I’m a beginning PhD student in theoretical physics specializing in string theory. Unfortunately, my advisor doesn't have a good understanding of this subject; therefore, he provides me with very little guidance. The problem is that I have a very little understanding of how should I do research in string theory.
My style is that I try to work thing out from the first principles. For instance, when I try to understand the fundamentals of this subject (by which I mean graduate textbook material), I start with blank papers, write down a question I would like to understand, then try to find an answer mostly by reading parts of the textbook or by searching for research papers that deal with this question. Furthermore, I try to work things out on my own. Somehow, this feels somewhat unnatural to me (and it leads to very slow progress). Another approach would be to read the standard textbook thoroughly, then start reading papers more linearly.
I always feel that I’m trying to re-invent the wheel. I think that researchers take assumptions and conclusions from previous work and then build on it. On the other hand, I always try to start from scratch and to derive everything on my own. For instance, physics student learn quantum mechanics by starting with some axioms, then try to understand their consequences. On the other hand, I try to deduce or rather, “find” these axioms by pure thought, which led me to spend a lot of time researching the original papers on quantum mechanics.
Am I doing it right? I think that part of my problem is that I’m trying to imitate top physicists such as, Richard Feynman. Do top physicists (or mathematicians) really do this?