You and Your Research

This might as well be called you and your studies or you and your work. Students, educators, and researchers can find much valuable information on doing research, good high quality work, and teaching, in these writings of Richard Hamming.

”Just hard work is not enough − it must be applied sensibly”

”If you do not work on an important problem, it’s unlikely you’ll do important work.”

”If you are to do important work then you must work on the right problem at the right time and in the right way.”

“You need a vision of who you are and where your field is going. A suitable parable is that of the drunken sailor. He staggers one way and then the other with independent, random steps. In n steps he will be, on the average, about √n steps away from where he started. but if there is a pretty girl in one direction he will get a distance proportional to n. The difference, over a life time of choices, between √n and n is very large and represents the difference between having no vision and having a vision. The particular vision you have is less important than just having one – there are many paths to success. Therefore, it is wise to have a vision of what you may become, of where you want to go, as well as how to get there. No vision, not much chance of doing great work; with a vision you have a good chance.”

Richard W. Hamming, You and Your Research.

Apparently Richard Hamming gave a talk titled You and Your Research many times and on many occasions. I am aware of the following two versions. A long version which is a transcript by J. F. Kaiser of a talk given by Richard Hamming at Bell Labs (on March 7, 1986).

This version has been recently published in the New School Economic Review 3 (1), 2008, pp. 5–26; as well as in the book Simula Research Laboratory – by thinking constantly about it, A. Teveito, A. M. Bruaset, and O. Lysne editors, Springer, Berlin, 2010, pp. 37–60.

The short version, Richard Hamming, You and Your Research. A stroke of genius: striving for greatness in all you do, appeared in IEEE Potentials, October 1993, pp. 37–40.

There was also an interview of Richard Hamming by David Gilbert which appeared in IEEE Computer Futures, Spring 1991, pp. 10–17 (unfortunately I have been unable to obtain a copy of this interview).

Finally, there is the book: Richard W. Hamming, The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn, Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1997.

Students, researchers, and educators would do well to read these and take Richard Hamming’s advice to heart.