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I am doing a lot of reading and experimenting to dig deeper into my research topic. In our institute we have weekly meetings, were we present our latest research. Often my professor asks me questions about specific details or numbers in ongoing discussions during the presentation, which I cannot recall so fast. For example, what is the current GDP of X country? I have understood, what the GDP is, but I do not know the number, which he would really like to hear in that moment.

I often have read this, and also re-read it in other reports and papers, but I cannot recall it in his moment exactly and I do not have the number available during the presentation? Btw often it is unclear before the presentations, which numbers are relevant during a presentation and also my peers feel that way.

  • How do you structure your research?
  • Which tools are you using?

I really appreciate your answer!

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    I am confused by this question - the title and the summarized questions fit, but the whole case description sounds more like "How do I memorize trivia?", or possibly "What to do about a professor who insists on learning arbitrary factoids by heart?" Also, for clarification: Is this about a particular country X that is somehow particularly important to you, or does that professor seriously expect you to memorize essentially this WP page by heart? – O. R. Mapper Mar 23 '15 at 13:40
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Learn to say I don't know. Practice how to gracefully say "Thanks for asking about that. I don't know but I will look into that." Do it to a mirror, make it look like it's your right to not know something, not a crime or even a weakness. After the meeting, go check the facts and then follow up with an e-mail.

Google it right there. It's getting more and more common and socially acceptable for anyone just to whip out a handheld device (smart phone, iPad, etc.) and Google it. If you're not sure about that, do ask "I don't know but would you mind if I search for it now?" Search phrase like "GDP [Country's name]" will actually result in a nice trend graph in Google, like this one for Vietnam. It would take less than 5 seconds; much shorter than time taken by people to apologize.

Prepare some fact sheets. If your work is heavily related with countries, consider printing out some fact sheets like the one on CIA the World Factbook and bring that with you. Similar devices like tip sheets or cheat sheets for basic information like formulas or acronyms will also be useful. The process of preparing them can also serve as a revision.

Use bookmarks and highlighter. If you are carrying some reports with you, use those write-on bookmark stickers to mark the potentially useful charts and tables.

Ask yourself why, for 5 times. While preparing your major arguments, you may consider a technique of asking yourself why for 5 times. For example, you have picked Haiti as your target country, why? It's a poor developing country, why? Because its GDP per capita is only US$820, why is that low? It's at 157th as of 2007. So on, so forth. This technique can help you think about unexpected questions, and also come up with strategies to deal with the "So what?" questions.

Knowing small details is not as important as knowing the big picture. Contingent on the last point, for research (in my opinion) it's more important to know the big picture: rationale, theory or theoretical framework, pros and cons of methods, validity and reliability of the results, and what these all add to the literature or application. While planning for the research meeting, it's most crucial that you having given these components a good thought and be able to justify your interpretation and decision. Random statistics can come later.

Recalling small details is not as important as discerning pattern and anomaly. As the use of mobile Internet browser becomes more prominent, getting random details and facts is no longer our burden. Instead of using our precious brain power to memorize trivial little facts, it'd be more useful to tightly incorporate critically asking questions while going through the data, noticing patterns and exceptions, and synthesizing more questions or speculations.

Deduce it right there. Sometimes, the audience may not be expecting a perfect answer but rather a "guesstimate." Simply saying like "the GDP is likely low, it's the poorest country in the west hemisphere" can already address part of the question. If you really have no clue, it'd still be great if you can suggest how someone can get that information: "I'm really not sure about that, but I'd look for that in the US Census 2010 Fact Finder online."


While I do notice that you're also asking for advices on how to organize one's research. I don't think I can answer that given how little I know about your work, personality, and affinity to technology. Great research can be done with just a shoebox, index cards, a pencil, and an eraser; it can also be done with a state-of-the-art computer, various software packages, and cloud storage. It's likely something you need to discuss with your supervisors and other experienced researchers, and take and practice what is likely to be useful to you.

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It seems the question here is more about recall than organisation per se. Apologies in advance if this comes across as patronising or too basic.

In a very broad sense, the way I organise a presentation could be likened to the way a tree branches, and I'm sure many operate in the same way. Identify the main branches you want to explore in a given subject, then find papers that can support those main branches. These supporting branches may not be overly relevant in the grand scheme of things, but they will help you to become more familiar with what you are trying to present. From this point it is not only learning what you are going to present, but understanding it at a level that allows to you to refer to specific points with ease and refer to relevant points. The more familiar you are with the topic, the easier it is to talk about and recall.

As for organising research, I typically generate a document containing the main paper(s) I will be looking at, with a summary, then I do the same for supporting papers. This way if I need to refer to something I can consult the document (like a contents of sorts, I suppose) and go straight to what I am looking for without sifting through several papers until I find the right one.

I'm afraid recalling facts and figures simply requires work. There is no real trick to it other than, as previously mentioned, familiarising yourself with the topic and realising what is and isn't relevant to the point you are trying to convey.

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Working for many years with detailed data and diverse information and a little bit of memory problem I feel your problem. I would add below points to above answers.

1. reference management tools

You can use them as bookmark manager, also you can read the pdfs and leave notes and then be able to search those notes and hopefully find them fast. I used Mendeley and Zotero and both do the job. Mendeley does a better job on desktop note taking and Zotero does better on collection of data from web and bookmarking.

2. Searchable notebook online/offline

tools like Evernote lets you search into your notes quickly and store briefer on different issue to refresh your brain up on some issues as fast as possible. use tagging carefully so that you remember your tags and organizations. Meanwhile, using pen and paper is always more reliable than any tool.

3. lists, tables and finally frameworks

there are plenty of tools you can use for listing stuff. Google Keep can be one of the best ones. You need to organize and re-organize many iterations all the time for a bulk of information. as you go ahead in this process you can remember them better and you can feel the progress. start by making lists that you can quickly refer to. then make an index or category and transform lists to tables where can store a lot of information in small place and at the end you will have many lists and tables try to come up with rules and frameworks that can help you know which table to refer to and for what reason.

4. keep a voice memo of the events

There are phone apps that can record your voice as mp3. and maybe soon tools that can convert them to texts. Always knowing the theme and direction of meetings can help your memory to shape around the usual flow of the meeting and it can make you prepare. by listening to what happened in last events you can make your brain ready for the upcoming event. It also helps you organize your work based on what is expected from you in the meetings. always mention the date and the attendees of the event. what was expected to happen and what actually happened.

5. last but not least

Brain War is a mobile game with multiple memory activity that can help your short and long term memory performance. There are many games like that which might help you measure your performance if not helping it. Also, I was told by my doctor that using Coconut oil instead of normal oil has helped some people with Alzheimer.

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