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Serious researchers of all ages will get an important message from this piece by Richard Hamming.
http://www.paulgraham.com/paulgraham/hamming.html
In a nutshell, ask yourself if you are working on the most important problem in your field, and if not, why not? Bearing in mind that effective research has been described as the art of the soluble. Arthur Koestler on "The Act of Creation" and "The Sleepwalkers" is fun too.

This is my take on some factors required to promote effective research and practical applications. From an old book review.
http://www.the-rathouse.com/revessayscience.html
In view of the current agitation over education and science policy two areas of investigation call for urgent attention. One might be called "the ecology of intellectual achievement". This concerns the personal, institutional and cultural factors which influence creativity and the growth of knowledge. The other is a similarly ecological investigation of the influences which promote commercial application of research findings (the 'D' part of R&D).

It appears that pure and applied work can flourish in partnership if a number of conditions are met. First, talented people are required who are interested in both practical and theoretical problems. Second, they should have high standards and high expectations of achievement. These attitudes tend to be assimilated by contact with gifted and inspiring teachers or colleagues early in life. They are killed by the inductivist, 'just collect the facts' method and the conformist, follow the Professor" ethos of Kuhn's 'normal science'. In each case the antidote is the Popperian spirit of conjecture and refutation. Thirdly, institutional and personal linkages are required to carry ideas backwards and forwards between the study/laboratory and the factory/farm.

Finally, to promote commercial application of ideas, industry needs to operate in a competitive environment, with the world as a potential market, instead of sheltering behind protective walls. Unfortunately most of the people who write about science policy start with the premise that more government involvement is required, more committees, more central direction to 'pick winners' for favoured (protected) treatment. It seem that the sad lesson of the New Protection (tariffs plus central wage fixing) has not been learned.

These thoughts were inspired by the triumph of rural research in Australia which has yielded some of the most efficient farmers in the world despite having the most infertile soils to work on.

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