One of the crucial skills of a scientist is to identify research gaps. Unfortunately, students rarely receive much formal training in this skill during their studies. How can one get better at identifying research gaps?
Some problems that I have seen which make identifying research gaps difficult:
- The best problems are already identified or solved by other people.
- Authors of publications sometimes avoid being overly critical of their own work, and try to phrase their publication so as to make it seem definitive, and avoid admitting that they failed to explain a phenomenon.
- Some scientists are wary of being scooped, and avoid mentioning what they see as future projects in the discussion section.
- Due to publish or perish culture, there is pressure to split research efforts into minimal chunks - such chunks may seem like they are steps along the way to a solution, but in reality, trying to work on the apparent next step is risky because the author is likely to scoop you.
- High-profile journals such as Nature, Science or PNAS probably prefer papers which answer many questions, rather than presenting many uninvestigated open ends.
- Lesser journals may have publications that have only solved part of a problem, but those may be buried under a sea of uninteresting publications. (also the lesser journals are much more numerous and harder to get abreast of)
- It is easy to confirm that an idea has already been done, but it is difficult to confirm that an idea is truly novel.