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Navigating the Research Process with TED speaker Uri Alon

By: , Posted on: July 18, 2014

#StartYourResearch choosing research topicGetting started on a research project may seem more like an Odyssey than a 3-hour tour. This often stems from the fact that researchers study science for thousands of hours but rarely study how to conduct science. Professor Uri Alon of the Weitzman Institute and author of How To Choose a Good Scientific Problem,  helps young researchers navigate through the research process by deviating from how most researchers conduct their research. The following are Uri’s biggest takeaways from his Ted Talk, Why truly innovative science demands a leap into the unknown:

“Research is not a direct path”

In science, researchers have an assumption, known as their “mental schema,” that science and therefore research is a direct path. The problem with this schema is that it is different from reality. If experiments are not working, it is perceived that something is fundamentally wrong because our schema tells us that these steps must yield these results to be significant. When this happens, many researchers believe they are essentially “blocked,” or out of solutions and therefore the research was a waste.

However, Professor Alon believes that the point of “blocked” is not the end point of your research. The mental schema that he teaches allows researchers to break through the barrier between the known and unknown, also known as “the cloud,” discovering a more exciting and fresh, new solution, solution “C.”

Getting lost in “the cloud”

The cloud is an inherent part of research – the boundary between the known and the unknown. Consider the results a researcher is trying to yield as part of ‘B,’ the known, and therefore if your results are not matching up, it is because there may be a more exciting answer waiting for you to discover once you are out of the cloud. You can be lost in ‘the cloud’ for an hour, a day, maybe for most of your career, but once you break through, you will be in the land of the unknown, where the answer that you find, ‘C’ is much more exciting and fresh. That is why you did research in the first place, right?

To exit out of the cloud with a new thought and a new discovery, one must have the mental schema of understanding and handling the negative emotions that the cloud comes with. Professor Alon argues that many clinical studies show that if a person is stressed when trying to solve a creative puzzle, the mind narrows down to a safe way of thinking. “If you want to have a risky way of thinking, in order to find ‘C,’ you need to think with solidarity and hope.” This makes sense as stress often convinces you to find a suitable answer or relationship, not the most suitable one.

We understand that research is an independent project, but you don’t have to through the cloud alone. Find someone who supports you to help you through your idea, and embrace the idea of entering the unknown and finding your “C.”

To watch Professor Alon speak about “The Cloud” in his TEDtalk, please check below:


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