I’ve been working on a new research topic for a few months now. It’s not something that I’m particularly familiar with and I’ve quite enjoyed learning something new. What I’ve found interesting is – in a sense – how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve relied on things that I thought I’d forgotten. When I first started working on this problem, I stared at a set of equations without any real sense of how I would work through to get to the point where I could use them to solve the problem I was trying to solve. I then recognised something and saw how to get started. I didn’t get it right first time, but this small spark of recognition is what got me going. What stuck me was that something that I learned a long time ago and had largely forgotten, came back to me very quickly and now I feel completely comfortable using it.
It’s now been quite a few months that I’ve been working on this problem, and I haven’t quite finished but I’ve really enjoyed persevering through it. Even if it doesn’t lead to any publications, that’s fine. I now understand something about this research area that I didn’t really understand before. It’s also been nice, in a sense, going back to basics. My office is now littered with bits of paper with algebraic calculations on them. It’s not something that I’ve done for quite some time.
So why am I writing this? Well, partly to simply write something a little more positive than is the norm for me. There were two thoughts I had when working on this problem. One was that as someone who teaches, it is really good to work on something basic and fundamental and to use some of the tools I learned as a student. In a sense this is why I think it is good for active researchers to teach at this level. We use the tools we’re teaching to solve real problems and hence understand their significance. The other thing I realised was just how quickly you remember how to use the mathematical/scientific tools that you learn as a student. Students often think they learn things that they’ll never use, but you never know what tools you may need in the future and it seems remarkable how quickly you become familiar, again, with what you learned many years before. Anyway, its been fun and enjoyable working through something both basic and complex at the same time. I hope I can use what I’ve learned to do some interesting research but even if nothing comes of it, it’s still been a very interesting and useful experience.