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Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Back to this theme of work vs. research, I guess I want to put a good word in for the difficulty of work. (Previously I said researchers may work harder.)

I'm trying to calculate something for a bunch of stored measurements. The formula is known, and its programmed into a matlab code. I really just have to get the parameters and plug them into the formula. What can be so hard about this?

Well, first, there is a fair amount of uncertainty in some of the parameters. It takes some work to cross check with various sources to get the parameter values reasonable. Then I need to learn how to access the data and to manage transfer of data and programs I write across a varied computing landscape. Finally, I need to choose which data to actually analyze such that the results will hopefully tell some kind of story out of which we can learn something.

A lot of these steps are the same in research. But, even though there is a lot of uncertainty, in some ways there is more certainty, because there is a research program. A set of questions to be answered. In the case of almost research, where the job is to understand something and keep it going and maybe make a few improvements, it may be even more open ended than research. Not to say I can't define some research projects within this, but there is a lot to be done that is really about gathering together data from disparate sources to understand and diagnose problems. And I wouldn't call this aspect research per se.

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