Finishing a Research Project

Research is never really done. There are always more questions to ask and attempts one could make to answer them. So, other than when you graduate, how do you know if a project is complete? I think there are two ways.

  1. Get an idea to a publishable stopping point. This means that you completed some work and written up a good paper on the topic. That paper should be submitted to a conference. If the paper is accepted, consider that project done once you go through the additional stages of final paper revisions (of course that may only mean you want to continue with the same line of work because at least some of your peers have indicated that they think your approach is important). If the paper is not accepted, then you need to revise it, perhaps updating the research, and try again.  To truly "finish" an idea can take quite a while so I'd expect to have more than one project on the burner at a time.
  2. Get an idea to a demoable stopping point. Sometimes you will create a system that you don't necessarily publish. In this case I'd consider the project done when you can create a robust demonstration that can be run by people in the group other than yourself. This needs to be something that works regularly, not just something that works once.

Generally, if you aim for publishable, you will end up with demoable. A demo should illustrate some creative, new, innovative idea that advances the state of the art (i.e. publishable!) Things that actually work robustly usually attract the attention of others and become more memorable than those ideas that never make it beyond a theoretical idea. 

If you have been working on something for a long time and have not achieved neither 1 or 2, you might consider stepping back, reflecting on how to chart a modified course, and then doing some more work to truly get to a real stopping point.

Stephen Intille's Thesis Development and Writing Tips

Last updated: 11/16/04