing: A Brief Overview for New Researchers: https://goelsan.wordpress.com/2017/12/15/context-and-concerns-of-contemporary-research-in-computing-a-brief-overview-for-new-researchers/
  2. Research Method for Engineering Research Students – Part I: A Checklist for Literature Review- https://goelsan.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/a-checklist-for-doing-literature-review/
  3. Research Method for Engineering Research Students – Part II: A Checklist for Reflective Self-assessment of the Research Work-  https://goelsan.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/research-method-for-engineering-research-students-part-ii-a-checklist-for-reflective-self-assessment-of-the-research-work/
  4. Research Method for Engineering Research Students – III: Some Insightful Quotes about Philosophy, Science, Inquiry, and Research- https://goelsan.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/research-methodology-iii-some-selected-quotes-about-philosophy-science-inquiry-and-research/

 

 

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