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My question is along the lines of How do professors usually discover "new" research interests? but more to do with "HOW"? The above question deals with how professors discover new areas, my question is once a professor or a grad student has found an interesting lead, how do they pursue it?

Consider Prof. X who is a mathematician and just talked to his old MS student who is now working on Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence. He speaks to the student for 20 minutes about how is applying math to AI. Where does he go from here?

Does he:

  1. Go to Wikipedia/Encyclopaedia to get a rough overview of the subject.
  2. Search for papers.
  3. Search for a good book to read.
  4. Speak to someone in his institution who works on AI and ask them for reading references.
  5. Something else?

How does a professor make sure he gets the right resource considering his expertise in some subject? For instance, the professor would definitely want a book which starts from a primer on Linear Algebra

1 Answer 1

I've actually done this 2 times. First going from pure theory to 50/50 theory/experiment, and then switching departments. I'm a physicist but I think the following observations may hold generally:

1) don't quit your "day job". I.e., work gradually into the new field. I wouldn't take on any grad students in the new field until you were really sure.

2) start going to meetings in the new field. talk to the experts, get to know them.

3) if you have a sabbatical coming up, try to do it at a place that is a real focus of your new field. In my case I did a sabbatical at a place that allowed me to do theory and experiment.

4) some people switch fields to go after funding. I don't recommend this. If you have a real passion for something, find some way to fund it. who knows what the fashion will be in 10 years.

Finally, an observation. I found that colleagues tend to put you in a box and 20 years from now they'll think your doing the same old thing. I know very few academics who have worked in the same area their whole careers. No one expects this and it would be pretty boring if you ask me. Switching departments is harder, but switching fields I think is pretty easy if you're motivated.